Saturday, May 18, 2019

House Showing with a Dog and Cat

I thought it was hard with two little kids. The call from the realtor that potential buyers are on the way, leading to the tear through the house with a laundry basket, scooping up clutter--toys, the day's mail, a dusty dropped pacifier-- dumping all of that in the car, plus the kids, then a final run through the house, switching on lights, hitting every surface with a dust cloth, hiding the laundry.

We'd hang out in the park those days.

Or if it was raining, a trip to a McDonalds playland. Something fun to de-stress after what I'd just put everyone through. My son still had psychological scars from earlier house-showings. Back when I was pregnant with his sister and wasn't supposed to pick up heavy things (him) or bend over too much, I sent him scurrying around with the laundry basket. Basically lied to his darling three-year-old face that if he didn't clean them up, his toys would be taken by the Strangers Who Wanted to Buy Our House.

Today I'm on my own with the laundry basket, the cat moaning in her carrier, the dog anxiously panting a step behind me as I hide the kitty litter in the garage, scoop up her chew toys, Windex smudges off the floor.

The dog doesn't need me to tell her that Strangers are coming. She can smell them.

Speaking of smells, according to our realtor, you want your house to smell good. Baked cookies or bread? Great idea. A cutting from the lilac bush in the front yard? Also, great. But not both! We don't want competing smells. Otherwise the buyers will think you are trying to cover something up.

There's a delicate balance in the showing of a house. Shed all clutter and evidence that humans actually live here (shampoo in the shower, family pictures), but you don't want the place to be completely empty or people will have a hard time envisioning themselves in it.

It's all about the first impression. Apparently, buyers make up their minds in the first few seconds of stepping into a house. I believe this. Over the past few weeks I have been walking into strangers' houses and making up my mind fast.

It's driving my husband crazy.

Example:

Husband (stepping inside): This is nice--

Me (stepping back outside): NO!

In one case I wouldn't even let him stop the car. A million years ago our first realtor told us that before you make an offer on a house, you should always stand at the front door and take a look at the house across the street. That's the view you're going to see every day.

And what was across the street that made me want to keep driving? Let's just say that whoever lives there thinks it's a cool idea to hang a picture-window-sized-poster with one name on it. (hint: it starts with a T and ends with a p)

Have I mentioned that we have lovely neighbors across the street from our present house?

We also have really nice neighbors next door. So nice, in fact, that they have invited me to hang out at their house with the dog and cat while strangers sniff our home and make split second decisions about its value.

The cat moans. The dog groans.


After the strangers leave, I gather everyone up and we head home.




Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Grass in the Garden

For ten years I yanked it out by the roots. Now, I am letting it grow.

The raised beds are gone, the paths lining them grassed over too. The place where the magical green beans rose up, the tendrils twirling around my wrist whenever I walked past. The purple cabbages blooming in the corners. The neat rows of lettuce. The patch of borage the bees loved.

But that will come back. Already I spy the telltale leaves poking up here and there. We can't erase all trace of ourselves. 

The previous owners left behind a cluster of seashells by the front porch, lines of dried sage leaves on the door ledges of the bedrooms. I wrote the sage into a book it was so strange. 

We found an empty suitcase in the attic. Flower bulbs hidden in the back flower beds choked by weeds. The house where I grew up had writing on the wall. Maureen was here. I left behind a bolted lock on my bedroom door. 

House-hunting over the weekend we walked through a backyard where someone had buried a pet, a flat rock on the mulch the only reminder. And the ancient house downtown with the grapevines growing out back. The original vine came from Hungary, the realtor told us. The old woman who lived here made communion wine for her church out of the grapes.

Don't worry, he said, those vines will be easy to yank out, grow some nice grass. 

That house needed a good hundred thousand dollars worth of repairs. New electrical wiring. Probably loaded with asbestos, lead and who knows what else, but here I am thinking, Could we make it work,

tend to the grapevines, keep out the grass?




Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Top Ten Reasons I Love Working at the Library

10. Books! -- to shelve and take off shelves, to check in and check out, to organize and arrange, never mind sneaking a peek at the front flap or scanning the back, and all of those chats with patrons, did you like this one? What's your favorite by this author? Ooh! I have been meaning to read this, do you recommend it?

9. We also have dvds and cds and magazines and newspapers, and then there's the array of digital resources. Did you know that with your library card, from the comfort of your own home, you can stream a movie, flip through a magazine, download a song or a book?

Yeah, me neither, until I started working at the library. (For reference purposes, see: Kanopy, Flipster, Hoopla, and Libby.)

8. But wait, how much does a library card cost? (This is an actual question I got the other day when I was working at the desk.)

The answer: It's free!

7. And speaking of library cards, this is one of my favorite things to do at the library. Give someone a library card. To the woman above who had apparently never been inside a library in her life. To the man from Brazil who had just moved here and proudly showed me his passport and utility bill with his address. To the four year old who wanted to check out her own books. To the two boys who were helping their non-English-speaking mom apply for her own card. I love that moment when I hand them their new card and the little brochure that goes with it and say, Welcome to the library!

6. This cool packing-up of books we have to do. (The library where I work is part of a consortium with a bunch of other libraries and all of the libraries work together to ship books out to each other, so every day we are fitting and stacking and organizing bins in this way that I totally get a charge out of.) I think because it reminds me of playing Tetris.

