Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward (or Just Call Me Michael Finnegan)

It's been so much fun around here this past week, just relaxing... making cookies, seeing family, opening presents, playing in the snow, celebrating our anniversary, going to the movies.  (Out!  To the movies!  Without kids!).  Christmastime is my favorite time of year, time to unplug and forget about work and just revel in love and life.  It's also given me time to read (I finally finished a book I was trudging through and now I'm in the middle of three different books - yep, three! - that I'm really enjoying) and to contemplate my year in writing.

I started this blog last January, when I finally got serious about the idea of actually. writing. a book.  For years, I've written many, many (x a whole lot of manys) book beginnings and plotted out some storylines, but never really got down to the serious work of writing an entire book (and everything after).  Of course, a year ago, I really had no idea what "everything after" meant.  I knew there would be a lot of editing.  I didn't know how important crit partners would be, or how to research agents, or what on earth a query was.

This year, I started writing for real.  And then I stopped.  I had a lot of good intentions, I blogged a bunch, I discovered this wonderful web of writer bloggers, and I learned.  And I learned how much I have still to learn.  Which sounds scary, but is actually a good thing because it means I am starting to understand a few things about writing and I have a whole lot more direction than I ever had before.

Looking back, I can see when and where in the year I stopped writing, and the points where I stopped correlated very closely with times when the Real Job gets incredibly busy or the kids got sick.  I also stopped when research for my book overwhelmed me and when I got distracted by a shiny new idea and started writing that instead.  And I stopped when school ended and I needed a break and time with my kids.

I'm not beating myself up for not getting a lot of WiP writing done.  I'm chalking this year up as a learning year and realizing that the best of intentions don't get the job done.  I don't regret spending time with my kids and recharging my batteries over summer vacation, and I have a much better sense of what is realistic for me and my life at different times of the year. 

This year, I discovered flash fiction and I wrote a good amount of that and fared pretty well in some contests.  It was fun and exhilirating and confidence-boosting and wing-stretching.  Definitely a wonderful outlet and a way to hone skills and practice some new things.

This year, I watched as a lot of fellow bloggers with more experience and understanding got agents and sold books, and my excitement for them and appreciation for their willingness to share their stories and their rejections and their rewrites and their marketing strategies and everything else so willingly with the rest of us has only made the whole dream seem more possible, if I can put the blood, sweat, and tears into it.

So in looking forward, I am setting only one goal, and that goal is to write 100 words a day.  I know, you probably had to read that twice, and now you are wondering what on earth kind of goal is that and she will be lucky if she finishes a first draft in a couple of years at that rate.  This is true, and if it takes that long, so be it, but I'm setting this goal for myself as a minimum.  So that on those nights when I come home exhausted from a day of first grade, and handsome hubby is working, and I have to pick up both girls and get them dinner and drive them to dance class and entertain the little one while the big one is dancing and then get home and do baths and multitask playing with the little one while helping the big one with homework and then bedtimes and then finally just get started the school work that I brought home around 8 or 9... yeah.  On those nights, when I finish my Real Job work around 10 and then finally get to say hello to my hubby... I will write 100 words.  Hopefully on nights when I can carve out an hour or so, I'll write a decent amount more. :)

I guess really my goal this year is just not to stop working on my book for chunks of time like I did this year.  Not get distracted by shiny new ideas, and keep plowing forward, even if it is in tiny bits.  I have a much better sense going into this year about myself as a writer (I need silence), where my strengths lie (plotting), where I have some serious work to do (backstory).  I am working on voice and whether my book will work better in first or third person.  I have a stack of books about writing to read (I call them my own personal "self-help" books).  And I am still learning, learning, learning about writing and the entire business.

I thought I was ready to take the plunge this past year, and instead I waded in a lot of different pools, which turned out to probably be exactly the learning experience I needed.  So, 2011... let's try this again.  Remember that old kids' song Michael Finnegan that keeps saying "begin again"?  Yeah.  That's me. :)

There was an old man named Michael Finnegan,
He had whiskers on his chinnegan,
Along came the wind and blew them in again,
Poor old Michael Finnegan. Begin again!

There was an old man named Michael Finnegan,
He kicked up an awful dinnegan,
Because they said he must not sing again,
Poor old Michael Finnegan. Begin again!

There was an old man named Michael Finnegan,
He went fishing with a pinnegan,
Caught a fish and dropped it in again,
Poor old Michael Finnegan. Begin again!
And with that, I am setting about restarting last January's WiP.  Hopefully this time next year, I'll feel like I've taken the plunge.  Wish me luck!
I will also be making some bloggy changes.... stay tuned!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Christmas sweets (peanut butter cup cookies and chocolate mint cookie sandwiches)
... and Christmas Sweets.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Thanks to everyone who entered the Truth is Stranger Than Fiction Contest that Vic (aspiring_x) and I hosted! See Monday & Tuesday's posts on both blogs for our third and second place winners.

