Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Musings: Solving All the Problems

WHAT I’M ABSORBING

1. In a few weeks, I’m attending the Place Conference put on by The Mentoring Project in OKC. (There are still some tickets available, but the price goes up on September 1st, so get one now if you’re interested. The line-up of speakers is PHENOMENAL—plus you’ll get to hang out with me!) 

I have heard some of these speakers before and am familiar with several others on the list, but there was one I had never heard of. The organizers sent out a link to this 10-minute video of David M. Bailey speaking about the role of the Church and non-profits in racial reconciliation. Much of the conversation I’ve seen on the subject via social media quickly devolves into squabbling, and it’s just not productive. I really like the way he frames the conversation. Take a listen (and I CANNOT WAIT TO HEAR HIM SPEAK! Go buy your ticket now, OKC friends!)

2. I’ve had three separate conversations with moms over the last couple weeks about how tough mornings are as they are getting back into the swing of things for the new school year. I say this all the time, and I’ll say it a million more times: children need sleep. We’re pretty crazy about guarding our kids’ bedtimes during the week—it’s why we don’t over schedule night activities and why I volunteer to run things, so everyone else has to be on my schedule…wink wink (more on that below). In my mothering experience, I’ve learned there are really only three things kids need when they are falling apart: food, sleep, or attention. I have yet to face a parenting dilemma that hasn’t been solved with one or more of those things. 

A teacher friend of mine posted this from an elementary school, and it is spot on for my kids. Our mornings are genuinely pretty drama-free (as long as I don’t make Ben wear new shorts) WHEN MY KIDS HAVE HAD ENOUGH SLEEP. Now, I’m not telling you what to do. All kids are different, and if you’ve got a precious petal who only needs four hours of sleep and is still a tiny Mother Teresa, then stick with what you’re doing. But if the spawn of Satan crawls out from under the covers at your house, take a looky-loo and consider making adjustments.

WHAT I’M OBSERVING
For three years, Will has been a cub scout, and Ben has been tagging along. It has from the beginning been an activity that Scott was in charge of for reasons including but not limited to: his status as an Eagle scout, my extreme hatred of sleeping in sleeping bags, the general dorkiness male bonding.

This year, Ben enters the world of scouting as a scout for the first time, and when we signed up last week, there wasn’t a Tiger leader. Several men shuffled their feet and mumbled about how they would help, but no one really wanted to commit to leading. So I voluntold Scott that he’s the Tiger leader and promised to be his trusty sidekick. I did this for a couple of reasons. 

First, I look for ways to connect with Ben out of second child guilt (#realtalk), and secondly, I know it will come as a surprise, but sometimes an organization that is run primarily by old man volunteers who love making coffee over fire on purpose and wearing slightly too short shorts is not always all that organized*. We’ve been lucky to have female den leaders for Will who have kept the dens running smoothly, and I really want the same experience for Ben. Scott will do the scout stuff. I will keep us organized with calendars and contact info and lesson plans and general “classroom management” techniques. Because secretly, this is totally my wheelhouse. But don’t tell the scouts because I don’t want to be recruited for anything else. *I acknowledge the sexist nature of these comments, but I do not take them back.

Oh, also, we were worried that the den was going to be small, and then 13 kids showed up. Everyone has warned me that we should split the den because it’s going to be too hard. Will’s den leader said, “Your kids are well-behaved but not everyone else’s are.” I answered, “There’s a reason my kids are well-behaved.” MAMA J HAS GOT THIS. (Please feel free to mock me three months from now if I have to eat my words.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Monday Musings: Technology and New Shorts

WHAT I’M ABSORBING

1. At any given time, I have like…twelve books going, which I’ve decided is too many, so I decided to try this thing where I finish all the books I’m currently reading, and I only read one at a time (I’ll keep you updated on how this goes). Except it’s really two at a time because I always have one I’m reading with my eyes and one that I listen to with my ears. I usually finish about three audio books to every one read with my eyes because I listen anytime I am doing anything but sleeping basically. (That, friends, is the answer to the question I get more than any other of “How do you read so many books?”) Does everyone know about Overdrive at the public library? If you have a library card, you can get ebooks and audiobooks for free (because that’s how the library works). This is the reason Scott Johnson has not divorced me on grounds of book-related bankruptcy.