5. Questions. These are like puzzles and even the patrons asking the questions sometimes know that it might be hard to find the answer. For example: What's that book that was mentioned on NPR a few weeks ago or a few months ago and had something to do with a dog and a hurricane?

Or

Did I read this book? (Fun fact: we can't actually answer that question because there's no way to see a patron's book-checking-out history. Which is a good thing, actually, because, the Bill of Rights.

4. Book Recs. I LOVE THESE! Usually it's a parent looking for a read-alike to a child's favorite book or a person waiting on a sequel and needing something else to read in the meantime. Sometimes it's just a lonely person who you can tell just

3. wants to talk, and guess what? They have come to the right person at the right place for that!

2. Because we are Open to All. See:



Those are the words etched in stone over the entrance to the main library downtown since 1907.

1. That day I was working in the Youth Services section and noticed the quiet little girl sitting by herself while her father was on his phone and I asked her if she wanted to do our famous Very Hungry Caterpillar Scavenger Hunt and she nodded, and I gave her the clipboard and she marched off quietly searching, and then I forgot about her for a while, and then she came back after finding all of the hidden items and had an extremely difficult time choosing a prize from our prize box, needing to touch every single item at least twice before making her final decision,

and that was only after I told her that if she came back another time, she could do the scavenger hunt again and pick out another prize.

A few days later when I was working upstairs, the same little girl marched over to the desk and held up her prize and spoke to me for the first time, smiling when she said:

"I came back."


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Finishing my book and finishing my book and finishing my book and finishing

my book.

This one's been a tough one to finish and I don't know why I am surprised. It was a tough one to start. A tough one to keep writing. Tough to finish the first draft. And the second draft. And now this third draft...

The letter from my agent, the one where she wrote me six single-spaced pages of notes that I might want to consider, that was tough to read. And tougher to digest. I started working part-time at a bookstore during the writing of this book. And it was tough to adapt to a new writing schedule. I found a library job in the morning and taught myself to work in the afternoons. I found a library job in the afternoon and now I am teaching myself to write in the mornings.

There are a million reasons every day for me to not sit down to work. The dog wants to be walked. The house wants to be painted. My daughter wants to graduate from college. Meanwhile the book spins around inside my head wanting to be written.

I started this draft last summer. Now it's almost May. Outside my garden's been bulldozed in preparation for our move. It was too big, too overwhelming, I thought, for a potential buyer to want to mess with.

Once, when the kids were younger and I hadn't yet been published and was suffering from an almost insane level of desperation and desire, writing feverishly book after book after book, submitting and collecting rejections, pinballing between absurd confidence that one of these damn stories would eventually sell and despair. That was when I came the closest I'd ever come to quitting.

It lasted a week and then I was back at it.

I have one chapter left to write.

(And okay, a few earlier scenes to fiddle with.) Then I'll send it off to my critique partner to get her thoughts. Another revision before sending it off to my agent. In all likelihood there will be a new single-spaced letter of notes I'll want to consider.

I will consider them.

New grass is coming up in the place where I once had lettuce. Along the edge a defiant asparagus stalk pokes out to tease me.


When I'm finally finished, I already know the story I'll work on next.




Monday, April 22, 2019

Painting over cracks

this weekend, after a week of workmen tromping through the house, repairing drywall and measuring for new carpet, freaking out the dog.

She's not too thrilled about the painting either. So much disruption, moving around the furniture, the loud vacuum. Also, she's wary of the stepladder. I climb it with my paint brush, painting the same walls I painted twelve years ago when we first moved into this house. You really get to know a house, make it your own, when you paint it,

that close examination of the baseboards, the crawling around on the floors and reaching toward the ceilings. The kids were in school back then, jumping into the middle of a school year in a town where there aren't many new kids.

I'm listening to podcasts while I paint. Fresh Air interviews. A man who wrote a book about climate change and how our window to save the planet is closing. The emotional lives of primates, how chimpanzees have masculine societies and bonobos are led by females. We don't know what to make of that, says the interviewee, so scientists tend to focus more on chimpanzees.

There's a heap of dust behind our bed when my husband and I move it away from the wall. And ha! Now I know where all of my missing bookmarks have fallen, night after night, reading in bed. Our daughter's room has three layers of paint. The purple color I originally painted it--it was the first room I worked on-- trying to make her feel at home in our new home. A sunny day in October, her first day of school, I walked to pick her up (Walked!!! I had been so tired of the forty-minute car drives) She refused to talk to me about her day. Crawled into her bed and sobbed and what do you do to fix a pain like that, except to say,

You made it through. 

A few years later she asked me to paint her room a cheery blue. And when she went off to college, I turned it into my office, painted the walls what is called Sand 3, the same color I used in the house we lived in before this one. Like the iris bulbs from the previous garden replanted here, the lovely sand paint will move with us again.

This time I need my reading glasses to do the painstaking work around the trim. I listen to an interview about the Spanish American War. Paint the walls marred by the built-in bookcase, and did you know our government tricked the Philippines into thinking we would help them defeat the Spanish? More Filipinos died in that war than in the American Civil War.

