This Needs Fireflies!

I attended the SCBWI Wonderful Midwest Conference last weekend in Naperville, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, and after taking last Monday completely off to reflect on all I’d learned, I’m jumping into some revisions with a new sense of purpose.

After you’ve been writing for a while, revising becomes a funny thing. Getting rid of words, scenes and even characters for the greater good of story isn’t nearly as difficult as it used to be, and cutting word counts by 50 percent can produce the same feelings you get after cleaning out a long-neglected closet, cabinet or dresser (think Marie Kondo here). The stuff sitting in bags waiting to bless someone else feels like the right benediction for things you no longer want or need. Writers don’t physically put words into trash bags and give them away, but releasing long-held sentences, ideas, thoughts and dialogue back into the universe to be repurposed can bring lightness in ways nothing else can. And once you let go and free up some mental space something amazing happens…you make room for fireflies.

Fireflies? Huh? Here’s what I mean. . .

I’ve been sitting on a middle-grade novel for a while now. It hasn’t been completely at the back of my writing closet—a few times I’ve pulled it out, reworked a chapter or two and submitted it for feedback, to an agent or contest—but I haven’t been committed to making it all it needs to be. Not sure why, other than I’m probably a little afraid of it. Kind of like that pair of shoes I hang onto, even though they’re uncomfortable and I can’t wear them for more than a few hours at a time, it feels good to say that I write middle-grade novels, even though I know it’s not really what I’m working on. But like I mentioned before, conferences do funny things to writers. Just about the time I’m committed to revising other projects because they are really important to me right now, I wake up in the middle of the night, see the darkness of the forest floor that is the setting for most of my novel and there, darting in and out of the 1000-year-old trees are 100’s of fireflies…something I’ve never seen there before.

It could be that as I’ve been cutting and rearranging words over the past week and organizing which projects to let go of and which ones to tackle, I made room to let in something new and different. My story asked me for something, and maybe, just maybe, I was ready to hear what it was trying to say.

I’m a big believer in God whispers. But I also know that like any other whisper, if you’re not still enough to hear it, the message might get lost on the wind and pass you by. I want to be listening. I long to be an on-purpose writer who is quiet enough to hear what God and my stories are trying to tell me. Last night it was fireflies. Who knows what it might be in the days and weeks ahead?

But I’m ready for more fireflies. . . are you?

 


Sensibility- Fireflies, new scenes, new characters, new ways of looking at story, all come when we quiet our spirits, clean out what’s getting in the way and listen for God whispers.

Sense- Prioritizing projects, planning your writing day, setting up an editorial calendar and spending time in quiet reflection are all ways to make room for new ideas.


 

What are some things you do to quiet yourself as you get ready to write?

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Cover Reveal and Pre-order Link for THANKU: POEMS OF GRATITUDE!

I’m so happy to be able to share the beautiful cover and pre-order link for the upcoming poetry collection, THANKU: POEMS OF GRATITUDE, that I’m over-the-moon happy to be part of. Sometimes, a project speaks to your heart so profoundly that you’re at a loss for words as to how happy you are to see it come to life. That’s this project for me. It all started with an email from my writing partner, Lisa Rose, that said, “Did you see this? You should do it!” She was referring to a contest that the amazing and generous Miranda Paul was hosting on her blog to find two new poets to complete her collection of children’s poems about being thankful. So I thought, “Why not?” and wrote a poem about a child getting her first pair of glasses (that was me) and trying to be grateful for the huge change in her life. Of course, a kid might not get excited about a poem about just any girl getting her first pair of glasses, so I thought a special, well-known character might get the job done! And it did. Not long after submitting, I got the email from Miranda saying that she loved the poem and it was definitely in the running for one of the available slots. Then, a few weeks later, I got the email that said, “YES!” and I’ve been enjoying this journey…which included lots of edits and a few rewrites, ever since!

And even though I’m a little behind schedule, here it is…

 

 

 

You can pre-order the book here:

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/Thanku-Poems-Gratitude-Miranda-Paul/dp/1541523636/

 

 

 

It’s moments like these that make the writer journey so sweet. Thank you all for your continued support!

