BLOG INTERVIEW: Humphrey Herbert Plumtree from H.H. Plumtree’s Secret Kingdom …

A half an hour before sunset on his Texas ranch, Humphrey Herbert Plumtree sits on a leather recliner in his country home in Marble Falls. As the main character in my newly revised middle grade book, H.H. Plumtree’s Secret Kingdom he transforms on many levels. As the room darkens, Humphrey leans over to switch on a bronze lamp. Lamplight glints on his vintage eyeglasses as he drawls polite answers to my questions. He places a bottle of root beer on the wagon wheel coffee table, avoiding the coaster.

Blog Reporter: No coaster? In the book, H.H. Plumtree’s Secret Kingdom, you seem so fretful. So worrisome. I never placed you as a no coaster type of guy.

HHP: Oh, you noticed. (He scratches his nose and smiles.) I was just trying to fake you out. You know, make you think I’d become more daring. (He laughs.)

Blog Reporter: I’ll say, without spoiling the book, that you sure become more daring as the book goes on.

HHP: Yeah, I do. My friend, Maribel, helped me a lot.

Blog Reporter: Do you and Maribel still spend time together?

HHP: After all we went through, I was worried. Maybe being my friend was too dangerous for her. But no, she’s stuck by me.

Blog Reporter: So, most of our readers today don’t know anything about your story. What, if anything, can you tell us?

HHP: Last year when I was ten, we flew to California and my parents went to a geology conference. They didn’t want me to become bored in the hotel room, so they dropped me off, you know, at the curbside of Downtown Disney.

Blog Reporter: Wow, sounds like every kid’s dream-come-true!

HHP: You’d think that, huh? Have you even been to Disneyland alone? It’s not as fun as you’d think. Plus, I had company. You know what I mean?

Blog Reporter: I do. But your readers today may not understand what you mean. Are you speaking of The Lunatic?

HHP: Yes siree, I certainly am. I came into this story with some secrets, but my parents had a few secrets of their own.

Blog Reporter: What kind of secrets?

HHP: Well, I’d tell ya, but then I’d have to murder your houseplant . . . get it? Murder your houseplant, like Mother did to Lanie.

Blog Reporter: Ah, yes. That’s a subplot in your book. Now, speaking of being alone in Disneyland . . . as you know, this blog reporter featured a post during the early development of H.H. Plumtree’s Secret Kingdom where I spent a day alone in Disneyland, tracking your adventure. A real eye opener. If any of our readers would like to read that post, the link is included here:

WE’RE IN DISNEYLAND …

HHP: Yeah, but it wasn’t all bad. That’s how Maribel and I became friends.

Blog Reporter: True. If this book gets picked up by an editor, I’d like to do another interview with both you and Maribel. Do you think she’d be game?

HHP: Heck, yes. She loves the limelight, way more than I do.

Blog Reporter: Excellent. One last question. My next blog interview is with Abigail Rose Calantro from my other middle grade novel, Long Way to Brooklyn. I heard you all had a chance to meet? Is that true?

HHP: Yes! A few weeks ago, I was visiting my sister, Lanie, in New York City. While hanging out at The Plaza Hotel in Central Park, I met Abby and her family. They’re great people.

Blog Reporter: Nice. So, you make a cameo appearance in her book, Long Way to Brooklyn?

HHP: Yeah, I do. It was an honor.

Blog Reporter: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Humphrey. I look forward to seeing your book out there someday.

Stay tuned for my next blog interview with Abby Calantro from Long Way to Brooklyn. She’s a feisty eleven-year-old girl who has much to say about her Latina family’s curious adventures.

 

 

 

 

Hello, my name is Thankfullness . . .

Some people shorten my name and refer to me as Thank you, Thanks, others Thx, or I have even seen, during text messaging, TU, which I believe, if switched around, is also the abbreviation for a university in Texas. But either way, whenever and whichever way people refer to me, it makes me happy when they do so.

I exist between the clouds and sky, watching gleefully, observing random acts of kindness, unexpected and even anticipated little surprises given, and the human race at its finest. Though recently, as I flurry here and there across the atmosphere of the earth, a faint and distant alarm, profound and uncomfortable, rises in my typically untroubled and carefree soul . . . more and more, I am being referred to less and less.

In some parts of the world, there is a day when groups of people gather and use my name more than usual. They do so along with feasting on a grand amount of turkey and other, what they refer to as “fixings,” wherein they unbuckle and loosen their trousers and lounge on a sofa watching a sport called, football. In parts of Asia families refer to me during a visit to the graveyard of their ancestors and celebrate by indulging, once again, in a “bountiful banquet of food,” and then dance about in a circle.

