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Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Perks of Being a Writer

Being a writer has lots of perks— flexibility to follow my own schedule with daily disruptions that require far less mental anguish than the years when I punched the clock (no one is waiting for me to unlock the break room or open the classroom door); freedom to work in the clothing of my choice which means that everyday is dress down day— and I'm not talking crisp jeans and trendy shirt—I'm talking faded jeans and frayed sweatshirt or favorite green sweater sadly stained with chlorine; and socks but no shoes (unless it's winter and I am venturing for the mail).

Some perks turn into liabilities. The ability to eat lunch whenever I want often turns into the simple ability to eat WHENEVER,  and even the ability to mingle with characters of my own choosing  sometimes leads to a longing for someone whose voice isn't the echo of my own heart.

I often miss the camaraderie of the teacher's room and even more, I miss the students, their chatter, their laughter, their questions (though grading their research papers, not so much).

Luckily, I still visit schools, both in person and virtually.

Last month, during a virtual visit, a student came  to the microphone and asked how I, a white woman, could write about slavery. There's been a lot of talk about cultural appropriation and I was harshly criticized on social media for exactly what this boy was asking me. But this boy wasn't antagonistic, just curious and very DIRECT. I answered him the best I could, admitting to the limits of anyone ever understanding how another person feels inside, particularly one who has suffered such unkindness and experienced so much injustice. But I also told him that I believed that people were more alike than different. I agreed that it would seem that his life and mine had very little in common and yet, on a deeper level, we both had the same needs, the same hopes— food, shelter and people to understand and care for us.

I said that there wasn't much optimism for the world if we just focused on our differences, but that writing— and reading— allow us to put ourselves in another person's shoes. Every time we open a book, we open our hearts.

The boy from Baltimore nodded. Thank you, he said. Wish I could put those words on a poster.

Being a writer has lots of perks. But the best one isn't what happens in the quiet of my kitchen as I tap at keys in my frayed, fading sweatshirt, sneaking cookies to myself. More than a perk, it's an honor to write for young people— to be reminded every day that we are more alike than different and that truth, beauty and friendship are always worth the struggle.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Repost: Haiti Land of Faith, Love and Hope

     There are places in this world the are downtrodden, numerous places that have been scorched by poverty and injustice, by war or natural disasters. The people who populate these places are as significant as the wealthiest or most powerful American. To think otherwise is to live in a country betrayed by unbridled arrogance.
Writing is the only way I know to combat bigotry. For that reason I am reprinting this post from September 2013.

In my last blog, I promised to share a little of what I learned from writing  Serafina’s Promise. Since Serafina hits the bookshelves in a few days, it seemed like a good theme for my September post.

I knew very little about Haiti before that Tuesday in January three years ago, when a powerful earthquake rumbled through what the media repeatedly described as the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The emerging and deeply-disturbing details horrified me. How could such desperate conditions exist less than two hours from the Florida coast? 

Days, weeks, months after the earthquake, Haiti continued to be tagged the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  Years into recovery and the label remains. Haiti, reporters often say, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere - as if this were somehow her official moniker -  the way we are officially the United States of America.

I don’t dispute the facts. More than half the population of Haiti lives in poverty with little or no food and limited access to fresh water. Relief efforts are hampered by policies and politics. The cycle of  hardship and suffering continues. But, if one scratches beneath the statistics, one finds a different Haiti - the Haiti where a struggling but proud people build families and communities based on faith, love, and hope.  It’s hard to imagine how hope can survive such desolation; the fact that it does is a tribute to the spirit and resiliency of the Haitian people. You beat the drum and you dance again, Serafina’s mother tells Serafina in one of my favorite Haitian proverbs.

People often think of writers as creators. We create characters who don’t really exist and then make up stories about them. Naturally it would seem to follow that we’re in complete control. We can make our characters go where we want them to go and do what we want them to do. In truth, it doesn’t work that way. We create the characters, yes... but somewhere along the writing line, our characters, like the humans they reflect, develop personalities of their own. Writers may choose the circumstances which their characters face - but a character’s emotions and reactions are elemental fibers. Writers twist - pull - dye - but we cannot change the fiber of a character - or a country. 

Serafina took me by the hand and led me through a country betrayed by nature and by forces both internal and external. She showed me a ravaged countryside where one must wake before dawn to gather water and often go to bed with an empty belly. But Serafina also brought me to a city alive with color and music. She showed me a culture rich in tradition. She shared her petty grievances and her grand hopes - what I learned from Serafina was that children growing up two hours from the coast of Florida are not very different from children growing up here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


While quite a few candy canes are still dancing in my head, it feels wonderful to be again sitting at my writing table with my laptop and open notebook. The time taken away from my daily writing schedule to celebrate the holidays has left me with a palpable eagerness to return to these quite moments.  Somehow, my thoughts and my hopes are never as clear as when I am sitting here mingling with my characters or reaching out to readers through my email or this blog.

I've a number of projects in the works for in the hands of my editor, another being revised, another in the research stage, and still another slated for publication later this year. This last mentioned project is a hybrid...verse but not a novel...printed but not a book (not quite)....they'll be more to come on this project soon...

Meanwhile, here I sit, eager, expectant and grateful for the joy of family, friends, (human, furry and feathered) and the opportunity to follow my heart with clicks, scribbles and continued hope.

May the unwrapped days of 2018 glisten with kindness!!!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

On Migraines and Miracles

I wrote this brief post on Monday December 4 with the hope that I might yet have the opportunity to write a longer, more festive holiday message... my migraine is long gone, my updated draft has been sent out and most of my Christmas packages are wrapped. But there's still cookies to bake and and cards to make so I've decided to print this earlier post with my sincerest wish that anyone who stops by remembers that miracles come in all shapes and sizes. 

