Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Driving in Cars with Dogs and Cats

A few days after the election, my husband and I went on a spur of the moment trip to the woods. We booked a cabin, overfed the fish, threw the dog and the cat in the car and went on our way.

The dog shivered and panted and salivated on my lap. The cat sporadically moaned in the back seat. My husband and I didn't talk much. I don't know if this is the difference between men and women in general, or specifically a difference between us, but we were reacting differently to the post election landscape.

The weekend before the two of us had tromped around town canvassing and reminding fellow Ohioans to vote. We were buoyed by the camaraderie of the canvassing group, the energy and hopefulness and excitement, the sense that we were contributing to something greater than ourselves, something important.

Now, a few days later, I was having trouble sleeping. I kept bursting into tears at random awkward moments. My husband was stoic. Sympathetic but trying to be realistic.

A few days' escape into the woods would do us all good, he decided.

The cabin was tucked away in the mountains. We couldn't get a cell signal and for most of the time we were cut off from the world. We hiked through woods and around rock formations and caves and waterfalls. The people we did run into, we didn't interact with. The dog was joyous. The cat loved prowling around an unfamiliar cabin.

At night my husband and I sat out on the deck overlooking the woods in a hot tub. I was gearing myself up to settle down. Sip wine. Listen to Norah Jones. The burbly hot water felt kinda nice. Maybe everything was going to be okay.

I looked up and there was a freaking full blown raccoon walking across the deck rail, two feet from my husband's head.

Miraculously, I kept my wine from spilling as I tore the hell out of the hot tub.

I only managed to write a few words that weekend.

All month I've been working on a new novel, pledging to write 50,000 words by the end of November for the annual NaNoWriMo. I was plugging my way slowly through a gigantic expanding mess, feeling a lot like Sisyphus, the poor sap from Greek mythology who's cursed to push a boulder up a mountain every day and then watch it roll down at the end of the day. Also, I think he got his liver pecked out by giant birds.

What was the point in writing another mess of a novel?

And then at the same time, I was revising a novel for my agent, delving back into a previous mess of a novel and trying to make it somehow less of a giant mess.

My husband and I went for another long walk. We lost the trail for a while and came out on a windy road in the middle of nowhere and stumbled onto an old church that looked like it belonged on the set of The Walking Dead. 


At night back in the cabin in the middle of the woods, my husband and I curled up on the couch with the dog and cat, cut off from the world and wondering what the hell the raccoon might be doing out there on the deck.

The drive home, we didn't talk much again. At some point our phones picked up a signal and pinged on, all of the messages and notifications and emails scrolling out on our screens if we wanted to look at them.

We didn't. The dog shivered and panted and drooled. The cat occasionally let out an unearthly yowl.

Home, and back to normal or whatever normal is.

Yesterday I reached 50,000 words on my messy NaNoWriMo novel. I "won" and they gave me a special badge.

Today, I finished up another edit for my agent. The book is clean and lovely and far from messy. It's not perfect, but it's good, I think. I hope.

Three weeks after the election and everything is the same.

Everything is different.

But as always, I do what I do. I write to find my way through.






Sunday, November 20, 2016

Three Simple Ways to Build Suspense (Guest Post by Yvonne Ventresca)


I'm so excited to host fellow YA author and blogger Yvonne Ventresca On The Verge today. Yvonne's latest novel Black Flowers, White Lies is an un-put-down-able page turner, a psychological horror thriller in the vein of my favorite Lois Duncan novels Summer of Fear and Stranger with My Face. Fast-paced, nail-biting books like these read fast, but I can tell you, they are not easy to write. Want to know how Yvonne does it? 

Read on:

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Special thanks to Jody for hosting my guest post today! I’m Yvonne Ventresca, author of the young adult novels Pandemic and Black Flowers, White Lies. I recently had the chance to teach writers about suspense at New Jersey’s SCBWI Fall Craft Weekend. Here are some of the highlights from my workshop:



Suspense can be created at the highest level with the overall story question. 

Will Katniss survive The Hunger Games? Will Eleanor & Park find happiness together? Will the owls be saved in Hoot? This story question is critical in keeping the reader turning the pages.

At the nitty gritty level, however, suspense is created by the building blocks of paragraphs. While it might seem that a gripping scene should be filled with short and fast-paced sentences, there is another way to create tension. Adding relevant, vivid details to a scene can actually stretch the apprehension.

