Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lord Have Mercy

I had a several ideas for my next blog post. But after the events in Newtown, Connecticut, I felt silly blathering on about plot and swordplay when so many people were suffering. I know we all must get on with our lives eventually, but I felt it would be insensitive to "move on" so quickly, though I know no one connected with the tragedy and have no ties to that part of the country.

But today, a friend posted a YouTube video by one of my favorite artists, Alex Boye. He and the Soulsaints and the LDC Choir have put together a music video tribute for the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings and their families (and all the rest of us hurting because of the terrible violence). 

I needed some uplifting just about now.
I thought maybe some of you could use some too.

I love the call from olden prophets to be "...willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places...even unto death..."

These wonderful musicians have used their talents to reach out in sympathy, love and compassion to those who seek comfort in these troubling times.

If you want a few more positive music videos to give yourself something happy to focus on, may I recommend Alex Boye's version of OneRepublic's 'GoodLife'

Or another corroboration with LDC Choir remaking this gorgeous version of 
Mercy Me's 'I Will Rise" 

May you each find a portion of peace in your hearts during this holiday season as we celebrate Light in the midst of Darkness.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Leftovers, Lunches & Learning Lessons in the Kitchen

I felt so lucky today. I had some leftovers. Not just any leftovers.

Homemade Beef Stew. 
With emphasis on the Homemade part. 

It was sooo tasty! Big chunks of creamy potato. Sweet carrots. Lots of onion and garlic to make it flavorful. And a can each of corn and green beans. Okay, green beans aren't my fave in beef stew, but it gets the kids to eat them more than they do, and I am trying to be a good mom and give the little shavers a well rounded diet. The stew even had barley. I never remember to buy the stuff, but I had found a bag of it amongst my beans and oats in the back of the cupboards the other day. So extra hearty and flavorful, especially when I compared it to the bowl of orangey mac n' cheese in my preschooler's bowl. 
(He didn't want to share and neither did I, so we were both happy.)

As I was enjoying my bowl of soup, I was grateful I didn't have to make it from scratch today. Way too busy. But when I had made it two days ago, the process had started at lunchtime, so the beef would be tender and flavorful by dinnertime. Earlier in the week, I'd made Chicken Noodle Soup. From scratch as well. Again, I started it hours ahead of time.

Now, I'm not  all 'Whole Foods'. Nor do I eat homemade, organic, wheatgerm pasta with sauce made from tomatoes grown in my garden, from seeds I planted nine months ago.

I just happened to have a mom who stayed home and taught me a lot of her homemaking skills. And I lived close to her when I was newly married so I could go over and really pay attention, now that I needed to know that stuff.

I don't make ALL my meals from scratch,either. Heaven help me, I've got 5 boys! I do not have enough time for that! But some afternoons/evenings, it works out to do that. 
Especially since cooking from scratch is so much cheaper than the more fully prepared varieties. And since my dear husband is a school teacher, you can guess why "cheap" is an often used word in our household.

But cooking from scratch has a great side benefit if one is a writer of fiction of any variety earlier than the last forty years. Because every character, though only between the pages of a book, they gotta eat. And if they live before McDonald's existed and don't have enough money for servants or eating out every night, they gotta be able to find their way around the kitchen, even if it's just to make scrambled eggs or make toast (and I'm not taking about in a toaster either!!!).

So far, my stories are set in pre-kitchen appliance times. And food then was never fast or convenient. A medieval guy's version of fast food was a hunk of cheese and a heel of bread. Easy to carry in one's pouch, purse. Easy to grab and go. (Though of course the bread had to be made before hand.)
Or, if the season was right, some berries or nuts off the bushes. Highly convenient when that happens. 
Really not convenient if it's late autumn to early spring. Nothing's available. 
And no corner grocery store.
Or $5 Little Ceasar.

Oh my goodness, we are so blessed! 

As I've been writing these stories and sticking in a few details here or there about feasts, everyday meals, and snacks, I've  pondered how much our eating habits have changed over a hundred years. There is so much preparation that we skip now days. 
Washing and chopping vegetables. 
Browning and slow cooking tough cuts of meat. 
Heck, we don't even have to butcher the animals! 
 For that matter, I don't have to keep my husband and boys chopping wood all year, so I can have a fire in my fireplace/stove to cook my dinner. I don't have to bend over that hot fire.
I don't have to be careful of keeping my skirts from the embers. I don't have to worry about catching fire while cooking my stew. 
(I've read that a hundred and fifty years ago, more women died from cooking related injuries than any other cause of death, except childbirth.)

When writing a historical novel, or historically based fantasy novel (which is me!), one must not only think of the differences in clothes, transportation and housing. But food (and how one gets it or prepares it), is a very important part of a character's life. And if that character is not modern or isn't a child anymore, then a good deal of consideration should go into what efforts they must make to obtain their 'daily bread'.

At my last SCBWI conference, I was in an intensive with Carolyn Yoder, editor for Calkins Creek Books,and a senior editor at Highlights magazine, who spoke about common mistakes she stumbles across in manuscripts. One thing she mentioned three different times in those three hours, was:
"Make sure your characters eat!"
(And make sure it is historically correct.)

Now, if you are looking for help in the kitchen or in your text-only kitchen, I recommend the following resources: 
Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book or Baking Book
(Lots of side notes, pictures and explanations)

Good Housekeeping Cook Book
(My mother-in-law gave me her old one and I learned much from that tattered copy)
(Lots of great photos from start to finish. Not historical per say, but very good step by step directions for yummy food.)
There are lots of food blogs out there, I just find Jamie's a very easy to follow, simple ingredients, but still good kind of blog.

