Thursday, July 1, 2010

2nd Issue of My Newspaper for Kids

July's issue is out and I'm having fun distributing it throughout Fauquier County! It's definately more of a challenge with the kiddos home from school but it is so much easier now that I have my distribution list down. I "work in" paper drop-offs between swimming lessons and grocery runs. Today we hit the Fauquier libraries to take in our due books and pick up new ones. The kids "spun the wheel" for a prize since they had each read a book and I was able to deliver my papers at the same time! I'm working the Zen moments! Otherwise, it's constant arguments and debates about who was right when he/she decided to ignore/scream at the other.

The other issue I'm working on is determining what publishing software I should use. After two prints, I'm learning I probably need to purchase better software or atleast a higher end pdf maker. My ads are not as crisp as I'd like them. Having a real estate and writing background is not equivalent to a computer degree as you can imagine but that will not deter me! I'm researching online and making phone calls to all the publications I think have a great output to discover what they use.

It's funny when you find something you feel passionate about, the small obstacles are just that. You have to approach them with fearlessness, pick them up and analyze them, find a proper solution then toss 'em. Isn't it the same way with writing?

This isn't my immediate solution to a job but somehow I don't care. I'm loving in and I've met so many great folks because of it. Plus, when a kid says, "A paper just for me?!", I lose it!

Monday, June 7, 2010

We Writers Need a Stop Watch

This is the first page of June's issue, my first as a Newspaper Gal! I hope to be one for a long time. Each day I'm either distributing papers, calling or dropping in on prospective advertisers, reading a couple of chapters for the next book review or drafting an ad for a business in town.

The local community has been really great. Everyone is excited and supportive. I continue to talk to my printer to learn how to make the product even better and my idea notebook has become my newspaper book. The paper will continue to be 4 pages until the school year starts. At that time, I will assess the need to make it 8 and go from there.

I've learned the need to set immediate and long term goals. I have always struggled with my writing goals but having a deadline (a print date) really doesn't give one a choice! I like that and apparently need it. So, it got me thinking, if each of us writers had a henchman to answer to, would we keep our self inflicted timelines? I'd bet a large sum , we all would!

I'd ask Nev to be my goal keeper except I know he wouldn't touch that job with a 50 foot pole! For now, I'm glad to have my paper to keep me moving forward and I'm glad it makes me write atleast a chapter of my new story every 30 days!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Fauquier Kid

Starting a business is really time consuming. It also consumes the mind. I literally had to cut some things out to make my new endeavor happen. Blogging was one of them. Writing was the second, unfortunately. Well, I'm back to writing and boy have I missed it! And, I'm back to blogging, too.

I've started a newspaper for kids, The Fauquier Kid. It has local news, stories, book reviews, puzzles, and more. My first issue came out this Saturday at our local spring festival in Warrenton. I believe I passed out about 1,500 copies. Boy was I pooped at the end of the day! It was really excited and the feedback from kids and parents was great.

A lot of kids were excited to know they could write for the paper, something I really hope becomes a reality. Not only am I asking the kids to submit news articles, but there will be story contests as well. Kids can learn how to write for an audience as well as the ins and outs of submission guidelines. And, see their name in print!

The local paper here does not subscribe to The Mini Page so unless you get The Washington Post, your kids wouldn't have their own paper. The Fauquier Kid will be very different from TMP as well as it will be focused more on the kids in the county.

The paper is free, paid for by advertisers. It's a great outlet for local businesses looking to reach kids and their folks. I am currently working on distribution. Already it has been placed in several locations including the pediatriians office, restaurants and the boys and girls club. I am meeting with the public libraries as well as other facilities to gain permission as well. It all takes so much time. But, if it works (and I'm working my butt off to see that it does) it will be a great community service as well as a lot of fun for me!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My New Business is Coming Soon!

Wanted you guys to know I am starting up a new project. Not necessarily a story project but an idea I have had for a long time and am now focusing on. May be an answer to my "job" need but probably not entirely. Even if this new project is a partial answer, it would be fantastic because it definately involves children's writing. I can NOT wait to tell all of you about it but need to get to a point where it's ready to roll out.