But just recently, I have noted a string of opportunities for people to use my name; a random act of kindness, a favor for a friend, a gift of hospitality, and the receiver(s) said nothing. For example, two men were installing an air conditioning unit for a family, when the lunch hour approached. One of the family members offered to run to a nearby sandwich shop and purchase food for all. He even offered the workers their choice of sandwich and drink. They placed an order and handed a few bills to the family member. He refused the money and said, “No, please, it’s on me.” The worker put his money back in his pocket and replied, “Okay.” The other worker did not volunteer any money at all. When the food was delivered, a few minutes later, the workers took the food and did not even peep my name, not even a whisper of it. I was diffused.

Not long ago, a father and son asked another parent and their child to spend an afternoon at a carnival and cornmaze. The father was excited to show hospitality to the other parent by purchasing their carnival and cornmaze tickets. Though, the other parent and child, after enjoying a pleasant afternoon together, walked away and never said my name. And sadly, I believe they did not even think it.

There are more, many more stories to be told in this regard, but I hope that people won’t forget about me all together. Because if they do, I will eventually become nonexistent, and in time . . . fade away and disappear forever.

 

 

No BLUES on Tuesday…

I like Tuesday.

It’s not Monday with its beginning of the work week blues.

It’s not Wednesday, or “hump day.” Never really liked the sound of that.

Thursday my husband doesn’t eat. It’s his way of controlling his weight.

Friday is nice. But there is always the expectation TO DO something nice.

Saturday is good, but always busy, like a “catch up” day.

Sunday is sweet, filled with grace and goodness.

But alas, Tuesday is a day to enjoy the sunshine. To be grateful for whatever we have to be grateful for. It’s a day to not think about the fact that your little guy is home from school with strep throat, or that the bills need to be paid, or that the lawn has weeds.

It’s a day to be thankful we had a doctor to see when the little one was sick, or there was some money to pay the bills, or that a nice gentleman came by to spray the weeds.

It’s a day to celebrate the little things.

I’m happy that my new book is in it’s final edits. It’s really close. So close. In fact, an editor is putting her magic touches on it right now and will send me notes by the end of the week. Once the words are all shiny and pretty and new, I will send the book to my agent. I hope she likes it.

Today is Tuesday and I am thankful that I can write here, in my blog. Maybe one day, in the future, it could be a Friday or a Sunday or even a “hump day,” oh my! I could be writing about what my agent thought about my new book. Or maybe I’ll write how I actually, finally, sold my first book. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

This is why I like wistful Tuesdays.

Tuesday is a day to wish and hope and dream.

EAT CAKE & Be Happy …

Moonbeams shine through the windowpanes, casting shadows on the carpet, the house dark and quiet as I dream about cake. Every wonderful milestone or anniversary or special occasion I have ever celebrated has included cake, beautiful layers of delicate sweetness that make any extraordinarily special day even better. But I propose that cake be had even on days like the one I had today. An ordinary day filled with errands and writing and cleaning and trying to make everybody happy …

but I don’t have any cake. I look in the pantry. The next best thing would be a cookie. I see they’re storebought and a poor substitute for cake. There are granola bars and chips and a bag of Goldfish, but none of them are cake. Things are getting quite desperate.

After the day I’ve had, I need cake. Maybe if I eat a cracker and swig a cool glass of milk at the same time it will feel like eating cake. But a saltine and soymilk taste like salty, thick cream and nothing like cake.

There are days when a writer, mom, wife, daughter, sister, cook, chauffeur, planner, teacher, helper, just needs cake!

But at last, there are just some days where it’s not possible to have our cake and eat it too.

So I take one last bite of the cracker, sip the last of the soymilk and call it a night.

Goodnight.

The Tricky, Truthful Mess Of It All …

Some thoughts about rejection:

We sit on a chair in a room and imagine faraway places or create complex characters, who feel like real people, with texture and depth and innermost feelings. We peer inside our souls, searching, reaching for those little thoughts and emotions we’ve stored, those sad or embarrassing or messy parts of us to expose on paper, in order to connect, to share something magical, special or true with another. And our hope is, when another reads what we’ve shared, they will somehow transform. Just as we have transformed. Where we laugh or cry or just learn something new, they will laugh or cry or learn something new as well. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and bleed the words because of this unspoken truth; that we all just want to be heard.