Or, really the best resource....
Go to your church or synagogue or other organization that has regular 'pot-luck' type gatherings and ask around for the lady who brings the best dishes.
Casserole, soup, rolls, pies, homemade candy, etc.
Find this lady (it possibly could be a fellow), and ask to become her student. Offer to go in halfsies on the ingredients and make/eat dinner together.
 Or invite over some friends. Or a family in need.
 Or a group of starving artists that you've been dying to have an evening with.
Or maybe take candy lessons from one person, bread making lessons from another, and learn to make homemade noodles from yet another.
This will cost little and give so much back to you by way of personal enrichment and expanding of your world, both personally and in culinary matters.
If this person happens to be older and lives alone, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Start asking questions. Find out where she (or he) learned her skills. At her mothers side? In a cafe? During WWII using ration coupons? Lots of amazing conversations will soon follow. And plenty of inspiration, I am sure.

So, expand your horizon in culinary matters, and see how much your life can be enriched.

I shall let you ruminate, masticate and digest these thoughts with only two more words from culinary connoisseur, Julia Child:

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Better Blogging... Smarter Blogging... More Cool Stuff

Have you ever said a word so often that it begins to sound strange in your ears? Or taken a second glance at something that you've seen dozens of times a day, and yet suddenly it is a new experience?

I have been pondering my place as a writer in this world the past several weeks.
What is my goal? Where do I go from here?
Writing great adventure/romance (and the goal of eventual publication) continues to be my joy.
I love my stories.
I love the thrill of taking what's in my head and writing (and rewriting) so someone else can imagine my characters and their journeys through  quests, challenges,and romance.

I tried to zoom through NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with my newest story...and then was side tracked by familial obligations. True, I had quite a few out-of-town family come visit and I needed to dedicate some intensive time to my children, lately. The zooming happened in a week and half and the rest of the month was a bit of a put-put-puttering. 
(Almost 15k words...not 50k, but still some good stuff and more than nothing!)

I also received a particularly upsetting rejection this month. No hurtful words were given or received. However, I was hoping for a particular opportunity...and it never happened. 

I also broke the biggest rule I had given myself about this blog.
Keep it positive!

I know we can't always write about fluffy bunnies nibbling clover. (Little bit boring.) However, I knew I didn't want this page to become a snark page or a pity party. And I threw a pity party for myself last week. Online. On my blog. How utterly embarrassing and ... can I go crawl under a rock, now?

I did receive wonderful support both in comments, on the phone and in person, but I started wondering about the best place for this blog in my personal life, in my writing life and in my future.

I did read some wonderful information about "Slow Blogging", a movement based on a 2006 'Manifesto' written by Canadian software designer Todd Sieling and in turn based on Alice Walker's "Slow Food" movement. The idea is quality blogs (that people actually want to read) versus quantity (brain vomit that nobody is interested in reading). And these on a regular basis, MWF, TTh, once a week, once a month. 

This sounds like something I can really get behind. And...I seem to be doing this anyway. Ha Ha!

I also read some great information (mostly on blogs) about shaping one's author brand. So I want to make sure that my posts here reflect more of:

My love for Adventure, Romance, SWORDS!

Other stuff that gets me thrilled: political intrigue 
'The Borgias' via Showtime
(many centuries ago...don't mention 2012 presidential politics within my hearing or reading, please!)

Music...that inspires my stories or just plain inspiring.
Fencing and other swordplay, rock climbing, swimming, hand-to-hand combat, survival skills and other skills that I learn/study to help me inhabit my characters and their world.

Cool photos of places, costumes, etc. that inspire my writing, my stories.

So more of THAT fun stuff and less of me whining. 

I won't promise to NEVER whine, ever, because sometimes, hard times are the best teacher, the best motivator, the best cesspool of experience to draw from when we are crafting a story. So a bit of whining, but all in context with story.

So this is my own manifesto: Cool stuff, less whining, blogs at least once a week, on topic and with content.

I hope you enjoy!

What do you think? Less is more?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Taking a Moment to Wallow

I hate it when I feel like a failure. It stinks. I stink.

Today, was only one day after the National Day of Thanksgiving. Yet, I holed up in my room with two books and a bag of Sour Cream & Cheddar potato chips. I never do that. Well, not with potato chips, anyway. But such was the day.

It probably had a little to do with the-day-after-Thanksgiving recovery. I did bake six pies over a 24 hour period leading up to the actual feast. I also prepped several side dishes and made a triple batch of rolls. Not that I was actually hosting the dinner, no, my awesome sister-in-law volunteered for that. She took care of the turkey and potatoes and two different types of stuffing and four additional pies. And she got to orchestrate all the madness of timing all the dishes to be hot.

I just brought extra sides because my kids are such picky eaters, last year they only ate a few bites of turkey and some black olives.

I was mortified.

My sister-in-law is a follower of Rachel Ray and is always coming up with cool new ways to fix traditional foods. The turkey this year had a glaze consisting of orange juice and soy and lost of other stuff that made it scrumptious! I made sure my kids had no idea as we loaded up their plates with turkey and dished up the straight-from-the-can sweet corn and the straight-from-the-box stuffing. They actually ate fairly well this year, and had two helpings of pie. Some even had thirds.

So Thanksgiving wasn't bad, it was actually pretty good.

I guess it was partly the lead up. Monday, I spent at my oldest's middle school, shadowing him. The poor kid is genuine and kind ... and seems to get close to failing at least two classes once a semester. This time it was three classes. So, I prepped some colorful printouts about his learning disability and things that help him the best to share with each teacher as I came into class. Wouldn't you know, three of them were gone. I couldn't very well give them to subs. I sat in his classes and observed and checked out where the assignments were posted and reminded him (discreetly) to write them down in his planner. I worried the whole time I would embarrass him, but the sweet kid told me on the way home it was the best day of middle school ever.

The next day, I spent a lot of the day cleaning before Grandma and Grandpa pulled in from out of state. This mostly involved bathrooms and kitchens (I have five sons, remember), but then I saw my home with new eyes and saw the ugliness of the fixer-upper that I had such grand plans for. That flooring, still awkward mismatched tile and industrial style carpeting. And the mess of a family of seven didn't exactly help the ambiance of Home Sweet Home. Well, Grandma and Grandpa were here to visit the family, not inspect my home, right?