Whatever December means to you, may your days be merry!

(Monday, December 4)

This might not seem the topic of a holiday post, but with more than half my Christmas shopping yet to do, not a cookie baked, and a manuscript in dire need of attention, sometime midmorning I suddenly felt light as a feather...happy as an angel, merry as a schoolboy. And thanks to Dickens, that makes this an early (for me)  bona fide holiday post.

Let me explain...

Yesterday morning I awoke with a dreadful migraine that only worsened during the day. Finally in early evening I realized that dark rooms and rest alone would not alleviate my pain and agreed to go to the hospital. Those of you who get migraines will understand how debilitating  migraines can be. Yesterday, in addition to the physical symptoms there was the added anguish of knowing I wasn't going to be pulling out any decorations or baking any cookies.  I was miserable.

Once I was at the hospital and hooked up to their glorious IV, it didn't take long for my headache to dissipate ~ not entirely, but enough for me to go home to a dark room and rest. The day (and sometimes, for days) after a migraine, I usually wake drained, still a bit nauseous,  with a remembered ache still throbbing faintly in my head.  Today, started the same way yet halfway through morning, all migraine reminders simply vanished and I felt light as a (slightly overweight) feather...

After a miserable yesterday, today was spent happily writing, shopping and pulling out some initial decorations...and that to me, is a Christmas miracle! 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Stolen moments and November Haiku

It seems the more I write, the more I have to say and the more fears I have that there will never be enough hours in the day.  So many characters inhabit my mind and I am eager to meet them all and to find the words to tell their story. Sometimes I wonder if all writers feel this uncomfortable urgency or if it's simply my age... maybe too, it's the busyness of the season, the added demands of shopping and baking, cleaning and wrapping.  Whatever the cause,  my mind seems unusually cluttered and time exponentially tapered to a few stolen moments. Hence, this short blog entry ~ a determined nod to an earlier resolution to post at least a few words monthly. There is much to write about in November and I considered a number of topics: adoption, my father, blue-winged bullies back at the bird feeder (bullies in general) and a growing list of things for which I am thankful. In an effort to stretch my stolen moments, I offer instead this brief November Haiku:

Hungry birds return.
A cold, somber gray settles
on a broken world.

Though, that being too dismal, I steal a few more moments to offer another November Haiku:

In the gray stillness,
a vivid flutter of wings,
a shift into joy!

Whatever your mood ~ however cluttered your mind as we enter this busy holiday season, may you steal a few moments to shift into joy!

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Answer

A few days ago, my daughter asked how I could research and write about some of the saddest moments in history — war, earthquakes, slavery and with my present WIP,  a dreadful, not-so-natural disaster. Two days after my daughter posed the question, a student with whom I sometimes work, asked me the same thing.

I suppose it does seem strange that I should involve myself with the sadness and tragedies of the past when the present offers enough heartache of its own. But, although my research  often haunts me, my response to this question was easy, something I have thought about before, something I began to understand years ago when I was still in the classroom.

When I was an English teacher, some of the most meaningful assignments I gave my students were those in which I partnered with the Social Studies teacher. History came alive when students recognized that all those dusty figures with the ruffled shirts and outlandish hairstyles were once as alive as they were. Crawling inside characters from the past to create a play or story deepened their understanding of history and allowed me an opportunity to sneak in some lessons in grammar, spelling and the fundamentals of intelligible expression.

I was surprised to find another benefit to studying history — students who didn't like discussing difficult topics, were easily able to explore the same themes — war, racism, injustice— within the safety of distant and archived boundaries. Talked about in the present tense, discussions about fairness and equality sometimes lead to defensiveness and further divisiveness which historical perspectives may soften. When we study history, there is always the possibility that we will painlessly recognize in the mistakes of others, the unrecognizable flaws in ourselves.

There is another reason that stories of the past— even sad ones— captivate me— I'm a firm believer that every life is worth remembering and too many individuals have been forced to go gently into an early night.  Laptop open, pencils sharpened and notepad nearby, I listen and hope to give voice to those unnoticed or forgotten.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Messages from Cyberspace

Every so often (as it  did last week) Facebook reminds me that I haven't posted in awhile. Of course, she always couches her criticism in positive terms (your followers are eager to hear from you).  But I'm not fooled by her courtesy and I certainly don't need an algorithm  to remind me of my shortcomings!

Awhile ago my editor and I were discussing the merits and shortcomings of social media and whether I should jump into the virtual pool. Common wisdom suggests that an online presence requires attention. If I didn't like like frequent blogging or tweeting, it might be best to forego social media all together.

I opted for a website and once-a-month blog but decided tweeting would be too much. I will be honest —I love interacting with my readers— I love reading letters and emails from librarians or kids and their teachers. (My favorite letter was from a student who said that he and his classmates had been assigned to write to one of the two authors they had studied that year. Apparently all the other kids chose the other author but I chose you.) I decided to focus on that last line— I chose you. After all, writing is not a popularity contest, I told myself...if an author reaches the heart of one reader, she should be honored.  I was honored and wrote back to my solitary fan that very afternoon.

But back to Social Media.

Keeping up with FB is sometimes difficult because I'm reticent by nature, the classic introvert who recharges her batteries in the quiet of her own corner. Wandering (and often lost) in my own fictional constructs, I often forget to check-in on-line. I love people and care deeply about this world we all share, but I am more far more comfortable letting my characters do the talking than reaching out more directly.

Of course, communicating is the key to nurturing relationships and I am committed to making a better effort to stay in touch. This morning a little bird sat on my porch ledge.  For a moment I reconsidered opening a twitter account...then I realized that it was probably Facebook who sent her.