Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Why I unfriended you on Facebook

because I am a coward

and I couldn't tell you in real life how I felt or what I was thinking and it was so easy to click Unfriend.

It was a spur of the moment decision, not planned ahead of time or calculated, just a momentary surge of outrage and sadness and disappointment in you, in the country, in humanity

in myself too, for thinking that clicking a button on a social media site would make me feel better.

The truth is it made me feel worse.

Because I want to get along and go along and not make a big deal out of everything, not make waves or stir up drama. Because I want to be a nice person, a good hostess, a caring friend.

Because you are my family, my friend, my neighbor and I already knew that you had different opinions from me so why should knowing your opinion, today, matter?

But it made me angry when you showed yourself to be ignoranthatefulracistbigotedmisogynistic and I know you or thought I did and anyway, don't we have to draw the line somewhere? At the denigration of Muslims and Mexicans and people of color and anyone who is not white, or the mockery of gay marriage or the joking about sexually assaulting women and girls?

Except who cares about social media anyway?

I mean, ten years ago we lived just fine without it and who would even know if you thought it was funny to compare the First Lady to an animal or had an irrational fear of a transgender person using a public restroom or were cool with flying the confederate flag?

But I do know. And now that I know, I can't unknow.

Why do we see the world so differently? Why are we so broken and hurting and terrified and angry and quick to judge others and constantly outraged

and human?

Can we have the courage of our convictions? Can we bridge the gaps between us? Can we forgive?

Is it even possible to be friends?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Memories of Christmases Past

~Christmas in 1979? Maybe 1980? The American hostages had been held in Iran for a long time and we were told to pray for their safety and I did, even though I had no understanding of why they were taken hostage or even where Iran was, but that Christmas Eve there was a story on the news about how people should go outside and light a candle for the hostages' safe return, and my family dutifully tromped out of the house holding candles.

We stood there in the cold and watched people gathering outside their houses, the flames of their candles flickering in the darkness.

~The first Christmas with my husband and we didn't have much money for presents and he bought me a book from a used bookstore about the history of football and I made a joke about it. I had no interest in football and the book seemed kind of shabby for a gift.

Years later he told me how hurt he was, that he'd just wanted to share his interest with me, and now I wish I could go back in time and shake some sense and kindness into my snotty twenty-four year old self.

~A few months after my father died, my mother was an overwhelmed mom with three little kids who still believed in Santa. In the morning we were opening presents and my mother was running around getting a dinner ready to host our relatives and I noticed her stocking was empty and it hit me, at age seven, that it was a pretty crappy thing for Santa to have overlooked my mother.

Outraged, I asked her about it and she said that it was okay, she didn't need any presents, but then she started talking about how she had no black olives to set out for our guests and how upset she was and what was she going to do without a can of black olives?? She went over to her stocking and would you believe it? There was a can of black olives inside!! She was so happy and I was so happy for her and I believed in Santa for another year.

~My husband and I moved to a new state and hardly knew anyone and one day after mass at church where we knew no one, I was holding my newborn baby girl and a man pulled me aside and asked me if my husband and I would be the Holy Family at the service on Christmas Eve and I said yes even though I had no idea what that entailed, and then I forgot to tell my husband about it until we were driving to Christmas Eve mass. The church was packed and my husband, who was not Catholic, and I and our baby were taken into a back room and dressed in costumes and given our lines to speak.

I could see my husband glaring at me, mortified, holding his wooden staff and wearing his Joseph costume as he said his lines about there being no room at the inn. We walked down the aisle of the crowded church together, a holy family in the midst of strangers, holding our baby, up to the altar, where the priest took our baby and held her over his head and said, "This is why we are here today."

~The last Christmas my father was alive, and I was six years old and we were visiting my aunt who lived close by. Christmas Eve, up way past my bedtime and almost sick with anticipation of the next day and Santa coming. When the party was over, we walked home in the dark and my father said, Look! He picked me up and pointed at the black sky, the misty night, the sparks of stars.

Listen, he said. Do you hear it? The bells. The bells on Santa's sleigh.

I looked. I listened. I saw the lights flashing. And I swear heard the bells, clear as any sound in the world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Terror in the Driveway: A Horror Story by Jody Casella

Last week was kind of stressful.