I told myself I was right, but knew not-so-deep-down, my standards just weren't the same as my mother-in-laws. But when she showed up on the doorstep two hours earlier than I expected, all I could do was smile and push the vacuum back into the closet.

Things actually went well for the next little bit as the elementary school kiddos came home and basked in Grandma and Grandpa loooove. Then the front door opened and shut and one of the kiddos shouted that my oldest was home and that he was crying.

"Shut up!" echoed down the hallway and the library door slammed shut.

Uh-oh. I went to check out what was going on with my middle schooler. It took a while for that poor boy to speak through his tears. Every time he seemed to have it together, he'd look up and a little brother was peeking through the door or I could hear the little boys in the hallway wondering loudly why big brother was crying, and he'd melt again. Finally I told them get out of there with some lovely language that I am embarrassed to say did not reflect my upbringing, or sound wonderful in my in-laws ears, I'm sure.

I sat, feeling as though my heart was being put through a juicer as the tale finally came out. Bus ride home from middle school and someone farts. The smart-alec kid who's been a source of irritation in the past decides that my kiddo is the one who cut the cheese. The other kids lay it on. Teasing. Razzing. My kiddo tries to brush it off, but ends up just slouching in his seat with his hood over his head. When he gets off, a couple of sixth graders from the front of the bus get off too. They can see evidence of tears and start in on him. The fact that they are sixth graders is even worse degradation for my seventh grader. He tells them to quit, but unfortunately, their homes are in the same direction as ours from the bus stop. So they and a couple of kids from the other middle school who just got off their bus are following my son, joking, teasing him about being a cry baby. The leader is right beside him. My son kicks at him sideways. The other kid kicks back. My son elbows him away. The other kid punches him back. Then they are hitting each other. My son calls 'Truce' and the other kid shrugs, 'Whatever' and laughs with his buddies as my son walks as fast as he can the last two blocks home.

Poor kid. He's so shaken by the idea that he's actually gotten into a fight. He is convinced I will be disappointed he didn't 'Turn the other cheek'. My blood is up and I say, I probably would have done the same thing, no matter what I taught him before. I give lots of hugs and assurance that the other kids were the ones to start it.

And I second guess myself wondering if I have turned my son into a victim somehow. Wondering if I should just tell him to slug the other guy next time. Wondering if I should protect him more.

I know this is bullying. Yet I know that there is no anti-bullying law when he gets to college or into the work force. I wonder where is the line for protecting ones child and letting him 'grow up' and learn how to be tough. Part of me wants to enroll him in the nearest karate class  and another part of me wonders if its my fault that he cries so easily. I was so proud of his tender heart and compassion for others just the day before. He is such a GOOD kid.

I call the school to report the bullying, and of course, almost everyone's gone home. I'm told the principal will call me when she gets the message.

We're both shaken by the whole episode.

When I go to fencing lesson that night, I bring the family so they can see what I've learned the past ten weeks. But because I was sick the week before, I've hardly practiced and the awesome-sauce I've poured on the past few weeks seems to have dried up. I barely make it though the footwork and the instructor is calling my name more than any other's to remind me of my stance, of my sword grip and to for goodness sake RELAX! Hmmm. Not quite the strong, cool-mom image I want projected to my kiddos that night. Sigh!

Wednesday, I start early baking pies. Then we go to a doctors appointment. I preface this with the fact that we had an awesome family doctor when we lived in Virginia. Since we moved to Arkansas, I've put off finding a pediatrician and just taken the kids to the little clinics that the local hospital has in the Walmart stores. Close, convenient, cheap and no commitment if we don't like it. But after my 10-year-old was in the hospital half of September, I got on the stick. I already felt like a #momfail before, but now we parade in with all five kiddos and when the doctor gets down to business, we have a lot to talk about. Auditory processing disorder for the oldest, recovery from surgery with the next, learning disability and possible ADD for #3 son and for the fourth I start to mention possibility of ADD with him and the doctor, noticing his behavior in the small room pipes up. "And hyperactivity?"

Gosh. It's obvious.

The kids were doing actually pretty good considering. But you put five boys in a doctors office and .... it gets overwhelming pretty quick and it makes it even easier to see what you don't want to see. That bright little first grader has very few filters and acts like a mexican jumping bean.

So I got a fistful of referral cards as I left the doctors office.

I took comfort in knowing I had resources. I have insurance to pay for it (at least mostly). And my youngest has no medical conditions. Yay!

Then why did I feel like I had just failed a mommy exam?

I tried to put it behind me as I prepped for Thanksgiving dinner. So, my kids might have issues, but they weren't going to embarrass me with their picky eating this year. One thing I could control.

The morning after Thanksgiving and I groan because its my oldest's birthday and I have hardly done a thing to prepare for it. I have a cake mix and a tub of frosting, the flavor he requested. Point for me. But I realized that I had very few things for him to unwrap. True, he was getting piano lessons, like he'd been asking for. And the grandparents had given him some lovely gifts already or mailed. And a gift from an aunt sat on the piano ready to unwrap. But I had been planning on buying him a new pair of jeans. He needed them. And he could use a couple of t-shirts. And maybe the latest cool Lego set. Or something else I didn't know he needed until I saw it at the store.

But it was Black Friday. And I was whupped. I couldn't bring myself to face any crowds. I felt fragile, like I'd break into tears or screams at any minute.

I started second guessing myself. What else could I give him? I HAD bought him a couple of novels at the book fair when I was with him at the middle school on Monday. We were planning on taking him to the movies with his brothers and Grandma and Grandpa. But we were going to the discount theater, which meant seeing 'Brave' not 'Wreck-It Ralph'.

