Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Love...My Writing Angels

In December, you tend to see "the year in review" popping up in magazines and on TV.  I decided it was a good day to do a review myself, and I'm sticking to people.  Despite the teeth-gritting, sugary sweet kitsch of it, I'm calling them...

My Writing Angels

They're like Guardian Angels.  But instead of keeping me safe, they're nourishing my need to write. 

So here they are.

My husband, Christian 
On weekends, he sometimes sweeps the kids away for ten hours straight so I have quiet time with my laptop.  

Even more important:  he defends me when the in-laws complain how the family "suffers" because of my writing.  And the best part?  His defense isn't "it's not so bad" or "hopefully someday she'll earn some money with it", but "we're not suffering."  It's the only thing he could say that could even attempt to make me feel less guilty, because his parents aren't completely off the mark.  If I didn't write, our house would have less dust, a tidy living room, more home-cooked meals, and maybe even crystal-clear windows.  (Okay, that's actually not likely.  I hate windows.)

My friend, Ivonne
She's always been my first beta reader.  Despite two toddlers and a demanding job, she's the one who supports and encourages me even though she's only ever seen my rough drafts.  Ivonne, I swear they've improved.

My friend, Tanja
My idea-sounding-board/walking-partner.   She asked a lot of questions.  Often, my first reaction was that the reader didn't need to know that stuff.  But her questions planted themselves in my brain, sprouting detailed backgrounds and new developments.  The answers had an immense effect on how Lexi's story unfolds.  And as for my WIP, Neve's character darkened into a much deeper, more interesting person. 
My first critique partner, Sissy Kinghorn
What a learning experience!  Sissy helped me get my wordiness under control - or at least to begin to.  In a case of divine serendipity, Sissy was a doctor!  She corrected my medical details where Dr. Google and Dr. Wikipedia couldn't be trusted.  I couldn't have asked for more.

My next critique partner, Alisyn Busico
Ali pointed out where I gave waaayyy too much backstory.  Where I stuffed the cake down the reader's throat instead of leaving a trail of crumbs for them to follow (that's me paraphrasing her – see, Ali, it sank in).  I cut more words than I care to mention, and that's a good thing.  I look forward to finalizing our critique sessions.  As for her story, I'll admit I'm missing Matt.  Oh yeah, and Clair and...well...not so much Evan.

My Pitch Wars coach, Deana Barnhart
Even in merely asking for a partial, she made me dance with happiness.  It was a first for me.  Someone out there, someone who knows what they're doing, found my writing interesting!   

You know that scene in The Shining where Shelley Duvall discovers novelist Jack Nicholson has been filling reams of paper with "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy"?  A part of me fears that.  What if I spend this much time on writing, and in the end, the result is boring and useless?  So when Deana picked me as an Alternate in the Pitch Wars contest, it added cheerful song to my less than graceful dance.

There are so many others who've helped me. 
WriteOnCon participants who critiqued everything from my query to first five pages to the dreaded synopsis (and the organizers who made it possible!).  

Friends and relatives who answered questions about music and geography. 

My dad and his automotive advice. 
Colleagues who didn't look at me like I was crazy when I disclosed how I spend my free time.  

Brenda Drake for setting up Pitch Wars. 
My SCBWI Germany colleagues for letting me babble and offering to beta read.

All of them were my Writing Angels this past year.  Because of them, my stories, my prose improved.  Because of them, I trusted myself to keep trying.  And because of them, I've been able to spend time doing something I love.  

I've been blessed to have every one of them touch my life.  Thank you, my Writing Angels.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Three Days

Three days can feel like a month. From December 5-7, a tornado of emotion spun my head so fast, I didn't know what to feel at any given second. Between work and events and news and chauffering the kids to various activities, I could barely keep my head on straight.


My birthday
Normally, I'm laid back about birthdays. I've never been one to obsesses over my age. The life I lead is the one I want to lead. But introspection hit me harder than usual this year. For the first time, I wondered if some of my life goals would become harder with age. For the first time, I found myself comparing my accomplishments to others. I even looked in the mirror more. I like to think my appearance is younger than average, but I can see the changes.

My daughter's birthday
Yep, one day after mine. How can she be eight already? Her birth was like three years ago. She's an amazing, athletic, smart, funny, generous little girl. I spent the day in a tizzy, preparing for her pirate-themed party on the weekend. Her birthday made me wonder what will come. She's already a mini-adolescent. Most famous quote: "You don't know how I feel. Don't tell me how I feel!" She was five then. What a handful. I pray I'll always have big enough hands.