Anyway, a long time ago I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and LOVED it. Loved. It’s an epistolary novel (that’s a big word that means written in letter form), and I’ve recommended it hundreds of times. When I saw that Annie Barrows had a new book out, I put it on hold at the library immediately in both ebook and audiobook form. The audio came through first, so I started listening. First, the readers are DELIGHTFUL, and secondly, the book is exactly as good as I thought it would be.

So here’s your homework: get a library card, get on Overdrive, download this book. Or just check out the real version or go to a bookstore and buy it. You’ll love it.

2. You know how people talk about preteens clamming up because they’re too cool to talk to their parents. Well, we’re not quite there yet, but I see it on the horizon, and I refuse to accept this reality without a fight. The thing I’ve figured out is that sometimes you have to enact Operation Sneaky Parenting. WonderBox is how I am sneakily loving my eldest who turns TEN in 13 days and is starting to show the telltale signs of being too cool for me (see: eye rolls, sarcastic comebacks, huffing loudly). I don’t want to talk about it. 

Anyway, about the app—WonderBox is basically a collection of educational activities and videos. Example: Will watches a video from the art category about Leonardo DaVinci and then makes a talking Mona Lisa gif. He can choose to send it to his friends, and it shows up in their feeds. I am one of his friends, so I see it and can comment or click “Yay!” (like liking something on Facebook). It’s basically a way for us to talk without talking. When he woke up this morning, he asked where the iPad was. He wanted to check his Wonderbox (where he found a gif of me with my face painted like Groucho Marx saying Will and Ben are awesome). When I got home from walking the boys to school, I had an email of an environmentally friendly car he’d designed after watching a video about fuel efficiency. OH, DID I MENTION IT’S FREE!?!!! If your kids want to try it out, I can send you our friend codes, and we can share all of this ridiculousness with you, too.

WHAT I’M OBSERVING

1. Mornings in our house are pretty chill. Scott leaves before the rest of us wake up, and Will, Ben, and I have a serious understanding about our need for quiet. We don’t talk unless we have to, and this works for us. There’s a rhythm to what we do. 

My alarm goes off at 6:36, and I go downstairs to start making lunches. (If it’s a day when both boys are buying lunch, it goes off at 6:48.) I shower, and as I’m leaving the bathroom, Will enters. He wakes up at 7:00 on the dot like a robot. While he’s in the shower, I prep breakfast. Ben showers every other day (this is the compromise we came to because he would shower exactly NEVER if he didn’t have a mother). The boys come downstairs to eat breakfast at 7:20, while I go back upstairs to get dressed and/or take care of bills/start laundry/do other fun mom things. I pop back downstairs to brush hair, check backpacks one last time, and put the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher. We leave the house at 7:53.

Very rarely does this morning routine differ, which sounds glorious, right? It is. It really is. Unless I throw a wrench in the day like offering Ben new shorts that have never been worn. This results in fifteen minutes of crying while getting dressed because “shorts should never be touching my knees—that’s why they’re called shorts!” followed by a somewhat rushed breakfast, followed by more tears over the fact that I helped him with his shoes because Will is standing at the door, hair combed perfectly and shouting, “IT’S 7:54! WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE!”

So, yeah. That was Wednesday, and somehow we recovered on the walk to school. Ben even held my hand—the same hand of betrayal that tied his shoes.

2. We have a new development this week.
video

And this is how our dog, Bokonon, feels about it.
video

Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Musings: Goodbye, Summer!

I spent the last school year writing/trying to publish books. For anyone keeping track—no, none of them have been published, but I’m still working on that. The result of doing that for about nine months was one completed book, one 1/2 finished book, and one 1/4 finished book—not bad considering I was running a non-profit, substitute teaching, and functioning as COO of Johnson Garden Estate.

One thing I realized along the way was that I reeeeeeeeeally miss blogging. In the beginning, it was necessary to stop blogging to find my book voice(s) and stay focused, but writing books is a solitary pursuit, and I missed the interactive nature of blogging.

So.

I’ve decided to allow myself one blog post a week—consider them my Monday musings if you will. In these posts, I’ll share recommendations for things you can’t miss if you’re attempting to live la vida awesome, tell stories about those two menchildren who sleep down the hall from me, and offer insight gained from my life lived in yoga pants. 

If my mom and dad are the only people who read these, fine. I’ll still have a record of all the things I don’t want to forget that happened during this blessed (please read that as a two syllable word) stage of life. I’m going to keep all of them under 1,000 words because that’s the average person’s threshold (AKA long enough to read while going to the bathroom).