I knew the boys would like much of 'Brave' if not all of it. And wasn't I educated enough to want my boys to identify with female protagonists as well as male video game heroes? But somehow that morning while I baked the cake, I felt like I was totally letting my son down. After all he had dealt with this week, didn't he deserve a fun movie tailored more to his interest? I wanted to blame my husband. It was him who was the tightwad, not me. It was his fault that we couldn't go to the perfect movie and have to settle for a girl movie.

When we got to the theater, my opinion deepened when my husband wouldn't spring for popcorn. I thought about using my own cash, except I knew I had exactly $13 in my purse. And wouldn't that make for a semi-great present if wrapped in nice scrapbooking paper? So my 4-year-old bounced between his daddy and me throughout the entire movie whining for popcorn. When we got home and my husband promised the little terror some popcorn, I reminded him of the broken microwave. Not to fear, he took himself off to the little grocery store down the street and bought a bag of popcorn. You know the kind you put in an air popper (not that we have one any more) or cook over the stove in a thick-bottomed pan. So as my husband set up making himself the hero of the day, I couldn't stand the good cheer in the kitchen and took myself and a bag of potato chips up to my room to wallow in my anger and self-pity and panic at trying to figure out WHAT to give a thirteen year old for his birthday without going to the store.

I almost got clear before dinner. I faced my lovely family and prepped something easy.

Then I couldn't find any birthday candles for the cake. I almost sat down on the kitchen floor and started bawling. My husband came to help. Not that I appreciated it at the moment. And he did find candles. My son didn't even notice that we could only find twelve. He never counted them.

And when he opened his certificate for piano lessons and his ticket to go shopping for new jeans and t-shirts with Mom or Dad and his little envelope of cash and the Civil War historical novels for middle graders that I had gotten at the latest SCBWI conference, he declared it the best birthday ever.

Yet, I still feel like a BFI truck backed into my yard this morning and dumped its contents onto my front porch. Why?   I dunno.

But I'm hoping that writing it all out will prove cathartic and that tomorrow will dawn a brighter day.

Until then, I am grumpily yours,


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Making the Past Come Alive

I have been astounded and impressed by the marvelous photos that Sergey Larenkov has produced and shared over the internet. In case you are unaware, this Leningrad native has taken old postcards and archived photographs, especially of World War II, and superimposed them upon modern photos he takes himself. This one above is of Omaha Beach during D-Day, June 6, 1944, blended with Larenkov's own photo of modern Omaha Beach.

I only discovered Larenkov's work the past few months, but each photo has so much story. I stare at the fresh faced boys under the soldier's helmets. I wonder what they wrote to their sweethearts in their letters sent off that morning in the post. Was it that much different than what the modern soldier sends today in email or skype? And yet those boys died over fifty years ago, or have become pale, wrinkled veterans in wheelchairs, unheroic in the eyes of the modern young man who slays opponents on his wii or Xbox or PS3.

Yet, seeing them with the modern trappings that are so familiar just a few pixels away, somehow make these fellows in khaki so much more...REAL.

Now, I grew up with a father who idolized World War II veterans. The father he never knew served in the South Pacific as did his four brothers. I grew up listening to tales from my great-uncles.  I know how my Uncle Chuck (the oldest) served on submarines (because he was so short, all the other uncles tell me). I know how when the youngest, Doc, enlisted up at sixteen, the middle three all signed up so they could "watch over the baby". I know the tremor in my father's voice that comes right before the climax in each story.

I remember every holiday, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, as well as Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, my dad would go down to the video store and rent a stack of movies about the men he most admired. We watched "The Longest Day" (D-Day), "Tora, Tora, Tora" (attack on Pearl Harbor), "The Great Escape" (POW camps), "The Guns of Navarone", "The Dirty Dozen", "Stalag 17", "The Bridge Over the River Kwai" are all part of the fabric of my childhood, my heritage. Yet, John Wayne and Eddie Albert, and Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson fade away when I stare at these photos.

This is real.

It happened.

And when I stare at the photo of Adolph Hitler during the occupation of Paris with the Eiffel Tower  in the background, I get chills. Because, that is not some actor looking fierce or silly in a movie. That man was there, in Paris, in Berlin, in all these places that are now beautiful and healed in another century.

We have forgotten, perhaps, the men and women who fought in uniform, the men and women who resisted, the men and women who risked their own safety to hide others. We forget that people died horrible deaths on the beaches, in the trenches, in the concentrations camps.

I have forgotten. At times, I have let my lovely modern world lull me into thinking that this could never happen again, that it is in the past. But the past is real and we must learn the lessons from those who have gone before.

As George Santayana has written, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

I hope that the past is always kept fresh enough in our memory that we can glean lessons from it in each generation. I know I've passed on to my sons the stories of their great-grandfather and great-uncles. But now they are into action movies and think a hero dresses in an iron suit or pounds villains with green fists. I think I'm going to go reserve "The Longest Day" or "The Dirty Dozen" on my library's web page now. While I'm there, I think I'll find a few more books that are age-appropriate for sharing these important stories. I think I'll dust off my book of 'Yad Vashem' (honored individuals that hid/helped Jews). I think I'll open up a conversation and tell a few more stories.

I need to share some history with my boys this weekend.


Friday, November 9, 2012


Image via

As I mentioned yesterday, though I did fill the last half of October with revisions and edits, this week, I've been working on National Novel Writing Month. 
Or NaNoWriMo as it is affectionately called by us crazy enough to attempt writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.

I've never done it before. And I'm not even doing it officially since I did start this new book back in September, because I 
Just. Couldn't. Wait.

The idea had been marinating for a year and I had two documents filled with delicious ideas. This shiny new book was begging to be written. So I started it. Then I broke off to prep for my SCBWI conference. 
When November 2nd rolled around, I had received encouragement from several friends and I made the decision to join in the madness.

I opened a new document, so I wouldn't "cheat" on word count. And I am proud to say that I have written 9558 words so far. And that was only Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Pretty dang good.