Birth of my nephew
It happened on the threshold from my birthday to my daughter's, but I didn't hear about it until the next day. He joined the ranks of the six other December-born in the family. We apparently don't realize there are other months to be born. The joy of his arrival inflated my heart to bursting until the tears made the skin on my face burn. This little man was so wanted and such a long time in coming. He's a real blessing. I'm so happy for my sister. But it's more than that – I'm in awe of the feeling of starting out again, of knowing nothing, of figuring it out as you go along.

I know a person who talks about dying sometimes.  Now, it happened again.  I'm being deliberately vague here, but it is someone close to me. She can go for months without a word about it, then BAM, she'd rather be dead, wished she'd never been born, wants to pound her head against a wall until she's...just gone. Yes, she's in counseling. Do I think it's working? I don't know. Yes, I talk to her about it. Do I think it helps? I don't know. It's so scary. I hate the helplessness. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

Request for Partial
At the end of November, I submitted five pages of my writing to a contest. For the first time ever, I received a request to send 50 more pages. What a rush! What a boost for my self-esteem! I hopped around the living room, trying to be quiet while my husband spoke to someone on the phone. I flopped onto the couch, kicking at the ceiling. It's a wonder my face didn't split in two from my huge grin. Someone out there thinks my writing is good enough to want to read more! I'm a careful person, so I told myself, it's possible nothing comes of this particular case. But, if nothing else, it's proof that there's hope!

The next day, I found out a friend of a friend hanged himself. This was a man who chatted with me at a wedding, had a deep discussion with my husband, and showed my kids his little farm. He helped the kids feed goats. He nursed some preemie animals until they were big enough to survive. He took long walks every day. He loved being outside. So that's where he did it: outside. I know where it happened. I can even imagine which tree he chose. He didn't leave a note. He did leave a wife...and friends and neighbors full of questions. My friend asked me, why didn't she notice? Why didn't she or his wife or anyone else see it coming? As for me, it made me think of the loved one I mentioned above.... And the helplessness.

Three days. Up. Down. Back and forth and sideways.

You know the saying "stop the world, I want to get off"? I don't want to get off. I'm glad I'm here. But if someone out there could reduce the spin-speed, I'd be more than grateful.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent Calendar - Max & Daisy's Christmas

Traditionally, December 1 is the first day for the German Advent Calendar. The idea behind it is to sweeten the wait until Christmas. There are twenty-four doors, and, starting today, we can open one door each day.

In the past, I bought calendars containing candy or small toys. This year, my son's Advent Calendar is - as requested - chocolate filled. 

My daughter, however, begged for something special. So instead of buying a ready-made calendar, I bought one that can be used every year and filled however we desire.

Striving for uniqueness, I stuffed the socks with...a story. (Plus some candy because we all know children can't live on words alone).

So if anyone out there is interested, they're welcome to use my original children's story with their children – there is one section for each day until Christmas Eve.

Max and Daisy's Christmas

When Daisy woke up on Christmas Eve morning, she never would have imagined the adventure she'd have that day. 

Her brother, Max, was loud, as usual, and Daisy wished he would just shut up so she could sleep a couple more hours. When he yelled and screeched, she finally gave up and went down to breakfast.

Papa said, "I heard someone spotted Santa's sled already."

"Where," asked Daisy.


That was far away. Daisy and Max lived in Michigan. It would probably take a long time for Santa to get all the way to them.

Daisy went out and pet her favorite horse Snowball and gave hims some delicious oats to eat and an apple since it was Christmas.

Then Daisy's family put on their nicest clothes and went to visit their grandparents. After a delicious dinner and a present to share (a real work bench where they could make things out of wood), they went home, exhausted.

They went to bed quickly. They didn't want Santa to think they were trying to get a peek at him.

Daisy woke up to a scratching sound. She got up and looked out her window.

She couldn't see anything, but she did hear a man's deep voice say, "Oh no!".

Oh, no? What could that mean? What if someone was out in the barn? Someone who might take Snowball? Daisy put on her warm winter coat and boots and hurried outside.

She couldn't believe her eyes. Between the barn and the house, there was a big sled with eight horses.

Daisy ran to the horses, but suddenly noticed they weren't horses at all. "Daisy, look!" yelled her brother. He must have woken up too, because he ran out behind her.

"Those horses have antlers!" Max said.

Daisy shook her head.  "Max, those are reindeer!" she explained.

"Reindeer? That must mean--"

Suddenly a man came out of the barn. He had a fluffy white beard and a red suit on.

There was only one person he could be.  "Santa!" both kids whispered.