The most tedious part of painting is the prep-work, the removal of light switch plates, the patching of nail holes left behind after taking down all of the pictures.

Only we know what hung on these walls, the graduation photos and family trips, a visit to the college my husband and I both graduated from, that time we took the kids to visit the place, the four of us smiling against a backdrop of ivy covered bricks, the children so young then. It was right before we uprooted them to move here, I think.

A podcast about the Russian hacking of our election. A discussion about what makes kids resilient. We'll be back at the same college in a few week to see our daughter graduate, the four of us together again.

A quick trip before moving on to the next house with new walls to paint.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Book boxing

Assignment:

Box up the books in my office.

The thought being that my husband can take down the built-in bookcase and I can freshen up the paint on the walls, making the room "pop" as our realtor likes to say.

I figured it would take me like, an hour to box up the books, and then I could tote the three or four boxes downstairs and stack them in the garage, a nice surprise for my husband, who's away on a weekend trip.

Flash forward three hours later and the boxes are stacked where I packed them (WAY too heavy for me to tote), on the floor in the office, which isn't exactly popping at the moment.

Also, it took seven big boxes to fit the books and I'm still not finished emptying the shelves. (note to self: Don't get side-tracked by the Marie-Kondo Does this bring me joy? question. Or I don't know. Maybe it is a good idea to ask that question. Already I'm thinking about how I am going to have to unpack these same boxes at some point in the near future. Do I really want and/or need all of these books?

And this is only one room. We have a built-in bookcase in the living room, bookcases in both of the kids' old bedrooms, a bookcase in the kitchen to hold all of my cookbooks and gardening books. Fun fact:

When I was growing up, I had only two small shelves of books.

The complete set of the original Trixie Belden series, 1 through 16, a handful of paperbacks I'd bought at Scholastic book fairs over the years back when you could buy a book for less than a dollar, one leather-bound volume (not sure where I got this) of America's Best Loved Poems, and

Linda Goodman's Love Signs.

When I was twelve years old it was my favorite book. I have no idea why, but for most of my middle school years I was obsessed with astrology, memorizing all of the signs and symbols, their respective characteristics, and the most suitable match-ups of the signs in both friendship and in love.

I mean, I'm a Cancer. It makes sense that I would want to know, what with Cancers being so sensitive and self-reflective.

Anyway, I remember reading and re-reading Linda Goodman's Love Signs, taking copious notes, building lists in a notebook of all of the people I knew and their signs, and analyzing how best to interact with them. For example, the boy I liked in middle school was a Sagittarius, a fire sign and clearly not a good match for Cancerian me (water).

Which turned out to be prophetically true (although I had to date that bozo for nine years to be completely and totally sure.)

Weirdly, Linda Goodman's Love Signs is the only book I took with me from home when I went 1250 miles away to college. I kept it on a small shelf in my dorm room, not believing in astrology anymore, but every once in a while, paging through it to look up a person's sign and see if he might be a good match, more out of habit than anything else. (Example, the boy I met senior year, a Capricorn (earth), was a much better choice for watery me, according to Linda Goodman, and I quote:

"you can see there are powerful magnetic forces pulling these two together from the start."

which also turned out to be prophetically true because reader, I married him, and now he's on his way home and I'm hefting boxes of books around in my office, thinking about how the only book I own from the first eighteen years of my life is this one,


before I slip it carefully into a box.






Sunday, March 31, 2019

What to write about when you don't know what to write about

well, there's always what's been going on during the week.

The job you quit, for example, the one where you shelved 500 books every day, a dream job for a writer and reader, the meditative routine of sorting books and finding books, the never ending circulation loop, the quiet,

and the job you started, 

at another library where you won't have to shelve much at all, but instead, do the kinds of things you thought you'd be doing in the first place. Helping patrons pick out books and doing searches through the catalog, checking in books, a conversation with a little girl about what she is reading that spirals you back for a moment to your own childhood,

and the rush back and forth between both jobs, which overlapped for a few days, the writing conference you helped plan, late nights of sorting folders and counting lunch selections and tallying up money, fielding the last minute registration questions, and then the day itself, one moment of quiet in the back of the auditorium when you remembered why

you do this. Write,

except first, you have to clean the entire house because you're putting it on the market and there might be a buyer stopping by to walk through it IN TWO DAYS, which means deep deep cleaning, digging through closets and under beds, trying not to get sidetracked by a folded note in an old sixth grade backpack, a stuffed bunny once loved, tossed on a shelf, gathering dust, 

and finally finally finally

the book you've been working on for nearly two years, the seemingly endless picking your way through scene by scene, sometimes sentence by sentence, getting stuck and somehow getting unstuck, the ever-present fear that maybe this one won't sell either, but suddenly a flash of excitement: 

You understand what it is now. 

And for today, anyway, that's all you need to keep going. 





Tuesday, March 26, 2019

To All the Cars I've Loved Before

(**inspired by being lost, again, at the Car Show in downtown Columbus)

Dear Brown, Tank-sized Station Wagon from the 1970s,

thank you for being there when I first learned to drive, and for teaching me to master parallel parking and the K turn, and for that day

when I was taking my driver's test and the guy yelled at me for driving down the center of the abandoned street and I started crying because I thought I had failed my test, but then the guy said, FINE, Go take your picture for your license, and I was crying and didn't want to take my picture but I did, and then my mom said Yay! You got your license, wanna drive home?