 


Sensibility- Never pass up an opportunity, no matter how impossible it may seem. Every effort along the way helps grow you as a writer.

Sense- Keep an eye out for contests and calls for submissions. These can often open doors in unexpected and amazing ways!


 

Watch for a THANKU: POEMS OF GRATITUDE giveaway in the comings months:)

 

Aside

Oh, Guilty Heart! – Susanna Hill’s 4th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest!

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and that means it’s time for Susanna Hill’s Annual Valentiny Writing Contest! I love holidays and writing contests, so this one was a perfect fit for me. Here are the rules:

“. . .write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone feels guilty!  Your someone can feel guilty themselves or make someone else feel guilty.  They may feel guilty for good reason, or just because they think they should!  Your story can be poetry or prose, sweet, funny, surprising or anything in between, but it will only count for the contest if it includes someone guilty (can be the main character but doesn’t have to be) and is 214 words (get it? 2/14 for Valentines Day).” 

Hope you enjoy what I came up with. . .

 

Woa, Diddle, Diddle! 

By Patti Richards

 

On Valentine’s Day

I wanted to play

A tune for my very best girl.

 

So, I ran down the hill,

To give her a thrill

And said, “Cat, can I give it a whirl?”

 

“You want THIS violin?”

The cat said with a grin,

“I know you can’t handle the magic.”

 

But Jill loved a good tune.

And if I couldn’t croon

The results would be terribly tragic.

 

So, when I stole that fiddle

To play “Diddle, Diddle,”

The guilt was quite strong, I’ll confess.

 

‘Cause when I began playing

That cow started swaying

And jumping and making a mess.

 

She bounced off the moon,

Then clomped on the spoon,

Tripping over the dish on the way.

 

As she toppled the dog

Her hoof stuck on a log,

Where Miss Muffet was eating her whey.

 

Now hear these wise words

(While I’m raking up curds),

Be careful when playing a tune.

 

If a cow is around

Her love for the sound

Could mean more than just jumping the moon!

 

A dance may ensue

And cause you to rue

The time you and a fiddle cut loose.

 

‘Cause you’ll spend the day hearing

The thing you’ve been fearing,

A lecture from your Mother Goose!

 


Sensibility- It’s fun to take familiar stories, nursery rhymes and fables upside down and make them your own.

Sense-When writing fractured folktales, fairy tales, nursery rhymes and fables that have strong main characters for an immediate reader connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aside

STORYSTORM 2018!

I just signed up for STORYSTORM 2018, and I’m looking forward to 30 brand-spanking-new story ideas by the end of January! Thanks for hosting again this year, Tara Lazar, and happy 10th Storystorm Anniversary!

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Susanna Hill’s 8th Annual Holiday Writing Contest! MAZY’S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

I love the holiday season! And what better way for a writer to celebrate than by entering a holiday writing contest! This is children’s author, Susanna Leonard Hill‘s 8th year of sponsoring this fun event, and the rules are as follows:

Theme: Holiday Heroes

Ages: 12 and under

Words: 250 or less

 

And here’s my submission. . .hope you enjoy!

 

MAZY’S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE 

By Patti Richards

 

The stable was damp.

There was leftover hay.

No one would help

On that December day.

 

Snoring sheep snuggled

All warm in their stalls.

Mice dreamed sweet dreams,

In their nests in the walls.

 

But one mouse woke up

When it heard the soft cry

Of a baby just placed

In a manger close by.

 

“That little one’s cold,”

Tiny Mazy could see.

She grabbed knitting needles

And called out to Bea,

 

Her very best friend

Of all the barn beasts.

“We need to act fast,

Give me some of your fleece!”

 

Mazy carded and spun

As quick as she could.

Her fingers were flying,

While Bea calmly stood

 

As her wool became yarn.

Then row after row,

Mazy knit swaddling clothes

For the small one below.

 

Now, when Mary gets

Credit for wrapping her babe,

Mice and sheep the world ‘round

Know it’s what Mazy made.

 

 


Sensibility- Use the holiday season to spark new ideas for writing projects in the coming year.