Today, please join me in congratulating Naomi Ruth from Writing: A Soul's Way of Breathing, my FIRST PLACE WINNER!  Here is her flash fic entry:

Broken Things

“Hurry!” I hissed. Rose gagged on a plant she had somehow almost swallowed (that girl is talented) and stumbled over to me. We both ducked under the sign that we wouldn’t read because then we could honestly say we hadn’t read the sign. It was a tactic my younger brother had taught me. I probably shouldn’t listen to my brother, since he falls off of roofs and swallows handfuls of gummy bears whole just for fun. But my brother wasn’t what I was thinking about. I was thinking about the old abandoned building I was sneaking into.

Rose and I stop inside and stare. We had both dreamed about this day. It was a building we had written stories about, had wondered about, had done research on. There is a feeling of awe we both feel, standing there with broken glass under our feet, bits of boards stacked up nearby.

Carefully, cautiously, we walk forward, through each room. We wonder about the stories each room contains. We run our fingers along the cracked green paint and step around the peeling grey tile.

In one room there is an ugly grey desk and an old record player. There’s a sign for the missing pool table. Rose wonders aloud, “Why was the pool table taken, but not this,” and places a finger on the record player. I shake my head. “Why did they take all of the curtains except that last one?” I point to the single fluttering yellow curtain. It is a strange thing. I never know who decides what is taken, what is left behind. We go upstairs and stare at the abandoned library. Books are scattered over the floor like a thousand lost souls. I turn away and don’t know whether I’m going to cry or throw up. It is just… wrong.

Rose tilts her head and whispers, “I’m far away from home…” The others who come here have spray painted words along the halls because they don’t understand the hollowed nature of abandoned buildings. They just feel the hollowness, I guess. But that one sentence is different, holds sadness in every stroke. It’s home here in this broken place.

At one of the other staircases Rose squats down and flips through the pages of an old Bible. There are pages missing, notes and cross-references scrawled in fading grey pencil. Rose reads the notes out loud as I sit on the bottom step and drag my toe through the debris of papers and disemboweled books. I imagine that each paper is a part of someone’s life; a part that they lost and can never get back.

“Why was this left here?” Rose asks, her voice breaking, but I shake my head. I don’t know why. I don’t know why anything was abandoned here with this building. “Come on,” I whisper. “It’s time to go.”

Before we leave, though, we stop in one last room downstairs. There’s an altar to the left. Bits of marble and plaster have crumbled and fallen. Blue tiles with golden scrollwork have sighed and given up. They lie on the ground, an unfinished mosaic. I imagine rows of boys kneeling on the ground, praying, and singing and filling the room with the music of being alive. I imagine the priest up at the front holding his hands up toward the sky-painted squares of ceiling. I wonder what words were spoken. Stepping carefully Rose and I walk over to the room behind the altar. Everywhere I see words and thoughts pressed against the walls, in between the cracks of missing mortar.

“I wish the walls could talk,” Rose whispers and I wonder if we’re thinking the same thing. We do that sometimes. As if we were twins in another reality, and this reality messed that up, putting us in different families, in different times. But here, in this broken down building, age and family and differences don’t matter. There are just the echoes of a dying place that used to be a home.

We leave, making sure we’re alone first, that no one is waiting outside as they walk their dogs or make out in the square of green grass. No on is there and we run to the side, push through the broken metal wall that separates the world from this broken place. They say it’s not safe. Of course not. Broken things are never safe.

We walked back to the car then, occasionally glancing back at the building that we will always love. We’ve seen its heart, we’ve seen its soul, and now it’s time to go home.

What I love most about Naomi's piece is the atmosphere.  I love that she did not feel like she needed to have a big twist, which I seem to always need to throw in to my own flash fic.  She chose instead to celebrate a quiet moment that touched her MC, and it completely worked - I can definitely relate to the solemn magic of an abandoned place and what once was there, how the spirit of the place lingers.  In the classroom, even in first grade, we teach the genre of Small Moment writing, where you take one tiny moment that you experienced and flesh it out.  This piece, to me, is a completely wonderful Small Moment.  

Naomi, email me your address for your weeeeeeennnnnerrrryyyy goodness!
Don't forget to check out Vic's blog for her first place winner, Shayda Bakhshi!

Thank you to all who entered!  Today's blogfest day - post your entries on your blog! 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Second Place Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered the Truth is Stranger Than Fiction Contest that Vic (aspiring_x) and I hosted! Yesterday, we both posted our third place winners. 

Today, congratulations goes to SARAH AHIERS (FALEN), my second place winner!

 It used to be, when she was young, beautiful, desirable, she danced all night long. And there were men, and they would cheer, laugh, drink, want. They wanted her. Her limbs. Her hair. Her body. She craved the want. Craved the very need she fed. Sometimes, though, she hoped they wanted the dance. Like the cigarette reflections in their drinks, she mimicked the fire, hoped they would feel the movement, feel the way she felt it, burning through her limbs.

So she supplied, fed their need, and in turn fed her own. The sway of her hips and the grace of her legs as she spun, turned, flew, were all to give rise to movement. She did it for the dance, for their desire.

Until her dance began to end, as all things do. Some things end suddenly, in a flash of flame and glory. Others smother, as the skin sags, the muscles weaken, the legs falter.

Still, she danced, and danced in the light.

The men no longer laughed, loved, desired, but jeered, mocked, loathed. She tried to return to them what she’d once received, but she was unseen, unloved. Broken, except for the dance.

