Tuesday, September 18, 2018

I'm taking a break (a cliche) from cliches - and sharing this review by kids of my book Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines. Sometimes you have to do what makes you feel good. And kids loving my book and getting it makes me happy. Here's the review from kids at

Give it a listen. And if you're a teacher looking for STEM/STEAM books for middle graders with a fresh approach, (with resource guides for free!) let's talk! 


Monday, September 10, 2018

Cliches... Running the Course...

Continuing my perusal of all things cliche, today I have four fresh ones. As a writer, I hear a ton of cliches, but in The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers, there are ones I haven't heard before (and I'm pretty sure a lot of you haven't either).

Grey Eminence: An influential figure in the background. Rogers writes that this saying is based on the life of Francois Leclerc du Tremblay, an adviser to Cardinal Richelieu, who advised King Louis XIII. Francois wasn't famous like the cardinal or the king, but apparently had a lot of unseen influence, akin to the cliche, "behind every successful man is a woman." Reading this my first thought went to Gandalf the Grey- grey in appearance, and a behind-the-scenes guy (at first) in the Lord of the Rings books.

High Dudgeon. I liked the sound of this. It means "a state of considerable anger, resentment or ill humor." I can picture this in a book of high fantasy with knights and swords and treachery. Rogers writes that "dudgeon" means "the hilt of a dagger" and if someone is really ticked, well, you might find him using that dagger against the person who angered them (although the Oxford English Dictionary doesn't agree.

Put the Arm On. This is a complicated way to say arrest, a 'gentler form' according to Rogers, as police officers are considered an 'arm of the law.' It was first used in 1943 by Raymond Chandler when he wrote Lady of the Lake. A second definition is to "borrow money or to ask for a loan." The phrase "putting an arm on him" appeared in the musical Pal Joey by John O'Hara.

Under the Counter. Rogers defines this as something "sold or done surreptitiously; a transaction done somewhat on the sly. The expression arose in World War II when so many storekeepers kept items under the counter for friends or good customers, since so many things were rationed or in short supply."

Photo by Erik Scheel from Pexels

So there you have four more expressions to avoid, although I'm thinking I'll be using  'grey eminence' sometime in my life. It's so old, no one really remembers it, and it was an obscure  British saying, so I think I'd be safe in using it now.

Until next week,


Monday, August 27, 2018

Time to Rise and Shine!

Even when we know we shouldn't, we use cliches. They are comfortable. Familiar. Everyone knows what you mean when you use them.

But cliches are worn out. They are the tool of a lazy or unimaginative writer or speaker.
The thing is, there are soooo many cliches that it's not easy coming up with colorful alternatives. There are over 2,000. Yep. There's a whole book devoted to them, written by James Roberts, The Dictionary of Cliches. Some we all know, like 'hard as nails' or 'puppy love.' Some are so dated, that few readers today without a gray hair know them, like, 'you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear' or 'too many irons in the fire.' Some I hadn't heard of, like 'thin edge of the wedge.' ? What does that even mean? According to Roberts, it means:

     The beginning of a venture that is expected to expand; the leading edge of a program or activity. This "wedge" is the metal one, about six inches long, employed to split logs. Once you get the leading edge started, you have a good chance of splitting the wood (unless it is unseasoned or has the kind of grain that does not split readily). Anthony Trollope had the image in Doctor Thorne (1858), both as a chapter heading (The Small End of the Wedge) and as a description of a ploy by a woman against the doctor (there Trollope wrote "the little edge"). In 1884 The Graphic offered: "Cremation advocates have managed to get in the thin edge of the wedge in France."

Okay, I have little knowledge about splitting logs so I never would have guessed this.

Another one is 'go around Robin Hood's barn.' Take (often unnecessarily) a circuitous route; proceed by indirection. Robin Hood, a perhaps legendary figure, has represented since the 14th century the free spirit who robs the rich to pay the poor. He had no barn, since all his activities were outdoors, and so to go around Robin Hood's barn is a labored effort. The phrase is more recent than the legend, having first turned up in print in J. F. Kelley's Humors of Falconbridge (1854): "The way some folks have of going round 'Robin Hood's barn' to come at a thing.

Makes sense. And this is kind of fun. So every once in a while, I'll pull out the more obscure or ancient ones. (I'm wondering too, if they are so outdated no one remembers them, are they still cliches?)

Till then, we'll let sleeping dogs lie...

Photo by Christian Domingues from Pexels


Monday, August 20, 2018

Time Is A Farce

In case you didn't hear, I had intestinal surgery on August 10th. My doctor said that most people felt good after a week and by six weeks, were basically back to bungee jumping normalcy. I downloaded two ebooks, packed a notebook to jot down some ideas for my next project, and added my tablet with games on it, into my hospital bag.

No, that's not me on the table; this is a stock photo courtesy of Pexels, Inc.
Not only did I not have the energy, strength, or ambition to touch any of them the three days I was in the hospital (I don't count surgery day- everyone's comatose all that day), but here it is over a week and a half later and I just answered emails, and started this post.

What happened to one week?

It's what I based my return to my routine on. Oh sure, I didn't think I could vacuum (oh, horror.) or work in my garden (oh well), and definitely not paint my office (darn). I could barely shuffle a hundred yards down the street. Nighttime was a blur of pain and sleeplessness. My stomach, boasting 4 incisions, throbbed with pain.

One week? I wanted to laugh, cry, and scream.