WHAT I’M ABSORBING

My book club chose this, and I thought I was going to have to force myself to finish it because I’m anal and can’t stop reading a book I’ve started, but then I read the first page and was like WHOA. Hey there, sneaky non-fiction—high five to you for completely proving me wrong. I’m about halfway finished, and I can’t believe how much I love this book. (Here are the other books I’ve read in the past few weeks worth recommending: I Am Malala, For the Love, The Girl on the Train, and Go Set A Watchman.) 

My friend, Derrick, sent me a text that said something to the effect of “listen to this, or I won’t be your friend anymore.” So I did, and then I bought the whole album, and you should too. Also, Nathaniel Rateliffe and the Night Sweats release their first album on August 21st, and you should just take care of that right now, too. We saw them in Guthrie on the Gentlemen of the Road tour, and I’m pouting because there are no shows anywhere close to me anytime soon that aren’t sold out. If you can see them live, DO IT, for the love of all things holy.

(Click on the screenshot to link to this awesome course!)
My friend, Missy, put out an all call on Facebook asking if anyone would be interested in taking this course online with her. She lives in Pryor, OK, and I cannot make the weekly commute to her debriefing/gathering, but I jumped on board anyway. We’re not supposed to be doing the course until the beginning of September, but I already finished the first four lessons because BRENE BROWN IS EVERYTHING. (If you haven’t read her books, do yourself a favor and forget that everything else in life is happening and move them to the top of your list. Your boss and family will understand your absence when they see how you have become such a better person after reading these books.)

I found these popsicles at Costco (only the strawberry and mango), and I’m certifiably obsessed. Run, don’t walk. You’re welcome.

WHAT I’M OBSERVING

video
We took a vacation to Branson with my parents last week as a last hurrah before school started. One of the days was spent out on a pontoon on Table Rock Lake, fishing, tubing, and swimming. As happens on those sorts of outings, Will realized he needed to go to the bathroom. We told him it was time he learned how to eliminate waste like a hillbilly (pooing in the lake for those of you fancy people who aren’t smelling what I’m stepping in) to which he replied, “I’m sorry, Mom. I think I’m a land pooper.” Somehow my hillbilly roots have failed him. He did, however, pick up spitting sunflower seeds during the vacation, so we still have hope. (I included the above video because my mom took it thinking it would be embarrassing, but I have this new thing where I basically have no shame and don't care about stupid stuff like looking cool. It's working out really well, and I'm getting LOTS of practice.)


We worked on tying shoes all year last year with Ben. I mean, that’s kind of what kindergarten is for—learning how to read short vowel words and tying shoes. Right? Well, it was the only thing on his end of year report that got the dreaded needs improvement. My friend, Ashlie, posted a video on Facebook, and I decided I could still get a passing grade as kindergarten parent if we learned before first grade actually started. I sat down with my favorite little prince of do it myself, and WE DID IT! WE CAN TIE SHOES! The experience was made that much sweeter by the fact that Ben yelled “Yesssssssssssssssss” as he ran through the house in his tied shoes, whistling through the gap in his newly formed first grade teeth.

When Will’s friend, Jack, was over for a sleepover, I was informed that Jack was Abby’s boyfriend for like five minutes last year because as Jack explained, “I was held at mental gunpoint until I said I would be her boyfriend.” As Jack’s mom and I talked, I overheard Will say to Jack, “Yeah, I don’t think I’m a chick magnet like you because they all know I have a soulmate.” Oh, did I tell you that Will has decided "girlfriend" is too light a description of Becca (his girlfriend since 4K who lives in WA)? Later, he said, “I don’t know if soulmate is the right word either.” We consulted the thesaurus, and now Becca is his spirit kin. I die.

I could barely keep up with Ben as we walked home from school today—talking a mile a minute about how first grade is WAY, WAY better than kindergarten. I mean, they have real desks, and the gym/lunchroom is soOOOoooOooOOOoo close, and they get to rip pages out of their math books. What more could you want? 



Thanks for reading, friends. See you next week!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

On Being Not Black

I have used words in this essay that I would never use in normal conversation, but if we are going to HAVE this conversation, they need to be said.