Sense- Pace yourself and your writing based on the demands of the holiday season. Don’t fret if you’re not as productive as usual. Embrace this time and be present in each moment with family and friends.


 

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Happy Publishing News!

I’ve already announced this on social media, but I wanted to share here as well that I’m over-the-moon excited to be part of a new poetry anthology for children called, THANKU: POEMS OF GRATITUDE, edited by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Marlena Myles (Lerner/Millbrook, Fall 2019).

I’m humbled to be one of 32 contributors to the anthology including: Renee LaTulippe, Sylvia Liu, Joseph Bruchac, Margarita Engle, 신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye, Charles Waters, Jane Yolen, Edna Hokunaauao Cabcabin Moran, Kimberly M Blaeser, Traci McClellan-Sorell, Baptiste Paul, Gwendolyn Hooks, Vanessa Newton, Chrystal Giles, Carolyn Flores, Liz Garton Scanlon,Charles Ghigna, Becky Shillington, Diana MurrayJaNay Brown-Wood, Carole Lindstrom, Padma Venkatraman, Janice Scully, Megan Elizabeth Hoyt, Jamie McGillen, Lupe Flores, Ed DeCaria, Sarvinder Naberhaus andKenn Nesbitt.

 

 

 

Congratulations to everyone, and a special thanks to Miranda Paul for making this possible. I can’t wait to see it all come together!


Sensibility- Trust your inner muse and write from there. Your best work comes from the most authentic you! 

Sense- Never give up. The next thing you draft, revise and submit could bring you something totally unexpected. 


 

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Of Contests and Such…

Back in October, I received the news that my picture book manuscript, CUPINE’S PERFECT DANCE PARTNER, had been awarded an Honorable Mention in the 86th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. There were over 5100 entries across several categories, and I was over-the-moon excited that my porcupine story had been selected! Today, they sent me a little swag as a reminder:

I post this today as an encouragement to each of you to keep on keeping on. You never know when that next submission is going to bring you some happy publishing news!

Happy New Year, and Happy Writing!


Sensibility- Persistence always pays off, even if it seems like it’s taking forever!

Sense- Find new places to submit your writing this month. Contests, magazines, newsletters and publishing journals provide important credits and the motivation you need to keep going!


What are some contests or places outside of publishing houses or agents where you’ve submitted your work? 

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Writing for Today’s Child, Chapter 1- Kids in Need

Photo courtesy of Bread for the World.

I’ve been doing some research about the lives of today’s children in my efforts to learn more about my audience, and I’ve come across some pretty startling statistics. For example:

  • 1 in 6 people in America face hunger. That means more than 1 in 5 children is at risk for being hungry during a regular school day. Among African American and Latino American children, the risk is 1 in 3.
  • For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and 36 summer food programs.
  • Nearly half of the 1 in 7 people enrolled in SNAP programs are children.
  • Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunches each day at school. Less than half of these kids get breakfast, and even less than that have access to a meal program in the summer.
  • 40 percent of food is thrown out in the United States each year. That’s about $165 billion, and that amount could feed 25 million people.[1]

Yep, you read that right…$165 billion…enough to feed 25 million hungry people; and a grotesquely large number of those are children. Pretty overwhelming stuff, considering we’re at the end of the season of thankfulness and just opening the door on the season of giving.

So what do these numbers have to do with writing for kids? Well, think about that for a minute. One in 5 children ARE hungry during the regular school day. That means when little Johnny or Susie picks up a book during library time, most days all he or she can think about is, “When’s lunch?” And I don’t know about you, but when I’m hungry, reading, thinking or any kind of concentrating is almost impossible. Now imagine if that same child picks up a book about making pancakes, or having a meal with family, or sitting down to a table laden with holiday goodness? I mean, don’t we all get a little bit hungry, even when we’re not if food flashes in front of our eyes?