And I said NO! I hate driving! I never want to drive again!

And thank you, Small car, although I don't remember what color you were and never knew your make and model,

it was You who taught me to always wear shoes when I drove,

and to never ever ever drive in a nightgown to go pick up my boyfriend at one o'clock in the morning, where I would be sitting at a red light when a speeding car, --those headlights forever in the rear view mirror growing bigger and brighter (he's not going to stop HE'S NOT GOING TO STOP) hit me so hard I smashed my face on the steering wheel and totaled you-- so when the ambulance came to load me up, I had the great horror and shame of stumbling out of your accordion-wrecked body barefoot and nightgown clad.

And thank you, Chevy Spectrum (is that what you were called?)

a gift from my generous doting New England aunt when I graduated from college in Memphis, O how i loved you

until my aunt told me you had no air conditioning, --but Jody, do you really need air conditioning? Just turn on the fan. -- how (not) fondly I recall sitting in you, those 100-degree sweltering days, the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the only car with the windows open, the fan on full-blast blowing

hot air on my sweaty face.

Dear dear Bright Aquamarine Mini Van,

thank you for helping me schlep the kids all over town, the car seats and booster seats, the tossed toy cars and chewed on doll heads, the forever yellow and crispy McDonalds french fries tucked in your cushions,

the seemingly endless loop of carpools to preschool, elementary school, middle school, soccer practice, piano lessons, viola lessons, concerts, games, the friends multiplying in the back seats, the chatter/giggles/tantrums that sometimes gave me a headache but now in their absence make my heart ache.

All of you, Cars,

I forgive you your breakdowns, your heat, your flat tires, your cracked windshields, your dropped fan belts in the pouring rain.

In the end you did what you promised. You took me where I needed to go, and when the trip was over, you brought me home.



Sunday, March 17, 2019

When I met W.S. Merwin, all I could think about was

how he once knew Sylvia Plath. At twenty-two I was still wildly enamored with her brute black-booted daddy poems and the story of how she'd lost her mind in a cold flat in London and gassed herself while her toddlers slept in the next room. Part horror, part fascination, only a small part understanding. I knew next to nothing at age twenty-two,

but I knew enough to be excited that W.S. Merwin was visiting my MFA program to do a reading and later mingle with us at the wine-and-cheese.

I expected to meet the dark-haired Heathcliff-looking Sylvia Plath friend from the 1950's, but this man was white-haired and ancient,

still,

he had piercing blue eyes, and when I mingled with him while drinking my wine and eating my cheese, I want to think that I didn't mention Sylvia Plath,

that instead, asked him about his poems or at least sounded halfway interested and serious,

What I probably talked with him about was his poem "Air" because I'd used it in a poetry workshop when the assignment was to write a poem using another poem as a model, writing yours with the same number of syllables per line,




or I might've talked to him about his poem  "For the Anniversary of My Death" Every year without knowing it I have passed the day 

because I was blown away by how obvious the idea was and yet I'd never thought about it before,

but who knows what we talked about. That was almost thirty years ago. I think he signed his latest book for me...

Yes!

I just now checked, and the small volume of poetry is there on my bookshelf, proving I do have half a brain.

Today, the "Poem a Day" in my poetry.org email said: "Remembering W.S. Merwin." Apparently, he died two days ago, March 15th.

And so we both passed the day without knowing it.





Saturday, March 9, 2019

While Not in Rome

Last week my husband met up with our daughter and her roommate in Rome for the girls' spring break. Every day I would wake up to glorious pictures of linguini and gelato, the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum, the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel.


Then I would let the dog out, dart off to work, shelve 400 books, come home and settle in to write.

It was kind of a reverse retreat. The house was quiet, with no reason for me to stop working. I made a vat of potato soup and ate it all week. I read two books, one that was so crappy I wanted to fling it across the room and the other that restored my faith in the power of literature. When I needed to hear another human voice, I listened to a podcast.

(and lest you think I am too highbrow in my entertainment choices, I also binge-watched the raunchy Netflix cartoon Big Mouth and then, of course, took a bubble bath.)

It's strange living alone for a week.

I have never done it for much longer than that in my entire life. My husband and I have been married for 29 years. Before we married, I had roommates, and before that, I was a child living in a loud house with a lock on my door.

At one time I was afraid to be alone at night. My husband's traveled a lot over the years for business and I was fine when the kids were home, but once they moved out, the first time he left for a trip, I was worried that my old childhood fear of the dark would creep back.

It didn't.

Maybe it's the dog. I talk to her when I am alone and I swear she listens to me. When I'm parked too long in one position, she noses me until I get up and take her for a walk. At night when the house is settling and creaking and shadowy, she curls up at my feet on the bed. I know that she would bark away a ghost.


Not that I believe in ghosts, but you never know. I make up stories for a living. And by "a living" I mean, it is what I do. Night Number Eight alone, I mix it up a little. Eat leftover spaghetti. Scroll through the latest Roman holiday pictures. Settle in to write.

Later, I'll reward myself with a bubble bath.




