Behind the Eight Ball

Yep. Still here. It’s been EIGHT months since my last blog post. Since I last wrote here, I moved to Florida, bought lots of masks, and practically lost my fingerprints to hand sanitizer. The country was open, then closed, then open. Then states were closed, then open, then open in stages, now closing. Schools were closed, then sort of open, then open for some kids, then closed. Not confusing at all, right?

Where Did the Idea for the Magic 8 Ball Come From? | Britannica
Help me, Magic 8 ball!

For a while (a long while), I just could not write. I did puzzles, watched all of Netflix, organized the fork drawer, the sock drawer, the junk drawer, and sharpened pencils. The uncertainty of the world was apparently just too much. As I sat languishing on my writer’s block, I marveled at writers on Twitter who attended zoom conferences and announced their new agents. They “increased engagement” and “built their platforms.” I was behind.

Or at least it seemed like I was behind. I waited. I thought. I went to therapy (5 stars, recommend). And just this week–EIGHT LONG MONTHS after this whole pandemic got going–I wrote some stuff.

My creative juices got going in October over on Instagram. I participated in Inktober with They Draw and Cook. Each day I painted something (my medium is watercolor) according to their food-themed prompt list. Something about accomplishing the feat of painting EVERY day of a whole month sort of fanned the flames of my creativity.

I’ve dusted off some in-progress writing projects and drafted notes for some new ones. I just had a birthday–my forty-ninth. Somehow it feels like the year to get things done, you know, before the big five oh. I guess if I’ve learned anything during this crazy, unpredictable time, it’s that I can’t control time–it’s going to keep going. The time that’s passed is not coming back, but fretting over it doesn’t get a single thing done. Best to focus on the present. : DAD 5IVE Mini Billiards Pool Ball Set : Kid Pool Table :  Sports & Outdoors

In the game of pool, being “behind the eight ball” is not good, because you don’t want to knock it into a pocket too soon. The goal is to hit it at just the right time (after the other seven balls) into the pocket. Timing takes practice–that’s why there are only a few pool champions. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a writing “champion,” but I intend to keep playing the game, and one of these days, it’ll be “eight ball, corner pocket.”

Twoubled Tweeter

Are there any picture books about global pandemics? If not, there are about to be. It’s bound to happen–what with all these writers who are self distancing and quarantine-ing themselves at home. Plenty of time to write, right?

Well, there should be, anyway. But that’s not what I’m seeing on Twitter (where I recently learned that writers of all genres seem to “hang out”). I’m seeing an awful lot of singing from balconies, cat memes, political discussion, mental health advice, and people who SHOULD NOT be dancing on camera. And stress. And worry. And anxiety.

Many of us writers are doing anything but writing. In the face of unprecedented circumstances, so many are following this mantra:

When in trouble, when in doubt…


Or eat lots of candy, or clean out your closet, or let your kid have lots of video game time, or drink wine before 5 (ok, fine–before 4). I’m here to say this: It’s OK.

Now, to those writers who are suddenly filled with motivation and ideas, more power to ya. If you’re a picture book writer who is reading your books to kids on the internet, thank you! If you’re a young adult novelist who just got the best plot idea ever about love during global tragedy, WRITE ON!

But if you’re feeling swirly and not that productive, it’s ok. I really believe most people are doing the best they can. If you can manage to do something constructive with your newly stuck-at-home kids, then do it. If you get around to showering, hooray! Maybe you’re winning at Iron Chef Pantry. If you’re stressed out and panicky and aren’t sleeping so much, be nice to yourself. And be nice to everyone else, too. We’re not trained for pandemics.

If you’re someone who can’t stay home for work reasons, bless you. If you are at home, reach out to someone! If you’re on Twitter, be the positive voice.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to get another snack and stare thoughtfully into my computer screen–you know, like writers do.

Research Resurgence

I’m learning more and more about the importance of research for writers. Since my main project right now is historical non-fiction for children, it’s essential to get the facts straight. Since my brain leans to the “artsy” side (and I’m 48, and apparently that’s when you can’t remember hardly any damned thing…), I find I MUST write down things I want to remember. This results in lists, notecards, notebooks, computer notes, post-its, etc. We do what we must.

notecards.jpg copy.jpg

When I did my original research using family papers and other texts, I used old-school note cards, just like I did in high school and college. Thank goodness I bothered, because I got a question this week regarding one of the facts in my manuscript. It was about a reference to the main character’s interactions with her grandmother and how her grandmother made delicious doughnuts. I nearly applauded (to no-one) when I was able to go right to my handy mini file box and pull out just the reference I needed.

The main type of research that is a must for writers is reading. It sounds simple, but my writing improves when I spend time in book stores and libraries finding materials that are comparable to the genre in which I’m working. I spent some time last night in a bookstore reading children’s books–a good stack of them.