Writing is like that. You think ok, this book is going to be tough, but I'll power through and all will be well. Until you hit a glitch (like the complications during my surgery that delayed my healing). Maybe you went off on a tangent, don't know where, and have to start over. Or an editor, agent, or crit partner is saying there's a problem with the voice. Possibly you don't know how it ends. Whatever the issue, you feel off your game and getting back into the grind is the last thing you want to do. I hear you.

Something needs to prod you into action. For me, getting back into the pool, back to yoga, back to playing bells, back to writing/submitting/agent hunting motivated me, but it took a variety of pain and other medications to get me through that dark time. What gets you through a dark time? A Netflix binge with your cat and some Ben & Jerry's? A brisk jog in the park? Reading how many rejections Dr Suess got? Whatever you can tap into, use it. You have to be in the game in order to be a player.

I'm prepared (resigned?) to the fact that the six week window my doctor gave will prevail, rather than the week I'd planned on. I'm a fast healer, but even with my determination, time takes ts own sweet time. Just gotta hang in there.

See ya next week,


Monday, August 6, 2018

The Best Writing Isn't Always a Novel...

Or a play, a poem, an ode, a short story.

Sometimes it's the directions for a surge protector.

Because I (generally) follow the rules, I read the directions on a new surge protector (the kind where the sockets swivel to accommodate bigger plugs so that they don't block two outlets).

Here's some of the brilliant writing (and I mean that sincerely!) in the directions:

We truly hope it gives you peace of mind with your electronics and provides those added outlets where you need them most (not to mention, the snazzy new shape will encourage you to prominently display it in full view of your friends, colleagues, and pets).

This guide is not a replacement Yahtzee score sheet nor is it a map of the San Diego Zoo.

Logon the ol' interweb and head to our website to register your new PowerCurve3.4. It'll initiate the rock star treatment you so richly deserve...

Surge energy joule rating: 1080 joules (a joule is a measure of how much energy a surge protector can take before it bites the dust).

Response time... <1 Nanosecond

Please follow these cautionary statements. If you don't, your PowerCurve3.4 might break, your warranty will be voice, and you will b very unhappy with yourself.

Use indoors only and do not use near water. You listening, SCUBA guy?

Do not plug things in that will exceed the electrical ratings (see "Pointy Headed Stuff").

If you're feeling all handy and want to alter or repair your PowerCurve3.4... Don't.

Read it. Know it. There will be a quiz.

Advanced surge protection.....It's there waiting to act on your behalf when evil transient voltage rears its ugly head.

Green "grounded" Light...If this light doesn't come on, no bueno, use a different outlet. 

Blue "protected" Light...This peaceful beacon tells you everything's alright. If it goes out, your PowerCurve3.4 has absorbed a surge and sacrificed itself to save your devices. Shed a tear, then replace it.

On/Off Switch- For turning your PowerCurve3.4 on and uh, off. It also acts as a reset in case you're runnin' si hair dryers and trip the internal circuit breaker. Hint: don't do that.

Super Quick Setup:
1. Plug stuff into your PowerCurve3.4 Surge Protector.
2. Plug your PowerCurve3.4 into a grounded wall outlet.
3. Standard fist pump.

I'm still laughing and enjoyed this more than the current 'bestseller' I have on my nightstand. A shout out to 360 Electrical LLC for coolness. Concise information with a humorous twist. AND they got most of the punctuation right! (Minus 1 point for using 'alright' instead of 'all right'.) Kudos, tech writers! You have a career in writing!


Monday, July 30, 2018

Fate Calling....?

(It's summer, I'm writing and revising several books and I have surgery coming up so I'm doing a short blog post. Sorry, you'll have to deal with it.)

Why can't I get an agent or an editor to call?

(Save the vitriol- I'm a registered Independent, and this was a robo call.)


Monday, July 23, 2018

A Classic Conundrum?

I'm reading a number of classic novels. Currently, I'm in the midst of The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne. This edition is published by Wilder Publications. On the title page is this disclaimer:

     This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race have changed before allowing them to read this classic work.

I was too taken aback at first to think beyond "Really?"

1- This book is listed as a 'classic.' Generally, that means it was recently published.
2- This novel was written by Jules Verne. Not a common name and I find it hard to believe that anyone picking up this book would not know this was written a long while ago.
3- A quick Google check showed this book was published in 1874. Like just after the Civil War.

? I'm at a loss for words (momentarily). The above information ought to clue even someone living under a rock that values in 1874 were vastly different than today. Why does there need to be a disclaimer? Are today's readers so clueless that we have to spoon feed them everything?

I don't think so. I feel anyone reading the story would deduce that because of the historical content they would figure this out themselves.

A passage from the book:

    Such were the loud and startling words which resounded through the air, above the vast watery            desert of the Pacific, about four o'clock in the evening of the 23rd of March, 1865.

The Civil War was still raging. Everyone capable of reading this book should know what the racial and social atmospheres were during this time. (If they don't perhaps they should start with a good book on world history.)

While not banning the book, I feel this is political correctness to the nth degree. Notes on violence, sexual content, language, certain situations sometimes require a little heads up. But this book?


