FIRE TRUCK DREAMS F&G giveaway!

Check out my friend Sharon Chriscoe’s up-and-coming picture book! Best of all, here’s your chance to win a free copy!

Sharon Chriscoe

Sound the giveaway fire alarm because Fire Truck and I are gearing up and super excited that he’ll release into the world in SIX short months!

In honor of the count down to his release, Fire Truck and I are doing a giveaway away BEFORE his release! We’ll be giving away ONE copy of his F&G to one lucky winner!

How to enter:

It’s simple! Share this Fire Truck’s pre-order campaign link anywhere you’d like (a friend, a family member, social media, anywhere!)

THEN

Fill out this short ENTRY form and you ARE entered.

That’s it!

The winner will be announced April 30th! Good luck and thank you for sharing FIRE TRUCK DREAMS!!

Fire Truck cover

View original post

GRANDMA ISN’T ALWAYS RIGHT…

The sandy haired girl presses her hand onto her cheek, and with a sniffle blurts into my ear, “No, Grandma, 9×1 is not 72.” I’m on a flight home from San Diego, sitting directly in front of a little girl (eight or nine years old), and I know she’s pressing her hands into her face. I know that her cheeks are crimson and tear stained, and her eyes are red. I know because for the last two-and-a-half hours her grandmother has been drilling math problems into her ear (AND MINE), and every so often, whenever I glance behind, I see the little girl’s face through the gap between the seats.

I want to save her. And myself too. The grandmother’s incessant drilling is infuriating. “What is 2×7?” The girl’s answer, “Fourteen.” The grandmother’s reply, “What is 2×7?” The girl, “I said fourteen.” Grandmother, “Say it again. Fourteen, fourteen, fourteen…”

Oh, my goodness! It takes all of my will power to NOT jump out of my seat and shout, “Back off Grandma! Leave her alone!” I’m not over exaggerating, literally 2 and 1/2 hours of this. I try plugging my ears and watching a movie on my son’s dvd player, but the battery dies. I hum a tune under my breath; I stand up to stretch my legs; I go to the lavatory to wash my hands; I buy a snack box and distract myself by crunching on chips.

At the end of the flight, for just a minute, the grandma stops drilling the girl to lean across the aisle and speak to a man with silver hair (the grandpa, I suppose), and I take the opportunity to glance behind me, at the gap between the seats. The little girl looks up at me. I whisper, “Are you okay?”

She whispers back, “Yes, I’m okay.” But her eyes say the opposite.

As we’re deplaning (btw: We are on the very back of the plane, and the last people to leave, along with the girl and her grandparents), my son stands to stretch his legs and I realize that he’s getting tall since he has to bend his neck at the overhead luggage rack, but get this: The grandma takes the opportunity to ask my son a question, “Young man, what grade are you in?”

My son gives me a look before answering (I think he’s put-off by her too), “The eighth grade.” Grandma continues, “What grade did you learn your times tables?” My son, “Probably the third or fourth.”

The grandma turns to her granddaughter and proceeds to berate her. “See, see,” says the grandma. “This young man learned his times tables.” The grandma addresses me. “She didn’t even try.”

This is my opportunity. There’s so much I want to say, but instead I speak directly to the little girl. “I heard some of your answers, and I think you did a great job. Very impressive.” I smile at the girl, and she looks grateful, but uncomfortable. The grandma interrupts, “Oh, no, she didn’t even try. She can do better.”

I want to smack the grandma, but of course I’m polite and say, “Well, there are many brilliant people who didn’t memorize their times tables, and did amazing things (I was thinking of Albert Einstein, in particular, who had a terrible memory).”

The grandma stands to leave, and continues on her tirade as the silver haired man and the little girl follow her off the plane. My son and I are the last to deplane. As we walk down the ramp, all lit in blue, I can’t help but wonder who or what that little girl will grow up to be. Does she live with her grandparents? Was she just visiting them for spring break? Are her parents or parent nice people? Will she really be “okay?”