Until then, I am continuing to read your blogs as often as possible and will keep trying to blog myself if even more sporadic than before. There is sooo much work to a start-up especially when you are doing all the work yourself. But, can i tell you guys, there are so many supportive professionals out there who are willing to help that I have a renewed hope in my fellow neighbors. Sometimes the world feels like one big bucket of competitors until you start meeting the individuals who are willing to help even if you may be a competitor yourself. I am meeting all kinds of wonderful colleagues that I'm enjoying all this work even more.

I so can't wait to convey my new business to my blogger pals. It's part of what is pushing me to move fast. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I Desperately Need an Outline!

So, with my first novel Homer and Rosie, I outlined it prior to putting pen to paper to write even a sentence. The main reason was it was required for one of the final lessons of my Institute of Children's Literature class. Once I began writing, it came easy.

When I began The Companion, I did a lot of preparation but I did not do an outline. I was desperate to begin writing it. So, I began without knowing the plot points, the climax and the ending! You may ask, "Why would you do that Jenn?" I know. Stupidity seems to hit after the fact, huh?! After struggling for months, I have finally realized I don't work this way!

I now have to put it aside for a bit. I'm too entrenched in it to see past it. So, The Companion folder is going to rest for a while on the shelf. I have begun to outline a new story and boy am I excited to be outlining! I forgot how much I enjoyed it!

Do you outline? How do you handle your pre-writing?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How Glad I am Mom Didn't Bite the Dust

My fantastic (and sometimes drive me crazy) Mom just celebrated her one year anniversary on her liver transplant! In the world of transplants, this is a really big deal because the majority of "issues" happens within the first 12 months. And, with the anniversary, a flood of memories hit me (and all of us).

The trips to UVA with my pregnant sister taking turns driving. That first trip down after the call came there was a liver available, knowing my folks were an hour ahead of us on the very same road. Stopping to get a Starbucks to get us through. The dinner my dad, sister and I had after the surgery. Mom sent us out to get Bang Bang shrimp which she hadn't been able and wouldn't be able to have for quite some time. Barely noticing how good they were. Leaving my kids for 3 nights for the first time ever and hardly noticing. That was weird but when you're kids are well taken care of and your mom, sister and dad need you there, you don't notice how much you miss them.

Let me recap what happened a little over a year ago and explain how common transplants are for people who one day seem perfectly healthy and the next day need to be cut in half and have some one else's organ.

New Years 2008 my mom got a cold. Yes, a virus and that was all. She and my dad kept my kids so Nev and I could celebrate with friends in Richmond. They were up late. She was tired especially because she had a head cold. But, I didn't even blink an eye. Why? Because I have one of the sturdiest, most onry, healthy parents around. Or atleast until this very point in time.

Weeks later, she and Dad traveled to Miami with some of my family for their yearly fun weekend. She barely made it through. I barely blinked an eye. Why? Because she has always pushed herself too much. She and my dad could work circles around anyone else I know (safe most members of my own family).

She saw her family doctor (a man who eventually been part of the team to save her life). He thought she needed counseling for being over nervous. I didn't blink an eye. Why? Mom is a type A, over anxious kind of gal. It's why she gets so much done, takes ultimate care of two daughters, a husband, two grandchildren (at the time there were just mine), four horses, a burrow, 23 barn cats, and 3 dogs(oh, and anyone else needing care plus her sister's cats when she travels which is all the freakin time).

A few weeks later I saw she was turning yellow when I went to Front Royal to have lunch. I was blown away. Why? Because when your Mom turns yellow, it's a big, scary deal.

A few weeks later, she was in the emergency room in Winchester, Va. and her specialist was telling us she needed a liver transplant. I did feel like I was in a dream. It may be a cliche but hell, that's why their cliches. We made jokes, how I was going to write a Lifetime Movie. Mom wanted to be played by Diane Lane, George Clooney for my dad (he does indeed look like him just a little older w/ Carhart overalls!).

One week and a day after she met with her liver specialist (the head of the liver transplant dept. at UVA) she got the call saying basically, "Get your otherwise very healthy bod down here so we can fix the damn liver the virus attacked." The quickness of this is a testimony to just how sick she was, and how well she had taken care of herself for the 58 years prior. She was a perfect transplant candidate.