This technique slows down time so that the reader can anticipate what will happen next. (For more about this, check out the nonfiction writing guide, Conflict & Suspense.) 

Here are three simple ways to expand a tense scene:

1. Add interior monologue. This gives the reader access to the character’s worries and concerns while increasing anticipation.

2. Add relevant sensory details (what a character touches, see, hears, smells, tastes). This helps the reader imagine the scene while also stretching the tension.

3. Keep sentences vivid by using the active voice instead of the passive voice. Passive voice sentences are based on the verb “to be.” These types of sentences, while okay for a blog post, don’t offer much impact in fiction. For example: “it was raining” (passive) versus “the rain pounded the roof” (active). Another example: the snow was shoveled (passive) vs her favorite son shoveled the snow (active). You can learn about passive voice (with zombies!) here. In general, the active voice specifies who/what is performing the action.

How can these three ideas be combined to increase suspense? 

I always find it easiest to understand writing concepts with an example, so here’s an excerpt from Ten by Gretchen McNeil. (Many thanks to Gretchen for allowing me to use this!) Ten is a suspenseful young adult horror novel, inspired by Agatha Christie's classic And Then There Were None.

In this particular excerpt (pgs 275-277), the main character, Meg, has learned the identity of the killer (which I will NOT reveal!) and has found a boat. With the killer not far behind, she boards the boat, hoping it will provide an escape from the isolated island where they’ve been trapped. The story text is in white; my observations are in purple.     

Excerpt from Ten

She leaped to her feet and ran to the captain’s chair. The keys were still in the ignition, and as she frantically tried to turn the engine over, she said a silent prayer promising to go to church with her mom every day for the rest of her life if only the damn engine would start. [This is a nice bit of interior monologue.]
“The harder you make it,” [X] said, “the worse you’ll suffer, I promise. Just come out and let me shoot you.”
She felt the boat shift. [Sensory detail.]
Oh my God. He was climbing aboard. [Interior monologue.]
Meg spun around, frantically searching for a place to hide just as a gunshot rang out. She instinctively hit the floor as the port window of the wheelhouse shattered. Broken glass sprinkled across the cabin floor. . . . [All active sentences. “The floor was covered in glass” would have been passive. “Broken glass sprinkled” is active and a nice visual.]
      Meg huddled behind the captain’s chair and forced herself to think as rationally as possible. . . . She had two choices. . . . [There’s interior monologue here to help the reader understand the setting. She analyzes hiding below deck or going up, then chooses up.]
As quickly and quietly as she could, Meg crawled across the floor of the boathouse. She had to bite her lip to keep from crying out as shards of glass cut into her palms and knees, digging deep into her flesh. [Sensory details! Ouch!] The three feet across the wheelhouse felt like three miles, [More interior monologue so that we understand her agony] and her hands and legs were bloody by the time she reached the starboard door. . . .
Just in time. She barely got the door completely closed when she heard a crunching sound. Boots on broken glass. [Sensory detail! She’s not safe yet!]

I hope the next time you revise a nail-biting scene, these tips help. As Oscar Wilde said, "This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last."



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Bio: Yvonne Ventresca’s latest young adult novel, the psychological thriller BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES (Sky Pony Press, 2016) was listed at the top of Buzzfeed’s must-read new YA books for fall. Her debut YA novel, PANDEMIC, won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

You can learn more about Yvonne and her books at YvonneVentresca.com or on social media here: Facebook | Twitter | Blog | Instagram | Pinterest


About Black Flowers, White Lies: Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a special connection. Now, evidence points to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not a car accident as Mom claimed. When strange, supernatural signs appear, Ella wonders if Dad’s trying to tell her something, or if someone’s playing unsettling tricks. 

As the unexplained events become sinister, she finds herself terrified about who—or what—might harm her. Then the evidence points to Ella herself. What if, like Dad, she’s suffering a breakdown? Ella desperately needs to find answers, no matter how disturbing the truth might be.



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The day had started out lovely...

Bright blue sky. Sun. I don't remember any clouds. An oddly warm morning for September. I dropped my four year old daughter off at her pre-school and drove home, glad to have a three-hour stretch alone in the quiet house. We'd moved into the place a few months before. It was our dream house. Brick and stately, the stereotypical house I'd imagined only lucky people lived in. 

I felt lucky that day. 