Now let’s talk buying books. If more than 20 million children across America receive free or reduced-priced lunches, how many of them have ever or will ever hold a book in their hands that they’ve purchased with their very own money? And how does that figure into school book fairs where some families must choose between paying the rent or buying groceries, much less finding some extra cash so a child can be like his or her classmates and visit the book fair? Part of developing a life-long love of reading is the feeling that comes when you crack open a book of your very own. The smell. The sound of pages turning. The brightness of brand new pictures and paper that isn’t stained or torn. All of this creates memories that draw adults back to books. I know ebooks have their place, but for book lovers, there’s just nothing quite like it. If this love of books never develops because books aren’t accessible or kids are too hungry to read them, how is this impacting society as a whole?

When I was a teacher I wrote a different inspiring quote on the chalkboard each day (you know, that long green thing that used to hang in the front of the classroom:). One of my favorites was, “Readers are leaders.” But even the child with the absolute most potential for greatness in the world can’t lead when she’s hungry, because all she thinks about is, well, being hungry.

It would be great if the answer were as simple as putting hungry children in our stories so they can see themselves in what they read. Or don’t put hungry children in our stories so they won’t feel marginalized. Or don’t put food in our stories so we don’t create more hunger. Or put more food in our stories, or, or, or… you see the problem here, right? I guess, as with many other types of social injustice, writing in the most thoughtful way possible with the goal of shining some light on the problem without singling out children and making their lives more difficult is the best approach. Pretty tall order, but you’re a writer for children, remember? In your heart, you’ve taken a sacred oath to do just that. And if you haven’t you should, or find something else to do with your time.

The other thing you can do is put legs on your prayers for hungry children by seeking out ways to help. I read a really great suggestion on Facebook the other day about going to your local school and paying off outstanding lunch charges for children in need. You may not know this, but hungry kids fall through the cracks all the time, and not all families who need free and reduced-priced lunches get them for a variety of reasons. When these kids’ lunch charges exceed a certain amount, they can no longer get lunch and are forced to eat a dry cheese sandwich or a bowl of Cheerios. Yep. It’s the truth.

Another great idea is to help your local school start a sharing table! Sharing tables are no-judgment zones in school cafeterias. They help reduce food waste by encouraging children to place the food they don’t like or don’t want to eat on the table and choose something they do like instead. At the end of the day, any extra food is donated to charity to help feed the hungry in the community. It’s a win-win because kids who didn’t get quite enough can feel free to pick something off the sharing table without feeling embarrassed, and food that otherwise would have gone in the trash gets eaten. Some schools even pack up the leftovers and send them home with needy kids so their families can have just a little more that night. You can read more about Sharing Tables here:

http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/news/a46885/school-share-tables/

Writers are doers. We “do” every day without having to punch a time clock. As long as we meet our deadlines, it’s all good. Put that writer “do” into finding ways to help end childhood hunger.

Then what will we have? More kids with satisfied tummies and books in their hands (the ones with your name on them). More readers. More leaders who remember what it’s like to be “that kid” and who work to change their world.

[1] “11 Facts About Hunger in the US.” DoSomething.org | Volunteer for Social Change. Accessed November 28, 2017.


Sensibility- Writing is a reflection of life, and sometimes life isn’t pretty. Reflect it, as often as possible, with grace and kindness.

Sense- Find out what your community does to fight childhood hunger and get involved.


  What are some things your community or school district does to fight childhood hunger? 

Aside

The Beauty of Space (Not the Star Wars Kind) and a Critique Special!

Me and my sweetheart at the very top of the Mitten’s UP in beautiful Copper Harbor.

A few weeks ago, after almost 20 years of first-day pictures, new backpacks, shiny, white sneakers and packing lunches, my husband I finally made it to the empty-nest club. To celebrate, we took our first extended trip without any kids or pets, and headed north to Michigan’s gorgeous and remote Upper Peninsula. It seemed like the perfect way to ease into our new roles- drop our daughters off at school, pick up the ferry across Lake Michigan and have an adventure. It was amazing. We talked, laughed, hiked, ate, rested and looked at each other without interruption for 5 whole days! “This empty-nest thing is a piece of cake,” we said. “We’ve got this!” And then we came home.

Yep, you guessed it. The other shoe fell sometime during the second evening of our newly-found, empty-nest bliss. I looked at my husband after our second or third episode of the West Wing and said, “What time is it?”

“Eight-thirty,” he answered.

