Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Time Travel of a Writer

I step off the plane in Michigan and I realize how strong certain memories are.  I'm visiting for my high school class reunion and returning to my childhood home always makes me feel like I'm a kid again.

The humidity enters me with the first breath I inhale inside the airport terminal and as I step outside I feel it wrapping me in a layer of moisture that I haven't felt since I moved to the Sonoran desert. When I roll the windows down on the rental car I smell fresh cut lawn.

Humidity and cut grass are a visceral time machine for me.

My cherished, childhood memories exist in this place. They are untarnished with the responsibilities of adulthood. Here they exist as innocent and carefree moments in time. The smell of cut grass is free from thoughts of having to spend weekends maintaining my property.

As a writer, I love that this place exists. I use my personal memories to create characters and settings.  My mission is to touch and kick around these memories and to see if I can add a new layer of detail or depth to my work.

First stop is a little place called Rives Junction where train tracks run along the edge of town with a charming little brick station frozen in time.  This station has never been used during my lifetime and still exists exactly as it always has.  The party store where I rode my pony up to the front and took turns with my friends running inside to buy push-ups and penny candy from the counter is gone. The post office has been replaced with a memorial plaque. Concrete stairs lead up to empty lots that once held small businesses. The park and baseball field are still there hidden by now mature trees. It brings back the feeling of lazy summer days spent racing around this field on my horse. Hours spent stretched out on the bareback of my trusty steed as he munched the tender grass of the outfield. My friends and I would eat our penny candy from little brown bags while trying to find cartoon characters or pictures in the clouds that floated overhead. The feeling that fills my heart is exactly the same here or at home at my desk.
The baseball field where my parents co-coached our team

The remaining skyline of Rives Junction

The buildings are aging but there are pieces of history everywhere

Memories come in all of the five senses. The tastiest memories I have from my childhood are on my "research" list too. I spend the weekend eating Coney Islands, Andy's Pizza, Deer's Ears and Wiley Potatoes from The Hunt Club. These foods are not available in Arizona therefore giving me an excuse to indulge in the caloric intake of a small island nation. Every bite delicious and loaded with guilt. (I have to schedule extra time on the treadmill since my return to pay for the lack of restraint I have shown in the past week.) I'm pretty certain that if you live in Michigan you do not eat these items very often.  This isn't where ladies lunch, small salad with dressing on the side is the antithesis of these restaurants. However, I skip the "Dare to be Great" ice cream dish at Loud and Jacksons' Ice Cream Parlor. And in my defense the fresh veggies from my friend's farm stand did help balance out the trip otherwise I'd return as a fatty solid.

The Good and Evil of Eating your way through time travel

Time spent driving by all the homes I ever lived in. 

Touring my best friends' family property. 

All of these locations brought back memories and nostalgia.

Riding horses, building forts and plenty of room to imagine

Playing under this tree and sneaking out of my bestie's house

My sister and I invite friends over to visit and I have my high school reunion to attend. It's time to revisit some of the people who inspire characters or traits that I use in my writing.

I arrive at the club our reunion is being held.  I'm an hour late, and feel a little guilty about being more than fashionably late.  I round the corner and the room is empty I must have the wrong date. Then I see at the back of the room a DJ (in a curly mullet) spinning 80's tunes and a table to sign in.  I walk toward the table where two friends from high school greet me.

After signing in and ordering a cocktail I begin to look around to see who is here.  I look out to the room and see a few clusters of middle age people.  Who are these strangers?  Where are my friends?  I'm having a moment, slight breakdown. My time machine is not working any longer.  Houston we have a problem.  I take my menopausal hormones outside to cool off and  my cocktail goes down pretty fast.  How can this be my class reunion? I feel like I'm eighteen still.

I re-enter the party and look to the small crowd of attendees, I feel old and don't recognize anyone. I think that another trip to the bar will make it easier.  I'm sitting at the bar and well, drinking. I text my friends who said they were attending and ask where the heck they are. Together we could do this. Soon my friends show up and we venture into the party and still, I recognize very few. Then it hits me- No one recognizes me either. (orders another drink)

"Oh there you are"

My time machine is not one that stops aging. My memories are strong, accurate and important.  My friends and classmates who I share these memories are loved and important to me. I feel like I'm eighteen when I think of the past. I spent time giggling and catching up with friends and family over the weekend like no time has passed. 

