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!

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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

 

 

 

 

Dear 2016 …

When you first arrived in a swirl of snowy icicles I welcomed you with hopeful anticipation. There was so much to look forward to. Remember?

I told you my wish. How I hoped my family would grow and learn and keep believing in our dreams. That we would share goodness and kindness and joy with others. And we would try our best to approach your year with humor and graciousness, even when things became difficult.

So thank you 2016 for accommodating my wishes because as you now depart, once again in a whirling blasted breeze of ice, all of those things have come true. But it hasn’t been easy, especially since there have been formidable challenges, wall-like obstacles and we’ve even lost a few friends along the way.

You’d probably agree that in my writing life, things went up and down. On the downside, I didn’t sell a book in your year. But on the upside, I had an agent working tirelessly on my behalf, and for that I am profoundly grateful.

Though, in the capriciousness of your year I had moments of pure rewriting dread. Receiving feedback on stories, being told they’re not ready, shaking off the self-doubt, and continuing on with grace and dignity is not easy.

But thankfully, as I say goodbye to you 2016, the dream is still alive. In the fall of your whirlwind year, one of my short stories was accepted to be part of the Smithsonian Institute’s Water Way exhibition in our new library. It was posted for several months and as the traveling exhibit moved on to its next destination, there was a nice reception in honor of the occasion.

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My mom and I at the exhibit and Mom’s illustrations to go along with my story, “Pop’s Ocean.”

You also brought some unexpected surprises. My parents left behind their little RV in the sunny west coast and bought a place in a senior park here in the northwest. This development changed the dynamics of our family life for the better. During the springy springtime of your year we calked and painted and made their new place beautiful.

They bought the trailer for only nine thousand dollars, but now it looks like a million bucks!

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And you gave us a wedding to look forward to. Remember when Melissa and Victor got married in the Rose Garden, her grandfather officiating? So pretty.

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Last of all, my dear 2016, we leave your year behind along with a few of our treasured friends. Ray Harriman was a mentor to both my husband and I, giving our life direction when we needed it the most. A good man. A spiritual man. The strength of his conviction will fortify us during the years to come. We’ll miss him sorely.

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Also, tragically you took our friend McCall Jones. Only twenty years old. Hiking with his friends near a rocky cliff in Hawaii, he fell into the ocean, swept away by the roiling waters. His body was spotted by a rescue helicopter, but McCall was unable to be recovered. We are deeply saddened by this horrific accident. At his funeral his mom said, “McCall loved you.” Those words I will cherish always.

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My last parting words to you are true. You only promised that days and months would go by, and it was up to me to make them worthwhile. I hope I did.

But for now, I’ll end this letter wishing you well with the hopeful expectation that 2017 will be kind to us all.

Sincerely,

Nessa B. Schwarz

Okay, so we’re starry eyed STAR WARS FANS …

It’s true. Opening night of ROGUE ONE, with pre-purchased tickets in hand, we arrived super early, ready to wait on a very long, fan-filled line, adrenaline rushing through our STAR WARS adorned bodies. In fact, my twelve year old son has an app that’s been counting down the minutes and seconds to the highly anticipated newly released blockbuster, and as a family we approached this day as if it were a holiday.

My husband took off work the following day, my son school, and I cleared my schedule so after the eve of opening night, the next morning we could bask in the aftermath of the movie, dissecting what we saw, discussing what it meant.

Mind you, when I was a little girl and Star Wars Episode IV, A New Hope was released on May 25, 1977, my parents took my brother and I to an old theatre on the eastside of our dusty town, and I remember watching those starships battling in a “galaxy far, far away.” But I wasn’t impressed.

I remember thinking: Wow, what a corny idea. Boring. All these space battles are making me tired. Maybe I should take a nap. Today, when my husband and son hear me describe my early opinions of Star Wars they say those views are paramount to being sacrilege. So, honestly, they are the reason I’m a fan today. They helped me to expand my galactic horizons.

A foreshadowing of how Star Wars would effect my life came before we were married. It was just a few weeks until the wedding day and the time came to move my personal belongings into my future groom’s apartment. Above his bedpost, a huge Star Wars poster from Episode IV, hung on the wall.

I thought: No, no. I’m not going to sleep every night with a scantily dressed Princess Leia, Han Solo and these other unsavory characters looming above my head. So I took the poster down and replaced the open wall space with a black and white portrait of two small boys running away from home. One of the little dark-haired boys reminded me of my future husband. It was a sweet portrait. At least I thought so.

When my groom saw what I did-well-let’s just say it’s amazing we still got married. He wouldn’t forgive me for this nearly unforgivable faux pas for many, many years. The reason being: When I removed the poster, unbeknownst to me, the paper ripped and it was ruined.

I felt especially terrible because it was a rare poster and not easily replaced. But one anniversary, years ago, I found it, had it professionally framed and now it’s hanging on a wall in his office. When you walk in his office, one entire wall is floor-to-ceiling windows with a beautiful view of our state capitol building among rolling foothills.

But get this. His desk faces the wall, where you guessed it-where his Star Wars poster hangs. His clients sit in the two armchairs under the poster. That’s what Star Wars means to my hubby, and now my son is following in his footsteps.

At first, I didn’t get it. But last year, when Episode VII, The Force Awakens released, our theater ran an all day Star Wars marathon. Okay, now you’re going to see the strong influence my two boys have had on me. The first movie, Episode IV, A New Hope, the same movie I took a nap in as a young girl, started at 3:45 a.m.

Yes, you read that right. I had to wake up at three o’clock in the morning on a snowy winter’s day, maneuver through treacherous road conditions, to see all six Star Wars movies in a row, and at seven that evening the release of Episode VII, The Force Awakens. And you know what? I loved every minute of it.

I get it now. It’s the classic and timeless storyline of Good vs. Evil. It’s about unconditional family ties, an enduring hope, and the powerful “force,” drawing out our innermost desires.

It’s not just about space battles, it’s about the pull we all have to decide if we will do what’s right, even when it seems impossible to do so. Even when darkness is stronger than the light.

Yes, I am a Star Wars fan. And proud of it.