In an era of children learning sex and violence from TV, movies, electronic games, schools, and even their friends, this is, in my opinion, ridiculous. I believe that parents should know what their children are reading in case questions come up (although in my experience schools will require students to read books that I would have objected to had I known they were going to be forced to read them. While some books disturbed my children, it was discussed in the classroom and later at home to help them put the story into context.). I don't believe that The Mysterious Island is a book that needs such a disclaimer. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, a group of men, among them an engineer, his servant and former slave an African-American, a sailor and his son, and a reporter, all prisoners in the Confederacy, escape by stealing a hot air balloon. They become entangled in a hurricane and are whisked away to an island in the Pacific. Some of the 'controversy' (and I don't feel it is, being how historical the book is, centers around the engineer Cyrus and his servant, Neb. Possibly this passage:

     In the meanwhile Captain Harding was rejoined by a servant who was devoted to him in life and        in death. This intrepid fellow was a Negro born on the engineer's estate, of a slave father and              mother, but to whom Cyrus, who was an Abolitionist from conviction and heart, had long since            given his freedom. The once slave, though free, would not leave his master. He would have died for      him. ...

And this one:

     When Neb heard that his master had been made prisoner, he left Massachusetts without hesitating       an instant, arrived before Richmond, and by dint of stratagem and shrewdness, after having                 risked  his life twenty times over, managed to penetrate into the besieged town. The pleasure of          Harding on seeing his servant, and the joy of Neb at finding his master, can scarcely be described.

I haven't had responses yet from librarians I questioned how they feel about this. Are publishers being overly sensitive? Should we put a disclaimer in every work of fiction? What classic book would pass this test? Following this vein, many books, from picture books through middle grade, past young adult and into adult might be required to have a disclaimer because someone, somewhere, might be sensitive or offended by the subject and how it's handled. (I think on the OJ Simpson book If I Did It and it makes me pause to consider if 'non-fiction' books might need a disclaimer too...)

Where does it end?

It's a complex subject complicated by not only the current political, social, and racial atmospheres, but by our personal emotions as well.

What do YOU think?


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In the Writer's Garden

Anyone who knows me or has read my social media know that I have a meditation garden, love flowers, and feel bad for weeds (which are just misplaced plants). Over the winter, a heavy snowfall  broke a tree in half (we discovered later that the inside of the tree was rotted).

It landed on the wire fence, so both had to be removed. Two weeks ago, the tree was cut down and just this past weekend, I fixed the fence. (Yes, I did.) Without that tree, more sun shines on the garden. I had worked around the shade, planting sun-loving flowers in pots or on the outside edges. Now half the garden stood in the glare of the sun.

Changes had to be made.

It reminded me of my novels. You start to build one way, but things happen- critiques, editor/agent comments, lost plot threads, etc. It requires major changes. Some plants could stay where they were, some had to be moved, and some were crushed by the tree guys. I needed to add full sun plants, move around statues and objects of interest. In my novels I've had to change endings, kill off some characters and add others, and I've had to revise/add/delete language. What results is the same garden (book) but it's different.

Here are the results:

The long view

A new addition - red grass

My black-eyed Susans blooming. They are a lustful bunch- all over the place!

Calendra - I love the pink and green

A burgundy dracenia spike

A bird house crafted by YMCA camp kids thanking me for my donation

No garden is complete without a gazing ball

I have a statue for each son - this is Alec, my animal lover

This is Thomas, my Harry Potter/avid reader fan

This is Collin, my gardening buddy (when he was younger and wanted to help)

The fixed fence (I do nice work). See my pretty blue chair?

I turned the stump into a pedestal 

The first time my lily bloomed! 

My cats love the garden too!

So that's where I've spent some time. I hope my novel looks and turns out as good as my garden. With both, I don't follow traditional rules- I don't like stuffy, formal gardens, but I don't like chaos either. Same with my books; I hate angst and stereotypical characters but I love books that touch me emotionally. 

Now to fix that novel...


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Nice Guys/Gals Need Not Apply....

I'm working on a middle grade story. The main character, Jake, is having issues. (It's middle grade- there are always issues.)

One of the criticisms I'm hearing is that "I don't like the character enough."

Um, do you like every person you meet? I don't. And I know some people don't like me at first (and sometimes not even later, but that's a drama for another day.) While teen books are reflecting more of reality- sexual assault and gender identification, bullying, school shootings, etc., it seems every book's main character is a nice person. It's not like that in reality. Everyone knows this yet few write it.

My character has to have room to grow.

I'm not buying into the 'your character has to be likable' in order for the story to be good. Maybe I'm just a little tired of the kumbaya, sugary portrayals: a nice girl who's the cheerleader with the best boyfriend and perfect life who suddenly finds her life in a mess. Or the jock with a promising college football scholarship who's a nice guy except for that drunk driving episode. Or any other story where everyone starts out nice.

People are complicated. Characters should mirror that. There are times when you meet a person, and they come off as a jerk, or nasty, or just annoying. Maybe they have a problem or situation you don't know about. Until you learn more about them, you won't understand why they may come off as unlikable. Possibly they are simply unlikable; that doesn't make their story less compelling. If we're looking at a short time period, we could all point the finger and accuse each other of not being nice- at that time, or from that time going forward, or backward. Everyone has those moments of 'un-niceness' and I dare anyone to argue to the contrary.

Photo by Kat Jayne, courtesy of Pexels

Maybe a character or a specific person is just a jerk. There are real people like that. Look around. Maybe you're related to a person that isn't so nice. Possibly you work or live near someone you don't like, but you have to interact with them. That's real life. Middle grade and young adult books should have characters like this; if kids understand complex issues, they will understand, and accept, that not all people are sweet, nice, helpful, etc. And that doesn't make the character a villain.

Before you write off my character Jake, get to know him. By the end of the book, you'll understand why he's the way he is and that to tell his story, I couldn't make him sweet.

You might even like him.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ye Olde Manuscript

I'm working on a new book. (So what else is new?)