I read about early air travel, women’s rights, famous politicians, a kind bean (yes, a bean), and finally, Helen Keller.

This beautiful book by Doreen Rappaport and Matt Tavares (published by Disney-Hyperion) represented so much of what I’d like my writing to be. The illustrations were captivating and descriptive and truly conveyed emotions. The manuscript gave a detailed account of Helen’s amazing life, including her relationships with her parents, her teacher, Annie Sullivan, and others throughout her life. It was inspiring–a real gift to children and adults alike. Thank you, Doreen and Matt!

Reading Helen’s Big World encouraged me to really consider the importance of research. It is not only important to get the facts straight for legal and historical reasons, but also for the purpose of getting the incredible truth out there. Accurately portraying Helen Keller’s (and so many other historical people’s) life opens minds and hearts to possibility. In the case of Helen, it’s possible to overcome challenges. It’s possible to learn. It’s possible to impact others. It’s possible to know beauty, regardless of your circumstances.

Children (and adults!) need these messages, and I want to be that kind of messenger–that’s why I write children’s books.

Next week, I’m working research into my routine. We’re fortunate to have a fantastic local library, and I plan to camp out there to read another stack of excellent works. Here’s to research!

Less is more.

Whoops. Life got crazy and I haven’t blogged in a couple of months. I’m still here!

I’ve had a couple of productive meetings about my Theodate Pope Riddle book, and I’m excited about prospects. More to come later on that…

One of the important tasks I have for December (besides Christmas shopping) is to write a new and REDUCED draft of my children’s biography of Theodate. The recommended number of words is 500. This sounds fine until I consider that my original draft was 1,500 words. Let’s see….if a picture is worth a thousand words, then maybe removing a picture will help.

But really, my eyes grew large when someone (who knows things in the publishing industry) suggested the 500 word version of my book for very young children. I pictured reading a story like this:

theo and toto

Theodate Pope Riddle was a person.

She built things.

She survived.

There was a ship and a mastodon and some really great artwork.

Her house is still here.

Visit it.

The End.

Above photo is from Hill-Stead Museum website. It’s of Theodate and her husband John on their wedding day.

Here’s hoping I can fill in some quotes and interesting information and cobble together a story that matters–I know people do it all the time, and you would think that writing LESS words would make it easier. Nope. Let the cutting begin!

Wish me luck on my quest for less!

Hands Off!


In an effort to get one tiny step closer to the “illustrator” part of my desired author/illustrator title, I signed up for a beginning drawing class offered by my town art league. Although I enjoy drawing and painting, I am indeed a beginner, so I figured I’d fit in. And I did. Sorta. Lemme break it down for you.

I cruised into the first class feeling optimistic. I can DO this. I settled in at one of the giant, ancient, wooden easels and pretended to know how to adjust it. Note: I did not. I placed my brand spanking new sketch pad on my poorly placed easel and immediately noticed it. I had the wrong size. Everyone around me expertly hefted their giant sketch pads onto their easels, and the first thing I thought was LIARS. You are all liars and not beginners. I took a deep breath, straightened my Barbie-sized paper, and decided to get over it and began to make up a story in my head about how I enjoyed small-scale work.


The instructor dove right in explaining spacing and perspective and distance, and I did what I could to keep up. I do not know the nationality of the teacher, but his sentences came out something like:

you  EYES. they tell you LIE. you look bottle and fruit. you look you PAPER. you no draw bottle and fruit. you WRONG. you got to LOOK more than you DRAW.

Albeit challenging to the ears, he was right. My eyes. They tell me LIE. I worked hard, though, and was eager for Mr. Teacher to come and give me feedback. After some time, he arrived at my easel. I’m sure that what he said would have been helpful, but he did something that left me useless:


No. Nope. Nope-ity nope-er. Sr. Nopeful of Nope-ington Manor.

Not to be a princess, but…OK maybe I’m a princess, but don’t. write. on. my. artwork. As a former teacher, this really burns my biscuits. Just EXPLAIN it to me. Use your finger. Use a stick. Use a frickin’ magic wand if you want.

Hands off my artwork, bub.

artclass4I managed to get some recognizable shapes by the end of the two hour class. When Mr. Pencil Presser wasn’t nearby, I really did benefit from his instruction, and I enjoyed the class. I even went back the next week! Maybe I’ll share some future work.

The moral of the story is: if you’re wondering if somebody minds if you touch their artwork, or their stuff, or whatever, they really, really might. So…


Itching to Illustrate

img_0806I’d love to be able to call myself an author/illustrator. I have illustrated, and I have authored, but my confidence in illustrating has a ways to go. I’ve taken one painting class, and I draw and paint at home to calm my brain.