Friday, September 12, 2014


Sometimes, when you're least expecting it, the world delivers an opportunity.



The best way to predict the future is to create it.

I'm in,

All in

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SCBWI - Drink the Kool Aid

I recently attended the SCBWI National Conference in Los Angeles.  From the moment you hit the ground in L.A. it's go time.  You're almost guaranteed to meet up with other conference goers on the Supershuttle ride from the airport to the hotel. Without even looking through the van's window you know you're not in Kansas anymore.

Creative people, for the most part, work alone in isolated studios or writing spaces.  It's a rare opportunity that we're given a chance to socialize with others unabashedly about what's in our heads.  Now in the presence of an audience who gets us, unlike our family and friends who may feign that they're interested in how we get into the space to write a specific character, we're with our tribe.

If you're a writer or illustrator, who's not familiar with SCBWI, my recomendation is join.  Drink the Kool-Aid and become part of this community that nourishes the creative soul.

Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser started a not of profit organization known as The Society for Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators in 1971. When they walk onto the stage on the morning of day one (with an audience of 1200+) so many feelings are bouncing around the room; respect, admiration, gratitude and appreciation all making the air in the ballroom electric.

The rock star line up of the faculty reels us in even further, as we chug more SCBWI Kool Aid. We're anticipating what our favorite authors and illustrators are going to share with us over the next three days.  It's too much, my head is about to explode, which is all timed perfectly to the music and marching of the faculty across the stage. (holds lighter up over my head)

You know you've made the "write" decision to invest in yourself.

Meg Rosoff raised the bar of the conference from the start.  She told us when you write for children you have the power to change lives.  She continued in showing us how faults are powerful. Meg may have dubbed herself the queen of weird, but after her speech I could have gone home completely and utterly satisfied.

Everyone comes to this conference with different agendas and needs.  SCBWI offers agents, editors, industry news, workshops, critiques, speakers and networking opportunities that allows you to customize your conference experience.

Judy Schachner shared her experience where she had to "Run for your life she's got the rabies."  Luckily, Skippy Jon Jones didn't get the rabies. I fell in love with Judy Schachner's collages and plan to invite friends over to work on our own colleges or vision boards sharing coffee and conferrence notes when we get home. 

I fangirled Stephen Chbosky (Perks of being a Wallflower) and Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) during the first breakout session with no other intention but to be inspired by greatness.  They didn't let me down.  I took away techniques in screenplay writing that I've been using this week revising scenes of my WIP. 

Justin Chanda is smart, really smart.  I feel good about the world knowing he's one of the experts bringing books to kids.

I sat in on Amy Nichol's panel.  Amy is a writer from Arizona that I met last year at the L.A. conference.  She was selected to be part of the class 2K14, which is made up of debut authors. Amy's book, Now That You're Here comes out in December.  The sequel,  While You Were Gone is out in 2015.  The panel was very informative about group marketing techniques.
Class of 2K14

Sharon Flake was my surprise discovery at this conference.  Her heartfelt story spilled across the stage as she shared her honest journey as a writer.  I can't wait to read her work, starting with The Skin I'm In.

Aaron Becker rocks as a storyteller, maybe not so much as a singer.

Maggie Stiefvater is a writer, thief and artist. Not to mention fellow equestrian.  She incorporates her childhood horse stories into her novel, The Scorpio Races. Write what you know.
Maggie Stiefvater

I don't think you can say the conference was winding down when the last speaker was JUDY "FREAKING' BLUME!

The faculty, scheduled speakers and events are amazing no doubt.  But SCBWI brings together people in this industry in ways that are equally as important as the inspiration, industry and craft.

Deb Peters, my roomie who I met at an LA conference years ago, brought her new book cover and we celebrated her success!

Deb Peter's creates a multi path young reader version of the classic Three Musketeers

Deb working on her next novel.

I got to jump up and down in the lobby full of joy with Ingrid Sundberg in honor of her first book, All We Left Behind/ Fall 2015.  Once we settled down from all the jumping and squealing, it started all over again for her second set of big news this year, her engagment !

Ingrid Sundberg is also part of the Fearless Fifteeners

SCBWI provides so many levels to help me achieve my goals as a writer and illustrator.

Arizona represented at Old Italy Party

The journey I'm on as a writer/illustrator is richer due to SCBWI. 