I was a young mother. A part-time teacher. An enthusiastic volunteer at my son's elementary school. I was in charge of putting together the newsletter every month, and that day, September 11, the newsletter needed to be finished and dropped off at a copy place. 

While I was settling in to work, a friend called and told me to turn on the TV.

I spent the next two hours watching, alone, stunned, terrified, as planes flew into buildings, as buildings fell. I watched the second tower fall and had the nauseating realization that I was witnessing, in real time, thousands of human beings die. 

I turned off the TV and burst into tears. 

And then I sat back down on the couch in my quiet house and finished working on the newsletter. I was crazed, obsessed with getting it done and I was running out of time before I'd have to pick up my daughter.  With moments to spare, I printed it off and dashed off to her pre-school and stood in a quiet clump with the other stunned parents as our little girls and boys ran out of their classroom laughing and waving artwork. 

Then I drove with my daughter to the copy place. As she chattered in the backseat, I kept looking at the sky. I was afraid that I'd see a plane. I was afraid I'd see a plane fall. I unbuckled her from her car seat and toted her into the copy machine place, suddenly uncertain.

Would the place even be open? Would there be anyone inside making copies? It seemed ridiculous to think so. How could any store be operating normally when our country was under attack? 

But there was the clerk standing there behind the counter like it was any other day. "Are you still making copies?" I asked breathlessly. 

"Um, yeah," she said.

I was both relieved and sad.   

That night after my two kids were in bed, I crept into their bedrooms, one after the other. My seven year old son was asleep in his room surrounded by legos and computer games and books. My daughter was sucking her thumb, clutching her dolly. 

I stood there in the dark bedrooms for a while. I knew that the world had changed and I knew my precious children didn't know it yet. It felt like a scary responsibility to be an adult, a parent, in charge of these two little people, wanting to protect them but terrified by the realization that maybe I couldn't. I wanted them to have one more night, though, feeling safe. I could at least give them that gift. 

The next day my son went off to school and my daughter went to pre-school. I picked up the newsletter that was so insanely important to me at the time, and distributed it like it was any other Wednesday. In the days and weeks that followed, I did whatever it was that I did back then. Made meals and carpooled and volunteered and taught classes and read to my children at night. 

Sometimes I would burst into tears.

My husband and I hung our American flag. Like other people in our country, we donated blood and dropped coffee and doughnuts off at firehouses. For a brief moment we felt a part of something hopeful and generous and good. 

I want to believe that today too, on Wednesday, 11/9, that we can find this part of ourselves again, the part that wants to help and give. 

Donate food to a homeless shelter. Take books to a community center. Give clothing to a battered woman's shelter. Send notes of solidarity to mosques and synagogues. 

Hug our young children-- or our grown ones-- say a prayer that they will seek the good in each other, that they will lift each other up, embrace differences, and be better people, someday, than we are.




Monday, November 7, 2016

7 Days, 17,000 Words and no sign of a story yet...

It's been a while since I've done it, signed up for NaNoWriMo (for non-NaNo-ers, NaNoWriMo is short of National Novel Writing Month.  Every year hundreds of thousands of would-be novelists pledge to write a 50,000 novel during the month of November.) I wrote my first published book Thin Space during a previous NaNoWriMo and I am a big fan of the challenge. 

There's something inspiring about tapping out a story while hundreds of thousands of other writers are tapping out their stories, laboring in coffee shops or stealing words during lunch hours, waking at the crack of dawn to scrawl out a chapter by hand or typing bleary-eyed on their laptops well into the night. 

I'm also pretty realistic about what a writer can actually accomplish during a thirty-day period. A polished book ready for submission by December 1st?

Um, no. Not even close. 

But if you'd like to end up with a messy, meander-y drafty first draft, something that's ready to be broken into pieces and reworked over the next many months...

NaNo might be the gig for you.

End of October this year, I did a bit of pre-planning, opening up a calendar and calculating my target word count. (note: If you write every day for thirty days, you'll have to write 1667 words per day to end up with the desired 50,000.) I know going into it I won't be able to write for all 30 days. Thanksgiving's coming up (must say here that the NaNo creators really dropped the ball when they chose November, but I digress) Take away Thanksgiving and the days surrounding it, and I'll be lucky to write 21 days.

My target word count: a hefty 2381 words per day.

Bring it!