So when we write the words while we sit on our chairs in our houses, the hours and days and seasons go by, and although the words have been written, nobody reads them. Or we write the words, but nobody likes them. Or we write the words and nobody cares. But still, even so, we desire to share that magical, special truth with another, we hope for that transformation, we just want to be heard, so we rewrite the words, and we rewrite the words, and we rewrite …

At last, while sitting on our chairs and our hands and our hope, after we’ve written and rewritten all of the words, after every sad and embarrassing and messy part has been exposed, and spring and summer and autumn and winter, and another and another … how can we not take the rejection personally?

We should put the rejection inside an imaginary box and throw it in an imaginary sea on an imaginary world. And we can do this because, after all we are writers, and we make up stuff all the time. That’s what we do…

… and so, this is really more than just a post about a writer’s rejection, it’s about how to find grace in any of life’s undesirable circumstances. I began to write this last night and when I woke up this morning, I realized there was more to say because rejection is a part of life from birth till death.When I was a preschool teacher, some three-year-olds would refuse to share or play with others, and so goes an example of the first peer rejection.

Presently, I have a friend who dreamt of going to law school. He had a good GPA and LSAT score and felt confident that he’d be accepted. Finally, they did accept him but under probation and a longer wait time. So, he was accepted but only if enough students (who were accepted outright) decided not to enroll. He was on pins and needles and dismayed. When at last, he received a phone call that he could attend, he was elated. He says, “Just to prove something, he worked hard and graduated in the top ten of his class with honors.” He did something spectacular with his initial feelings of rejection.

I have another friend who was married for thirty years when her husband left with their daughter’s best friend. She learned how to care for herself financially, emotionally and spiritually and even after she remarried, she still has the confidence that she can weather anything. Another friend’s husband died and although she was in her early seventies, she filled her lonely days learning Chinese to help others in a missionary work.

To me, how we handle rejection is a reflection of our character. All of the writers I know personally do so with elegance and grace, so we should applaud ourselves for learning how to weather rejection by building confidence in ourselves, maybe even by imagining our rejection floating off in an imaginary box toward an imaginary island, far, far away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Progress Report: Another American Idol Analogy…

I’ve been writing little posts in this blog for over four years and it’s about time I write another blog progress report. When I peek back at my very first entries, I’m amazed by how much I’ve grown as a writer and also by how much more I need to learn. So tonight, I’m sweeping away the old goals, some I’ve accomplished, others still pending, and update my new writing hopes and dreams.

In 2012 I wrote a post comparing a rejection for a manuscript to being critiqued by Jennifer Lopez on American Idol. Some contestants bomb out during the audition process, believing they can sing, when in reality they can’t. Other hopefuls can carry a tune, but don’t have that “wow” factor. At last, there are those who sing beautifully and have the stage presence to keep the audience, and judges, enthralled. Some go far, but there is only one winner, one American Idol.

At the time, I wondered which category I fit. I spent many days and nights wondering if I’d bomb out, or just didn’t have the “wow” factor, or if I could write well enough to get an agent or editor’s interest.

As we approach the last year of American Idol, I can happily write that I’ve finally received a “golden ticket” to Hollywood (Publisher Land) when Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary offered to represent my stories, but the show’s not over yet. Not even close.

Now, the stress to perform and “not crack” under pressure is greater than ever. The rejection becomes more personal (or it feels that way) and when it does come, it’s not one rejection at a time through an email or letter, it comes via your agent in a report with notes from an array of editors describing why they’ve rejected your story, why you’ve failed. And similar to American Idol, it feels as though the whole world is watching, although in reality it’s just your agent. But still.

This process is not for the faint of heart. One thing I’ve observed from American Idol contestants is how they “get in their own heads” and lose perspective. Over and over, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr., emphasize to sing the words from their hearts as though they believe and feel what they’re singing about. This is difficult to do with a plethora of other dynamics to juggle. It’s easy to overthink the performance, to lose touch with the audience.

This happens when you’re writing to impress an editor or your agent instead of writing for the unmitigated joy of moving words around a page, like rearranging furnishings in a favorite room until your eye sees that everything is perfect. The words can become a burden that won’t cooperate with your vision, and ultimately, the manuscript, the story, is overthought and lost.

The good news is that Jennifer Lopez (your agent) sees your potential and you’re still in the running for the grand prize. So presently, with the spotlight flashing on the stage, the stakes high, my new writing goal is to take a deep breath, cross my fingers, and sing … I mean, write my heart out.