And these crazy kids from Minnesota 
My friendships I've met through SCBWI nourish my soul.

Drink the Kool Aid

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Show Don't Tell

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

A favorite deli at the Scottsdale Quarter serves Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars.  I saw them in the display case and the feeling of home and my mom took over.  Before my diet or friends knew any better we were shaing one before our salads were even delivered.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Sometime in the 80's I'm pretty sure my mom invented chocolate chip cookie bars as a way to keep us from eating all the cookie dough before she had time to bake them.  That or to save on the amount of time she had to run the oven during the summer. 

My mom's Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars are used in my current Work in Progess to demonstrate the feeling I felt while standing in line at that deli. 

***I'll understand if you think your mom invented Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Artwork Inspired by Children's Literature

It's tough to hold a Child,
But it's a Lovely Thing to do.


Pigeon Books by Mo Willems 



Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Strega Nona by Tommie DePaola


Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

My daughter related to the love she has for her dogs


Judy Moody official club member.

Writing for children is a no brainer.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Finding your Story

My journey as a writer continues to open up in front of me like a kalidescope.  Just when I think I'm seeing the most beautiful display of color, I turn the dial a smidge and an entirely different reality is before me.

My writing is the same, in the sense that I've studied my craft, revised my work and I feel it's the most wonderful story.  Then I have a new lesson that changes what I've written.  Making the dialog real, characters more fully developed, and the plot stronger.

In workshops, books about writing, SCBWI conferences, and critique groups certain catch phrases are thrown around. 

Show Don't Tell




Tell Your Story


There is something very frustrating about the way I learn.  I can't just see these words and make the changes.  I have to live the words for them to actually take root in my brain.  (Sorry mom, it's always been like this for me.) 
You would think that working on a novel for a few years would be enough to know that you're telling your story? (duh.)   I'm from the thick headed school of learning, so it takes more than this for me to get these messages. 
My YA contemporary fiction piece began as a series of short stories that I pieced together.  It became a character driven story about friendship.  I continued to revise and work on the plot line of the story.  It needed something more to make it work.  I added the perfect event and the story fell in line on my white board.
I received critiques at conferences.  Loving my characters, voice, humor but questioned the plot.  I would go home and cross reference my plot line. Making adjustments.


My "Ahhhh Haaa Moment" was Coming


At the SCBWI Summer Conference 2013, I was looking forward to my critique with a well known agent.  When I left the critique, I felt sick.  She told me my story was not focused on the correct plot point.  It wasn't working.  In the back of my head I knew she was right.  But, I couldn't hear it over the praise I had been recieving.
I submitted the same piece at the AZ regional conference, three months later.  This time the agent who critiqued it, was the same that I was assigned to "shadow" all day, and she repeated exactly what the one in LA said.  I was fortunate to be sitting with this agent all day, and she was kind enough to share her expertise with me.  (I should say, this agent isn't exactly known for sugar coating things- making for a very tough day)  I was so thankful for this opportunity- it was without a doubt a turning point for me.
My funny, character driven story of friendship was simply my time to get to know my characters.  Everything that I had written up to this point was simply an exercise in character development.

Character Driven, each one has their own story.
The light-hearted, comedic, totally commercial writer that I thought I was, no longer existed.  I was introduced to my story that day.
What I forgot to mention above was what the event was that I added to my story.  It is personal. It is reality based.  When I was in high school two students, athletes, popular boys walked out onto the ice of Lake Michigan and drown.  They were caught under the ice until spring.  This changed everything at our school, in our small town, and the lives of everyone at my school was touched by this tragic accident.

Huffington Post published amazing pictures of the ice on Lake Michigan, like the scene that attracted the two boys to explore many years ago.
All these years later, I hadn't given too much thought about the actual event.  When I was creating teenage characters and events for my book it seemed like a good climax.  However, I added this accident without actually revisiting those feelings from so many years ago.

I'm writing fiction, not non-fiction so exact details weren't necessary. (Right?)
When both agents told me my story was based on these boys and how it affected the characters around them.  My story was born.  This story has been in me all along.
It hasn't been an easy process for me.  Somedays I sit with memories and I don't write a single word. On days like this,  I'm at best able to record an emotion or feeling.  Other days I create the story for my characters. The next day, I might change it all.  But, EVERYDAY I feel the weight of this story in my heart and in the pit of my stomach.