Later, tired, alone, she remembered the men. Flames flashing in their seats, desire burning through her limbs. She climbed the stage and brought the fire once more; those red and orange flames flickering in nature’s first dance. She spun, turned, flew as the flames grew closer and she again felt the caress of want.

And there were men, once more, with sirens and lights. They wanted her, pulled her from the stage, the dance. Her hair blackened, shedding, ash.

The men spoke, but she paid them no heed. Instead, she remembered her dance.

As she watched her stage feed the need of the fire, she smiled.

Here, had always been her best audience.

Congratulations, Sarah!  I loved the beautiful way she portrayed aging - we don't know how old the MC is, presumably not incredibly old, but enough past her prime to look back on those days with a true sense of loss.  Something truly strikes a chord with me in this story.  I feel such sorrow for her when she tries to regain the men's lust and they jeer at her, as her self-worth is wrapped up in something that will never again be, through no fault of her own.  Beautifully written!

Sarah, please email me your address so I can send some very merry goodies on their way!
Be sure to stop by Vic's blog today to read her second place entry by Emily White

Monday, December 20, 2010

Third Place Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered the Truth is Stranger Than Fiction Contest that Vic (aspiring_x) and I hosted!  We read all of the entries and actually both agreed on the two we chose for first place, second place, and third place!  Today, tomorrow, and Wednesday, the winners will be revealed!

Today, congratulations goes to DONNA HOLE, my third place winner!

Benny didn’t set out to rob The Bank Of America. What he set out to do was to retrieve his truck from impound.

Except; he didn’t have the thousand dollar fee that the last five days had racked up.

But he did have a plan.

His grandmother had opened him a savings account at Bank of America, and invested $1,000 towards his future. Since he didn’t graduate high school, it never occurred to him until now the money could be used for anything but college. His mom had told him she had to borrow some money from it over the years, but he was sure she’d put all the money back just as she’d promised. Who knew how much interest had built up in the 22 years since it’d been opened.

When he arrived at the B of A, he was surprised that so many people were in line. It was the middle of the work day after all.

Trying not to look stealthy, Benny strolled to the Plexiglas info stand near the center of the reception area. He pulled out a withdrawal slip - and stared at the requested info. ACCOUNT NAME he could supply, and did, printing in large, block letters. And signature was easy enough. He used bold, sweeping strokes to impress the teller with his suave.

He couldn’t remember the date.

All the shops he walked past had Christmas sales posters in the windows, but it was only a couple weeks ago he crashed a Halloween party. And two nights ago he’d succumbed to hunger and the cold and spent the night in a shelter. They were all talking about the Thanksgiving feed and invited him to come back for it.

His mind reeled. What the hell was the date? He looked pleadingly at the customers between the red ropes; but most were talking on cell phones, writing in day books, or reading. There was one woman in jeans and sweatshirt, fussing with a stroller. Benny approached her, cleared his throat, and asked what day it was.

“Thank you,” he said, returning her toothy grin.

He returned to the stand and wrote the date on the slip. Then stared in mute fascination at the last area to fill out. The account number. He couldn’t make a withdrawal without an account number.

He crumpled the withdrawal slip and stuffed it in the pouch pocket of his Lakers sweat shirt.

He began to imagine how much money should be in that account by now. Way more than the thousand he needed to retrieve his truck. The account was his, and he’d never withdrawn any money from it, so it should all be there for him to access in his hour of dire need. He turned over a deposit slip, tightly gripped the chained pen and in neat block print wrote: “This is a stick up. I have a gun in my pocket. Give me all the money in your till.”

Good, he thought; then he moved over to the customer line. He held the note for a few minutes, then worried someone would be able to see the message, so he stuffed it in his pocket.

Ten minutes later he was only three people closer to the tellers; with six people ahead of him in line. And everyone seemed to be staring at Benny as if they knew his secret.

With exaggerated motions, Benny pushed up his left sleeve, stared at his naked wrist, then loudly declared he was late as he rushed out the doors. By the time he managed to break free from crush of pedestrians, he’d crossed the street, flowed with the walking traffic down the sidewalk, and finally extricated himself in front of the Wells Fargo bank. He took it as a sign his plan could still work.

Benny entered the lobby, and was relieved to see only two people in line, and what looked like five open teller stations. He took his place in line, and before he had a chance to think about what he was doing, he had stepped up to a teller and slid the note across her counter. He stood with what he hoped was an intimidating scowl on his face, hands tucked into his pocket pouch.

“Is this a joke,” she asked, no hint of humor in her voice.

“Oh,” he answered, exchanging the wrinkled withdrawal slip for the deposit slip.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t accept this,” the 30 something red head informed him. “Its written on a Bank Of America deposit slip. You’ll have to go to that bank to make your intended withdrawal.”

“But, there’s a long line,” Benny complained.

“If I may suggest Sir, the nearest Bank of America is only a couple blocks up the street - South, and on the other side.”

Benny blew out a frustrated breath. “Thank you,” he said politely, and made his way towards the door.

He stopped at the Plexiglas podium that held exactly the same account brochures, deposit and withdrawal slips, and looked back to the helpful teller. She shook her head slightly, and wiggled her fingers towards the doors. She was right of course, he did have the note already written out on the B of A slip. He’d just have to wait in line like everyone else.