"Well, what are you two little ones doing awake?" Santa asked with a smile.

"I heard a noise out here and wanted to make sure my horse was okay."

"Aha," said Santa. "Your horse is fine, but my reindeer are not! They've had a cold for the last week. They've been trying so hard to get presents to all the children. But now, they're just too tired."

Daisy looked at the reindeer. Their eyes looked tired and their noses were running. Santa took big tissues and wiped each of their noses. Some of the reindeer were shivering.

Santa shook his head. "They need to get in a warm stall or they'll get even sicker."

"We have a stall," Max said.

"Right, you can put them in our stall. There's enough room for them and it's nice and warm," Daisy explained.

"Well that certainly is nice of you kids, but there's one problem. This town – your town – is the last one we needed to visit. We still haven't taken the presents to each house yet."

No presents? thought Daisy. You can't have Christmas with no presents!

"But," Santa continued. "You're right. My reindeer need some rest."

Max and Daisy helped lead the exhausted reindeer into the stall. They lay down immediately on the soft straw and cuddled together for warmth.

Max fished out several bowls, and he and Daisy filled them with water. Then they gave the reindeer fresh hay and a handful of chestnuts each.

Santa sighed. "I just wish there was some way I could deliver all those presents left in your town."

Max and Daisy looked at each other. They had to do something! They had to help Santa.

Snowball whinnied. She saw the reindeer eating their chestnuts and wanted a snack for herself. Daisy gave her a carrot. Then she got a great idea.

"Santa," she said, "Snowball could help you deliver the presents!"

"Who is Snowball?" asked Santa.

Max answered, "Our horse!"

"She can't fly, like your reindeer," Daisy explained, "But she can run all through town."

"She could take you to all the kids' houses," Max finished.

Santa scratched his chin and thought. "Yes, children, I think you're right. I think your Snowball could help me after all."

Daisy lead Snowball out the stall, then hooked him up to Santa's sled. Luckily, almost all the presents were already delivered, so the sled was not very heavy.

Max and Daisy stood watching Santa, but he suddenly said, "Well, are you going to help me take these presents to all the houses, or not?"

"You mean," asked Daisy, "We get to come too?"

"Well, without my reindeer, it would be awfully lonely for me."

Max and Daisy were beaming as they climbed into Santa's sled. Santa even let them hold the reins sometimes.

They drove to every house in town. Santa used his magic dust to get them inside. Silently, they placed presents under every tree. Santa even let them eat milk and cookies at some of the houses. Yum!

The sky was just beginning to lighten, when Santa brought them back to their own house. Daisy and Max yawned so big, they thought their faces would split open. They'd been awake most of the night.

"Could you kids take Snowball back into the stall? And check on my reindeer?" Santa asked.

Of course, the kids did as Santa requested. As they pet each of the reindeer and gave Snowball a drink of water, Max said, "Daisy, do you know what?"

"What?" she asked.

"We stopped at every house in town. Except ours!"

Daisy looked at Max. "Oh no, do you think Santa forgot us?"

"Let's go ask him."

Daisy and Max ran out of the stall, but they didn't see Santa's sled. They walked all around the house to see if he was in front, but they didn't see him there either. They hurried back to the stall again.

The reindeer were missing! Only Snowball was there.

"Snowball, where did they go?" Max asked.

Snowball just whinnied and lay down to rest.

Max and Daisy were so sad when they went back into their house. It had been so much fun to help Santa deliver the presents, but, of course, they wanted presents of their own too.

The kids hung up their coats and hats and put their boots away. They started to trudge up the stairs to their bedrooms, when their mom and dad came down.

"What are you two doing up so early?" Dad asked.

"Aren't you worried you'll scare Santa away?" Mom asked.

Daisy and Max both frowned, and Max thought he might cry. "Santa didn't come to our house," Max said.

Mom walked past the kids on the stairs and went into the living room. "What are you talking about?" she asked.

"The reindeer got sick," Daisy said.

"And we helped as best we could - Snowball too - but Santa forgot us," Max added.

"Oh, really?" asked Dad. "Come on in here, you two."

Daisy and Max walked into the living room. The Christmas tree looked beautiful. The lights sparkled and the ornaments were bright and colorful.

And there were presents. Lots of presents.

"If Santa forgot our house, where did all these come from?" Mom asked.

"Oh, boy!" yelled Max, and he ran to the tree.

Daisy grabbed some boxes and started passing them out.

Each child had one particularly big box. There was a note on them, that said, "Daisy and Max: Thank you so much for your help today. Because of you, a whole town full of children will have a very Merry Christmas. Love, Santa."