I am three, and we have just moved into our first house in a new neighborhood. The doorbell rings, and a woman on the other side offers my mom a piece of paper. The next Monday, my mom drops me off at a church for Vacation Bible School, along with my two friends, Denny and Robyn. When she arrives to pick us up, my VBS teacher says in a booming voice through the car window, “YOU MUST BE LEIA’S MOM!” It’s obvious because we are the only white children at an all-black Baptist church.

I am five, and I am visiting my dad at the Safeway produce warehouse where he drives a forklift. We are in the lunchroom, and his friend, Marvin, is laughing and telling stories. He’s enormous and darker than any human I’ve ever seen with bright pink lips. His hands are like frisbees but so gentle when he touches my arm. I go home and draw a picture of his face and fill up the whole page with his football shaped head.

I am seven, and we are attending a new church in the suburbs. One of my first friends is Rachelle. She’s wears her hair in puffy braids. She comes over after church and plays in the sprinkler in my backyard with me.

I am eight, and I am playing tag. I’m running after my friend, Leslie, who is always so much faster than me. I reach out and grab her ponytail, and it comes off in my hand.

I am ten. I go to a prestigious private school in OKC. My friends, Teryl and Jasmine, decide we are just like TLC—Teryl is T-Boz, I am Left-Eye, and Jasmine is Chilli.

I am eleven, and it is Christmas Eve. My grandpa is telling a story about a man he worked with at the Pet Milk plant—one of the hardest working men he’s ever known, a Negro. My Grandma corrects him, “I don’t think it’s okay to say Negro, Leonard. It’s black or African-American.” She looks to my mom for assurance.

I am twelve, and my mom is telling me a story about when she was younger, about how there were only two black families in her town growing up, the Starks and the Clarks. She tells me about how angry she would get when her brother, a police officer, would talk about arresting dirty niggers or tell jokes about buying a nigger for a nickel.

I am fourteen, and I am reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time.

I am fifteen, and a boy from my church says he is going to “drop the Cosby kids off at the pool,” and I say nothing when I realize he means he’s going to the bathroom to poop.

I am sixteen, and a white boy at our predominantly white high school in a suburb of Oklahoma City known for white flight in the ‘70s, stands up in a school assembly and announces that he’s wearing his nigger-kicking boots.

I am nineteen, and I work at Red Lobster as a waitress. During a break, I sit in the smoking section with a girl named Carrie. She has blonde hair and tan skin, and she smokes Capris. She says flat out, “I won’t serve niggers.” When I ask her why, she says that she hates them. When I ask her why again, she says that her first job was at The Buckle in the mall, and one night, she left work, got in her car, and a huge ass nigger motherfucker had crawled in her backseat while she was at work. He told her to pull the car over and then raped her on the side of the road.

I am twenty-six, and we are living in Charleston, SC because my husband is stationed at the Air Force base. We need to buy a new car, so we head to the Toyota dealership. During the test drive, the dealer says to my husband, “You ever shop at that Kmart? You shouldn’t. Owned by a bunch of niggers.”

I am twenty-seven, and I am in a Sunday school class. The leader is a pillar of the community, a white man in his seventies, life-long southerner. He says of the upcoming election, “If Obama gets elected, we better be ready and loaded for when they riot.”

I am twenty-seven, and in another Sunday school class, a white woman in her sixties makes the point that the Bible doesn’t actually say slavery was wrong.

I am twenty-nine, and my white friend Natalie tells me a story. She was taking her daughter’s friend home from school, and a young black man in a t-shirt and running shorts was jogging in place at the intersection. When she waved at him to let him know it was okay to cross, the five-year-old girl said, “Miss Natalie, you shouldn’t wave at that man. Black people are scary.”

I am thirty-one, and I mourn the loss of Trayvon Martin as I watch the story unfold. My boys wear hoodies every day. I am living in Olympia, WA where there are distinctly so few black people that I can’t believe a place like this actually exists. The next day, I overhear a conversation at the public library between two women whose children are enjoying story time, and I hear the word “post-racial” for the first time coming from the mouths of women who never actually interact with anyone who is not like them.

I am thirty-four. I am weary. I can’t engage on social media because it leaves me in tears. Nine people were shot in a house of worship because of the color of their skin. It’s June 18, 2015, but it feels like September 15, 1963. And as much as I want to stand up, speak out, do something—I feel paralyzed by the repeating narrative that is playing out on news stations and social media—the same damn conversation we’ve been having my entire life. The same damn conversation we’ve been having my mother’s entire life. I’d love to end with some words of hope, but I don’t have any. Frankly, I am just so damn tired of having a conversation full of empty words.