The walk sign at the intersection seemed to take an unusually long time to change. He wasn’t halfway across when he heard the sirens. Intent on his mission, he didn’t immediately register that the sounds of squealing tires and smell of burned rubber had surrounded his crosswalk. Until he heard his full name called from a bull horn.

“Drop your weapon, and put your hands on your head.”

He stopped and looked around. Several people were lying prone on the pavement, or curled in a fetal position with hands over their heads. The streets were empty except for squad cars with flashing blue and red lights.

What weapon

, he wondered, delving deep in the pocket for the incriminating robbery note.

* * *

What I really liked about this entry was the way that we watched the character's life spin completely out of control within a few minutes... the minutes that would change his life forever.  I liked how Donna showed his desperation and how it led to a few too-quick bad choices that would completely throw his life off-course.  You don't want to watch but you can't look away...
Congratulations, Donna!  Please email me your address for your prizes! :D  Don't forget to check out Vic's blog today for our other third place winning entry by Donea Lee!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ho Ho.... Huh. (Part Two)

(Thank you to everyone who entered our Truth is Stranger than Fiction contest!  Vic and I are excitedly reading the entries and will post winners Mon, Tues, and Weds... I will link to her winners, too, so you don't miss out!)

So you read about our adventures with Mall Santa here.  Further holiday head scratching ensues in 3...2...1...

Every year I take my kids to get Christmas portraits.  The portrait place is good with kids, they don't overbook - the experience itself has repeatedly been good, even with small kids.  I order a bunch of pics for family and I usually order all of my picture Christmas cards from them as well.  This does, however, become a little pricey (last year, the total ran over $200), so this year, I decided to go with one of their smaller packages of cards, knowing I would need more.  No prob, I planned to make more cards with Shutterfly.  (So, yes, there are two completely different versions of our Christmas cards this year, lol).

I always do the Christmas portraits the first week of November. There is method to my madness - we all have two days off of school that week, and early November is generally a few weeks before random illness makes my kids all snot-nasty.  This year was no different - a week after the portraits were taken, Tootsie Roll ended up with a cold and pink eye, and Curly Jones had a double ear infection and was wheezing in both lungs and sucking on a nebulizer every four hours.  (See?  This mama is no fool!)

I got my 36 portrait studio cards pretty quickly, addressed them, and created my Shutterfly cards on December 4, along with some other photo gifts.  On December 8, the photo gifts arrived in my mailbox, but the cards were nowhere to be seen.  On December 10, I checked my order online.  It said that the photo gifts had been delivered Dec. 8 by USPS and that the cards were delivered the same day by UPS.  I checked the tracking number with UPS, and sure enough, it said they were delivered to my front door.

Oh dear.  Bright orange Shutterfly envelopes are sort of hard to miss, but I went back out and checked all around the front steps, then over to the garage and anywhere else I could think it might have ended up.  No cards.  So I contacted Shutterfly and they told me to wait a few more days.  I said that didn't really make sense since both their site and UPS confirmed delivery two days prior.  They just kept saying to wait a few more days and they would reprint the order.  Urgh.

Meanwhile, I'm at home sighing, because this past summer, someone stole my credit card number and started ordering things, having them delivered in my name to my house, and picking up the packages before I got home.  This was a giant hassle which culminated in a 7 year lock on my credit (for my protection) and a two-day police sting in front of my house (eventful, but unsuccessful).  So of course I'm thinking that my package stealer has returned, even though we've gotten several holiday packages from Amazon recently without a problem.

The next day was Sunday, and after lunch, I had gone shopping while CJ napped and Handsome Hubby and Tootsie Roll hung out at home.  I came home to see the bright orange Shutterfly package on the steps inside  the house where we often leave the mail we bring in before we go through it.  I found HH in the bedroom and said, "The Shutterfly package came?  On a Sunday?" 

CJ, snuggled in my bed, said, "Mommy, it came.  The doorbell woke me up from my nap."  I looked at HH and he said, "Yeah... um.... someone rang the doorbell but when I opened the door, no one was there, just the package.  Completely ripped open."  Like so:
With my name and address, perfectly correct, on the other side.  Meaning... the package had been delivered, someone took it, kept it for four days deciding whether or not to return the Christmas cards with my kids' pictures on them, and then their conscience kicked in and they did.  And rang and ran.  Weird.

It sucks that people steal packages.  It's good that conscience or holiday spirit drove someone to return this one.  I mean, they could just as easily have tossed it in a trash can so as not to get caught.  It's funny they took this package and not any of the 15 others that have arrived bearing Christmas gifts for my entire family over the past few weeks, since they sit outside until we get home.  Huh.  Well, Merry Christmas, anyway. :)  Maybe the holiday spirit is alive and well after all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Contest Ends Midnight Tonight (Weds 12/15)! :)

Enter your flash fic now for your chance to win prizes at two blogs!
Click on the button for details. Good luck!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ho Ho... Huh. (Part One)

Holiday season is funny.  We warm our hearts with thoughts of family, gifts, the fireplace, cookies, carols... and those things truly are wonderful.  But then there is the side of the holidays we voluntarily put out of our minds - stress, crowds, drama, getting the kids to sit for photos.  It's ok, we don't mind all of that, because all the fun stuff goes along with it, and often the craziness culminates in warm and wonderful celebrations.