But this time, I'm doing it olde school.

I'm handwriting the entire book.

Why??? you scream? When a laptop is quicker, has instant SpellCheck, you can look up anything you need, and I'm only going to have to type the whole thing anyway?????

Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but hear (read) me out. First and foremost, I want to be thoughtful when I write this book. As my pencil (yep, really old school!) glides across the page in cursive script (and my script is really curlicue curly), I weigh each word. The process slows down to where I think about a word and consider if another would fit better. If so, I erase the inferior word and use the better one. On a laptop, I would be tapping furiously and just keep going, figuring I'd change the word when I started revising. But handwriting (which is becoming a lost skill and art), makes me order my thoughts, it forces me to almost read it aloud in my head. On a laptop, writing is as fast as my fingers can type, and sometimes that's faster than my brain thinks. There will still be many revisions required; I noticed when I picked up the project one day that I'd used the same word in two consecutive sentences. There are empty spaces where information about the time period or the setting needs to be inserted. Laptops make it too easy to become distracted on the www. For now, it's about the writing. Later it will be about correcting/adding information.

Second, I like to write poolside.

Okay, this is actually in the pool and I'm not actually writing, but you get the drift. Laptops + water + a pool bar = disaster. If my pages may get a little soggy from a splash, I leave them in the sun and they're good to go. (Another reason not to use pen, it will smear or dissolve.)

Third, I can write at the beach without fear of surf, sand, or sun blowing up my laptop, or it getting stolen. I can write in the car (until I get carsick) without worrying I'll run out of power. I can write anywhere.

Another reason to write this out longhand is it's giving me the feels, the tone of the manuscript. It's a story about an immortal being and currently, he's in the early 1900's, but he's been around since the late 1700's, and this is how they wrote manuscripts back then. The longer process helps me to think about language appropriate for the times and places; rougher, less elegant speech of a common farmer, and then the elegant, refined speech of a gentleman. When there are chapters that require a lot of dialogue, writing longhand helps me work it out as I go, so that, I believe, it sounds more realistic.

And look at how pretty these journals are! I can't remember when I bought them, but they've been sitting in my bookcase. Like most authors, we see a gorgeous journal and we must have it. We plan on writing in them, but most of the time, we don't because they're too pretty. As I declutter and think about downsizing and simplifying my life, I'm using things that I've 'saved' for one reason or another. I'm writing this book in the journals. I'm signing bills with that sparkly pen. I'm wearing perfume to the grocery store.

I don't think it will take that much longer to write the story (talking about just the basic draft) because when I use my laptop, I go back and see an error and want to fix it, and then spend more time revising and changing than I do adding more words. (That's breaking the cardinal rule of NaNoWriMo: write it down FIRST, revise LATER.) Handwriting forces me to go forward or I'd be erasing pages, and that is not happening. Sure, I might have more revisions when I'm done, but I think I can catch a lot as I type the story into in my laptop.

It's an interesting experiment, but somehow it gives me a serenity while writing that I don't get when I use the laptop. I can't rush the writing or the writing gets too sloppy making it almost unreadable, or I get cramps in my hand. Slow and easy, thoughtful and deliberate. That's the theme of this experience.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes-


Monday, June 4, 2018

Word Games

Language fascinates me. (Hence, why I write.) I like to play around with, and yes, intentionally misuse words. But there's good precedence. Just think about the word 'mouser.' I'm guessing that someone had a cat, and that cat caught a lot of mice. Instead of saying that, they said she was a 'mouser.' Kind of like saying a person is a writer in place of 'that person writes.' A noun becomes a verb.

When I'm talking about my cats roaming through the decorative grasses in my back yard, I tell my sons the cats are 'jungling;'

Photo courtesy of Pexels, Mali Maeder

They are not prowling through a real jungle, but acting like they are. When my cats snuggle into the blanket, they are 'nesting,' not building a nest. (See how fun this is?)

But I'm not the only one who does this. Who first used the words:



linking (as in chain-link smoking)

fragging (as in killing/wounding someone with a fragmentation device, i.e. grenade)

actualizing (to make actual or real)

Do you turn words on end, make a noun into a verb? Use them in unexpected ways? Try it, it's fun.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

On the Flip Side-

It's been a tough week. In my church, we lost a long time member and friend. Another church friend lost her sister. Yet another's father was seriously sick. And then I landed in the hospital. A long scary story later, I'm getting better, but my stepdad is having knee replacement surgery and I'll be giving emotional and driving support to my mom. I'm stretched a little thin so this is my blog post for two weeks, unless I find time, energy, and motivation to post sooner.

Be good to yourself  because you mean a lot to others. And you deserve to be taken care of.

Photo by Ian Turnell from Pexels

See ya soon-


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Just Ignore the Science... Really!

I was chatting with my middle son, an engineering/math major, and he told me that it would be impossible for squirrels like my character Jack in the Evolution Revolution series to learn to use simple machines. When I mentioned Koko, the gorilla that learned sign language, he pointed out that Koko could answer she was 'fine' when asked 'How are you?' but did not ask the same question in return. For her, there was only that moment. Because of that sense of only here and now, she could not 'imagine' any action and its consequences. It would not be possible, my son argued, for Jack, even though he's learned about rolling and sees a rock impeding a wheel from moving, to apply this knowledge to stop bulldozers from coming into his wood. My argument was that squirrels share what they learn with other squirrels, thus 'disproving' (in my mind) that animals only think in the here and now, because teaching others to defeat a food puzzle (i.e. bird feeder), results in future gain.