My husband's car died when he was on the interstate and he had to get it--and himself--towed home. The next day the furnace started making a weird clanking sound and when I called a technician out to look at it, he immediately shut the gas off and told me he couldn't in good conscience walk out of the house without condemning the furnace.

Oh, he said, your air conditioning unit is leaking and your water heater is just about rusted through.

What else can break? my husband asked me that night.

Shhhh!! I said. You NEVER EVER ask that question out loud to the Universe.

A whole troop of furnace/air-conditioner/water-heater guys came the next day and the dog had a mini nervous breakdown and the temperature in the house went lower and lower until it settled at a crisp 52 degrees.

But I had a fire going in the fireplace and blankets wrapped around me and a warm dog shaking on my lap. The troop of men finished their work and I gasped at the sight of the price tag and jacked up the newly installed heat and repeated the mantra of my wise friend Deb: Any problem that can be solved by money isn't a problem. Any problem that can be solved by money isn't a problem until I felt better.

In the morning it was 5 degrees outside, but we were toasty inside and my husband left the house for work and returned quickly to say that the doors of our daughter's truck had frozen shut. He knew I was taking her to a doctor's appointment later and he'd forced the driver's side door open but now he couldn't get it closed. So he'd started the truck and told me to keep it warming up in the driveway.

Off he went to work (taking my car) and I looked out the window at the truck idling in the frigid driveway. After a while, I decided to go out and try to close the door myself.

I bundled up and got into the truck and closed the door.

I turned off the truck and tried to open the door and I couldn't. I sat there for a few seconds and tried again. It wouldn't budge. I tried the passenger door. That wouldn't budge either. I turned the truck back on and let the hot air blow in my face. I climbed into the backseat and tried both back doors.

They were also frozen.

Sweating in my bundled up clothes, I climbed back into the front seat. I tried to open the door again. I jiggled the handle. I locked and unlocked it. I kicked the door. I took off my hat and loosened my coat, full blown hot flashing.

I realized I didn't have my phone with me.

How long could I sit out there? Stuck. In a truck. In a frigid driveway? before anyone saw me? Would my daughter, when she woke up for her doctor's appointment, think to look for me out here? Would the thought even cross her mind that her ding dong mother was trapped in the truck in the driveway?

I wondered if I should drive somewhere. Around the block in an attempt to warm up the frozen doors? To my husband's office? If I beeped the horn, would anyone hear me?

This was funny. Silly. I looked out the icy window and tried not to panic. It's not like I was going to die out here. I had heat. I had a vehicle for crying out loud. I could go somewhere. Not that I would be able to get out when I got there but...

Because I am a writer I started spinning out possible story arcs. The truck runs out of gas and the woman, kicking and screaming, loses hope, her fists bruised from pounding on the icy windows, her cries unheard. Flash to a scene indoors, a girl sleeping in her warm bed. Flash to the empty houses in the neighborhood. Flash back to the woman trapped in the truck, one hand sliding down the glass, a single tear, frozen on her cheek--

Suddenly I saw my neighbor walking down her front walk on the way to put something in the trash bin. I banged on the window and she looked over and waved.

I banged on the window again. She could get me help! Use her phone to call my husband! I was saved!

I yelled to her. Would she be able to hear me through the closed window? She came closer, smiling, her head tilted quizzically, not quite catching what I was saying. Maybe I could... open the window? Not sure why I hadn't thought of that, but I pushed the button and Boo Yah, the window rolled down.

"I'm locked in!" I said breathlessly. "The doors are all frozen shut! Can you call--"

My neighbor tried the door, opening it so easily that I nearly toppled out of the truck.

Oh! We both said. And then we laughed. I caught her up on what had just happened and she shook her head, thinking probably, Jody, you ding dong, but too nice to say it.

We said our goodbyes and I went into my toasty house where my daughter was still sleeping.

All told, probably only like five minutes had gone by.

The end.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Searching for Duckies in the Ball Pool

Every year my husband and I volunteer to help out at a community center holiday party for underprivileged kids.

We show up early on a Saturday morning and help organize the gifts, which always ends up being an overly complicated endeavor, lining up gift bags on tables and checking off similar sounding names. And then we go into another room and help set up the games and goodie trays and craft tables and take our places at our assigned station for the party.