This year, I have had my share of odd holiday experiences.  Let's begin with The Mall Santa.
That is not an actual picture of our Mall Santa, but I'm not going to post the actual picture of my girls with our Mall Santa, because I'm pretty sure it would end up on Awkward Family Photos.  Sorry, you'll have to use your imagination, but follow me on our Journey of Santa Fun.

I took the girls to see MS on a Thursday night after dinner.  Handsome Hubs had to work that night, so I figured MS would provide instant child entertainment (not to mention it's a holiday necessity), and you can't really beat the weeknight crowd.  So the girls decided that they wanted to change out of their school clothes and into their Christmas dresses... I was cool with that, so we dressed and were on our way.
(Tootsie Roll and Curly Jones in their actual Christmas dresses, to help you with your visual)

The mall was crowded, but not horrible, and we ran into a few people we hadn't seen in a while, so that was a pleasant bonus.  (It's always nice to run into people you haven't seen in a while when your kids look really cute.  It's like... Hi!  How are you?  I'm doing great.  Yes, we are all doing wonderfully, as you can see, in our perfectly matching holiday finery.  Of course we always look like this!)

We got to Santa's Workshop in the middle of the mall, and there were maybe four families in front of us.  No problem, my kids whiled the time away marveling at the moving animals in the display and playing with the other kids in line.  At one point, TR, whose third grade sensibilities are leading her to start questioning whether or not Santa is real, narrowed her eyes in Mall Santa's direction and whispered to me, "I don't think that guy is the real Santa, Mom.  Every time a picture is done, he stops smiling."
This was true.  But I reminded her it was late, and he was probably here all day, and yes, he probably was just a Santa's Helper.  I think all the sneezing, the actual red nose, and the gigantor bottle of hand sanitizer beside him probably spoke to the kind of day he was having.

So we waited, and when there was only one little two year old boy ahead of us, Santa gestured to the photographer and she held up her hand toward the line.  With one finger, she beckoned a lady standing with her son on the other side of the picture area (where you pick up your pictures).  I thought maybe there was a problem with her picture, but then... then I saw it.  A colorful sign that read FAST PASS.  The woman sauntered over to Santa, placed her very unwilling child on his lap, and proceeded to bark all sorts of commands at the photographer, her son, and Santa.  The woman standing in line in front of me with the little boy turned and said, "Did that just happen?"

I have to say, I have never seen a Fast Pass at a Mall Santa before.  Disney World, where you stand in line for two hours for a five minute ride?  Sure. (I will point out that we did not have Fast Passes at Disney.  But I understand it.)  But a Mall Santa?  Really?  When the wait was only 15 minutes anyway?  Well... it was very nice to see such lessons in patience, waiting your turn, Christmas spirit, stopping to smell the gingerbread, and... oh, yes... money can get you anything.  That kid doesn't even need presents now, I think he's pretty set.

When it was our turn, Santa lifted Curly Jones onto his left knee, but would not let Tootsie Roll sit on his lap. The kid is eight, skinny as a rail, and weighs 56 pounds.  She's not exactly a tank.  (The poor kid will probably never hit the 8 years/80 pounds to get out of a booster seat in the car law here in NJ).  So instead, Santa pulled her back toward him, and in the picture, she is leaning very stiffly and awkwardly back, arms at her sides, looking like one of those creepy dolls that are supposed to look human.  CJ is looking much the same, very stiff and strange, pulling her hair out to the side.  But they're both smiling.  Awesome. :)

Santa asked CJ what she wanted for Christmas, and she said (after rehearsing all the way over, "an orange baby doll" - don't ask me why orange), "Trains."  Santa was cool with that.  Then he asked TR, and she said, "Books.  I love to read more than anything." (Woot!  That's my girl!)  And Santa was happy with that, too... until she smiled at me and added, "And lots of hugs and kisses."  Santa gave me a look, then said to her, "Well... I can give you a hug... but.... the kisses will have to come from your family because Santa has a cold."  (Cue me trying not to laugh and TR looking embarrassed - clearly she meant from me, not him.)

(Santa.  Kiss.)

So the picture was done, it's weird looking, whatever, I don't mind.  We were good to go.  We went out the other side and stopped at the cashier's table.  The pictures packages were crazy, of course - from Package A at $45 with some pictures, a picture cd (with one picture on it?), etc. to Package F for $20 (two 5x7s and a $10 Shutterfly card).  They asked you which package you wanted on your way in to expedite the process (clearly not enough for Fast Pass people, but I digress), so my paper already had Package E circled.  The 20-ish guy standing at the register took one look at me and said, "Yeah.  You look like... an F."  I blinked.  It took me a minute to process that.... Did he just say I look like I opted for the cheapest package?  Now, I didn't, but even if I did ($20!  Still!), so what???  Does that make me a bad mom?  Trust me, I don't want 85 copies of this particular winner of a photo.  Not only that, I was still dressed from work.  If I had shown up in sweats, would I have looked like I didn't deserve to enter Santa's Workshop?

I just kind of gave him a strange look and signed the credit card slip and he was all, "Yeah.  I hate kids."