Day One. I am up early, raring to go. No social media until I get my words down for the day. No talking on the phone. No cleaning. No nothing except writing. I know my tendency to procrastinate and I am not going to fall into that trap-- not on Day One, damn it!

I have a rough idea of what I'm writing. Several potentially interesting characters. A setting. One very bizarre plot point.

Do I have an actual story arc?

Nope.

I write 2721 words and I'm finished by 11:30. Boo yah.

Day Two. Up and at'em. Still have no idea where this thing is going, but I am trusting the process, jumping off the cliff without a net, driving my car into the fog at night, dunking my head into the dark pool--

by which I mean I have no idea what the hell I am writing.

Noon, I hit 2592 words.

Day Three. Why am I writing this story again? I can't remember.

2700 uninspiring words.

Day Four. This is hard. HAAAAAAARRRRRRRRD. Plus it's Friday. It's nice outside. My daughter's home from her semester abroad and wants to go to a movie with me. I want to go to a movie with her. This story I'm writing is stupid anyway.

Somehow I pull 2751 words out of the recesses of my brain lobes by 1:00 and we're off to a movie. Go, Me!

Day-- What day is it? Five? Yes. Day Five. Saturday. I'm signed up to canvas for the upcoming election. Do I really want to write today? answer: no.

Should I write?

answer: eh, ok

I knock the heck out of 31 doors in my town, head home and scrounge out 2665 words. Take that, Donald Trump.

Day Six. I'm signed up to canvas again and it's going to take most of the day. On the plus side, it's Fall Back, so I get an extra hour. On the minus side, I use the extra hour to fret on social media about the election.

I squeak out 1649 words. None of them are good ones.

Day Seven: It occurs to me that I have reached 15,000+ words and I still don't know what my story is about. For the past week I've churned, labored over, played with, banged out, lovingly pondered and still,

I don't know what I am writing. I don't know where it's going. I don't know why I'm bothering.

This is the point where most people throw in the towel. But weirdly, I have never been one of those people. It takes me nearly all day but thirty minutes ago, I ended my writing session up 2656 words.


There's a story in here somewhere--

maybe what it is will hit me... tomorrow.














Monday, October 31, 2016

FANNIE NEVER FLINCHED (Guest Post by Mary Cronk Farrell)


I'm so excited to host Mary Cronk Farrell On The Verge today. Mary's known for writing award-winning, thought-provoking non-fiction about subjects not often explored in children's books. The first book that put her on my radar was PURE GRIT, an eye-opening true story of a group of American nurses who were held prisoner during WWII.

Her latest book shines a spotlight on the budding labor movement at the turn of the last century, specifically on Fannie Sellins, an immigrant factory worker turned labor activist. The story is a timely, tragic, and ultimately inspiring must-read (for adults too!)

I am always in awe of writers who turn true events and real heroes into compelling non-fiction narratives, and after reading this compelling story, I was eager to hear more about what inspired Mary to write it.

Here's Mary:
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This book was first rejected for publication more than ten years ago, but I never lost my passion for the story of this brave woman. I never stopped believing that Fannie Sellins' biography is relevant today.

Here's the anecdote that first stirred my admiration for Fannie’s courage.  During a coal miners strike in Colliers, West Virginia, a federal judge issued an injunction barring union organizers from talking to workers union "in their homes or on the streets."

Women and children with union sign.
(Courtesy West Virginia & Regional History Collection)

The strikers held a mass meeting at the town Opera House and due to threatened arrests chose a man to speak who was not a member of the mine workers union.

Fannie had already defied the judge once, and been cited with contempt of court. She knew if she spoke, she would likely be arrested. But after the main speaker, she took the stage insisting on her right to free speech.

Fannie told the crowd she had spoken from platforms all across the country in support of striking workers, and a judge in West Virginia could not deny her that right.

“The only wrong that I have done is to take shoes to the little children in colliers who needed shoes. And when I think of their little bare feet, blue with the cruel blasts of winter, it makes me determined that if it be wrong to put shoes upon those little feet, then I will continue to do wrong as long as I have hands and feet to crawl to Colliers.”

The early 1900's have been called the Gilded Age of American Industrialization. Owners of industrial corporations were the “gilded” while hundreds of thousands of workers subsisted on poverty wages. Today the gap between the rich and poor in America rivals the 1920s.

Twenty-two percent of American children lived in poverty in 2013 compared with 18 percent in 2008, according to the Kids Count Data Book,* an annual report that ranks states by the well-being of their children.