Photo courtesy of Chris Carter, Pexels

I have some scientific basis for my argument. In a study published in Current Zoology, Professor Thomas Hills, a co-author, asserts that animals which can simulate future actions "must be able to distinguish between their imagined actions and those that are actually experienced." (In my case, it's Jack blocking the wheels on the construction machines because he already did so on a wheelchair, or me watching videos of squirrels solve puzzles and then teach other squirrels.) The authors say their data supports the concept that animals which can 'simulate environments and conceive the future must have some form of self-awareness," and this means projecting themselves into the future in a situation.

My son disagrees.

We will have to agree to disagree. It may not happen now or even in the near future, but I believe animal intellect is slowly increasing, evolving. But that's not science, that's imagination.

Sometimes though, you have to ignore the science. So many books, TV shows, and films would not exist if we simply followed the science. American astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson posted on social media that he was watching the sci fi movie, Armageddon even though it's got rotten science. (Apparently we can't blow a giant meteor in half with a nuclear bomb, and even if it were possible, the fragments hitting the earth would be life-ending events on their own.) There are numerous incidents which are impossible, at least with current knowledge, in many movies, TV shows, and novels. Staying within what we actually know would limit our imagination, and maybe not inspire future generations to achieve what was dreamed/proposed in creative works. (Cell phones first appeared in the original Star Trek.)

So, ignore the science - (but not all; some things are irrefutable like the laws of physics, and you don't want to be obviously ignorant about basic science or the audience won't believe your story.) Creativity and imagination sets us apart from all other animals...

At least for now.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Pull Up a Chair, And Sit A While...

We all have a favorite chair. Maybe it's the big recliner you and the dogs can pile into on a cold night. Maybe it's the barstool at a local pub, surrounded by friends. My favorite is a lounger on a beach, under an umbrella, waves licking at my toes and a good book in my hand.

Least favorites would have to be the hard plastic one in the principal's office (whether parent or child), the dentist's pleather pit of misery, or the front seat of a VW bug (who is that short, anyway??).

This was my office chair:

As you can see it's suede, has a nice leather trim and nicely padded cushion. I added the wheels and shortened the legs because it's not really an office chair, but a dining one. It looked nice with my desk, and the height was just right.

Then I got a new desk.

The chair didn't work anymore.

It was too short, and reaching my arms up caused pain in my shoulders whenever I spent more than an hour in it working on my laptop.

So I started working on the couch. Too close to the TV, the cat, a comfy blanket.... And my productivity went down. Plus, I started getting neck pain from looking down at my laptop.

Time for a new chair. Before I bought one because it was a good deal, or because it was readily available to take home or before it looked good, I had to make sure it fit my needs. I measured the height of my desk, the height of space underneath where my long legs had to fit, and the width of the opening. Some chairs, those big executive ones, while they look really poofy and comfortable, were too wide and wouldn't fit under the desk, or even close enough to it (makes me wonder how anyone got any work done). Some had arm rests so long that prevented me from pulling the chair close enough. My arms would have been very tired after an hour of working. And really, does anyone use those rests? Some were too flat- I needed more back support if I was going to write longer than a blog post. I measured and sat in every chair in Staples. Finally I found a winner:

Yep, not much to look at, and there are no poofy cushions, but it fits all my specs, and unbelievably, is one of the most comfortable working chairs I've ever sat in. Short arms so I can be close to the desk. Adjustable height to fit my legs underneath. Adjustable back support. Quiet wheels. Mesh that has give and breathes.

     "The hard part of writing at all is sitting your ass down in a chair and writing..."
                                                       Jerry Pournelle, sci fi writer, essayist, journalist.

Sitting a lot is what writers do. We writers have a universal code- BIC which means Butt in Chair. It means working. Anyone serious about writing will do a LOT of sitting. Whether it's a Starbucks, the library, or your home, you've got to be comfortable so you're focused on putting down words, not fidgeting in your seat trying to relieve muscle pain.

Let me leave you with this thought:

     "It is the Chair in honor of all those who, however competently, embrace the impossible. Sit in
      that chair someday."                                               Robert Fulghum, author, Unitarian minister
 And yes, I'm sitting in my chair. We both have work to do.


Monday, April 16, 2018

The task of querying agents is not only onerous, but it's almost soul-destroying; where else does a person set themselves up for multiple rejections- or just being ignored? Every artist, whether writer, illustrator, songwriter, singer, etc. faces this. It's hard keeping that stiff upper lip.

Just this past week though, I had the nicest rejection- (yes, you read that - rejection). Not only did the head of this literary agency write back to tell me no thank you and good luck (getting that much of response is rare. Nowadays it's "If you don't hear back from us, that's a no." Yeah, like we couldn't guess that), but she offered her thoughts. First she told me what she liked: the concept and the series potential. Then she told me what she didn't like: it moves too fast into the main premise, not giving her enough time to identify with my character, and that affected the voice. While it always hurts when either agents or editors say they don't like the 'voice' of the character, at least it gives me something to look at, to consider where I might make changes. The problem of moving too fast into the concept was the result of another professional telling me to 'get right into it.' Clearly these two have vastly different opinions. I'm going to go with the second opinion, and ease into the storyline. The concept of having that opening BANG! and the story starts, I believe, is wearing out. Readers, and industry professionals, seem to want more information about the character before we see their struggle. They kind of want to be friends first. While I have the issue of the voice to think over, I don't see a radical change. The character is a 14-year-old boy and their voice is generally different from girls (I have 3 boys so I know their mindset. Generally they are not drama queens or angsty, and not being either one myself, I can't write that voice. People like that usually annoy me anyway.).