I can’t do anything for her. But I can continue to write books and stories that will speak to ones like her. At least I will try, and keep trying.

I surely hope she’ll be okay. I really do.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I went off the Blog Grid…

I had to get some air, to find peace. Some unfortunate and sad circumstances came into my life. Our “Daddy,” whom I have known since my teens, became sick a few months back. Just like that, a doctor walked inside the hospital room and said, “This is the end of your father’s life.” You should make him comfortable. Give him an “ice cream sundae,” if he so wishes. You should say goodbye.

He had aortic stenosis and was going into heart failure. We called the family, so they could say goodbye while he was still conscious; we gave him brownies and apple juice (that’s what he wanted), and we tried our best to make peace with this new reality.

He died on a Thursday, and the funeral was the next Tuesday. Meanwhile, just ten days before my father-in-law’s diagnosis, I was offered the opportunity to write a NF Picture Book on a work-for-hire basis. The deadline was the week of his funeral. One can imagine how stressed and overwhelmed I felt. But I did it. I met the deadline, and finished the book. The editors were happy. They said they enjoyed working with me. I realized something. I could be a professional, even under the worst of circumstances, and I felt a true sense of accomplishment. The book comes out in the fall of this year.

After Daddy died, we decided to sell our house, to move closer to family. It sold in four days. Four days. So we started to pack like crazy, and had the house half-packed when the buyers backed out. Just backed right out. By now, I was done editing my MG manuscript. The one I was going to send to my agent to read. And so I sent that along and we put our house back on the MLS.

Now, I spend my days vacuuming the carpet and wiping my kitchen counter, opening the blinds, and switching every light in the house, hoping that the agents who bring new buyers to view our house will fall in love with it and make an offer. It feels similar to the publishing process. The waiting. The hoping. The trying to make everything perfect so that someone will make that offer. THE offer.

Also, I had the honor of being an application reader for the 2018 WeNeedDiverseBooks Mentorship Program. It was a wonderful distraction from my woes, and I enjoyed the process. I learned so much. What struck me the most was this: The talent out there is amazing. Just amazing. I have an even stronger sense of gratitude for the opportunities that have been afforded to me. I feel so lucky.

I’ve been off the Blog Grid for a while. But I’m ready (I think), to come off that mountain. I’m ready to start writing again (I think). I’m ready to take some new risks (I think).

No, not (I think). I am ready.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Fire Truck Dreams rolls on the scene!

Cover reveal of my friend, Sharon Chriscoe’s up-and-coming PB (YAY!)…

Sharon Chriscoe

What do you get when you add a Fire Truck to the ‘vehicle dreams’ series?

An adorable fire truck, a cute little Dalmatian, a toy bucket, and lots of s’mores!

Here’s a blurb for FIRE TRUCK DREAMS:

Fire Truck has had a long day of putting out fires and saving kittens from trees. He’s tired and heads home to bed.

He washes his bumper, slurps up something to eat, and chooses his favorite book about rescuers to read before turning out the light.

As his hose deflates, he drifts off to dream . . .

about sirens sounding and a fire that needs extinguishing!

And here is his super cute cover!! Isn’t he adorable!

Fire Truck Dreams cover

FIRE TRUCK DREAMS releases October 9th, 2018! I can’t wait for him to join his friends Bulldozer and Race Car who are available NOW!

View original post

A WRITER’S CURSE, Grr! (grumble, grumble)…

When I was in my early twenties, I woke up one morning, shuffling down the hallway of our small apartment, not far from Texas Tech University, where I worked as a receptionist and administrative assistant, and my husband took classes, where all at once I realized that, “Hey, why is it that every morning there’s music and words inside my head?” Song lyrics, and random words, stories that poked and prodded and came spilling out of my brain.

So, I wrote a short poem to capture what I had been experiencing, not just that morning, but likely most mornings and days of my growing up years, because for as long as I could remember I had been driven by words. Words that wouldn’t stop coming.