With the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percentage of kids in poverty than the United States, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.**

Forbes Magazine disputes these stats on child poverty. Forbes, a leading source of news for American business and financial people, published the assertion that the statistics were unfairly twisted to suggest the level of poverty in the U.S. is higher than is true.***

There will always be disagreement and debate about how to handle the issue of poverty. But while the posturing continues and the arguments fly, it is the innocent and helpless who suffer. The largest group of impoverished children are age 0-3.​​​​​​​****

For more on wealth disparity in the U.S. click here. 

Do you know what economic inequality looks like? Pick it out on a graph here.

Fannie Sellins put her hopes in the union labor movement. She believed America could rise to its ideals of equality and justice for all and she spent her life working to make change happen, even when she ended up in jail and in danger for her life.  In fact, Fannie was eventually shot by company gunmen during a strike in Western Pennsylvania.

My hope is that her courage will inspire us to continue the work of providing justice for those in poverty through no fault of their own.

To find out more about my books, my calendar or how I help students, teachers and librarians visit my website. www.MaryCronkFarrell.com

Female shirtwaist strikers being taken into custody by the police
 at Jefferson Market Prison, New York, NY, 1909. (Kheel Center, Cornell University)

Entrance to a "drift" coal mine. West Virginia. Sept. 1908
(Lewis Hine, Library of Congress) 
Sources: 

* http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/aecf-the2016kidscountdatabook-2016.pdf (page 14)

** https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/04/15/map-how-35-countries-compare-on-child-poverty-the-u-s-is-ranked-34th/

*** http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/09/10/dont-believe-the-epi-about-child-poverty-in-america-its-not-23-1/#2ed55ebc44cf

**** http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/by-the-numbers-childhood-poverty-in-the-u-s/

More about Mary Cronk Farrell and FANNY NEVER FLINCHED

On Twitter
On Goodreads
On Amazon

And here's a book trailer:








Sunday, October 23, 2016

Walking While American

Yesterday I was walking around my town, knocking on doors and pondering my own patriotism.

It's something I rarely do. Contemplate the fact that I am an American citizen.

Now that I think about it, the few times in my life when I did think about being American were when I was out of the country.

A trek across the Canadian border when I was nineteen and a sudden (scary) realization that I was no longer on American soil. A week in Barcelona, Spanish and Catalan being spoken all around me-- and other languages too, German, Polish, French-- tourists strolling or sitting at nearby cafe tables-- my ears were tuned into every small snippet of spoken English. When I heard a person speaking with an American accent, I'd want to run over and introduce myself, shake hands, say: Hey! I'm an American too! How the heck are ya'?

After 9/11 I felt a rush of patriotic feelings so profound and overwhelming that I got a lump in my throat every time I saw an American flag. And flags were everywhere in the days after that attack. Like a lot of Americans, I didn't know what to do with these feelings of solidarity and pride in my country except hang my own flag.

But mostly, I don't think about it. There aren't many ways to express patriotism except flag-waving. Or singing the national anthem, hand on your heart, pretending you know every word and can sing those insanely high notes.

And here's a question: Why do we only sing that song at sporting events? I'm not much of a sports person, so I rarely attend games. It's weird that the only time we show our love of country is right before a bunch of guys on a field are about to tackle each other. I know people will say that a sports event is a great place to sing the anthem because of all of the people gathered in one place.

So why not sing before a movie? Or a play? Or a concert?

Schools don't sing the national anthem. This is not a new thing. When I was growing up, we saluted the flag and said the Pledge of Allegiance and then we sang "My Country Tis of Thee" or "America the Beautiful." I visit a lot of schools all over the country, and students still do this.

As adults we don't pledge to the flag every morning. There's not much asked of us, really, as citizens. We can vote (although many of us do not do that). We can serve on a jury (although most of us try to get out of it). We pay taxes (and most likely bitch about it).

But what is more patriotic than contributing to the infrastructure of our society? Our schools and libraries and fire departments and police departments and military--our Government--the people we elect to serve us.

Like most Americans, I am tired and worn down by this election. Dismayed by the vitriol and anger and fear I've been hearing. I've been so disgusted that I have been tempted to turn off all news and social media, just wait the days out until election day is over.

Instead, I voted early.