So instead of licking my wounds over yet another rejection, I'm going to look at it that this senior agent saw the potential and that with some work (which I've already started), there's a future for this series.

In that spirit, I sent a personal thank you to the agent. It makes me wonder how often authors respond to her (or others) with a thank you for the sharing of their time and expertise. If an agent (or an editor) takes the time to do that for you, SEND a THANK YOU!

Now I'm off to read my character the riot act and get him in line-

Photo courtesy of Pexels/Pixaby

Keep writing and believing!


Monday, April 9, 2018

Fly Me to the Moon- No, Make That the Sun!

My dad worked in the space program during the Apollo missions. His love of science and exploration was passed down to me; I love thinking about new worlds and exploring the cosmos. One of my favorite images to focus on during meditation is floating through space, gazing at stars and galaxies and planets. And if I couldn't be an astronaut (that whole math thing), then I could pretend to be one. It's one reason I write sci fi and wrote articles on space.

And it's why I'm traveling to the sun with the Parker Solar Probe.

If you read the above 'ticket,' my name will be on a memory card on the Parker Solar Probe as it journeys to our sun, collects data and gets closer to a star than mankind has ever been. Yes, the probe will burn up once it gets too close- along with my name, but in spirit I've traveled the universe farther than I dreamed.

Here's the link if you want to check it out: http://parkersolarprobe.jhuapl.edu

Besides it being so cool to have my name on there, it reminds me of my dad (he collected a number of memorabilia like Lunar Module tech manuals, pictures, design papers, etc. while he worked at Grumman during the Lunar Module construction which I have donated to the Smithsonian. The chances of me learning how to pilot a Lunar Module are less than zero, so those important papers belong in safekeeping.)

And, by connecting with and following NASA, I find out all kinds of interesting things, like how much satellite/rocket garbage is orbiting our Earth, what are the new pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, where the next possible killer asteroid is, and if there are worlds close enough for humanity to someday seek refuge when our planet is dying. Good stuff for sci fi novels!

Here are some cool links if you're of a sci fi bent:

https://www.nasa.gov (missions, news, pictures and contests from NASA)

https://www.seti.org (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence)

http://hubblesite.org (pics and info from/about the Hubble Space Telescope)

http://chandra.harvard.edu (Info from the Chandra Observatory)

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html (info about the space station)

https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/signup.cfm  (tells you when the space station is flying overhead in your area!)

Spotting the space station going overhead is my next project (NJ always seems to be cloudy or the station is going over at some ungodly hour, but I will track it down!).

Space is limitless....


Monday, April 2, 2018

Well Looky Here.....

So the new issue of Publishers Weekly came in:

And inside was:

And look who's there... Jack!

Now that you see the first line, don't you want to know what happens?


Monday, March 26, 2018

Step Up!

It's THAT time- to step up your writing and/or illustrating. Time to register for the NJ Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference this June in New Brunswick! Here's the info:

Who's going to be there

What workshops are going on

Who's giving critiques

Where can I register

Ok, I've done the work for you- gathered all the info in nice, tidy links. Click and read, then click and sign up!

Unfortunately, I won't be there this year, my baby is graduating (!!!!) close to that date and then we have a number of family obligations. Sometimes, you just can do it all. So 5 quick tips:

1- Have fun! Don't make it all about work. There is a cocktail hour, there are chances to chat and mingle. Relax!

2- Network. What good is going to the conference with all these fab EDITORS AND AGENTS and you don't chat them up? (don't be pushy or obnoxious or you'll never get published). They are there all weekend and unless they're busy giving a critique or presentation (or in the bathroom), say hello ask them about their fave books, what they're looking for, or share a joke. (It helps to know a bit about them before you chat. Do your homework for the ones you really want to impress!)

3- Be considerate. Don't give out copies of your manuscript. That's what e-queries are for. You'll get that info from Cathy, your Reg. Adv. AFTER the conference.

4- Don't waste the opportunity! Query and submit to all agents and editors that are a GOOD FIT for your writing. If an editor hates sci fi, don't be the jerk that sends them a space story.

5- Make friends. These are the same authors that may be next to you at book signings when you get pubbed, they may have the same agent and/or editor, they may love you and buy your books... So be nice, professional, funny, sweet, irreverent, and chill.

I wish you all good luck!


Friday, March 16, 2018

Embrace the Devastation...

If you know me well (or follow my blog and/or Facebook posts), you've heard about and seen my meditation garden. It looked like this:

I go there to work out plot problems on my novels, talk to God when something's on my mind, get some distance when I'm seriously angry, and just revel in getting my hands in the dirt as I plant flowers. My meditation garden makes me happy.

Two weeks ago (and I can't believe another storm is coming this way...), this happened:

The fence will have to be replaced (it's got a good buckle), and one tree will have to be cut down (it's split in half and will die). I saw the devastation and it broke my heart. But I will have to wait until spring before I can repair it.

In the meantime, I am working on my middle grade manuscript. It started out like this:

Pristine. Loved. Ready to go out- to the critique group. I knew there would be changes, some of them tough to accept. Working in my garden, sometimes I have to dig up a dying or dead plant that I loved.  I have to chop branches so trees are strong and healthy. I have to clear out leaves that clutter up and take the eyes away from the gentle green foliage. I have to make decisions which flowers will work well in the garden based on available sunlight, water, space, and hardiness.