Here’s my not-so-good poem (but sort of funny in a way):

Early bright, sunrise

I ponder upon

A story I have drawn

WORDS swirl inside my head

I have no FEAR

or FRET

or DREAD

I wish at noon they’d come instead

A WRITER’S CURSE YOU SEE …

I know, not very profound. But the point is that writers, like me, are bound, tethered, prisoners of WORDS, and no matter what we do, or try to will ourselves to STOP thinking about them, and creating stories by them, they just keep coming.

Yesterday was Labor Day. The first Monday of September, a federal holiday where many take the day off from their secular employment, or really, like the families I know, it’s just a long weekend at the end of summer to go camping, or catch up on movies (we went to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind for its 40th Anniversary showing), or have a barbecue of some sort.

But I had never thought about the history of Labor Day. The Washington Post columnist, Rachel Siegel wrote about the controversy surrounding the reason for making Labor Day a federal holiday, the motivations behind doing so, and its turbulent origins. Here’s the link if you’d like to read it.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/09/04/who-started-labor-day-the-bloody-and-confusing-history-of-an-american-holiday/?utm_term=.64a2c1da9851

And so, for some, even though there are certain days or times to rest from working, it’s nearly impossible to do so because even while supposedly resting, the brain is still toiling. Not only for writers like me, but many, many others have experienced this as well. While watching the movie yesterday, I was actually making mental notes of plot points, dialogue interactions, and the way the film was developing its characters. Ugh! All I wanted to do was rest my brain and enjoy the movie. No rest for the weary.

But really, as with any curse, comes the blessings, the good. I’d rather spend the day after Labor Day thinking about those, why waking up each morning to WORDS moving inside my head is a good thing. I suppose I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Dusting Off Old Ambitions…

Dear Blog,

I’ve been neglectful these last months, I know. But during my absence, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve dusted off old ambitions and made some new ones. Books and stories that have been tucked away in the cobwebby corners of my doc files have resurfaced to see a new light of day. The plots are still solid, and the characters sweet and soulful, but now, the old stories are new again. They have been repurposed to fit current trends.

The last you heard from me, I was preparing to send my revised MG manuscript to my agent. It took several more weeks of betas and tweaking, but I finally pushed SEND, and the waiting began. So since I’m not one for twiddling my thumbs, I rolled up my sleeves and dusted off old projects. It’s been exciting. Here’s what I have going:

My old fantasy chapter book, well, it had lots of dust. Sitting for years in the shadows, between several drafts and versions of its former self, it shouted from the doc file, Help me! See, Blog, you’re not the only one in need of attention. So I registered for a chapter book webinar with KidLit College, an hour and a half of great advice, tips, and ideas about how to structure, plot, and develop characters by Jenne Abramowitz and Jill Corcoran. It was fantastic!

Afterwards, I also signed up for an online Mentoring Critique workshop hosted by agent, Jodell Sadler (KidLit College). It included two online sessions where participants (there were about seven of us) submitted a PB manuscript, or in my case, the first chapter of my chapter book, and as the pages are displayed on the screen for all to see, we would read our work out loud. Thereafter, Jo would comment on ways to improve the story. Not only did I learn how to improve my own work, but gleaned so much by listening to her comment on other writer’s books.

What was really helpful, was how we had the opportunity to meet two weeks later with our newly polished stories. Did they improve? Since I had to delete the entire first chapter and start on the second chapter, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but I was determined to take her suggestions because although I couldn’t envision it right away, I knew she was right.

Two weeks later, we met online with our new stories, ready to share. I had deleted the first chapter (just like Jo said) and started on chapter two, rewriting the exposition to be sure the characters were introduced and the story still had a beginning. But in the interim, my characters all blended, and their personalities went flat. Plus, she said my dialogue tags were distracting, and some other comments.