This year we were in charge of the Fishpond Game.

Basically, this game is an inflatable kiddie pool filled with plastic balls. To play you dip your hands under the plastic balls and fish out the hidden plastic duck toys. The end.

It's supposed to be for the very littlest of the little kids, something to occupy the toddlers while their older siblings make glitter crafts or play mini golf or tattoo themselves with holiday-themed tattoos.

My husband and I sat across from each other on the floor and were immediately stressed out playing the Fishpond Game.

I was worried about the germy germ aspect of all of those plastic balls. The runny noses and drooling and dropped wet cookie chunks splattering. My husband was anxious about the kids who were clearly taller than the height restriction sign, but yet kept trying to jump into the ball pool. And then there were all of the kids who thought it was fun to throw the balls, so that within minutes of the holiday party starting, plastic balls were bouncing and rolling all over the room.

A toddler toddled up, a little boy, maybe age two or three and very serious-looking. He refused to climb into the ball pool. He was hesitant about even putting his hands in, not that I blamed him, what with all the germy germs. I showed him one of the toy duckies, and he was curious, but kinda meh about it, not that I blamed him there either.

All of the other kids were having a blast. My husband and I pointed out the plastic ducks and wiped runny noses and tied little sneakers. We gave up enforcing the height rule and let the older kids flop and roll in the ball pool. We praised a helpful kid who brought back a thrown ball and soon we had a bunch of helpful kids running around the room chasing and collecting.

Another volunteer came by with a camera and asked all the kids around the ball pool to smile. The serious little boy just looked up at her blandly.

Come on, she said. Gimme a smile. And she reached down to touch his face.

I started thinking about this children's picture book author I heard speak at a writers' conference a few years ago. He said that most people have this very nostalgic view of childhood. They remember it as all glowy and happy and carefree, and they forget the reality. How so much of your little life is out of your own control and at the mercy of adults.

You're sitting on the floor playing a game and having a grand old time, and BOOM, some large person comes into the room and swoops you up and carries you off to bed.

You're constantly being monitored and told what to do and what not to do. What to eat. What clothes to wear.

And that's just the kids with the good, loving parents.

What about the children with parents who aren't all that good or loving, the author reminded us. The children who are neglected or abused. Imagine how unpredictable and scary and dark the world is for children like that.

The photographer volunteer wandered off to take pictures of the kids at the glitter table. The party went on. The holiday music blared and the balls bounced around the room. The cookie crumbs and drooly doughnut chunks kept dropping into the ball pool. The older kids flopped and buried each other. They darted off and got tattoos on their cheeks and made glitter pictures and then darted back to show my husband and me what they made.

During a rare quiet moment of an unoccupied ball pool, the serious little boy climbed in and sat down. He dug his hands under the plastic balls and found a couple of toy duckies. After a while, he leaned back, sliding his small body under.

Are you a giant duckie? I asked him.

He didn't say anything, but he smiled up at the ceiling.

Santa Ho-Ho-Ho-ed into the room, and it was time for presents and everyone trooped off to go get them. The little boy climbed out of the ball pool and toddled off to catch up with his older siblings.

If there is a word for the opposite of nostalgia, I am that word.

But I understand why we do it, paint our childhoods under a glowy haze. Why we want children to smile. Why we imagine them playing happily, their parents swooping them off to bed each night with gentleness and love.

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:


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."


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?


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:

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) 

* 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.


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.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Camping Stories from Hell (also known as A Review of My Friend Natalie's Book)

It must be said that I have a love/hate relationship with camping.

Okay, mostly hate. When I was a kid, my family went camping. A lot. The summer I turned six, we lived in a tent at a campground. On sunny days my younger brothers and I went swimming in the lake and played on the playground. I think?

Mostly, I remember the never-ending, boring rainy days, sitting at the picnic table under a tarp, coloring in damp coloring books. The nights in the tent, my sleeping bag bunched up and slipping off the inflatable raft I used as a mattress.

Skunks. The constant terror of tics. Flies dive bombing my Kool-Aid, their drowned bodies drifting around on the orange surface. The middle of the night stumbling up the road to the bathroom.