The writing isn't easy


The writing isn't fun


The writing is important, like breathing.

When it's all said and done, I hope my story makes it into the hands of a teen who's feeling the loss of a classmate, boyfriend or best friend. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Desert Picks you

In 1981 my mom was transferred to Phoenix Arizona.

It took some time for desert vegetation to grow on me.
Outdoor lockers, walking to school in 100+ degree heat, and every house had a swimming pool.  This was my first glimpse of desert life.                                 I quickly scampered back to Michigan, to my old school, the one with my friends and indoor lockers, where I could continue to hide my lack of swimming abilities, disguised during the months of snow.

Fast Forward.  I have been living in Arizona since 1985.  It wasn't love at first sight.  I think, at best it's a love-hate relationship. 

The mountains that surround the Valley of the Sun change colors and shape based on the time of day and season, providing some of the most amazing, burning sunsets you'll ever encounter.  You should know, to drive anywhere, you have to go through those shape shifting mountains.  For people like me who are faint of heart, and worry about falling off the edge of a twisty mountain road to their fiery death, this is a problem.  I'm essentially trapped in the Valley of the Sun, which sounds like paradise, poor girl.

Sunsets san Snow....keeps me happy

Snakes, lizards, scorpians, tarantulas, giant poisenous frogs, gila monsters, owls, vultures, bobcats, javelinas, coyotes and mountain lions.  Yes, mountain lions.  All are alive and well in Arizona.  I would love to take a naturalist's view on this wildlife, they were here first, and we can all live together in peace.  VETO, I've had personal experience with ALL the creatures listed.  Yes, three encounters with mountain lions.  I will tell you, a lion that is not behind a zoo wall is never a comforting experience.

Gila  Monster, appropriately named.  I've had the "lucky" opportunity to meet one.

Three up close and personal experiences with a mountain lion.

The vegetation takes time to get used to.  Quickly replace lush green lawns with desertscape, that is the environmentally correct choice in the desert.  Rocks of all colors are available to adorn your yard.  Cacti is the shrub of choice. If you are ever lucky enough to have over 15 mature mesquite trees in your yard, you will understand the pain of "many seasons of crap," that fall from these trees.  Not to mention, the pods will attract small animals, which attract larger animals and you too can witness the circle of life- JOY

A whole new skill set needed for yardwork.  How to weed?

These Prickly Pear paddles are sold in the produce section at the grocery store.

Back to school in August.  This means inside recess for over the first month as temperatures max out at 120 degrees. Parents melt outside in the pick-up line waiting for their children to be released at the hottest part of the day.  Plus, the irony of summer colds due to the confined children.

True, you can bake cookies on your dashboard in your car.

It's also important to illustrate something I learned while in college.  Anyone who has/had a parking pass to lot 59 at ASU will appreciate this piece of information.  Your Keds will melt straight through and the bottoms of your feet will blister as you walk across this enormous parking lot of bubbling, molten tar.

Living in the Mohave desert has been a challenge. Somewhat different than those who experience months of shoveling snow to get to your car.  We too, have learned to co-exist with our extreme temperatures. 

I now know to seek shade in parking lots.  How important air conditioning is.  Sunscreen is not a suggestion.  Taking a cooler with you to the grocery store (five minutes from your house,) is necessary if you're buying ice cream.  Never pull off the road during a flash flood or a haboob.  Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate. Don't buy chocolate from May-September.  All outdoor activities in warm month's happen before 8:00a.m. or after 6:00p.m.

Swimming pools are a must have (even if you don't swim.)  Bringing your body temperature down, during the summer, is serious business. To do so, requires a quick dip into the water a number of times each day.  Bugging out to SoCal each summer is what Zonies do.

With the above information, it's clear that no one would choose to live here.  Where temperatures can melt the shoes you wear, crazy prehistoric looking animals wait to eat you, and no one is native here. (Correction... MY daughter is native)  It becomes clear that the desert picks you. 
Arizona Indigenous Creature, quite adaptive to her environment.

I have built a beautiful life in Arizona, one that competes with the majesty of the Grand Canyon.  Laughter filled days with friends and family at spring training, hiking amazing trails, southwest culture, sporting events, vineyards, museums, and every imaginal activity.