Well, Blog, the workshop ended about eight p.m., and I felt tired. So, I sat in my favorite blue-striped chair and numbed out on television. But a few hours later, I started thinking about what Jo said, and how I could fix these issues. So I worked on my chapter book until 2 a.m., and it metamorphosed into this beautiful first chapter that I love. Yes, it was an old dusty manuscript, that is now a clean, new chapter book. Over the weeks, I rewrote and rewrote, and I must say, it’s much better, and I like it a lot!

I did similar workshops with my other books, too. They’re all shiny and dust-free. So, I’m sorry to have been so neglectful, but it was for a good cause. From now on, I will be more mindful of you. I promise. But today is my wedding anniversary, and I have a chocolate-chip-mint ice cream cake waiting for me!

Your Author,

Venessa

 

THOUGHTS ABOUT REVISIONS and the Peanut’s song, Happiness is…

“Two kinds of ice cream. Finding your skate key. Telling the time.” I sang this song in the second grade. So sweet! But happiness is also … four rounds of revisions. Sending out to beta’s, hoping it’s done. This is me. So close to getting this novel done.

Several months ago, I sent my book to my agent, she read the manuscript, and then offered her feedback by notes and observations. I was happy to get them. It took some time to analyze the comments and decipher how to apply them to the manuscript. In my opinion, it’s always good to go beyond the face value of revision suggestions. It’s better to dig a little deeper.

By taking a few days or even weeks to mull things over, I’ve found that the actual revision process goes faster and a bit more smoothly. For instance, my book’s ending was tied up “too nicely,” so the final narrative became bogged down with telling, like I rushed to make everything sum up in a neat and tidy, perfect little bow.

At first, I didn’t do anything about that particular revision. I thought about it. A lot. I imagined a different ending, one that would have a satisfying ending but also leave room for possibility. I envisioned the new ending. Not every detail, but the general idea. 

I think I just had to believe in the new ending myself first, before I could sell it to anyone else … future readers, my agent, anybody at all.

So when I finally sat down to revise and DELETED the whole last chapter and a half, it wasn’t that scary. I knew what I was going to replace those lost words with. I was ready to go. With my comfy cotton shirt and loosefitting pants, I put my headsets on and cranked up the jams. The book’s new ending flowed out onto the page in just a few hours. It was magic!

Yes, happiness is … “Learning to whistle, tying your shoe for the very first time … And happiness is walking hand-in-hand.” 

But it is also … Learning how to make revisions into a shiny new story, believing the words first before writing them down. And happiness is … Completing your book and persevering until the end.

Why Book Characters Need Purpose …

This seems simple, but it’s not. It took one month to write the first draft of my novel, but three long years to revise. And during those years, I hired a professional editor to brainstorm the development of the plot, characters, and flow of the narrative. I had several readers critique the story, some were published and well-established authors themselves.

Also during that time, I attended more seminars than my brain can even recall, receiving feedback on my story, prompting me to rewrite and revise again and again. Sometimes I wanted to give up.

I joined writing contest. I was turned down by writing contest. I signed up for webinars to weed my poetic garden of words. I attended a series of “critique and chats” where editors gave face-to-face feedback and manuscript edits.

I hired more editors to line edit and proofread. And at last, I thought the book was complete. I followed all of the rules. I did everything just so. I was done!

But I was not done.

One afternoon last November, I disembarked from a family cruise and checked my emails. Author and editor, Jill Davis, from Harper Collins sent a critique of my novel from an online webinar I had attended months before.

She had a lot of kind things to say, like she “enjoyed the world and circumstances” I created and so on. But I had a major problem. My book was lacking clarity because my main protagonist needed purpose. He was “wandering around and bumping into various people … and the book loses focus.”

Her editor letter and feedback was long and detailed. She said this situation reminded her of something Steven Roxburgh said about her own writing. I had what he called, “a pathological need to complicate.” In other words, right when my character was driven toward his purpose, I’d veer off and go in a completely different direction.