So, instead, I offer my story in an effort to encourage others to tell theirs. Racism is real and alive and as deadly as ever. These more recent stories are not surprises—they are exactly what I expect from a nation of people in complete denial about our heritage and history. They are exactly what I expect from a people unwilling to lay down their boxing gloves for one minute to realize that we are not supposed to be fighting each other. More people are dead. More people are going to die tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. And it’s our fault—all of us. I am tired, friends, and I can’t stop crying, and I am so, so angry and sad—at the circumstances—and at the fact that I don’t have the answers.


My thoughts are with the people of Charleston, SC today, a place we called home for six years. May you find peace and solace in the arms of friends who are grieving with you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New York, New York! Part 2

I wrote a part 1 about my time at the SCBWI conference in NYC, so I guess that necessitates a part 2. If you don’t have time to read this whole thing, here’s a summary: either great things are going to happen, or I’m going to die because my brain explodes.

So, first a note about the conference itself—everything I attended fell into three categories: critique, industry information, and inspiration. Some of the things fell into more than one category.

Some things that surprised me in a good way:

  1. Many of the agents and editors were way more approachable than I expected. There is definitely a prevailing thought that industry insiders are aloof and too busy to smile. Not true at all. Some of them were less approachable, but it came off more as personality type, not ivory tower snootiness.
  2. Some of the authors I have stalked idolized read have no idea how famous they are, or at the very least, fame seems to have had less of an effect on them than other “celebrities.” (On a related note, it must be exhausting being that nice to so many weird fangirly people.)

Some things that surprised me in a bad way:

  1. A disturbing number of people like to eat bagels+lox+capers at 8:30 in the morning.
  2. No one offered to publish my book on the spot. (I MEAN, IT’S BRILLIANT.)

Okay, just kidding. I’m not surprised that no one offered to publish my book. That’s not how these things work. But seriously, people. What is up with the lox and capers thing?

NOT breakfast despite what this blogger and many others believe. Gross.
So, what now?

Well, I have this book, and I think it’s a really good book. Based on the information I gleaned from sessions about writing, critiques with agents and editors, and panels, I think my book is ready for the market for three main reasons.

  1. The market is begging for diversity. (See #WeNeedDiverseBooks on Twitter.) My book is set in Ghana and Togo and chronicles the relationship between two Ghanaian girls and two American boys who are visiting them. I am relatively knowledgeable about what is on the shelves for children—I’ve spent half my life sitting in the children’s section of bookstores and libraries done extensive research about what is out there for kids re: stories about Africa, and I think there is room for my book. In our house, we’ve read picture books like I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakite and Baba Wague Diakite (set in Mali) and Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch (set in Gambia). I’m familiar with what the middle grade world has to offer re: African stories, and it is overwhelmingly stories about Egypt and South Africa. Anthony Horowitz (who was a pretty dynamic speaker at the conference) set one of his Alex Rider books in Kenya. I have yet to find a successful middle grade novel set in Ghana and/or Togo (please let me know if you know of one because I’d like to read it!). There are other great books out there about Africa, but as I have said before, Africa is a continent made up of many diverse countries/people groups, and I’m on a personal mission to stop this nonsense where we talk about Africa as one big ambiguous place.
  2. The second thing I heard that comes as no surprise is that agents and editors are looking for something “brilliant and original.” Here’s the truth about writing—we’re all writing the same story over and over and over again. There are only really about five themes that get tossed around and spit-shined into something “new.” My book is about family and friendship and traveling. It’s about breaking down stereotypes and personal biases after being exposed to new information. It’s about a clash of cultures so to speak, but I attempt to offer balance in perspectives through multiple narrators. This isn’t a story about people from the West traversing the “dark continent”—that’s been done far too many times (and is frankly offensive), and our world is ready for nuance. I believe my book provides a fresh take; it’s a story that needs to be told.
  3. Jordan Brown, senior editor for HarperCollins Children’s said in his “Seven Rules for Writing Middle Grade” session that there aren’t actually any rules. There are some significant suggestions based on what the industry tends to publish, but the overwhelming theme of his talk was “You can do anything you want, as long as it works.” For every “convention” out there that tells me what not to do, I can find you an example of a book that defies that convention. Don’t start a book with dialogue—oops, Charlotte’s Web. Narrators can’t be dead—oops, The Lovely Bones and Before I Fall and Thirteen Reasons Why. Middle grade MUST be completely plot-driven—oops, Kwame Alexander just won the Newbery for his book The Crossover, and the plot is tertiary to the character development/family dynamic and the beautiful verse in which it’s written. I’ve taken some risks with my book—it’s set in Africa; it has multiple narrators; it relies heavily on characters over plot (not that the plot is lacking, but it lacks some of the BOOM POW action/crazy twists/comedy of errors plot elements that are found in much of what is being published in middle grade right now). Bottom line: I still think it works, and I think it works well enough to start querying agents.