It was hell. One minute, your mom is going to live forever, helloooo, aren't they supposed to always be there? Then the next, you worrying you will have to start shopping for your own clothes and for your kids and what about your Dad? And, what about your kids' Grandmom?? And, what about my sister, prego with her first little one? And, of course, what about my dear mom who hadn't done anything selfish for herself (save buy a lot of good looking clothes) since she was twenty and a mom!

And, well, how can I explain the memories of being in UVA the night they took my mom back to basicaly cut her in half. She left us having the team of doctors (and I mean there were like 7 of them) in stitches, threatening that if they messed up her hair with the ugly cap they put on her, they were in trouble. So many coffees at the cafeteria. Bad french fries that first night but so hungry b/c we hadn't eaten. The clorox smell mixed with overcooked pizza and meds. Young doctors everywhere. The smell of needles. I swear you can. A totally sleepless night (even thoug we all tried) in the "family room". My dad's worry. How do you rest when you're Mom may not be with you in the morning and you know your dad is as worried as you've ever known him to be. He's not even consoling you b/c he can't. He's not the parent right now, he's just this really cool Dadthing you've known your entire life.

As you can imagine, I could go on and on. But, since it's an anniversary, I suppose I should look at what I've learned. I should say "not to take my mom for granted". But, hell, that only lasted for a few months. I am a little better. Maybe you'd think I have learned to value every day. Yeah, sure. I try like we all do. But, really, it's more along the lines of knowing you have to take care of yourself. Onry and tough are good companions. Because when some random unknown terrorist decides to have one of your organs for lunch, you better be as healthy as you can be so you get the next organ coming in. And, you better be as tough, wiry and hardheaded so you can make it back because it was hell for my mom. There were days I am sure she didn't think she could do it.

But, she did. One year later, she is on the lowest dose of anti-rejection drugs. And, boy am I thankful. To her. You rock Mom!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Script Writing Helps with Show Not Tell

You may recall I mentioned Syd Field's Screenplay The Foundations of Screenwriting in a previous post recently. Well, ScriptFrenzy (a sister to NanoWrimo) is coming up April 1! Now you may be saying, Jenn, I'm a novelist not a scriptwriter but hear me out:

Last year at this very same time of year, I got an email from ScriptFrenzy's Jennifer Arzt. I thought the same as you guys and came very close to sending the email, unread, into my trash but then I decided to read it first. And, I am glad I did because in that email something near and dear to me was mentioned. Learning to show instead of tell. Something many of us struggle with even if we're seasoned writers. Well, in a script, you must show. There is very little telling. So, ScriptFrenzy is more of a writing exercise to improve your novel writing! It requires you to see the scene and write succintly. And, it's a lot of fun.

Now you may be wondering how on earth you write a script. You can actually find many examples online. A quick Google search and you may be reading the script for one of your favorite movies. I also hit my local bookstore and ended up with Mr. Field's book which lays out script writing like a puzzle. It's wonderful!

Nev and I have decided to give this a try. We may not go the ScriptFrenzy route but we are beginning to write a script. We figured it was something fun to do after the kids went to bed.

Last night we designed most of our cast, chose two settings and outlined three scenes while sitting on our couch (me w/ pencil and paper and those index cards Syd swears by) and Nev excitedly telling me about how he had been pondering all these things while driving in and from work. The cocktails lubricated our imaginations and we had a total blast! Then we watched a movie and discussed it's Act I, Plot Point I, and the Key Incident.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Writing Contest and Some Thoughts on Work

Writer's Digest has a contest coming up. Entry submission deadline is May 14, 2010. The contest includes just about every genre so check it out!

As for me, I've been submerged in my decision about work. Should I give freelance writing a go? Can I be successful and make any money at it? Or should I go back into real estate? Residential this time. I worked in commercial management and leasing for over 8 years but there isn't much of that here in the Piedmont and I think I prefer the flexibility of residential anyway. I've been doing some research on freelancing to get a handle on it. It's all a little confusing.

I continue to write real estate articles for an agent in the mid-west. Funny how the internet can connect you with unlikely acquaintences! But, I got my first check and boy it is nice to be paid for your writing. Even if it will only pay for lunch. At a mediocre place!