After my father died, my mother joined a single parent support group and the fun family activity was spending weekends at campgrounds. And then, after she married again, my stepfather bought a pop-up trailer, and later, a much nicer camper with all of the bells and whistles—stove and sink and TV and even a bathroom, which seemed like a real upgrade from the middle of the night stumbling. But for whatever weirdo reason, we were never allowed to use the bathroom, so. Yeah.  Fun times in the middle of the night.

Now I am trying to remember where the love part comes into it. Oh, um, I liked the campfires. Also, the roasting of hotdogs and marshmallows. Boat rides and floating on my raft mattress on the lake. The loveliness of the woods.

My point, and I do have one, is that while I’ve never gone camping as an adult, I do like hiking, and the allure of being in the woods was slowly coming back to me…

until I read my best friend Natalie D. Richards' book, ONE WAS LOST.

This book, which I have read four times (as Natalie’s critique partner), has viscerally reminded me of every damp day of my tent-living youth, the droney buzz of mosquitos, the peeling off of wet socks, the dripping moldy-smelling tent canvas, the fear of stumbling through the dark woods to find the bathroom…

And yet-- yet-- YET--  I couldn’t put the book down ALL FOUR TIMES that I read it.

So here’s the premise: a group of teens with lots of angsty baggage reluctantly sign up for a camping trip as a type of school-bonding-trip activity. A couple of nights in and it’s already turned horror show. Non-stop rain and the bickering stress that comes from hanging around people you don’t want to hang around with. And then a bridge washes out, and four students are separated from the main group. With no food. Wet, reeking tents. A teacher who seems cool but who knows.

The next morning they wake to find that it’s much later than it should be, their backpacks and phones have been destroyed, their teacher has been drugged... THEY’VE been drugged. And as they crawl out of their drippy tents groggily, they find that they’ve each been marked. 

Words written in sharpies on their arms:




And on our bristly heroine’s arm: DARLING

The next 300 pages are non-stop Whodunnit/what the heck happened/how do we get the hell out of the woods. Because this is a Natalie D. Richards' book there's also a bit of romance and a thought-provoking exploration of teen stereotypes and identity.

It’s Blair Witch Project meets the Breakfast Club, a breathless page turner with a super-charged warning:

Do Not Read at Night and for God’s sake, DO NOT READ IT ON A CAMPING TRIP!

Fun fact: Nat will be signing the book (and all her books) at Cover to Cover Bookstore in Columbus, Ohio, this Thursday, October 13 from 6:00-8:00. Come meet her!

For more on Nat and her books, see: NatalieDRichards.com

Friday, September 30, 2016

How Do I Love The Great British Bake-Off? (Let me count the ways)

1. It's a reality TV show and I typically HATE reality TV shows because they stress me out with all of the back-stabbing and cut-throat competition and snarky mean judges, but this show is NICE. The contestants are kind to each other. The judges are lovely--even when they are offering constructive criticism. And when a baker is voted off, everyone does a group hug to say goodbye.

2. It's a British show and everyone has varying degrees of English accents and you can't always understand a word they're saying, but they seem so happy and earnest when they're speaking that you just nod along in agreement.

3. The FOOD. This show will make you want to bake bread and pies and elaborate multi-level cakes and pastries with layers of butter, and biscuits (which in the British lingo are more like shortbread cookies). The contestants spend a lot of time describing in great detail what they are going to bake and there is an intricate drawn out version of the dessert helpfully shown on the TV screen so the viewer can see the plan... and how it sometimes falls short, which leads to

4. DRAMA. I never realized how nail-biting it was to watch people watch their oven doors until I watched this show. There's lots of watching of oven doors. Lots of desserts flopping and collapsing and burning and melting and tossing of failed desserts into the bin, and the most dreaded of all--

5. The SOGGY BOTTOM. All Great British Bake-Off fans know immediately what I am talking about here. The soggy bottom is the thing you DO NOT want to happen to your pie crust, and somehow there is always one sad bloke looking over his pie with dismay as the judge lifts the slice up to check, and says, "Oh dear. It's got a soggy bottom now doesn't it?"

6. Oh, these judges!! They are darling. First, Mary Berry, who apparently is famous in England for her dessert cookbooks. All of the contestants bow down to Queen Mary, hoping that she will call their recipes "Scrummy." Hint to the contestants: Mary is a sucker for booze-infused puddings.