My current plan of action is this: 

  1. Make more lists because this post does not have enough lists.
  2. Spend this week going over all my notes/business cards/handouts from the conference.
  3. Spend the next two weeks working on tightening the beginning of the book and doing a major revision of the last two-thirds of the book (while balancing family/Somebody’s Mama/sub jobs).
  4. Attend one more conference in March, and then spend the rest of the month querying agents.

It’s an odd feeling sitting on this kind of energy. One minute, I feel like a cast member from Girl, Interrupted and the next I feel like Hermione punching Draco in The Prisoner of Azkaban—I, of course, am Hermione, and Draco is all the serious doubts and insecurities telling me my book sucks and I should just go get a job at Burger King.



So, that’s all I’ve got right now. I’m working closely with a couple of beta-readers who are picking apart my book line by line, and I’m sitting down every day to work. Wish me luck!

Friday, February 6, 2015

New York, New York! Part 1

Traveling alone is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Traveling alone to NYC for a writing conference—well now, get on back. I realized in sitting down to write this post that I essentially started blogging because I was inspired by a trip to NYC (which you can read here and here and here because it’s three parts and ridiculously long because I didn’t understand how blogging works). So, this feels all sorts of full circle right now. 

I’m writing this post for my mom, who is nearly bursting because she needs to know everysingledetailabouteverythingrightthissecond, and for Sarah, who wants to know why I’m not posting all over Facebook. 

I left Belleville Thursday afternoon via Metro to fly from St. Louis to New York City. I settled in with a book (The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau for the sake of anyone interested) for the hour-long ride. On the very next stop, a man got on, sat directly in front of me, and proceeded to pen the great American novel via text WITH ALL OF THE SOUNDS ON HIS PHONE TURNED ON. All of them. Oh, and it was a flip phone, like the very first cell phone I ever had a million years ago, so every single button was deep deep deeping. Forty-five minutes into the ride, I developed a tick and used every ounce of energy in my body to not grab the phone out of his hands and throw it out the doors right before the lady voice said “Please stand clear, doors closing” at the next stop.

Luckily, he got off before I had a chance, and at that stop, another man got on and sat on the opposite side of the aisle two rows in front of me and immediately started barfing all over the train floor. The rocking of the train and angle of the floor spread his reverse liquid lunch in a ten-foot radius.

So, um, rough start.
HOWEVER, I breezed through security (already checked in and carrying on) to find my flight delayed. I got out my mental juicer and made quick use of those lemons (or in this case limes) by enjoying a giant margarita while I waited.

The flight was uneventful, and more importantly, my seatmate was THE PERFECT TRAVEL COMPANION—and by perfect, I mean the only conversation we had the entire flight was when I said, “That’s me” when I pointed at my window seat, so he would stand up for me to scoot by. I take that back—he made a cooing sound (really, like a happy baby) as we were landing and pointed out the window as we passed New York City At Night. We smiled dopily together at the Statue of Liberty, and he cemented the fact that he was my people. 

By the time I got to my hotel, it was almost 10 o’clock. Let me tell you—I can not say enough about how awesome this hotel is. The concierge looks like Bo Jackson—like this Bo Jackson from 1986. I have no idea what 2015 Bo Jackson looks like.
The manager on duty called me over and then apologized for the smell and told Bo to tell the potheads outside the main door to move on down the road. I told her, “No worries. I just lived in Washington state for three years. If anything, it makes me nostalgic for home.”