 

Hurry Writers! Upcoming Contest Deadlines…

My father in law is a sweet soul who enjoys the fact that I’m a writer. Each year, he sends me gift subscriptions to several writing magazines. One of them is Poets & Writers. The January/February issue highlights several contests that feature up and coming deadlines. So, I thought I’d pay my father in law’s kindness forward and share some of these deadlines with all of you … my fellow writers.

Here’s the first one (they’re in order by important dates):

Hunger Mountain (Literary Prizes)

“Three prizes of $1000 each and publication in Hunger Mountain are given annually for a poem, a short story, and an essay.”

DEADLINE: March 1st

Look online at http://www.hungermtn.org for more details.

James Jones Literary Society (First Novel Fellowship)

“A prize of $10,000 is given annually for a novel-in-progress by a U.S. writer who has not published a novel … Runner’s-up will receive $1000.”

DEADLINE: March 15th

Look online for details by searching: James Jones Literary Contest.

Winning Writers (Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction and Essay Contest)

“The annual awards are given for a short story and an essay.” The last winner won, $1,500.

DEADLINE: April 30th

Look online for more details at http://www.winningwriters.com/tomstory

Salamander (Fiction Prize)

“The annual award is given for a short story.” The last winner won, $1,500.

DEADLINE: June 1st

Look online for more details at http://www.salamandermag.org/contests

Glimmer Train Press (Short Story Award for New Writers)

“The award is given three times a year for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not appeared in a print publication with circulation of over 5,000.” The last winner won, $1,500.

DEADLINE (Very Short Fiction Award): August 31st

Look online for more details at http://www.glimmertrain.com

Omnidawn Publishing (Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Prize)

“The annual award is given for a short story or collection of short stories.” The last winner won, $1,000.

DEADLINE: October 17th

Look online for more details at omnidawn.com/contest/fiction

These are the contests I found most interesting and fun! I hope some of you will enter and win.

Best wishes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A DONUT FOR BREAKFAST…

My first post in months is about donuts.

Yes, I am still a writer. There are many bloggers out there writing about books and book deals and cover reveals and debuts. One day I will, too. But for now I’m writing about donuts. Just because I can.

This morning for the first time in about, oh, 25, 26 years maybe, I drove to a bakery and ordered a donut and a cup of coffee. Not very significant, right? It’s just a donut and a cup of coffee. There are likely millions of people out there right now drinking a cup of coffee and perhaps even, wiping donut crumbs off their laps. So what’s the big deal about a donut and a cup of coffee?

For one thing, I have a seizure disorder and my low blood sugar can trigger an episode. Not good. Typically, I stay away from ingesting sugary foods without protein to counter the effects. Having a donut for breakfast without protein, for me, is dangerous.

Coffee is another trigger. Even decaf, for some reason, causes me to have heart palpitations and messes with my blood pressure, therefore causing a possible seizure event. So as you read this you may wonder: Why the heck did she order a donut and a cup of coffee for breakfast this morning? Is she insane?

I don’t think so. At least I hope not. As a writer, and yes of course this post is about writing after all; I enter contests, apply for grants and wait as my dear agent does what she does best, subbing out my books, (Yay! Go Dawn!) and sometimes during these times of expectation and hope and waiting, I have to shake things up. Do something to remind myself that I’m alive, that I’m still a writer, even though nothing much is happening.

So this blog post is my virtual donut and cup of coffee.

I’ve been away too long. It’s about time I shake things up. Once or twice a month, at least, I will post some updates, some little thoughts that may spring to mind from time to time.

And BTW: Just because I ordered the donut and cup of coffee doesn’t mean I ingested them. It’s just nice to know they’re there. Just like my blog.

HOW I GOT MY VERY OWN AGENT STORY …

Remember the poem by Thomas Dekker? It goes, “O THE month of May, the merry month of May …” And then there was that song, “While strolling in the park one day, in the merry merry month of May, I was taken by surprise by a pair of roughish eyes …”

That was me.

I was strolling down Query Lane one day, in the merry merry month of May, when I was taken by surprise by an EMAIL that made me–well, clutch my chest in utter shock. A literary agent that I liked and admired wrote she thought my picture book was “fantastic.”

But that’s not all.

She also requested I tell her about my other books, how I planned to promote them, and a bio.