The kids were off school yesterday. And they are off today. So I'm not even guilting myself into working on it. It would just be a load of hooey anyway. Right now they are happily playing. I know it will not last long. So I am taking advantage of the moment.

Now for those who are not writers, this is what NaNo looks like from the outside: 
Image via
I really am not smoking a pipe. But there are other signs of dissipation and letting go of the unnecessary things in life. The breakfast cereal bags and boxes stay on the table until its time to set it for dinner. Though the laundry is done, it is only stacked in the laundry room and the occupants of my home will have to find their piles and take them up themselves, thank-you-very-much!

But this is what I'm seeing in my head as I'm writing: 
Gravensteen Castle Ghent Belgium Counts of Flanders        Awesome view of Dinant fortress from across the river.
Belgium. Another view of Dinant Rock climbing in Dinant region
Images via,, and

Doesn't that look cool!
And then mix it with:

and with this creepy villain:

And you can see why I couldn't wait to start!!! 

I can't say much more now, and I've wasted enough NaNo time writing this anyway. So, off to my secluded chamber.....or not quite so secluded living room and family computer. :)


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Writing, Rewriting and Necessary Critiques

Image via

I have been neglecting my blog again, and I must apologize. My excuse is valid, however. 

I have been writing 'real' stuff. 

Not that I'm not interested in sharing with all of you. But...after receiving a (spot-on) critique and great advice at the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference, I sent myself headfirst into revisions. My 3-hour layover in North Carolina was spent hunched over a notebook sketching out how I was going to fix the flash-backs and (mini) info-dumps that distracted from the beginning of my story. Also the wonderful Cynthia Cotten advised me to get my story out of the European Union and fix a location for my 'YA Castle Fantasy'.

So I knew 'where' in Europe this was all taking place, (Northern Italy, Eastern France) but my names reflected a more Swiss mix of French and German ....with additional slang from old England and one of the characters Spanish heritage coming on too strongly.


I hadn't even noticed this. 

So, I stared at German-sounding names in that airport and desperately coveted an Italian baby-name book. First thing, the next morning, I was on the computer trying to figure out a new name for half of my characters. Most importantly, my hero. For so long, I had been calling him Cornelius. It was so hard to let him go as Cornelius. Or as Neil, his name when he is in disguise as a commoner.

Now he is Lesandro. 


Mmmm, I like that name. I still kept typing C.o.r.n.e.l... as I wrote the revisions before I caught myself.

Finally, Lesandro is beginning to feel natural.

Once my pages filled with Lesandro and Chenzo and Hugo and Rosalba and Taddeo, I could almost taste the garlic and oil and wanted to go dance with these characters during their chestnut festival. 

Image via

I have no idea why I couldn't see the disconnect between the names and place before. Well, yes, I can. These names were picked three years ago when the European setting was much more nebulous and my writing was only fit for spiral bound notebooks shoved under my bed.

Sometimes my writing is still only fit for shoving under my bed. 
But it's improving and I am so grateful for those who have gone before and shared their hard-won knowledge with me. 

Thank you Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators! 

(More tomorrow on my new writing project for National Novel Writing Month.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hurry Home

I am sooooo very excited to attend a SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference in Virginia this weekend. I've swung rapidly between excitement and nervousness, between the exultation of four carefree days and the stress of compiling lists for my husband and kiddos for while I'm gone. I've packed (mostly) and prepped and worried that I've forgotten something.

Then this morning, as I was chivying the boys out to the van, one stopped and spread his arms. "Mom, can I just get one last hug?"

Of course.

And it hit me again, how even though I am so thrilled by my writing and the journey to become a published author and get my stories out there.... to my family, I'm just Mom. Not really 'just' either. I'm the center that the world revolves around. I'm the Sun that pulls them in and keeps them close. I know who likes which veggies and the favorite snacks to stock in the cupboard. I know who loves back scratches best and who likes long talks and who wants just to snuggle.

I am MOM. And I had forgotten how scary having Mom away for even a couple of days can be kinda freaky. Compound that with my absence so much of September as I was in the hospital with my 10-year-old. Home life was just starting to kick back into normal routine and now I'm leaving!?!

That hug (and the avalanche of hugs that followed) this morning reminded me that though writing and telling stories brings me joy, I am a Mom first. That is my calling for now and eternity. No matter what happens with agents and publishers, I will always be a storyteller. That's how I connect with people. I love hearing stories. I love telling stories.

But, the most important story is MY story. The story about me and how I found the most perfect man almost fifteen years ago. How he swept me off my feet with the cha-cha and a waltz and how I couldn't forget him even when a thousand miles separated us. How he proposed with a diamond that was smaller than he wanted, but which had clearer color and no flaws. A diamond that represented the purity and goodness he saw within me.

That story winds from Michigan to Ohio to Virginia to Arkansas. We have added wonderful characters to our story, the most important characters being:

A square-headed lad who is passionate about designing and building and so very tender-hearted. I love this guy! Couldn't ask for a better "big brother".

A sharp-eyed fellow who wants to suck the marrow out of life and cannot stand the boring moments. An epic adventurer (as long as there is no more pain involved). Can't wait to see what he does with life.

An enthusiastic hot-head with a mischievous grin, who just cannot stay out of trouble. How many angry and repentant tears have I wiped from this fellow's eyes! He melts my heart everyday.

A funny little guy who wants to be just as amazing and smart as his brothers, yet purposefully goes another direction, because he knows exactly what he wants. Such a great kid!

An adorable cutie who seems to wrap the entire family around his finger. He is the most agreeable kid, and is willing to help anybody who asks.

Wow! I am so blessed! I have been looking forward to a few days away from the Loken brand of Chaos. But I have to say, I will 'Hurry Home' to my little agents of entropy when this weekend is over.

Love you guys!!