Goodluck on the contest!

Friday, March 5, 2010

What a Difference a Nice Rejection Letter Can Make

I recently sent the first 3 chapters of Homer and Rosie to 3 editors who attended the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic conference in Arlington last November. The first 2 haven't responded but the editor who would have received hers last, sent a nice note back. Granted it included that she didn't have the space in her small imprint to include my MS but that was something I already knew. Even as the kids and I kissed each of the envelopes for goodluck before slipping them into the post office mailbox, I knew it would be rejection letters in my mailbox.

The main reason I know this is because I haven't sent it out nearly enough. Maybe to 5 agents and these were my first round of editors. But, also, because the tale is not going to be an easy sale. My middle grader includes talking animals. Something that is taboo these days but I didn't care because it was the story I wanted to tell. And, although I am sure it could still be edited a thousand times, I'm proud of it. It's my first novel and I actually finished it. That's a big deal to me.

As my kids kissed those envelopes I know what they were thinking. Macy: "Please let Mom get this book published so I can get a dog, finally!" (We have to buy a hypoallergenic dog due to my husband's allergies and those suckers are expensive) Julian: "When are we going home so I can play with my pirates!?". I was thinking: "Please let me actually receive the rejection letters". Yes, that is what I was thinking. Well, I did have one positive moment. But, the letters are really what I was hoping for because honestly, I didn't receive responses from most of the agents I sent to on round one.

But, here's the best part of the letter. It wasn't a form letter!! I know this because she referred to the conference, suggested it would be great to meet at another, said my work had merit and that she hoped I found a home for it. Now, I'm sure all these phrases are ones she has used thousands of times. But, it gave me hope. And, it also brought back the wonderfully inspiring memories of attending my first writer's conference.

And, that's a truly great thing. I have the silly letter stuck to my bedroom mirror next to my husbands gift tag that came on my netbook this Christmas which read, "Finish those books hon." Whatever it takes to keep you going, right?!! I remember reading Stephen King hung his rejection letters all over his bedroom as a kid. Works for me!

I'm looking forward to hanging those rejection letters everywhere. That way, I know I'm a little closer to actually being published!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Job Time is Here; Writing Persevere!

The realm of the working world has been at arms length for me for five years now. And, I have to say, I have enjoyed it tremendously! For the past four years, I have been happily writing children's stories. Now, the challenge is, how to find a part-time gig that pays fairly well (or I should say pays what I think my time is worth which is no doubt inflated because my time has become precious to me), allows a lot of flexibility so my kids don't miss out, and gives me enough time to continue writing.

The first two issues are not negotiable, of course, but the writing time can be. Or so I worry it is. How will I be able to keep it all going? Because I have to, I tell myself. And, yes, there have been lots of internal fights as well as out loud conversations with myself because come next September, when Julian climbs those school bus steps with an overlarge backpack hanging to the back of his knees, I will have a job. Some sort of employment anyways.

And, what is there really for a mom who insists on being at home when her kids get on and off the bus. Has to be the one to run them to ballet, tennis, riding and violin (and that's just Macy). Wants the flexibility to stay home when one is sick and summers fairly free so pool days are still a part of my kids' memories. NOt to mention still having some energy to take care of her husband. But, I also want, no NEED, to have time to write. I've had boughts of time where my writing has ceased due to many different reasons and I'm miserable. It's equivalent to a child who has lost her favorite stuffed toy for a bit. I feel lost.

I'm currently doing a little freelance real estate writing and it is enjoyable. Pays nothing but it does keep the fingers typing. It won't be the solution but I've decided I have to persevere. My current MC is depending on me. Her story is not finished and her story has to be told. She is one of those voices in my head I talk to. I suppose I will just have to start setting my alarm for 5:00 am again like I used to do when Julian was a baby and insisted on waking at 6:00. I can handle the lack of sleep. I will HAVE to! And, who knows, maybe I'll be more organized. That's a dream.

Okay, enough whining for me now. How do you guys do it all and keep up with your writing?

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Technique Can Turn Things Around

Is your writing suffering? Are you stuck? Is the winter bringing you down? Well, here in Virginia the Farmer's Almanac is more accurate that I would have wished this winter. We've already gotten more snow than any other winter in history! And, my kids have been home. A lot! Which means, you got it, my writing has suffered.