Okay, wait—let me go back to why the hotel is awesome. So, my “pod” is teeny tiny and so efficient, and if I had a mini-fridge, I could just move in here full-time.
I'm standing on my bed in this picture. Otherwise, the selfie
looked like a floating head due to my short stature.
I closed these blinds because I was feeling a little Rear Windowish.
Downstairs is this hip restaurant/bar called Salvation Taco, and there are jars of peppers and Jesus statues everywhere. I told the waiter I was starving but needed something that wouldn’t give me indigestion because I’m an old lady I needed a snack. He suggested the al carbon quesadillas but warned me that they were a little spicy. Aaaaaaaaand, I ordered another margarita because I’m on vacation, and nobody is the boss of me. (P. S. New York spicy is not spicy. It’s weeny crybaby spicy, but the quesadilla+tomatillo salsa was still amazeboobs.)
Snapped a picture at the last minute because everyone else
in the restaurant was doing it, and I was trying to fit in.
So many holy pepper jars.
After inhaling my snack, I inched my way out of the restaurant through the throng of beautiful people (men in their late 20s with light brown dress shoes and pocket squares and women with Brazilian blow outs) to make it back up to my room. 

I prepared for the next morning by laying out my clothes and lining up all my toiletries in my cutesie little bathroom and crawled into bed. I called my boys to say goodnight and then flipped on the TV. 
Allow me a moment to love them more than everything.
After scanning the late night drivel, I turned it off and willed myself to sleep. Unsuccessful. What if I came on the wrong day, and no one is there tomorrow? (Turn on phone; check email; confirm dates.) What if I take out my pages at the roundtable and find out I printed the wrong pages? (Get out of bed; check pages; place pages back in bag.) What if there’s a fire in the middle of the night, and in my haste to not be burned alive, I run out into the frigid New York night in nothing but these sleep pants and this flimsy nearly see-through t-shirt I brought because it’s sooooooooooooooo comfortable but now all the hip guests in this fancy hotel will see my old lady nipples? (Get out of bed, pull suitcase out from under the bed; pull out sweater just in case.)

Somewhere between ridiculously late and ridiculously early, I fell asleep and woke back up and dressed in what I thought would say, “Hey, no big deal. I’m a writer, and I take this very seriously, but I also like to be comfortable, and we writer types who do this all the time know how cold these hotel ballrooms can be, amIright?” I regret to inform you that I did not take a picture of said outfit, so you’ll just have to take my word(s) for it.

The conference went like this:

7:45 Smile and introduce myself. “You need to go to the writer check in. This is for illustrators.”
7:45:30 Smile and introduce myself. “Registration opens at 8:00.”
7:47 Stand in the bathroom taking down and putting up my very casual top knot over and over and over and over in an effort to look effortless.
7:50 Get a piece of pound cake and a black coffee and stand near people I don’t know hoping they talk to me.
7:51 Talk to Lois, David, and Jodie and burn my mouth with coffee.
8:00 Be fourth person in line to get packet. Organize the million sheets of paper and find my place at table #9. Meet my tablemates and panic because I’m the only one not wearing purple.
8:30 Sigh with relief when other tablemates arrive and are not wearing purple.
9:00 Stop chatting and listen to panel of real live human agents discussing queries.
10:15 Round table with real live human agent and seven other participants. Receive feedback. Give feedback. Feel generally in love with the world.
12:30 Business lunch with Becky Straw, co-founder of The Adventure Project, current partner for Somebody’s Mama’s quarterly project. Forget to take a picture with her, but it totally happened.
1:45 Second round table with real live human editor. Halfway through, fidget with earring, lose earring back. During break, climb under table to find it, aiming backside at said editor. Give up finding earring back because realize look like insane person. At end of session, editor finds earring back under her chair and graciously hands it back.
3:45 Tweet at editor apology for climbing under table and put phone away in time to listen to panel of real live editors talk about manuscript revisions.
5:00 Pack up bag and feel generally in love with the world.

Part of me really wanted to find a cohort for dinner, but most of me was exhausted from interacting with real live humans for nine hours and fifteen minutes in one stretch, so I headed to dinner alone at the Italian joint across from my cutesie hotel. I had pinot grigio and fettucine alfredo (basically the adult version of grape juice and mac&cheese) and walked back across the street to prepare for Saturday’s festivities.

I still have two days at this conference, so stay tuned for another installment of “It’s been so long since I blogged regularly that I forgot that you can’t write pieces this long and expect people to read them.” 


In summary at the halfway point of this getaway, I can’t believe this is my life.