Amelia a.k.a. 'Mom'

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chariots of Fire and the Talent Within

Photo from film 'Chariots of Fire' via Tumblr

I love the example of Eric Liddell who is one of the principle characters in the film, 'Chariots of Fire'. I remember  watching this film as a youngster and then again, several more times. The whole film is chock-full of awesome sound bites that are inspiring. 

This week, as I watch some of my revisions take on a better quality, I feel an excitement within. Like a runner feeling the exultation of speed and effort and lightness. These revisions were inspired by critiques and the need to improve. Not always fun. 

In fact, its never fun to hear that you missed your goal in whatever you are trying to accomplish.

But as I poured over my manuscript and saw that yes, I needed more dialog here and more internal there. And then the words CAME, and I experienced a thrill.

Somehow, I always fear that the words will dry up and that I won't be able to make a text better, more clear, more precise, etc. But when I exercise my writing muscles, the words do come. Not always right away. 
(That's for sure!) 
But the words come.

And I know that there is a talent within me, a talent for telling a story, that God put within. It is a delight to find that chunk of talent and start hacking away at it, mining it from the dross that surrounds it. And then to find a sparkly story peeking through. It takes time and a TON of effort to get the story pure and ready for an audience. 

The fire of revisions is truly a crucible. 

But the shiny, polished story that emerges is worth every effort.

I know that there will be an agent and some editors in the future who will help me burn off more dross and get me polishing. But that's all good. Because stories have power. Power to reach another soul. 

So, back to Eric Liddell. I love his quote: 
"I believe God made me for a purpose. But he also made me FAST! 
And when I run, I feel his pleasure."

That's how I feel about telling a story. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Books That Got Me Through

The month of September really knocked the stuffing out of me. One of my kiddos landed in the hospital and we were in and out of that place ALL month! I am so grateful for the care of the amazing doctors and truly awesome nursing staff. However, I am now an exhausted and sleep-deprived ZombieMom. Or at least I feel that way much of the day.

I was so blessed to have finished the big revisions to my manuscript just days before my close relationship with Arkansas Children's Hospital started. (Whew!) And I have been somewhat productive in getting some queries out there and trying to get some other bits ready for a huge upcoming contest on "Miss Snark's First Victim" blog where there will be real-live literary agents and everything. (Blows in a paper bag and tries not to hyperventilate.)

But while I sat in the hospital with my boy, there was a lot of down time and I wanted to be distracted. So here are some of the YA books that kept me sane for the days I enjoyed the hospitality of Children's Hospital.

The morning we went into the ER, I had the sense to pick a book out of the Amazon Box that had come a couple days before (Happy Birthday to ME!). I picked out "Princess Academy: Palace of Stone" by Shannon Hale. This was a book I had been looking forward to, since I enjoyed the first "Princess Academy" so much. This was sweet at the beginning with all the emotions of Miri leaving home, but quickly moved on to much more intriguing circumstances as Miri's old loyalties are tested and new friends are made. By the time I was on page 20, my son was in the OR and Miri's adventure with the revolutionaries in Danland kept me from pacing and generally stressing out. After we were settled in his hospital room, I soon opened the book. I had to know who Miri chose to align herself with.  I loved the multi-tiered ending. Lots of excitement and tension. It ended so perfectly. Such a great book that can engage lots of discussion about loyalty and deception in friendships. How loyal, how truthful are we? Which friends deserve more loyalty and more openness?

Once I had finished licking my literary fingers, I moved on to "Farwalker's Quest" by Joni Sensel. This was such a great adventure book with both a girl and boy as the main characters. It had so many of the elements that I love. The heroine went through the wringer, but still proved so courageous! And the hero/boy was a great character. Loved him. I think this book was intended for Middle Grade, but the earlier chapters recount the heroine's kidnapping, reports the murder of her mother and the vandalism/desecration of her village. I know my 12 year old is a bit sensitive for it yet. One of the original "badguys" becomes more and more gray, until he becomes trustworthy. It was a wonderful ride for me, but I know another of my children who could totally take it the wrong way at his developmental stage right now. So, use your judgement. Great story for the mature middle grader and YA.

So, a few days into my son's hospital stay, I was back at my house for a change of clothes and a new novel. I chose "The False Prince" by Jennifer Nielsen, and I am soooo glad I did! This was an amazing story of danger, intrigue and disguise. Four orphans are chosen by a shady nobleman to learn the traits of the prince who died a few years before. It is a cutthroat competition where one will win and claim the throne (Anastasia style) and the rest will have to be...silenced. I want so much to share spoilers, but I will sit on my hands (for a moment) and resist the urge. Just have to say that the plotting (writing-wise and otherwise) was so wonderfully woven. I suspected the truth and LOVED the big reveal 3/4 of the way into the book. So very satisfying. This one got me through the wait next to the MRI and later in Radiology as a PICC line was inserted into my kiddo's arm. But the story and the characters (especially Sage) were so powerful, it was easy to immerse myself into the world Jennifer Nielsen created.

By the time I finished it, the hospital was starting to feel like home (kinda) and we got past the seriousness of all the sicky-stuff. Having a great book as a distraction helped, so that we could laugh and get silly and take pictures like this:

I just have to add one more book to this list. I have been reading "The Dragon's Tooth" by N.D. Wilson the past week. Oh Boy! That was a fun read! After about forty-some pages, I realized this was a retelling of "Treasure Island". It was all there, the lonely boy, the ramshackle inn, the mysterious guest with a nickname of Billy Bones. I was already interested, but at that point, you could not have pried the book out of my hand. (Though I did set it down for meal-prep and writing work and mothering and sleep.) But whenever I could find an excuse, it was in my lap and I was right with Cyrus and his sister, trying to figure out where the talented Mr. Wilson was going to take this creepy, adventuresome tale. When the character Big Ben Stirling shows up in the kitchen of the secret society, I laughed out loud. Loved the clever writing and fabulous characters and wonderfully elaborate world. I highly recommend it to thrill-seeking MG readers and up.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

myliblog: Myth-busting: libraries and ebooks

myliblog: Myth-busting: libraries and ebooks

Linking to this great blog article regarding Libraries vs. Retail sales of books.