Thursday, February 28, 2019

An Interview with Marcia Thornton Jones on Writing for Kids

What seems like a million years ago I was working in Lexington, Kentucky at the county board of education's gifted and talented department, filling in for a teacher friend, Marcia, who was home-bound after foot surgery. For six weeks I sat at Marcia's desk, working, but sometimes stealing a few minutes during lunch to write. Back then I had dreams of being a writer, although I didn't talk about it with many people.

Something funny, one day at work I opened the newspaper and found Marcia's photo on the front page under the headline: Marcia Thornton Jones: Kentucky's Best Selling Author. 

Turns out my teacher-friend was the co-author of the best selling Bailey School Kid series. To say I was stunned is putting it mildly. My daughter was a huge fan, and suddenly, sitting at this woman's desk felt like serendipity. Could Marcia point me in the right direction on my own writing path?

Short answer: Yes!

Longer answer: Marcia's been a good friend and mentor ever since.

If you want to learn how to get started writing for kids, but you don't happen to be working for a best-selling author immediately after she's had foot surgery, I've got the next best thing:



A new book on writing for kids, called appropriately enough Writing for Kids: the Ultimate Guide, by Marcia and her long-time writing partner Debbie Dadey.

The book is available now and because Marcia is darling, she's agreed to let me interview her today!

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

Jody: What inspired you and Debbie to write this book?

Marcia: When Debbie and I started writing, we were clueless. We knew we wanted to write, and we knew we had stories to tell, but we had no idea how to successfully put those ideas on the page and get them published. We really wished we had someone who could help us; someone to guide us. Mentors who could show us the way.

We didn’t, so Debbie and I took classes, we researched, we wrote, and we learned from trial and error. I think one of the biggest benefits of having a writing partner is that we challenged each other to learn and to develop our writing skills—and we kept each other from giving up because, let’s face it, writing can be frustrating--

Jody: Especially all of the rejections. Twenty years-- yikes!-- since my first rejection and it never gets easier.

Marcia: So true. And this is another benefit of having a writing partner, you figure out how to get past those rejections together, which Debbie and I did, and we kept going, learning how to navigate the writing and publishing world, meeting others along the way who were as clueless as we were.

When Writers Digest Books approached us about writing the first book in a planned series for children’s book writers, we realized it was an opportunity to give back to the writing community. That book, Story Sparkers, was intended to be the first book in a series, and our mission was to write about generating ideas for kids’ books.

Since drafting Story Sparkers, I’ve been teaching writing as well and coordinating the Carnegie Center Author Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. I start the first session of my classes asking students what they want to know…what they need to learn in order to realize their goals as writers. Then I develop lessons with focused writing prompts based on their needs.

When the Writer’s Digest series didn’t pan out thanks to a change in editorial staffing, Debbie and I decided it was our opportunity to build off Story Sparkers, by writing a book that included all facets of the writing process, from generating ideas to marketing your finished book.

Jody: Which is what led to Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide... 

Marcia: Exactly. It's the book we wished we had when we were starting out together.

Jody: I love that you and Debbie worked on this book together-- and that you've written over one hundred!? books together. I'd love to hear more about how that partnership came about. 

Marcia: Debbie and I started writing together when we both worked at an elementary school in Lexington. We wanted to write the kinds of books that resonated with students. When we first started working together, we sat side-by-side at the computer and typed the stories as we spoke them. After Debbie moved from Lexington, we developed a system where we took turns writing chapters based on a rough outline.

Jody: Did you have a similar process working on Writing for Kids:The Ultimate Guide? 

Marcia: Not quite. We knew we had a beginning, thanks to the work we did for Story Sparkers. From that, we developed an outline based on the elements of the writing process. Within that framework, we wrote with the intention of providing information and concrete tools that help writers develop ideas, draft their stories, hone their craft, and navigate the publishing world. 

All those years of developing lessons and writing prompts focused on the specific needs of students in my classes at the Carnegie Center became an integral part of Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide!

Since we wanted to make this affordable, we decided to self-publish it. Debbie took on the task of formatting it, but we did seek help from an agent as well.

Jody: Give me a teaser...  Say I am a beginning writer or someone further along in the process who's not quite sure how to break into the publishing world. Why should I want to read your guide? 

Marcia: I have a personal motto:  Give people TIME. 

TIME stands for Teach, Inspire, Motivate, and Empower. That’s exactly what Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide does. It teaches information and skills writers need to know about writing kids’ books. It inspires and motivates writers to write—and keep writing. And it empowers writers to achieve their goals of writing for kids.

Jody: Okay, you've got me. I am not a beginner but one thing I've learned over the years about writing is I always have more to learn. I downloaded the book last night and am eagerly dipping in!

Readers, if you want to take a peek Marcia's and Debby's latest guide for children (or at any of their other joint or solo ventures) See below:

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Writing for Kids: The Ultimate Guide to buy on Amazon. 


Marcia Thornton Jones has traditionally published more than 130 books for children with sales totaling more than 43 million copies world-wide. Her works include Woodford Brave, Champ, Ratfink, Godzilla Ate My Homework, The Tale of Jack Frost, and Leprechaun on the Loose. She is the co-author of seven popular series: The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, Keyholders, Ghostville Elementary, The Bailey School Kids Jr. Chapter Books, Triplet Trouble, Bailey City Monsters, and The Barkley School for Dogs.