Monday, January 26, 2015

On Writing (for Real)

Nearly two and a half years ago, I entered a new phase of life—one in which I gave myself permission to write with a purpose. I’d been blogging to stay sane (like so many other mamas of littles), but I found myself looking at five hours a week with both of my children in school, and I was ready to be a real writer.

Well, as life would have it, I did do some writing, but not nearly as much as I wanted, and then everything went topsy turvy when I found myself homeschooling and running a non-profit project, which took all of my waking brainpower hours.

Then, this past summer, almost two years after vowing I was going to be a real writer, I was in a completely new phase of life—with both children in school all day every day, living in a new state where I had very few true commitments or friends who required face time.

For those of you who have been following my tiny saga on social media, let me just say THANK YOU for all of your kind words and virtual fist bumps as I updated you on my progress. I’m not vain enough to think that you’re all lying awake at night wondering how soon my book will be finished, but I do know that my village has carried me up the mountain with texts and phone calls and snail mail, as well as the barrage of ‘likes’ every time I update my word count.

I realized somewhere along the way that I was posting word count updates, but I wasn’t really filling anyone in on content. So, for anyone who is interested in what this process has looked like for me thus far, here you go.



I committed to plopping my butt down for two hours five days a week. I wrote it on my to-do list every single day—8:30-10:30 WRITE. From mid-August to mid-November, I sat. There were a few days sprinkled in there when the piles of laundry won, and of course, there were a couple of days when life said, “Oops! You have a sick kid!" or "This appointment can only be scheduled in the morning.” But really—and this is HUGE—my butt was on the couch (or bed or chair) for about 91.5% of that scheduled time. A solid A-.

Just about every book on writing gives this as the first piece of advice—you have to have a schedule. Many of them also say viewing writing as an actual job and not a hobby is crucial to success. This is hard for me. Every job I have ever had has been paid by the hour or at the very least by tips. The idea that I could put hours and hours and hours of work into a project and never be compensated in any way gives me the tummy rumbles.

I mean, yes—writing is an art, a craft, a hobby, an outlet. And there is intrinsic worth and satisfaction, not to mention therapeutic benefits in putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). SURE. But when Scott and I came to the decision that I would take a gap year of sorts while both of our children are in school full-time before pursuing full-time employment (the kind with a guaranteed cash money check that comes every other Friday), it wasn’t so I could find myself.

I am not lost. I do not need to be found. I want to be a writer who sells books.

So.

I began by writing essays about ALL THE THINGS. My goal was to write a memoir-ish book in the same vein as what I’d been blogging for several years. Creative non-fiction for adults has been my jam since grad school when I wrote a book about my time on the Mercy Ship off the coast of West Africa. It comes easily, and it’s one of my true loves.


My first true love, though, has always been writing for children. I wrote my first legitimate picture book in high school—a story about a little girl named Penelope who hates getting up for school in the morning (I can neither confirm nor deny the possibility of autobiographical content in this story). I have written bits of other picture books along the way.

So, when my adult non-fiction started feeling forced and unlovable, I fell into the loving arms of children’s lit and wrote a picture book called My Name is Elikem, based on one of our dear friends in Ghana. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and found a local critique group to help me figure out if the book worked at all. The overwhelming response was, “THIS IS NOT THE WHOLE BOOK.”

The problem with that response is that picture books can only be so long, and the story people were asking me to tell was a longer one than would fit in 32 pages.  Someone—I don’t remember who, but I’m going to say it was my friend, Katie, because I love her—suggested I try to morph it into a middle grade novel.

Huh.

This had never occurred to me, so I went home and stared at the screen for a few days trying to picture what that would look like. Over the next few weeks, an idea for a middle grade novel based on our travels to West Africa emerged like a group of old timey baseball players in a corn field. I started building, and it came.

I leave on February 5th for NYC, where I will present the first 500 words (gulp…) to a round table critique group including important-ish agent/publisher types. I’ll spend the rest of the weekend hobnobbing and trying not to stutter or draw too much attention to my nervous pit stains. This conference will be the first of its kind for me, and best case scenario, I’ll make some connections with people who can be guiding lights for me to figure out the best path for turning this book into a published book.


Again, thank you to everyone who has encouraged me thus far. Cross your fingers and say a prayer or do whatever else you do that I have the right words at the right time to convince the right people that this is the right book for right now.