Then the critiques from group members came in. Cut that sentence. This situation doesn't work. No one likes this character. The tension dies here. Chapter after chapter had been torn apart. No page had emerged unscathed. Beloved words would not survive. I pushed up my sleeves (really, I hate sleeves rubbing my elbows) and went to work. I sweated and (sometimes) swore, and used my tools (thesaurus, dictionary, research books, Google- and lots of chai lattes) to repair my manuscript. This is what my manuscript looks like after I finished.

But after pruning redundant words, digging out dead plot threads, combing through inconsistencies, I'm confident it will become ready to submit to editors and agents (it needs another read through, maybe ten). So while there's still snow on the ground, I'll work on the manuscript until it's finished. By then, spring will be in control and I can work on my garden (and meditate on a few choice words for Father Winter).

With the loss of one tree, more sunlight will fall on that space and I can add different flowers which couldn't tolerate the shade there previously. In my manuscript, the loss of words, phrases, pages, chapters- will allow me to add new things and improve it.

From devastation, something new.


Monday, March 5, 2018

I Don't Like You... But That's Okay

Hannibal Lector, for all his suavity, refined artistic sensibilities, and excellent academic credentials, was a sadistic, sociopathic cannibal. Even though we don't like him, we're drawn to him. Throughout the movie Silence of the Lambs, almost everything we learn about him creeps us out. Scares us to death. Yet, we move in closer... We're fascinated.

Photo courtesy of Rene Asmussen at Pexels
Sid, the brutish kid from Toy Story who tortures toys, is unlikable. We cheer when he gets his comeuppance by Woody near the end. For all we can see, Sid has no redeeming qualities. (At least with Hannibal you could enjoy a good port and classical music before he sauteed you.)

Yet, in children's literature, for some reason, editors, agents, critique groups, and readers tell authors "I don't find your character likable."

Um, yeah. Gotta read the whole story. It kind of ruins the effect if it's 'insta-love' because that's not reality. Aren't there people it takes you time to warm up to? Maybe days, weeks, even years and some, never. Insta-like is for picture books and young readers who see the world as generally a happy place. If I say, "Well, halfway through the story, he saves someone and takes out the trash for his mom," people whine because they want to like the character faster. Even if the character becomes likable later in the story (as plot and details develop), it seems so many have to like a character immediately. Some you may never like- they remain evil or mean or nonredeemable (think Freddie Krueger, Mean Girls, the Predator, Samuel L. Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction.

The diversity of character personalities is what makes our world interesting. It's not a unicorn-stardust-candy world. There are dark spaces, and dark people. Surely if children's literature can discuss topics like bullying, racism, murder, sexual assault, and suicide, it can handle some characters we don't like. It feels hypocritical to tell an author, "make this girl nicer so I can like her" and the story is about a girl killing someone because she insulted her shoes. I will never like Hannibal, although I would be fascinated to read his life story. I read Helter Skelter in college. NOTHING could make me like Charles Manson. I understand he had a hard life, prostitute mother, etc. Still, NOTHING could make me like Charles Manson. My favorite character that I could never 'like' but yet who draws me in is Dexter. He's a serial killer. Yes, he hunts other serial killers, but he has no empathy (total sociopath), he butchers people into small pieces and dumps them in the ocean. He fakes actually liking people. And (spoiler alert!) he recognizes the same traits in his adopted children and begins grooming them. Who the heck would love a character like that?

Don't we owe it to our readers to show all the darkness? There will always be people we will never like and churning out books where everyone has a redeeming quality, or, even if they're not evil, is likable, is doing a disservice to those readers. Toddlers have pulled away from certain people who want to hug them; maybe they see a dark side to Uncle Tommy that we blind ourselves to. We have to stop putting filters on characters because the world is not a big kumbaya. If children are to see themselves in books, they need to see others in their real state- totally evil, partially evil, dark, twisted, mean, etc. Maybe by the end of the book if they still don't like the character, they will at least understand them.

You don't have to like me, but now you understand me a bit more.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Hearts and Flowers...

Our world is broken. With the tragic and senseless events in Florida at the Stoneman Douglas High School, we are all broken by our grief, our rage, our despair. I have no magic words or happy platitudes to offer. All I can say is this:

There is love to be found- in unexpected places. Open your hearts so you will feel love from where ever it comes. A simple heart-shaped potato chip reminds me of the love that surrounds me, from family, friends, my faith community, my pets, and a kind gesture from a stranger.

There is hope: I see it in something as mundane as the yearly bursting forth of daffodil sprouts heralding another spring, to the hope for change arising out of students, parents, teachers and others no longer willing to accept what happened in Florida and acting on that hope. I noticed these daffodil sprouts just today. They had been hiding under a blanket of leaves and snow. Hope is like that; it needs to be searched out. Once found, it lifts the heart and the spirit.

Sending love and hope to everyone, whether they are directly affected by the Florida shootings, or feeling the pain for those who are.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Receiving and Giving

When Chloe Kim put up the highest score in the halfpipe event on Sunday at the Olympics, she received not only the gold medal, but a plush tiger (named Soohorang). In the last few decades, every Olympics seems to have a mascot but I'd kind of like to think that naming this tiger might as a type of goodwill ambassador might help bring awareness to the plight of tigers and animals across the globe as they become more endangered.