My mom and my sister are both librarians. I have had library cards in 11 different library systems since I was able to read. (Winnemucca, NV; Council Bluffs, IA; Oklahoma City, OK; Kalamazoo, MI; Otsego, MI; Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho); Rexburg, ID; South Haven, MI; Massillon, OH; Winchester, VA (Handley Regional Library); and Little Rock, AR (Central Arkansas Library System).

I feel like I grew up in libraries....

Libraries ROCK!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

TOFW: Twenty Rejection Letters and a Bestseller

I had a fabulous post 90% written when my kids lost it on the computer while I was checking dinner. This will have to do ;) I sent out a bunch of queries to literary agents in the last 24 hours.

Sorry, my brain is a bit fried. I'll see if I can re-blog my missing post tomorrow between a doctor's appointment and baking rolls for a funeral. We'll see!!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Looking at the Glass Half Full

Okay, so the month of September has really whipped my heiny. 

I spent twelve of the first sixteen days in the hospital with my son. What started as (what we thought was) a sprained knee or maybe a little fracture, ended up being so...much...more. Then as life started back to normal, the stomach flu hit our house and worked it way through each member of the family.

So, apologies for dropping off the face of the planet, so to speak.

But I'm back and I hope to keep my blogging day job.

I just wanted to share a thought from my experiences the past month. When life was at it's craziest, this month, and I had to "give up" writing for a few weeks, my writing didn't go on a permanent vacation. I had just gotten my manuscript whipped into shape and sent it off to a gatekeeper in the publishing world. So, I didn't have the immediate pressure of getting something in by a deadline. It really was perfect timing, because I wasn't stressed out or worried (about writing anyway). I could just focus my brain and heart on my son, and what he needed to get healthy again. When we came home from Children's Hospital ( the first time), I remembered a deadline a week away for submitting pages for an upcoming writing conference. I spent my spare time rearranging some chapters and had the materials ready to send off when I discovered a rash spreading all over my son's arm and chest.

It seemed he was allergic to clindamycin, the antibiotic I was giving my son intravenously every 8 hours.

We went back to the hospital for another four days. Le sigh!

However, on my quick trip home for my cell charger, I remembered the freshly printed out papers needing to be mailed. Within ten minutes they were in the hands of our friendly neighborhood postmistress. Yay!

The past week has been crazy and full of stress but I've still been able to find opportunities to write. My crit partner is awesome and had some stuff critiqued and ready for my perusal when we first came out of the hospital the first time. I didn't work on it right away, but the comments sat and stewed and I found myself jotting down ideas on improvements. I spent much of last night typing the changes into my manuscript.

Now, I'm not saying that tough times are easily overcome. I'm not. I know the only way my family was able to get through this month was with the help of friends and prayers from many throughout the country. I felt comforted and had peace that all would work out for my son's health. I knew that wonderful people were watching over my children who needed rides to school and day time care and an evening meal. A combination of helping hands and the blessings of heaven got us through this thing. And I am so very grateful.

I know I need God and I need friends no matter what storms sweep through my life. 

So, whatever you may be going through or the tough times you may face, keep your notebook at hand, a prayer in your heart and your hands open to receive the blessings that will come.

Cheers, Amelia

Friday, September 21, 2012

Idina Menzel - Defying Gravity (from LIVE: Barefoot at the Symphony)

I love this song!
As I ready myself to storm agents email in-boxes, I am mentally prepping myself to put it all out there.
I love the energy of Idina Menzel and the attitude.
"Darn those Torpedos! Full Speed Ahead!" (My own version of the Admiral's quote.)

(And I am so happy that my blogger account is working again! I haven't been able to post anything the last week despite my best efforts and use of all my limited computer knowledge.)

Friday, August 31, 2012

It's Awesome Time!

Four months ago, I had a wonderful opportunity to pitch my manuscript and another Work in Progress to an editorial assistant at a publishing house (I don't know if it's kosher to name drop on your blog, so I won't) and had such a great experience. This wonderful person's eyes lit up as I shared my stories and my vision for the stories. She asked all sorts of questions, including the hard ones, and I felt that we connected, that she "got" my ideas. And she requested a full manuscript.

Ah! I was in heaven! I was in alt!

But, I was sure there was something I overlooked. I asked if I could just polish it up, and she graciously agreed.

So I decided to do things right. I sent it to a freelance editor who read through the thing. She made some very good suggestions and mentioned a few other things. 
Then I was able to get some critiques through Kat Bauer's 'Crits for Water'. Very helpful and informative. Wow! I learned so much! 
Then finally, I had my query critiqued in an online contest. After lots of rewrites of THAT, I won first place, which entitled me to the prize of a(nother) critique, this time specifically for the opening of my novel.

When that critique came back, I finally had my 'Aha!' moment. 
Some of the advice that I had gotten seemed a little nit-picky and I didn't really get it. The last critique spelled out in language I understood..."This doesn't work because...This grammar rule means..."

Oh dang!

It was everywhere folks! I felt a little overwhelmed.
The whole manuscript needed line-by-line edits.
Love this quote
So, I wrote to the person at the publishing house and told her it would be longer than I had expected. She was gracious in her reply. And I got to work.
I did a lot of work. I did a lot of learning. 
And I was so grateful that I still had all the notes of the critiques over the past several months. Suddenly it seemed so clear what I hadn't seen before. I fixed the grammar problems (and kept a few that were 'right' in the dialogue). 
Whenever my husband wasn't at the computer, I was there, working on my "word problems".
My kids complained that they hardly got any computer time this past summer vacation. Nope, they didn't. Sorry, kids!