Marcia and her books have received many awards and honors including the Elementary Library Book Award (ELBA), Minnesota Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award, Milner Award, the Humane Society of the United States KIND Children's Honor Book, and International Reading Associations Children’s Choice Award. She was also honored as a nominee for the Surrey Schools' Book of the Year and Kentucky Bluegrass Awards. She was listed as a top 100 author by the Educational Paperback Association, selected for the Children’s Top 100 Books list by the National Education Association, and the Publisher's Weekly Bestsellers list.

Marcia, lives in Lexington, Kentucky where she is the Coordinator of the Carnegie Center Author Academy, an intensive nine-month writing certificate program. She also teaches Carnegie Center writing classes, seminars, and is a writing mentor. She enjoys presenting at schools and conferences.  As a veteran teacher with more than 20 years of experience, she easily relates the importance of writing to students of all ages.

For information about Marcia’s classes, mentoring, and the Carnegie Center Author Academy, please visit The Carnegie Center or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Debbie Dadey has traditionally published 166 books for children with sales totaling more than 43 million copies world-wide. She is the co-author of seven popular series: The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids, Keyholders, Ghostville Elementary, The Bailey School Kids Jr. Chapter Books, Triplet Trouble, Bailey City Monsters, and The Barkley School for Dogs. Some of her individual series include the Mermaid Tales and the Swamp Monster in Third Grade

She also co-authored the Slime Wars series with her son Nathan.  Her works also include Cherokee Sister, Whistler's Hollow, King of the Kooties, The Worst Name in the Third Grade, Shooting Star, and Will Rogers, Larger Than Life. 

Debbie and her books have received awards and honors, including the Colorado Author’s League Children’s Fiction Award, Golden Reader Author Award, Elementary Library Book Award (ELBA), Milner Award, Kentucky Bluegrass Award nominee, and several International Reading Association’s Children’s Choice Awards. She was listed as a top 100 author by the Educational Paperback Association, selected for the Children’s Top 100 Books list by the National Education Association, and ranked in the Publisher's Weekly Bestsellers list. She is an Author for Earth Day.

Debbie is a former teacher and librarian who enjoys visiting schools and speaking at conferences. With three children, two dogs, and one husband she has plenty of fodder for new stories, but loves doing research for even more inspiration. She lives in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. 

Please visit her at www.debbiedadey.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.  


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Stories of Joy and Murder

They're eager to get started, game for anything I suggest. Make up a character? They're in. Chart out story arcs with marker on poster-board? No problem. Write the first scene? Let's do it.

I don't know why I am surprised. Kids are like this when it comes to writing. And these fourth and fifth graders in the writing program I've been teaching for the past few weeks, are particularly smart and creative.

Open to trying new methods, happy to use pen or pencil on paper or whatever I give them. Although, one girl has brought her laptop and another tells me she writes all of her novels on her phone. Only a couple of the kids are stuck, asking me to clarify the directions, stumped for a moment about how to start, but with just a little push, off they go.

Most are eager to share what they've written, read aloud their scenes and display their plot plans.

One surprise: the majority of their stories are dark. Evil government conspiracies and dead parents. Kidnappings. Murder. It's all presented matter-of-factly, though, and I try not to bat an eye. Hmm, okay, so in Act Two the main character finds the dead body? All-righty-then. Let's write that scene.

Who am I to judge the mind of a nine year old? They're the ones finding joy in this exercise.

Contrast this with adult writers. Contrast this with, um, me, daily on the phone with my critique partner whining about how hard it is to sit down and get to work.

Maybe the word "work" is the issue here. The fourth and fifth graders write because they want to. They signed up for this class. Two hours every Saturday for five weeks. I'm not sure what I can teach them. The most important lesson is one they already know:

If you want to be a writer, you write.

Now.

This moment.

Take out a piece of paper or open a file on your computer (or phone?) and go.




Sunday, February 17, 2019

Ruin and Love

Friday I drove with my writing friend Natalie down to Marietta, Ohio to watch her cousin Andi get surprise-proposed to. 

I had never watched anyone get surprise-proposed to before, and I was curious. The proposal was going to take place in a bar during a live band performance. The cousin's long time girlfriend is a bass player in the band, and the plan was that at some point during the show, she'd step down from the stage and ask Andi to marry her. 

I like Andi. She's a photographer and the last time I saw her, she let me play dress up in her Hot Tomato studio. Her specialty is boudoir photography and she's known for making all women feel welcome and beautiful. I don't think she advertises much, but word has gotten around, and she has a huge group of loyal clients and friends who flock to Marietta just to hang out with her. 

It was a long drive down there. Natalie and I did what we do a lot lately when we get together. Lamented about the horrifying state of the world. 

When that got too depressing I told her about the plot of the book I'd just finished reading. Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. It's about the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his third wife Martha Gellhorn. She was a novelist and war correspondent who covered basically every foreign war from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930's to the US invasion of Panama in 1979. 

But annoyingly for Martha Gellhorn, she's mainly just known for being Ernest Hemingway's third wife. For a few years they had an intense bond, writing side by side and traveling to war zones together, hanging out in Cuba and throwing back drinks with friends.  