No worries, though, folks... I am all about Christmas and was pretty amused at the entire experience.  And it gets better... wait till you hear what happened with our Christmas cards!

Oh yeah!  Don't forget to enter our Flash Fiction contest!  Ends Dec. 15!  PRIZES - books and holiday goodies!  CLICK FOR DETAILS!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Would You Want to Know?

Would you like a glimpse into the future?  For some things, but not others?  For a short distance, but not long-range?  Well, now you can have one... at least weather-wise.

There is a site called The Weather Wiz that can predict the weather up to two years in advance.  Planning a wedding?  Big vacation?  May be worth a peek.  I just found out, for example, that on my birthday in the middle of August in the year 2012, it will be cloudy and unseasonably cool (high of 74) with a chance of rainshowers or thundershowers - possibly heavy.
(this picture is from my bday forecast on the site)

Wow.  Bummer.  Guess I'll plan exciting birthday adventures for another day.  No worries, though... next year my bday is all happiness and good weather:

Now, I take this with a grain of salt, seeing as the meteorologists on the major news networks can't always accurately predict the next day's weather, despite their advanced Doppler Ten Billions.  And that's ok by me, predicting the future even with scientific tools is a bit of a crapshoot.

But the Weather Wiz got me thinking.  If you could look into your future as a writer, would you?
For me, I'd have to say no.  I mean, sure, it'd be great to find out that something I wrote went the distance, from agent to editor to publication and good sales (yeah, totally J.K. Rowling sales).  But I know me... when I plot out the endings to a story, then actually writing the thing becomes a total chore.  Writing is fun for me when things reveal themselves along the way.  If I knew I were going to be successful, then the journey and the hope and the excitement and the possible heartbreak or possible moments of squeeeeeee! would all be gone. 

I wouldn't want to have the moment I (someday) get an agent and the moment I (someday) get my book picked up and the moment I (someday) have a cover designed for my baby and (someday) see it for real in a bookstore... well you get the idea, I wouldn't want to miss out on those moments along the road. (And if I knew I wasn't going to be successful, would I still want to write?  Probably, because publication is not my only driving force, but... what a downer!  It would definitely change my perspective).  So often in real life, just like in our characters' lives, it's the journey...
No, not that Journey...

That's the one.  Would you want to know about your writing future?

About anything in the future?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

In Which I Stage My Own Intervention

Lindsey... sit down.  We need to talk.

First, almost a year of blogging - woot!  You started this blog last January with the plan of writing your novel and documenting the journey.  You had good intentions, really.  You even started off strong, writing away on that shiny new idea at Tootsie Roll's hockey practices, hitting a road block in plot, working it out, doing lots of research.

And then.... well.... you got bogged down with research.  You got so involved with your idea that it no longer felt original.  You needed some space.  You got busy with The Real Job and spent the summer playing with your kids (which you absolutely do not regret). 

You got distracted by yet another shiny new idea.  Rookie mistake.  You see that now, I know.  I won't beat you up over it.  Keep it filed away for later.

And then school started again and you know how September is and then you joined a blogfest to blog every day in October, and while it was fun, your posts were really just filler to post something every day.  Probably not the best choice.  Then there was November, full of report cards and conferences and hosting Thanksgiving.  We know how November goes.  At least you wisely sidestepped NaNo this year (even though you missed the fun and camaraderie, I know).

Now it's December and we can look back on the year and observe a few things.  One, that novel is calling to you again, which is a good thing.  You are months removed and definitely have renewed interest.  Your characters are talking to you in the shower again, which can only be good.

So we need to come up with a plan.  Let's get real - this novel is not going to write itself.  It's ok to be forgiving at busy times of year, but it might be wise to set up a writing schedule and stick to it the best you can.  You need to try to be a little more consistent.  You need to take yourself somewhere quiet.  You need to stop trying to write on the computer, because as your blog title so presumptuously states, you work best when you're pressing a nib to paper.  Yes, you will have to type later, but you can revise while you type (and then revise again.  And again.), so it all works out.

Let's get serious.  You need to start reading those writing books that are set up all nicely on your writing desk (which, really, needs to stop being covered with lesson plans and the kids' school stuff and bills and paperwork).  I know you don't have a lot of reading time and that you like to use it to read that amazing YA TBR stack that keeps growing.  But news flash... those amazing authors only published their books after they wrote them.

I know you're feeling like your blog has been going nowhere lately, and that's ok.  We all have bloggy moments of meh.  But I promise, once you start writing again, you will have no end of things to discuss, characters to flesh out, frustrations to vent, AHA! moments to rejoice in.  I swear. :)

To be fair, this blog has been an amazing experience this year that has introduced you to an amazing, talented, supportive, thoughtful, creative bunch of writers, as well as incredibly useful information on craft, querying, agents, the road to publication, and any number of invaluable little tidbits.  You needed that and will continue to need it, but now you know where to find it.  You also need a Crit Partner... but one step at a time.  Once you have more writing done, this will be an excellent place to find one.  Or more.

So listen, Lindsey.  It's not all bad.  You have a foundation and a support system you never knew existed.  And you know where you need to go from here.  It's a pretty good place to be, actually.  Remember, I'm doing this with your best interest at heart.