I'm all for any trick or gadget that can help. And, thanks Suzette at Shooting Stars for your recent post linking to the QTBlog. It includes a handy writing technique lets call The 9 Step Method, to get you motivated, organized or help you flesh out any problems with your story.

It is similar in a way to Syd Field's script writing technique. I purchased his book, Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting, last year when I read on ScriptFrenzy that script writing was a great way to learn how to show instead of tell. This made sense to me. After all, movies can't tell (with the exception of the few that have a narrator).

Mr. Field's book is indeed a real help in that way but also in giving you another tool for plotting your story. He gives you a step by step method to ensure your story starts off with a bang, builds character and drama, has a timely climax and a good ending.

Sometimes we writers need a little help clearing out the cobwebs of the creativity block in our brains. Techniques like Mr. Field's and the 9 Step Method can really jump start our writing.

So, if you've been feeling underwhelmed, or your schedule has been rudely interrupted by weather or what have you, or perhaps you're just going through the inevitable down cycle of a writer, give a technique a try. You just never know what's going to give you that kick in the hiney you so need!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

King of Characterization

I have finished Stephen King's Under the Dome! What a feat. At 1,100 words approximately, it took me quite a while. I'm a slow reader anyway, reading every word, which I know is the wrong way to read but wasn't told that before it became a habit. I savor every word like a piece of chocolate. A Hershey kiss can last me ten minutes!

Anyway, I have to say I'm not usually into paranormal enough to read that many words but Mr. King is my exception. Having only read Pet Cemetary in highschool, I took a break from his work until a couple of years ago. Nev convinced me that he wasn't the pop culture writing machine just because everyone loves a scary story but due to his ability to write well. With that in mind, I picked up Insomnia and became a Stephen King fan. Then after reading his book titled On Writing , I fell in love.

Under the Dome was a heck of a good read. Enough to have me sitting at our counter reading on Saturday mornings while Nev made breakfast. While the kids called, "Mom, Mom, moooommmm" and I would finally hear them after like the 10th time! I tune out all but the story while reading a good book.

Stephen King gets you in the begining because of his great characters. And, that's not to say they are unusual but rather realistic. Normal characters put in extraordinary circumstances. By the time I realize I'm reading paranormal, I'm hooked! I mean what do you think might happen in your town if an unseen barrier came down one day? Think everyone would handle it the same?

What is it about his characters? It's the small dosage he gives us each page, like a trail of food. We keep picking it up, not satisfied, wanting more.

Next, I'm tackling Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna . I've missed her fiction since Prodigal Summer. I'm turning a 160! Hope you're reading something consuming today.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Lesson You Can Digest

The kids had a snow day on Friday. Well, actually it was a Sleet Day and while Nev was working from home, I needed to keep the kids occupied, preferably on the second level of our house. They endured the grocery store and a slew of other errands and then after lunch, we all hopped in the Big Bed (that's code for mom and dad's king) and watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Well, I was working on the PTO newsletter but I watched as well.

Now, I'm embarrased to say I've never read Judith Barrett's tale. I'm not sure how i've missed it but I have. So, I am unsure how it is similar or different from the movie. But, have you guys? Have you seen the movie?

While I love any story that is creative, original and fun, I also enjoy kids' stories that have a lesson. This one is not to subtle and yet it works without being preachy.

It reflects our glutinous society, particularly American society with our believe that we deserve everything exactly when we want it. Without reference to whether we can afford it or should have it. One of the biggest problems in America which has led us to all kinds of bad behavior and is now affecting our economy as well as the environment.

The main character accidently invents a way to create food from rain for his small island town who has always had only sardines to eat. The townspeople are at first thrilled, then demanding, then before you know it, the Mayor has become a rotund, corrupt eating machine. It seems he's walked into McDonalds and decided he is unable to eat anything that's not super sized.

While watching, I'm wondering how the writer keeps that balance between fun and theme. To an adult, the lesson is obvious but then I realize to a kid, it is subtle. The demands for specific foods starts off small, escalates until the townspeople are beating down the inventor's door. The mayor's girth continues to grow as does his thirst for power.