Oh, and the house wasn't nearly as clean as it erm...should be.
Worth remembering everyday ...especially today!
Sorry, honey!

Through it all, I sought for balance in trying not to neglect (totally) the house, the kids, my husband, the necessary things like regular meals and fun together. (Hey, it was summer vacation...and the kids get whiny when they haven't gone swimming at the neighborhood pool in a week.) 

Finally, towards the end of summer, I actually felt like I juggled things pretty well. (Not perfect, but good enough!) It helped that I started including my book in my prayers. Sounds weird, perhaps, to some.
 But prayer is a daily part of my life. And if this is something that brings me so much joy, and I can create something lovely and fun and uplifting, why would God not want to be a part of it? 
And why would I not ask for his help?  


So finally, all the pieces started coming together. Right about the time the kids started school two weeks ago. Funny how that happened.... ;)

So today, I sent an email to the wonderful person in publishing, letting her know that the manuscript is coming. Will be in the mail next week. Revisions are done. I just need one more pass at the beginning and the end to make sure the tweaks I made last night were not some figment of my sleep-deprived mind. 
(Ha really!)

So, even though I know that the next stage of the game is full of query letters and rejection letters and soaring hopes and crashing dreams. I am not afraid. Or not very.
Dream big

So fasten your seat belts, folks. 

This will totally go in my home office or studio someday. $15
It's AWESOME time!

Monday, August 27, 2012

B-e-a-utiful- Megan Nicole (Original Song)

 have to apologize for not being on Blogger for ... a month!!! Eep! 

I have really great excuses like a fabulous family vacation/reunion that was a thousand miles away (resulting in huge road trip with 5 little boys) and the resulting need to re-cup-er-ate!

And then I had one week to get all the stuff for said boys for school. Then there was the first week of school and  trying to get to all the stuff I hadn't done for nearly a month.

And now finally I get to My Blog! Yay!

I have some great posts planned. But I've been trying to get a Very Important Project done and sent off. And I am a-l-m-o-s-t there.

But I stumbled upon this lovely, lovely song that is so sweet and cute and I just had to share.

My target audience for my writing is female teens (and anyone else who loves YA romance/adventure). And I remember feeling just this way in high school. About a couple of boys. And nothing ever came of it. But the feeling of wanting to feel beautiful and noticed never goes away. At least not for me.

I love it when my husband tells me I'm beautiful or makes me feel beautiful
and precious
and special
and amazing
and awesome.

But before I got married (and even since - I admit) I turned to books to help me feel beautiful and amazing. Just to go through the heroine's experience vicariously made me feel all those wonderful emotions.

And as I am finishing my Very Important Project, I want to remember those feelings and I want my words, my writing  to evoke those emotions.

Because we all want to be B-E-A-UTIFUL!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Remaining Faithful to Your Art

I am officially back from vacation. It was awesome, exhausting, wonderful, difficult and absolutely memorable. I'll probably be sharing some stories over the next few weeks. But, for today, I'm going to remain positive.

Part of our trip, we went to Yellowstone National Park and we got to see Old Faithful. We got there right after one eruption and had to hang out for a while before the next one (a very long hour and ten minutes with whiney kids in the hot sun). But we wandered near a park ranger that was giving an impromptu lecture about Old Faithful to a group of older tourists. I already knew lots of the stuff she was talking about because...well, I'm awesome and smart and married to a man who studied Geophysics for three years. 

But, I stuck around so the kids could get some info.

And because I'm a geek and the ranger was a really good story teller. She related cold (or hot) facts in such a palatable way. It was so easy to understand.

Anyway, in part of the lecture, she explained WHY Old Faithful was, well...Faithful.

Now, you can't really set your watch by it. But, it is pretty reliable. And the park rangers can predict within ten minutes when the next eruption will take place. Why is that, when so many other geysers go off whenever? Sometimes fifty years go by before they erupt again. 

The park ranger explained that when there was volcanic activity so many thousands of years ago, it resulted in a rock that was permeable (think pumice). Water from rain and snow melt and runoff leaks through the "spongy" rock and then collects in underground basins where it is super heated by the still active geothermals. Then, when it gets to a "boiling point", it escapes through vents to the surface through geysers. Now, all of the geysers and the hot springs in Yellowstone are all interconnected and share the same "plumbing system". So, if there is a low water table or more seismic activity, all of them are affected.

Except Old Faithful. 

Because somehow, in the eons of time, the area around Old Faithful was sealed off from the rest of the park, underground. It has it's own "plumbing system". So, it may be affected by drought or seismic activity, but  it has a smaller, self-contained basin. No matter what else is happening in the park, it remains reliable, on a schedule that remains pretty much the same. 


This got me thinking about art (and life in general). We need to create our own "plumbing system" for ourselves in life and for our art. We need to have a place, a pool of inspiration, that we consistently draw from and that is consistently renewed. This pool may be fed by inspirational quotes, scripture, music, beautiful photography or art, positive stories, good friends and mentors, and whatever else helps you keep going. It is key that one has multiple sources so that we don't "run dry" when one of our inspirations is unavailable or inaccessible (or just having a bad day). 

You may have a group of friends at church, an online web of support, a Pinterest file of quotes or art, a favorite playlist or Pandora station, pretty art on your wall, a scrapbook of happy memories or important people or photos of beautiful places you want to visit someday.

Whatever it may be, continually feed that pool of inspiration, so that you can continue to produce your art, your writing, and just be the awesome person that you truly are. And as we are consistent in our art and ourselves, others will gather around and stand in awe of the beauty that we produce.

Hard times may come. We may have delays or seasons of "drought". Perhaps our geysers of creativity may not be as magnificent or as high at times. Perhaps changes in our daily life or the needs of family members will demand an adjustment in our creative routines. But, we will still find beauty in the world around us and in our world within. We will continue forward, sharing the beauty that we are and that we imagine.