Now go forth and write. :)


Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Flash!  Aaaa-aaahhhhh!  Savior of the Universe! 

(Oops, am I the only one reminded of the Flash Gordon theme when thinking about flash fiction?  Yes?  Ok.)

So... anyway... IT'S ON!  Come celebrate with Vic Caswell (aspiring_x) of Hairnets and Hopes and me!  Vic is celebrating 100+ followers and I'm celebrating 300+ (wow!  you guys rock!) with a flash fiction contest!  Double prizes!  YEAH!!!

Here's how to enter:

1. Write a piece of flash fiction (1000 words or less) with the theme of Truth is Stranger than Fiction. Use something true as your seed idea (something that happened to you, someone you know, something you've read, etc.) and then fictionalize to your heart's content!

2. Email your entry to us by December 15. My email is MaddestHatter(at)verizon(dot)net. Vic's is on her blog. You can email either one of us - I promise we'll share! We are both picking winners and we both have prizes! (Sorry, mine are US only - wish I had the $ for int'l shipping!). Please send a Word doc without your name so that we can judge fairly - after we pick winners, we will match the story to your email!

3. Winners will be chosen and we will post the winning entries on Mon, Tues, and Weds of the next week (Dec. 22).

On Dec. 22, let the blogfest begin!  We hope everyone will post their entries.  We will link for your reading pleasure!

 Oh, wait.  What else... PRIIIIIZES!!! Vic's prizes will be fantastic boxes of books, movies, and candy! Pop on over to her blog to see (she will be posting rules 12/1).  

Over here at Le Dange, all three winners will be getting a secret holiday surprise, PLUS two handmade ornaments each:

... PLUS your choice of the following books (first choice to the first place winner and so on):

(All hardbacks)

We can't wait to read your stories!

Have fun and happy writing!  Feel free to grab our scary angler fish button for your blog!

(And now... just cause I can... "Flash!  Flash, I love you!  But we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!")

Monday, November 29, 2010

No Love for Picture Books?

I don't talk a whole lot about picture books here, since my writing is geared older, but... A recent article in the New York Times describes how publishers are scaling back on picture books as parents favor text-heavy chapter books for their young children.  The full article can be found here:

New York Times: Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children

Sigh.  Wait... SIGH.  REALLY LOUDLY. 

I don't write picture books, but I do teach young children.  I spend a lot of time talking to parents about books that are "just-right" for their children, and trying to slow the rush into chapter books for my first graders. 

Now... I do read chapter books to my class, as read alouds.  With much discussion.  Review.  Vocabulary building.  But my kiddies, even my brightest ones, can gain bad reading habits by jumping too quickly into chapter books.  They learn to decode but they lack comprehension even though they can pronounce the words.  Developmentally, most little guys cannot remember an entire chapter book-length story.  When asked to discuss or retell their stories (book closed) right after they read, they only tell me what happened at the end, because they are unable to accumulate all that text.  Then they begin to do this even in shorter, more simple stories, because it has become a bad habit.  :(
The definition that many first grade teachers use of reading is "making meaning of text".  If our kids are not making meaning, or comprehending, they are not really reading.  They are spitting out words.  They miss the critical thinking skills built with picture books.  And man, are they missing some good stories.

Besides, what's the rush?  I always tell both the kids and the parents that all of them will be reading beginning chapter books (think Henry and Mudge, Poppleton, Frog and Toad) by the end of first grade/beginning of second grade, so let's take the time to lay the foundation and we'll get there.  Chapter books aren't going anywhere. :)

But there is more here than just my rant on "just right" reading.  I am a lover of picture books.  There is SUCH BEAUTY in picture books!  The idea that they are becoming less valued is incredibly sad to me, but on the upside, I get to fill my kiddies' days with them.  As a celebration of picture books, here are some of my absolute favorites:

Oh.  I could go on and on.  These books are like my little best friends.  Thank goodness I get to share them with my own kids and my first graders, along with many, many more wonderful reads.

Do you have a soft spot for picture books?  What are your favorites?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An Award!

First, I would like to thank the lovely and kind Maria McKenzie from Reading, Writing, Romance for the Versatile Blogger Award!
Maria's blog alternates between delicious and delicious... lol, the eating kind and the "I shall marinate in this writerly advice" kind.  I am, as Handsome Hubs can attest, a terrible cook.  (Fortunately, he is not!)  So people who achieve culinary success earn my awe from the start.  Every now and then HH and I watch Hell's Kitchen and I cringe at the way the less successful chefs on that show get berated, because they are still leagues and miles above me.  (Though I will point out that HH still, after 12 years of marriage, pretends that he likes my culinary experiments... experiments being stuff like... um... chicken.  That I may or may not sear directly to the pan.  Nope.  I totally never did that.  Although I think HH just appreciates the times when he doesn't have to cook, regardless of the wooden chicken that appears.  Stuck.  To the pan.)

Wow, I got totally off track there, lol.  I also wanted to say about Maria that although her writing genre (romance) is completely different from mine (YA... I think... if I ever finish a novel, maybe we'll find out), I find that the advice that she posts and the discussions that she begins are helpful and interesting.  She has recently posted about such diverse topics as poetry (LOVE), villainry (SUPER LOVE), and snippets of writing advice (NEED and LOVE).  So whether are a writer, or just hungry, or maybe even a hungry writer... go stop by.  You'll be glad you did!