7. But you won't get far trying to manipulate the other judge, Paul Hollywood. Paul is a renowned British bread baker who plays the bad cop to Mary Berry's sweet cop, roaming around the kitchen asking the bakers what they're making and raising his eyebrows skeptically whenever he suspects a dish is going to be a disaster. The worst thing Paul can say to you is "Good luck!" When he loves your dessert, (rarely) he shakes your hand. The rest of the time he sighs sadly and says something like, "The flavors just aren't there." But even that critical pronouncement is softened by

8. the hosts, Mel and Sue. Mel and Sue introduce each episode and narrate backstories about the contestants and the recipes. They also tell silly punny jokes and walk around the kitchen trying to lick batter out of people's bowls and swipe biscuits off counters when no one is looking. They give us the lowdown on which contestants are falling behind and in danger of being voted off

9. and share history lessons about British food by interviewing various Food Historians around England. Fun fact: there are a ton of Food Historians around England. Who knew?

10. And last but not least, the food. I have to bring it back around to the food again. I am not much of a baker, but since I have been watching this show, I have baked a scrummy coconut torte, ten perfectly formed chocolate biscotti, and one layered show-stopper cake shaped like a hamburger.

I imagine if Paul had dropped by he would've shaken my hand.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When a Friend Reads Your Book...

The hardest part is the wait. When will he open the file? How long will it take for him to finish? He might be putting it off. He's got a ton of other things to do besides scrolling through another mess of a draft-- something he's read once already

or twice.

You won't know exactly when he begins. What his thoughts are as he reads the labored-over sentences and the thrown together junk, the stuff you suspect might be awesome, the massive clunkers that blaze out like a neon sign flashing: THIS IS CRAPPY!!!!

"Tell me the truth," you tell him. "I can take it."

But what you mean is Only tell me the truth if you love it. 

No. I'm joking. Really. Tell me the truth.

Sometimes you get lucky. He'll text you somewhere in the middle. This is great! I'm really enjoying it so far. 


There's nearly always a but--

The but is the key word here because you know it leads to more work.

But the first three chapters are kinda slow...
But I don't understand what's happening in the middle...
But the ending is little confusing...

The worst response is the Meh kind. I liked it. Or,  yeah it was good. You can tell a meh response is coming because it's not easily offered. You have to ask for it, like asking someone what they think of your radically different haircut.

Hint: if he really liked it, he'd tell you.

And this isn't a haircut we're talking about. This is a book you worked on for a year, a book filled with funny lines that you hope are funny and sad stuff that you hope will break people's hearts. Words and images that churned up from some dark weird recess of your brain, your past. Secrets. Fears. Things you wouldn't dare to speak aloud in public.

But now it's all out in the open, laid bare on the page, a snatched butterfly splayed and pinned.

So what do you think of it? you are dying to ask.

What do you think of me?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

I am starting a new book today...

I'm tucked away in the loft of a barn at a writing retreat, curled up on a cozy chair, my laptop on my lap.

Ready to go.

I've got everything I need up here. A bowl of mixed nuts. A blank notebook. A glass of water with a slice of lemon. Three pens and one pencil. An inspirational book on writing that I found earlier gathering dust on a shelf. My reading glasses. A journal where I've been brainstorming.

The idea is hovering around the edges of my brain, not quite coming through, but I can feel it there, a naggy itch.

I went for a walk this morning. There are woods on this retreat. Hiking trails. A stream. Supposedly there are brown bears loping between the trees. I haven't seen one (thank God!) but I did see a snake. It crossed my path and slithered off into the leaves at the edge of the road before I even had time to be afraid.

It's a weird thing about walking alone. Especially when you've got a book flickering around in your head.

I kept looking for signs of it along my walk and then I stopped looking for signs and looked for snakes.

And bears.

Sometimes I am terrified of being in the woods. The quietness that isn't really all that quiet. The stillness that isn't quite still. How the moment you step in, the temperature drops ten degrees. The way the leaves on random trees flicker and twitch even when there isn't a breeze trailing through them.

I am the only one out here. But somehow, I am not alone.

The road bends ahead and disappears in shadow. Where does it go?

My sneakers crunch on the gravel. The woods surround me, dark and impenetrable.  I think lines from random poems. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep/ but I have promises to keep/ and miles to go before I sleep...