They talked and argued a lot about writing and what the point of it all was. How could you spend time playing around with a story while the world outside was going to ruin? Was it fair to hole up in your house in Cuba when so many other people were suffering? 

That's another thing Natalie and I do a lot. Talk and argue about writing and wonder what the point of it all is. Is it okay to care so much about our made-up worlds when the real world is such a mess?

The bar in Marietta was crowded with fans of the band and friends and family of Andi. She was happily clueless about what was going to happen, walking around taking photos, not noticing how many people were grinning and taking photos of her. I was getting excited and nervous for her. Also, I was tired, sipping my drink and trying not to think about the fact that it was close to 11 o'clock and Natalie and I still had a two hour drive home and I'm the frumpy old lady who usually goes to bed by ten. 

But the band was great, kind of Mumford & Sons-y and obviously a huge favorite in Marietta. The crowd was singing and clapping along. Girls were dancing with each other. Some of them were dressed up as if they'd just stepped out of the Hot Tomatoes studio. 

I had a momentary thought about the world outside. Stories I'd read in the newspaper about children held in for-profit detention centers who are forbidden from hugging their siblings, another mass shooting, the latest dire report on global climate change, the president's scary rambling speech and the cheers of his followers. 

But I let that go for the moment when the bass player stepped down from the stage and surprise-proposed to Andi. Martha told Ernest that the point of it all was to go where stories are happening, to talk to people, to bear witness to their experience, to tell the truth. 

Andi, of course, said yes. 









Friday, February 8, 2019

Things you can't write about

The arguments you have with your mother or the raw inner workings of your marriage.

Conversations with your kids, unless it’s a funny anecdote and you know they won’t mind. The secrets of your best friend. The crazy thoughts that wake you up in the middle of the night.

Weddings are fair game. But not funerals. Births. But not deaths. Unless the death was a really long time ago. Your father’s, for example, when you were seven years old.

That was your first introduction to death, by the way. The randomness of it. The confusion and seemingly bottomless grief. The rage. Also, the unfairness. For example, how he was thirty-four years old. But mostly the finality. How one moment you had this person in your life and the next moment, you did not.

No one wants to hear about it. Not really. A few words of sympathy for the bereaved and then let's all move on. The alternative is remembering that the dead are gone from us forever. That we too will die. That everything we do or don't do ultimately ends, and only for a little while will we have someone left behind to remember.

Something I have forgotten about funeral processions in small Southern towns is how all of the cars pull over on the side of the road. Strangers taking a moment to watch the procession pass. The police officers at the intersections holding their hands on their hearts.

It's a windy day at the cemetery. The soldiers stand grimly before they fire their weapons. One of them announces that we should prepare ourselves for the shots. But how do you prepare yourself for something like that? The noise, each time, is a shock.

So loud our ears sting during the playing of Taps.

I could tell you more about the person we lost. The memories shared. The tears. The confusion and seemingly bottomless grief. The rage. The talk of unfairness.

But this story is not my story to tell. And so I will not write anymore about it today.







Thursday, January 31, 2019

If writing is your practice

the only way you can fail is to not write.

I have been thinking a lot lately about motivation. Last week at the monthly Ohio SCBWI Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators meeting we set writing goals and talked about self- discipline. I had invited a guest speaker to the meeting, the lovely young adult and adult fiction writer Kerry Winfrey. She spoke about the importance of setting small, achievable goals.

(Kerry, for the record, is the mom of a toddler, so she can't always count on a long stretch of time to write. Some days, she admits, 250 words is all she can manage, and she feels good about that!)

We had a lot of new faces at our meeting. Brand new, just-dipping-their-toes-into-living-a-creative-life writers and illustrators. You can see the stars in their eyes. The dreams of bestsellers and awards and movies being made out of their books.

I didn't want to burst their bubbles by telling them that while it's great to dream big, the reality will likely fall far short. If they want to be writers, they're going to have work hard at it-- work hard at it, in all likelihood, without any acknowledgement for a very long time.

If ever.

Which isn't to say that you still can't have a fulfilling creative life. For me that means writing most days. Scrawling out a few pages in my journal in the morning or during my fifteen minute break at my day job. Writing a few pages on the novel I've been working on. Writing a post for this blog.

These are all things I can control, examples of my writing practice. Most of my words are not read by others and may never be. I've had to make peace with that over the years. Honestly, I continue to make peace with it every day. The trick, I've found, is to go All In with the work--throw myself wholeheartedly into writing and revising-- while at the same time acknowledging that the final product (ie: a published book on a shelf) is out of my control.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic explains it better:

"My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely)."

Yeah. So, that's not easy. But today at least, as I write the words I am writing to you now, as I prepare to open up my work in progress,

it's all I've got.





Wednesday, January 30, 2019

There is a possum the size of my dog hiding in my garage

and I am having a hard time focusing on my writing.

I sit down to work and I think of him curled up? sprawled out? Sleeping? hiding in there somewhere. I know he is there because last night when my husband was taking out the garbage, he yelled, OH MY GOD THERE'S A POSSUM THE SIZE OF OUR DOG IN HERE!