“That early?” I responded.

“Yep,” he said.

“So this is how it’s going to be?” I questioned.

“I guess so,” he said.

I’m not sure if we both cried right then, or if a number of tears I shed over the next few minutes were enough for two, but there were waterworks a-plenty. It felt good to let it out after all the busyness of getting the girls supplied, packed up and delivered to school while at the same time preparing for our own trip. It was the end of a very long marathon that began the previous September with the last set of senior pictures, homecoming, etc. You know, all that “last time, last kid” stuff we do to send our babies off into the big college world. We trudged upstairs and went to bed, weary from weeping, while at the same time strangely refreshed.

It took me a while to get back into a routine, especially since a week later we made a trip south due to a loved one’s medical emergency. But after we got back home again, I fell into a groove, and it felt good. It was now time to take care of some long-neglected items on my to-do list, and one of those was my bulletin board.

Ever since I became a teacher (once upon a time), I’ve loved bulletin boards. So there’s always one in my kitchen where everyone can see it. It has a nice calendar and lots of room for whatever notes, business cards, receipts, etc. that I need to keep in a safe place. It’s been our family hub for a long time. So, I started removing every piece of paper thumbtacked to the cork. Everything I touched was outdated or no longer needed. I didn’t find anything important. Nothing. Zilch. When I finished, this is what was left:

The empty cork with lonely thumbtacks and a blank calendar almost made cry. . . almost. But before the floodgates opened, I realized something. That emptiness represented space in my life. Something I haven’t had much of since hearing those first amazing words, “It’s a boy!” Those were the absolute best years of my life. There’s nothing better than being a mom! But wow, that space, that cracked, well-used corkboard space looked hopeful somehow. What to do with it?

The temptation to fill it up to stop the loneliness came. . . and went! Are you kidding me? How about pausing, exhaling and letting God fill the space? Or not fill it! What an incredible feeling- to have space that didn’t need filling, just repurposing.

And of course I’m using my part of that space to write, and write and write some more. In the emptiness, creativity has flooded in (and I’m getting my paying work done too). I’m enjoying my quiet hours more than I ever thought I would. Oh, I still cry. And there are many evenings when I ask my husband, “Is it that early?” I mean hey, we’ve only been at this a few weeks. And thankfully, my kids are close enough to us that if the need for a cup of coffee with them becomes overwhelming we can get to them easily. But that space. Wow.

It’s been a week or so since I cleaned off the bulletin board, and it’s still empty. Even the calendar for October is empty (not the one I keep on my computer, but still). I think I’ll keep it that way a while longer. It’s a great reminder to cherish the space as a gift, rather than fill it with more things that don’t really matter.

Happy Writing!

And as a way of celebrating this new season, I’m running one of my famous BOGO Critique Specials. That’s right! Now through November 17th, purchase one picture book critique at the regular price and get a second critique absolutely free. Just click on the PGWRites Critiques tab above for more information. Looking forward to reading your stories in the coming weeks!

_________________________________________________

Sensibility- Life’s seasons can be challenging. Keeping a positive attitude and looking for the unique joys each one brings keeps us moving forward.

Sense- Find yourself with some unexpected space? Fill it with creative projects. They are the best kind of food for the soul!

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Aside

Getting Back Into the Writing Groove!

My friend, Kristin Bartley Lenz, shares some sage writing advice in this week’s Mitten blog post:

The Grown-Up Version of What I Did This Summer, or How I Rediscovered My Writing Mojo

Kristin is the author of YA novel, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO (Elephant Rock Productions, September 2016). The book was a Junior Library Guild Fall 2016 Selection and chosen for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books statewide literature program. Kristin’s success led to lots of speaking engagements and a flurry of activity as the book gained popularity. But what’s a newly-minted author to do when the process of promoting a book zaps your energy and leaves you feeling unable to write anything new? Kristin answers this important questions and more in this fabulous post that provides an honest perspective. Hope you enjoy it!

You can Learn more about Kristin at www.kristinbartleylenz.com.

 

Coming Soon on Sensibility and Sense. . . a fall picture book critique special and giveaway! Stay tuned!

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