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.