Today is the coldest day of the year. Minus 3 degrees as I write this, with a wind chill of minus 24. I hardly blame the possum for sneaking in.

But back to my writing.

I write a sentence. I delete it. I write another. I sneak downstairs to look through the window into the garage. I don't know if I want to see the possum of if I don't want to see the possum. I go back upstairs to my office. I move a paragraph from one section of the chapter to another. I move it back. I google possums.

Thankfully, they are not known to be dangerous or destructive animals. Unless they are cornered. I go back into my book and remember something I wrote in an earlier chapter. I get stuck in that chapter for a while. Writing sentences and deleting them. Moving paragraphs around. I google how to get a possum out of the garage. I write a sentence.

I delete it.

Meanwhile three hours have gone by and I have made no real forward movement in the book itself.

The late poet Mary Oliver wrote about distractions in one of her essays:

"It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist."

This is all well and good.

But Mary Oliver did not have a possum the size of a dog hiding in her garage.




Sunday, January 20, 2019

Why I March (part two)

A high school student asked me at the rally. She was doing a class project, an interview. Why are you here?

She asked my husband first, and he held up his hand and said, Wait. I need to think about it.

He was with me this time around. Actually, he was the reason I was there, at the march. All morning I kept changing my mind. It was cold outside. It had started to sleet. Soon, it would turn into a blizzard, the weather channel kept saying. Maybe the March would be cancelled. I mean, who would drive downtown on potentially treacherous roads to wave a sign in the freezing rain?

Come on, my husband said. I'll drive you. 

I didn't wear my pink hat this time. I didn't even make a sign. I didn't know what I would put on a sign. Honestly, my head was sort of muddled up about why I march.

Two years ago, my first march, it was crystal clear. I was shocked by the election outcome, outraged at the treatment of women by the new president, disgusted and appalled by his views on anyone who isn't white, his bullying of people with disabilities and veterans and refugees. That day I stood with over 500,000 other people, who seemed equally outraged. I didn't know until the drive home that there had been marches in cities all over the country, all over the world, with millions of people sharing the same shock, horror, rage, and disgust.

Today, I have all of those same feelings of course (except shock). Plus, a whole new slew of things to be horrified by and enraged and disgusted over, too many things to fit on a sign.

Something you may not know about marches is how Not-Angry they are. It's just a group of people standing in the rain. A cross section of humans. Take away the signs, and we are any crowd gathered in a park. People in wheelchairs. People pushing strollers or carrying their toddlers on their shoulders. People walking dogs. Women and men. Black people and white people. Christians and Jews and Muslims.

The signs and chants are angry, clever, funny. We listen to speeches. Mull around with each other. Walk together.

After the first march I came home fired up. I joined political organizations and went to meetings and called my congressman and my senator so many times the people answering the phones knew my name. I gathered signatures on petitions and wrote letters to the editor and canvassed neighborhoods to remind people to vote.

I know on a logical level that this is what democracy looks like,

that change takes time, that organizations aren't perfect, that the people who run them are flawed, that every election will not go my way, that even so, it is worth it to stand up, to be a body in the crowd.

Standing outside in the cold, in the rain, I remember.

Why are you here?

I stand with women, my husband answered. My wife. My daughter. I stand with everyone here.

And you, she said, holding her phone out to me?










Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Stress-Tidying into the New Year

Whelp, the whirlwind of holiday company is gone, the grown kids back safely in their homes, and after doing my day's writing, I find myself wandering around the quiet, empty house stress-tidying.

This is not the same thing as straightening or cleaning. This is haul-every-item-out-of-every-closet-and-drawer and pile-all-of-the-clothing-you-own-on-the-bed and ask-if-it-gives-you-joy tidying.

Yes. I am currently binge-watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix and while I admit that I am not quite ready to kneel on my dusty floor and say a prayer of thanks to my house, I have been rolling up my socks and tucking miscellaneous items into shoe boxes. It is strangely soothing.

Something I (and apparently a lot of other Americans) need lately.

As every day the news from Washington gets darker and crazier and no end in sight, who does't want to shut themselves into a closet?

The alternative is to blindfold yourself.

Yes. I am talking about Bird Box, another show I recently watched. If you haven't seen it, the premise is that terrible monsters are whirling around us and even just one glimpse causes people to violently kill themselves. The only solution is to close your eyes.

This is strangely soothing too. And is probably why I have stopped watching and reading the news. But just as the blindfold sometimes slip off the Bird Box people, the crap news of the day often slithers into me.

So it's back to folding.

Marie Kondo is obsessed with folding. Entire segments of the show are dedicated to demonstrating her folding techniques. You can also find her instructions online. 

This sounds like it might be boring, by Marie is so lovely you'll find yourself immediately wanting to fold a fitted sheet. In the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up she comes off like an obsessed drill sergeant. On the show she's darling, speaking through her translator, prancing around people's cluttered houses and squealing about how much she loves messes so she can teach everyone how to tidy them. She doesn't bat an eye at the woman who has an entire room full of piled up Christmas ornaments or at the man who's saved every item of paper from his childhood.

Our goal is to touch each thing we own and ask if it gives us a spark of joy. If not, we thank it sincerely and into the trash it goes.

To bad we can't do that with all of our monsters.