A quiet Friday morning, I had hoped to visit my elderly friend who lives in a nursing home. Parked in front of the building, I sat in the driver’s seat to check my emails before going inside. (I am a chronic and compulsive email checker. My fellow writer/queryer buddies understand this. :))

The email jumped out of the electronic devise, hit my brain, exploded under my skin, and made me tingly all over. Truly, not an exaggeration. Okay, maybe a little, but I did start talking to myself. “This is different, right? No agent has ever asked me about my other books before, right? This is good, right?”

In my own mind I use the word “right” a lot.

My elderly friend wasn’t inside of her room. So I thought I should cancel my appointments for the day, go home, and respond to the email.

It took two hours to write it. I even called my parents and auntie in San Diego and read the email to them before sending. They “ooohed” and “ahhhed” while I read, so I felt a teensy dash of confidence when I finally pushed SEND.

My little son would not be home from school for hours. Nervous and restless, I went to the mall to buy a graduation gift, found a really cute necklace (BTW: later, when I gave my friend her gift, she really loved it). Then on my way home, at a red traffic light, I quickly checked my e-receipts.

Along with the e-receipts was an email from the agent. It read, “Are you available to chat on Monday afternoon?”

Oh. My. Goodness.

The traffic light switched to green, and I drove forward, but everything seemed blurry, my arms tingled and my hands felt numb. Was this for real? An agent wanted to talk to ME? In person?

Of course I eventually stopped the car and responded. She wrote back again, and we had an appointment to “chat” at 2:30 on the following Monday.

I held my head in a euphoric disbelief.

That weekend, my writer buddy from the SCBWI BlueBoards and WriteOnCon saved me from having a nervous breakdown. She had recently signed with her new agent and had many wonderful suggestions. (Hi Sharon! :)) One of them was to “just breathe.” Very good advice.

This agent was high on my query list. In fact, I had only queried 18 agents with this picture book. Eight of them had requested to see the full nonfiction proposal, including my new agent, who had made the request one day after I queried her. And here I was only 9 days later with an appointment for THE CALL.

The more I researched this agent, the more I liked her, and by Sunday evening I felt much calmer and looked forward to “chatting” with her.

She called right on time. And well, she was kind and funny, made me feel comfortable right away, had sweet things to say about me and my stories, and her plan to share them with the world sounded wonderful to me. Toward the end of the call she offered representation.

And my heart said, “Yay!”

I had to wait a whole week to give other agents an opportunity to respond. But now, I FINALLY have an agent. Her name is Dawn Frederick, literary agent and owner of Red Sofa Literary. She represents all of my stories, from picture book through middle grade, and I couldn’t be happier.

After hundreds (probably 200 plus) rejections, and years (felt like a lifetime) of hopeful expectation, I found my agent. But most of all, although I signed my contract in June, and now writing my story in July, this wonderful thing happened in the merry merry month of May.

   

Summertime is Yellow and Blue and Red AND HOME…

Summertime, to me, is yellow because the sunshine makes the trees happy.

When the tulips and daisies and wildflowers sway by the roadside

as I drive along the highway to home, I am all filled up with yellow.

My little son plays games and sings and talks to himself in my rearview mirror,

and from the backseat occupies the hours, long and quiet.

Our dusty van, filmed with soot and sad insects (who flew to their unsuspecting

demise) glides down the road toward a blue horizon and home.

Summertime is blue, too. When we stop near a town called Cedar City for a sprinkled donut, all pink and green and BLUE.

While there, a stranger, a man, offers to buy our treat. Though gracious, I smile

hesitantly. The dark shadows seem darker when alone.

Inside of our van, packed with suitcases and toys and books, we feel safe once again.

As I drive along the highway to home, I am all filled up with blue.

When the nighttime comes, in a lonely hotel room, the clock waits for a new day.

And yet again, the road is still there pointing to home.

Summertime is red when sunlight peeks through the window greeting the day.

The hotel breakfast is bland and tired.

Like me.

More hours, more trees, more flowers, more road…

Twenty hours.

As I drive along the highway to home, I am all filled up with red.

And then

down in a valley

in a caboodle of trees

by the foothills

is my town.

All of the colors collide. Yellow and blue and red.

As I drive along my street to home, I am all filled up with shades of brown.

The color of his hair

his eyes.

The color of home.

Note: My next post will be HOW I GOT MY VERY OWN AGENT STORY. Although I got “the call” in May and signed the contract in June, I wanted to wait until I was HOME to tell the story. So stay posted…:)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 775 other followers