And I signed up to canvas a neighborhood in my town on behalf of an election campaign. I have never done this before, and honestly, I was not looking forward to it. The idea of knocking on strangers' doors and carrying a clipboard seemed... blucky and totally out of my comfort zone.

But I walked over to the campaign headquarters with a friend and we picked up our clipboard and our flyers, and off we went.

After the initial blucky awkwardness, I felt strangely patriotic. I am not getting all political with you. I am not telling you who I voted for or what campaign I am representing. (If you know me, you KNOW.) What I want to share with you is how nice it was to walk around on a brisk sunny day, to greet people I knew and people I didn't, to feel a part of something bigger than myself, to know that I while I was doing a very small thing, it was better than sitting in front of my laptop and stewing over Facebook post comments.

I wasn't waving a flag or singing the national anthem but showing my patriotism even so. Speaking out about who I think will best lead this country and urging my fellow citizens to do their part too.





Monday, October 17, 2016

On Cakes and Celebration and Community

Last week, as I was putting the final bloody touches on a severed finger cake, I started thinking about writing communities and how I would not be where I am today without mine.

I was making the cake as a centerpiece for my best friend Natalie's book launch party at the local bookstore Cover to Cover. Another writing friend and I drove over early to help the bookstore owner, our dear friend Sally, set up for the party and greet the guests at they arrived, local authors and librarians, friends and relatives, and fellow members of our children's writing group SCBWI. 

Not too long ago I didn't know any of these people.

I'd never heard of SCBWI, the international organization for writers and illustrators of children's books.

I knew approximately one writer, Marsha Thornton Jones, who was my boss when I was working as a teacher in Lexington Kentucky. Turned out she was the best-selling co-author of The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series. But we never talked about writing in the early years of our friendship.

I "knew" a couple of bookstore owners. But these were bosses too, Karen Davis and Thelma Kidd, the entrepreneurs who started the string of bookstores in Tennessee called Davis-Kidd Booksellers. I met them, briefly, at a company Christmas party when I was working at their Memphis store as a grad student.

The librarians I knew were co-workers, lovely people who talked books and reading with me, but who never knew that I dreamed of being a published writer.

Back then the dream wasn't something I told anyone. It was something I could barely acknowledge to myself. I mean, who the heck was I to imagine my name on a book?

But for years I wrote anyway-- dozens of stories, four novels-- always working on my own--  trying to puzzle out the impenetrable publishing industry, submitting and collecting a growing pile of rejections, celebrating my very few successes with family and close friends, and mourning the many more failures.

Alone.

And then in 2005, I signed up to attend a Highlights Foundation writing retreat. I went because I'd gotten a brochure in the mail and it seemed like a cool idea to have some uninterrupted time to write. What I hadn't counted on was stumbling my way into my first writing community, meeting fellow writers all on various stages of the journey, from relative beginners like me to multiply published authors.

I was star-struck that first morning smearing cream cheese on my bagel as I chatted with one woman (I'd read her book!!) who had an agent and an editor and a looming deadline, but who also seemed like a ordinary car-pooling mom like me.

If this person could do it, why couldn't I?

The other writers were friendly and welcoming too. That week they shared success stories and failures. Book deals and rejection collections. Writing and revision tips and industry secrets. They inspired me to keep writing and to put myself out there. They made me believe that my dream was not some crazy thing but something entirely possible.

That one retreat led to other retreats. I heard about SCBWI from someone along the way. I started attending workshops and conferences. I made more writing friends. I found my long-time critique partner in a line for a port-o-potty at another Highlights retreat. I found my first mentor.

It took me eight years from that first retreat to see my first book on the library and bookstore shelves. And since then I've become a part of-- and a creator of -- more writing communities. I have mentors and mentees. Critique partners and too many writing friends to list here. I lead the Central and Southern Ohio chapter of SCBWI and speak at their conferences.

Sometimes I forget that I was once struggling along alone.

Writing is such a solitary activity. Every day it is just You, at your lap top or sitting with a notebook, facing a blinking cursor or a blank page. The publishing industry-- oh man-- it will eat you up alive and spit you out. The rejections never stop coming. The bad reviews can derail you. Book sale numbers, deadlines, marketing pressures....

Failure and success. Self-loathing and elation.

But I am not alone.

The other night I baked a bloody severed finger cake and brought it to my best friend's book launch party.

I took a seat surrounded by my friends and we all celebrated, together, the success of one of our own.