And weirdly, an old song from Girl Scouts pops into my head. Which gets me singing the song in time to my feet slapping the ground. I wasn't always afraid of the woods. I'm not afraid now. I'm not.

I'm not.  

Around a bend, a farm. So that was unexpected.

And then back into the woods. No closer to figuring out my story. It takes me a year to write a book. It is a crazy-making level of commitment that starts out with good intentions -- to find balance and joy and trust the process and just write for the sake of writing and yadda yadda ya,

and inevitably ends with a manic stretch of ranting and never changing out of my pajamas and forgetting to brush my teeth and who gives a crap about vacuuming. Or making dinner. And disappearing so far inside my own head that some days it's hard to claw my way out.

It's no wonder I have to gird myself to begin. I heard the author Jane Resh Thomas speak once about what it takes to write a book.

Why THIS book? she asked. Why have you decided to devote a year of your life in service to this particular story? You won't be the same person on the other side of it, you know that, right?

Oh, yes, Jane. I know it.

My feet keep smacking the road.

Another dark windy section of forest. A stream somewhere hidden behind the trees, burbling over rocks that I can't see.

Boom, a cornfield. Also, unexpected.

Who plants a cornfield in the woods?

And then I am back in the woods. A shadow walking on the road. Searching for my story. Walking.




back to the barn

up the stairs

to the loft


I begin

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sparks and Sticks and Who the Heck Knows Where Ideas Come From or How to Write a Book Anyway

A teacher friend asked me to speak to her creative writing class on how to begin a story.

Which got me thinking about how, exactly, I begin a story.

I can talk about craft, the writer's "toolbox" as Stephen King calls it. Throw out words like Hook and Inciting Incident. Stress the importance of the opening paragraphs, the creation of characters and conflict and setting. Dialogue and sensory details. Oh, I guess we should talk about Theme. Bluh.

But I suspect the students in the creative writing class have heard all of that before. They've read stories and deconstructed stories. Written book reports and analyzed symbols. Taken tests on What's the Main Idea? and List the supporting details.

All of this stuff is helpful to know -- when it comes to understanding how a story works (or doesn't), but I'm not sure how helpful it is for the writer facing a blank computer screen or gripping a pen against a notebook page.

How do you begin a story?

Where does an idea for a story come from? And once you have that idea, how do you go about developing it?

The answer, I am reluctant to admit to the creative writing students, is: I don't know.

The author Sid Fleischman has what he calls the Two Sticks Theory. Just as it takes two sticks to make a fire, it takes two ideas to spark a story.

The theory rings true to me. I can go back through stories and books I've written and trace the genesis of them back to two ideas-- or more. But that's clearer when I've already written in the story.

Before I begin, I just have vague strands and snippets floating around in my head. A barefoot boy. A Celtic belief in thin places. A girl moving to a new town. A ghost hovering over a bed. The crappy gray weather that is November in Columbus Ohio.

How do those strands and snippets wind themselves into a coherent story?

I'm back to I don't know.

There's the BIC philosophy of writing a book...

Where you, um, put your Butt In the Chair and write the book. For more info on how to manage this feat, check out the reams of manuals written on discipline and motivation, how to break through writer's block, how to beat back resistance and bang out your novel.

If those books sound too militant and hard core to you, check out the woo-woo-y books on inspiring your inner artist and nurturing your creative self and finding joy in your process and meditating (or walking or showering) your way through plot holes.

Ask any writer for a word of advice and you'll hear stuff like:

Write every day
Don't write every day
Write a shitty first draft and worry about revision later
What? Are you nuts? Outline that sucker first and then write!
Wake up early
Stay up late
Hand write

And I am back to I Don't Know.

Maybe in the end it comes down to finding the thing that works for you and doing it until it doesn't work anymore and then trying something else. You write because you have a story to tell and it gets rejected and you quit

or you keep writing and you get better. Your stories are published and they do well or they sink like stones and disappear, but you keep writing because what else are you going to do

and in a few weeks you'll start a new story and you have your vague strands and snippets bobbing around in your head and you're not sure what to do with them yet, but whatever, you'll figure it out.

First, though, you've got to change out of your pajamas! You're visiting a creative writing classroom in like, an hour, and you need to plan what you are going to say.