So I signed up for a class that starts in a couple of weeks–Beginning Drawing. The supply list is short: Pad of paper and a few different pencils. Simple enough.

It’s back-to-school time in our town, and last night I joined the throng of shoppers at the local office supply store. I really just needed a power strip, so of course, it was necessary to peruse notebooks, post-it notes, pens and pencils, folders, new laptops, and a host of other treasures.

I hadn’t planned on buying my art supplies there, because we have a wonderful art  supply store in town, but they happened to have what I needed, and besides, it was raining cats and dogs and my daughter and I were procrastinating to avoid swimming back to the car. I selected a 100 page sketch book–the spiral kind, because I like to fold it over and draw on my lap. I also chose perforated paper, in case something is so awful that I need to make it neatly disappear OR so nice that I’d like to share it or frame it or something. Hope springs eternal. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Speaking of progress, my query count is up to 18, a few of which were shared through someone who has contacts in the children’s publishing industry. We press on!

My suggestion to you, dear reader, is this:

Whatever you’re itching to do, get on with it.

You gotta start somewhere.



Theo and Me

To update the world on my 2019 goal (50 queries or a book deal), I’ve just submitted my 14th query of the year. It’s the first time I’ve emailed a query about my picture book biography, Architect of Dreams: Theodate Pope Riddle. I completed a final read through, held my breath, clicked send, and  hoped for the best.

I’ve got 8 more editors/agents in mind (so far) to receive my manuscript if this one isn’t a match. If you let it, the writing and publishing industry can seem tedious and daunting. But today, I’m channeling the star of my book — Theodate Pope Riddle. The whole point of the book is how Theo didn’t give up on her dreams, so I think I won’t give up either.

If you wanna know who gets things done–it’s Theo and Me.

TheodatePopeLusitania2I’m an architect of dreams, too!

Brush with Greatness

img_0194A few Saturdays ago, I drove two and a half hours to New Hampshire to attend a book signing. One of the greats of children’s picture books, Tomie DePaola, was signing books at a local book shop. The weather was beautiful, and I’d downloaded a new audio book, so this mom was thrilled for a few hours in the car alone.

When I arrived, there were already fifty or sixty people in line. I eagerly purchased one book entitled, “Quiet” and got into line holding it and the book I’d brought from home–“Strega Nona.” I waited about thirty minutes, which I didn’t mind at all. The crowd was friendly, and I got to partake in one of my favorite activities in life: people watching. Here are a few treasures I saw and heard:

  • patient grandmother with differently-abled grandson
  • young Caucasian teacher explaining to older woman why diversity matters in books, and that all of her students are brown and need to see themselves in books
  • twenty-something couple who could not stop gazing into each other’s eyes as they spoke to one another–it was as if the rest of us weren’t there–so in love
  • tiny girl in flip flops who was only enduring the line due to her mom’s promise of ice cream after the event
  • early fifties parent whose kids had long since moved out–there to have a book re-signed, spent time in line wistfully talking about the joy of reading to her children when they were small
  • rock star dad wrangling a wriggling toddler and a tired baby
  • two teen boys having coffee at a small table, laughing and talking quietly and occasionally just taking in the crowd

As I drew closer to the front of the line, my heart beat a little faster, and I thought of what I might say while Tomie signed my books. I thought of how interesting it was that so many different kinds of people came together that day because of books, and I had this overwhelming gratefulness that I could be there, that someone taught me to read, that in my life I have gotten to teach many children to read, that I am a writer. Before I ever met the guest of honor, I had already brushed with greatness. For me, being in the moment is about noticing the “greatness” in the situations and people around us and that day, I did.

What did I say when I met Tomie DePaola?

“I just want to thank you for your work, and thank you for shining your light so brightly. You have made my life better.”

He smiled warmly and stopped signing, looking me in the eyes to say, “Thank you so much.” Maybe it’s a simple way to describe a big emotion but, I’ll tell you this: my heart felt a lot of joy.

We spent a minute or two talking about writing, and he even recommended a writer’s group he knew of. We took a photo together. I hugged my signed books as I exited the store.

If you get a chance to thank someone who has made your life better, DO IT. And it doesn’t matter if the person is well-known or published or famous or whatever. Each day that we are alive on the earth, we brush with greatness. Say thank you.



Hey jelly

Just tell me

How do you do it?

Squirting out water

As you push through it


Hey stinger

Pain flinger

Is that you aglow?

Lighting up oceans

With no brain to know


Hey eater

Shark feeder

What food is your dinner?

Preying on creatures

Plankton’s a winner


Hey floater

Show boater

Is your bloom brimming?

Calling all jellies

Back off, I’m swimming!