The reason it works, is because it makes sense. The story is not interrupted by these points. Instead it intensifies the conflict and pushes to the resolution. That's the key. It simply fits. As I've read in countless articles on children's lit, if a lesson comes from the story then it will work. If it is pushed, it will not.

I pointed out to my kids (afterwards of course) how the movie is similar to our own society and what that means. But, simply put, the movie was fun to watch with the kids. They enjoyed it as entertainment. I enjoyed it as research as well as entertainment. And, I felt like the school day was a waste.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Book and Movie Reviews

Contrasting pictures. And yet, this novel and movie have the same theme.

Since I signed up for the 2009 SCBWI conference I attended in November, I have been making my way through Patricia Reilly Giff's collection of novels. And, I have enjoyed each and every one.

I just finished Nory Ryan's Song, which is a tribute to Ms. Giff's ancestors who weathered the famine in Ireland. While a historical novel can always teach us something, it can also inspire us. But very few times have I gotten choked up while reading a novel, particularly a children's book. But Nory's sacrifices for her family led me to finishing the book late one night while my husband groaned because my light was keeping him awake. Usually something I try to avoid but totally incomprehensible to me that evening. The ending was somewhat happy but heartbreakingly real.

From the persecution of the Irish by the English, my husband and I moved onto the persecution of aliens by humans. Yep! You heard me right. Nev is on top of the movie scene. Most often, I retrieve a movie from my mailbox that I've never heard of. As parents of young kids, watching movies at home is one of our most popular activities. I appreciate my husband's efforts to choose interesting atypical movies.

District 9 was not your beat the aliens movie we've seen for decades. Knowing it was produced by Peter Jackson (who made the Lord of the Rings movies), I had hopes it wouldn't be just any alien movie. I'm not into alien movies. I would have chosen Julia and Julie last night over the aliens but opted to have a little faith in Nev(and Peter).

From the first scene, I was in. Not only was it a completely different take on aliens, it was good. All the way until the last scene. And, the theme was the age old idea of treat your neighbor how you would want to be treated. No matter their color, religion, political affiliation, or whether they have skin or scales.

Give one, or both, a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

No More Sagging for Me!

This is the gingerbread house the kids and I made before Christmas. We dubbed it the Sagging Shack. I added too much water to the icing and well, it made the doors and windows droop.

Instead of being upset, we thought it was funny. Apparently, an old lady lives in this little cottage and everything on her body sags including her skin.

For the past two months, I felt like I was the Droopy Dame. No, I’m not talking about needing Botox (ew). More like a writing intervention.

Beginning around Thanksgiving, I began to experience writer’s block. Actually, I wouldn’t call it the official Writer’s Block. It was more like the lack of writing eventually caused the block. Thanksgiving interrupted my schedule with its requirements for baking rolls, making side dishes, pies, cleaning the silver and ironing the good linens. All of this I enjoy but this year I felt it a burden so by the official day, I was over it. In a big way.

Then came the onset of Christmas. The first week of December required my daughter, and therefore me as one of the backstage moms, to be at ballet rehearsal to prepare for the Nutcracker performance every night for hours. This not only interrupted my schedule but my kids’ and my husband's. I thought perhaps Macy might be preparing for a production by The New York City Ballet so intense were the practices.

Then came the bustle of preparing for the holiday itself. These are not unusual occurances. All of you went through similar situations and managed to keep writing. I, however, had by this point let my writing slipped and my creativity was zapped.

It was as if a Christmas Wizard came down and took it away for almost two months. The worst part being that once you stop writing for even a small amount of time like a week, it is so much harder to get back into it. That is the point I wanted to discuss.

For Christmas, my terrific husband heard the pleas I have been making for a while, and gave me a netbook; a perfectly tiny laptop that I can literally slip into my oversized purse.

Finally, I can write some where other than the computer/playroom. How liberating. I love my yellow legal pad and a good pencil but I admit, there is something all together wonderful about typing it once instead of writing and inputting. Plus, the gift tag attached to this little gem said, “To my honey, get those books finished!”.

That’s what I needed. A push to get back into the swing of things. A literary facelift. Still a few droops in places but I'm pinning and tucking.

Happy New Year!