So when Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons won gold, and Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines won bronze in the Feathered Quill Book Awards, I awarded myself with this:

It's pots of bulbs and seeds for dahlias, lavender, lilies poppies. They will be my little 'goodwill ambassadors' for bees and butterflies, inviting them into my garden. One of the major themes in my Evolution Revolution trilogy is the loss of habitat. Jack, a common gray squirrel, fights to save his tree, nest, and woods from construction machines and the encroach of humanity. (How many freaking shopping malls do we need?) 

So I received a gold and bronze award, and I'm giving back food, a haven, and a dating space for bees and butterflies (maybe some birds, too). 

And the star-shaped rock? That I have faith not only in myself, but in my small efforts to make a difference, one flower at a time. 


Friday, February 2, 2018

And the Award Goes To....

Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons!

Dear Ms. Bennardo
We are excited to announce that the book "Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons" has won the Gold/1st Place award in the 2018 Feathered Quill Book Awards Program for the Young Readers (8-12) category!  Congratulations!  We had a HUGE response to our annual awards program, with many excellent books vying for top places.  Your title rose to the top and you should be quite proud.


"The plot of this title is by far the best of all the books submitted for this category.  The illustrations are great and the front cover scores a perfect 10!"  

I'm feeling the love for Jack the squirrel! And a shout out of congrats to my wonderful illustrator, Cathy Thole Daniels, for not only the recognition for this book, but....

Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines!

Dear Ms. Bennardo:
We are excited to announce that the book "Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines" has won the Bronze/3rd Place award in the 2018 Feathered Quill Book Awards Program for the Young Readers (8-12) category!  Congratulations!  We had a HUGE response to our annual awards program, with many excellent books vying for top places.  Your title rose to the top and you should be quite proud.


"You get an A+++ for all of your illustrations and your front covers are phenomenal.  They all are eye-catchers that separate themselves from the pack! I do like the plots as well.  "Simple Machines" is great for kids when it comes to learning about the environment.  And the book is fantastic when it comes to learning the art & beauty of friendship. 

Two awards for a trilogy! I am beyond ecstatic! This series was my heart; a project I started well over 10 years ago- and I'm hoping it keeps achieving more success! 

All books that I sell at book events will feature the gold and bronze award stickers (sorry, I can't do that through Amazon or B&N). 

I'm just so excited, I have to celebrate, but I don't know what to do! Send me a suggestion! If I use your suggestion (and no, I can't give free books to everyone) I'll send YOU a free copy! 

I dared to dream...


Monday, January 22, 2018

The Pirate's Life

The bastards. As a children's writer, I don't put down those words without serious consideration. When it comes to pirates though- the kind that give away illegal copies of an author's book, a photographer's photos, a musician's CD, I don't need more than a millionth of a nanosecond to call them the scum they are.

Picture courtesy of Pexels, Inc.

Artists of all genres work hard, and long, and most of the time, without making any money. We're lucky (some of us) to break even. Yet, these pirates, and their equally scummy friends who believe 'art should be free' ignore that we have bills to pay, we like to eat, and we hope to keep the heat on in the house over the winter. They automatically 'ass-ume' that once you write a book, you make as much money as Madonna did on hers. Or that you rake in the concert dough like Springsteen. You're a total idiot and a waste of cytoplasm if you believe that.

I'm tired of having to report these lower-than-ebola-virus lifeforms, but it's my duty. Here are several ways for authors, both traditionally and Indie published, to fight those who shouldn't be allowed to breathe.... (do I sound a bit vicious? Oh wait, I'm just warming up....)

1- Sign up for Talkwalker Alerts. They are a free service in which you put key words, like the title, genre of your book, your name, etc. and whenever a mention is made somewhere out 'there' (points to www), you'll get a notice. You can get daily alerts (best if you're fighting pirates), weekly, or less often. Google alerts does the same, but it's not as effective. Use both! It may give you more email than you want, but isn't beating these guys worth it? Here is the link: Talkwalker Alerts. Since they are a free service, it would help if you throw a few dollars $5, $10, to keep this lifesaver afloat.

2. If you find a thieving pirate, go to the site (but be careful!). Just see if what they are offering- your book, unlawfully- is there. DON'T CLICK ON ANYTHING. Many times these sites have malware to boot, and then the curses will abound in great color and depth. All you have to do is make sure it's your book/music/art.

3. The first place to go is your publisher if you're traditionally pubbed. I went to St. Martin's Press and clicked Contact Us, and chose the option Company Piracy Report. They have an easy-to-use form and boom, takes 2 minutes. Now the publisher is aware of the situation and they have a company which handles piracy with Takedown Notices (a legal "Stop giving my book away for free, you flea-bearing, smelly-pit degenerate pirate!"). Plus, they will work with Google and such to get the sites themselves taken down.

4. If you are self-pubbed, go to Indies Unlimited. They have a link to a form for Google. You can use this for both traditional and Indie books. If traditional, make sure you list the publisher (Add publisher's name and email). As the author, even though the publisher may hold the copyright, you are a viable representative to report piracy. For Indie authors, you would click the button that says 'self' under representative. Indies Unlimited walks you through the process, so don't worry if it sounds a bit confusing here. The link: Indies Unlimited

5. Other places to go: Bing Notices of Infringement Page. You'll have to wade through basic stuff and search for what you need, but you'll learn more in the process. Also try Google Legal Help. I haven't been through the process on this page (yet). In order to stop free copies of your works, you have to be diligent. For further resources and information, search How To Remove Pirate Sites From Google. Again, there is a lot of information out there and you have to take the time to slog through it. Some sites will advertise they can do it-for a monthly fee. There are enough free resources to check first.

Go get the bastards...