Ok, so now for the award "rules" (it's been a long time since I did one of these!), I am supposed to list 7 things about me.  Hmm.  This is the part I always find difficult.  Without going back into past award posts that are buried deep in the vaults of Le Dange, I will probably end up repeating things I've said before, because I'm not sure there are multitudes of 7 things that are all that interesting here. :)  Here goes:

1. I have owned 7 cars in the past 16 years.  5 or 6 of them have been totaled (I lost count). 
2. I once had a pet shark.  His name was Jaws.  He grew about a foot long. 
3. I once had a pet hamster who got some sort of flesh-eating/rotting disease.  Yuuuuuuuck.
4. I kissed a boy in a graveyard once.
5. When Tootsie Roll was a baby, we lived in our basement for a year and a half while the entire rest of our house was being demolished and rebuilt (we turned a cape into a colonial).  It was a horrendous experience, the entire house was flooded twice, our contractor was an alcoholic and the company fired him mid-job... you name it, it went wrong.  When it was FINALLY done, it was gorgeous.  And then we moved. :)
6. This past summer, someone stole my credit card number and ordered really weird things like National Geographic Earth videos, workout videos, and beautiful Oneida silverware.  It was a big hassle that ended with a police stakeout in front of my house.  Kind of bizarre and a real pain in the neck credit-wise, but strangely entertaining.
7. I so seriously wish that I could write a book about the crazy things that are entirely the norm in an elementary school teacher's day (crazy things the kids say, crazier things the parents say).  I love my job, and it is definitely both rewarding and entertaining.  Too bad I'd get fired! ;)

Now my last order of business is to send this award on its merry way to 12 other bloggers I've recently discovered and find fantastic, so the award goes to:

1. Michele Emrath at Southern City Mysteries
2. Donea Lee at Queen of Procrastination
3. Carol Riggs at Artzicarol Ramblings
4. Rebecca T. at Sonshine Thoughts (ok, not "recently discovered"... but definitely fantastic!)
5. Quinn at Seeing, Dreaming, Writing
6. Brad Jaeger

Oops, the curly blonde one has awoken from her thankfully-zithromax-inspired nap (after we were awake together from 1 to 6am this morning - I was then relieved by HH to nap myself - thanks to a recurring ear infection and asthmaorallergiesnooneisquitesure cough).  So my list will have to end here.  Oh, eighth thing about me - I don't always follow the rules (hence the blog title)!  That makes me unruly! :)

UPDATED... Ok, it's a few hours later and my girly whirlies are in bed.  So I am going to add on the final 6 award recipients, because, even though I don't mind breaking the rules, there are so many great and deserving blogs out there!  So here goes...

7. Debbie at Thoughts in Writing, who is a new blogger and whose posts so far have been lovely and touching.  She also just finished her first book!
8. Marieke at Marieke's Musings (currently giving away a preorder of Beth Revis' Across the Universe!)
9. Erica and Christy
10. Vic (aspiring_x) at Hairnets and Hopes (also not a new find but definitely a versatile lady!)
11. Talei Loto at Musings of an Aspiring Scribe
12. Writing in a Nutshell

Ok!  My work here is done, lol.  Maybe I should go, I don't know... write something?!? 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Gratitude

There aren't words for how thankful I am for them:

And for Handsome Hubby, the most incredible man I know.

For my sweetest fuzzy puppy.

For my family, most of them coming for Thanksgiving, we'll be missing those who can't (next year!).

I'm thankful for having all the things that we don't think twice about but that many people don't have - food, home, warm clothes, cars, safety, medicine, jobs.

For our health.

For my students, my cutie patootie first graders and their supportive parents.

For being able to follow my writing dream (when I can find time, lol).

For friends.  Good ones.

For the beauty in the world around us and remembering to notice it.

For books and music and all of the things that make a good life great.

For bloggy friends who write and bloggy friends who read and this whole amazing community that I became a part of less than a year ago but feel like I've known forever because you all get it.

I'm thankful for the time this week to stop and be thankful.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hunger Games Fan Video

I saw this on Steph Sinkhorn's blog and HAD to repost it here.  This is a fan video made for The Hunger Games (the movie is slated to come out from Lionsgate in 2013).  Pretty darn amazing. (SPOILERS obviously if you haven't read the book yet!)

If you haven't read it yet... Go read it. NOW! :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ooooh! It's a Teeny Prizey Preview!

Hey, Writerly Types!  Don't forget that when you are all NaNo'd out, Vic and I are hosting a Truth is Stranger Than Flash Fiction contest through mid-December!  For details, click that scary looking button on the top right over there.  Vic is doing movie and candy boxes of prizes, and my prizes will be books and holiday goodies.  Sweeeeeeet!  Here is just a teensy little preview of something that will go into my prize boxes - holiday ornaments handmade by my sister.  (Shouldn't she open an Etsy shop?!?)  Now I want Christmas to be here! :D  More contesty details and prize package info at the end of this month!

Many thanks to my awesome sister for sharing her crafty goodness!