She went on to use other analogies, giving examples of how to figure out moment to moment what my MC really wanted in the “big picture.”

And I got it.

I spent the entire month thinking about it. Just thinking. Finally, I realized that my MC did have a purpose. It was there all along, but never defined or clearly stated in the beginning chapters. Now, I had the tools to veer my MC through the plot, his purpose driving his thoughts, actions and feelings throughout until the rising action and denouement.

The novel began to breathe. It read and felt like a real book. It was alive.

And now for the first time I can see and identify a character’s purpose in everything I write and even read. My eyes have been opened.

 

It was a dark and stormy muse …

Yes, I tossed all night. I don’t remember what I dreamed, but I woke in a cold sweat, the muse whispering a line over again in my brain. A new first line for my novel. It was a simple sentence, yet the impact of those few words would set the trajectory of the novel into it’s rightful path. It encapsulated the spirit of my story. It was my “dark and stormy night” line. It was perfect.

Stumbling down the hallway with one eye shut, I made it to the kitchen to my phone. What the hay? Four in the morning? But I couldn’t forget that line. I had to write it down. And fast.

I changed the first line. From there, more lines had to be polished to fit the simple excellence of those first words. And so on. I worked until daylight and the hours beyond.

If you’re a writer like me, you well know that when these brilliant moments come, you hope it won’t ever stop. You keep writing, pounding away at the keyboard or scribbling words until your hand aches, because it’s such a beautiful thing you don’t want the magic to end.

But it does.

And this is the clincher: Some of those magic words, even the ones you couldn’t imagine parting ways with because they’re just that amazing, will eventually be erased, deleted, thrown in the scrap folder.

And it’s okay. It’s how we polish our craft.

Something else happened the morning the muse spoke to me. I had this epiphany of sorts. And believe me people, this is big.

As writers, when our work is rejected by editors and agents, it is not personal. Can you believe I just wrote that? Honestly, I’ve been adamant. I’ve always felt it was personal. But it’s not.

This is how I know: After writing all of the magic words, falling in love with them, and then realizing their destined for scrap, only to replace them with more wonderful, beautiful words, and not giving up, and not being defeated; only one thing will happen.

We become better writers.

So what does this mean? How does this relate to the rejection not being personal?

Because the editors and agents are looking at our work while we’re in the process of perfecting our craft. All of us are at different levels. True, some may have more natural talent than others and some may have invested more time and education into their art, but whatever the case, the final product we showcase to editors or agents is the best we can share at that given moment.

But still, it may not be finished. It may not be ready.

So once again, we toss the magic words, replace them, and so on. And we keep going. And eventually, someday, all of the elements will fall into place: plot arc, characterization, strong dialogue, rising action with good conflict, a strong climactic ending with lots of resolution in the denouement. And at last, I believe, someday someone will notice.

That’s why our rejection letters (for the most part) become more promising as we blossom at our craft. In this way, it’s not personal. It’s just a matter of finishing the job.

When we receive a rejection there are a plethora of reasons why. We’ve heard them all before. It’s a subjective business, the genre may be overdone, it won’t sell in today’s market, etc. and so on.

But if we keep working and exceling at our storytelling by making those magic words leap off the page in a glorious blaze of light, one day the ultimate goal of a shiny new publishing contract will happen.

And if that doesn’t happen, and there will never be a shiny new contract, the next time that muse wakes me up at four in the morning, I’ll have no choice but to kill it. (Tee,he!)
 

My son the poet (Jakku)…

My son and I wrote a poem together. A nice way to end posts in 2016:

 Jakku

By, Pete and Mom 

 I once knew

of a planet called Jakku

The desert hot

The sky blue

 

The civil war

was sad

but true

On the planet of Jakku

 

Scavengers fill

their many trunks

to scavenge old debris

of junk

 

I once knew

of a planet called Jakku

The wars they won

The ships they flew.

Goodbye 2016