Category Archives: Helpful Hints

I’ve Moved!

Click here for the same blog, exciting new address!

Anyone remember the Jeffersons? Sammy Davis, Jr.? Put them together and you get:

Nope, I’m not a published author yet, but after blogging on my own for two years, I celebrated my 70th post by pitching this blog to Chicago Now, which is Tribune Media Company’s online community of Chicago-area bloggers. I pitched RIDING THE WAVES via Chicago Now‘s online pitch form and heard back the same day. My blog was accepted!

So what does this mean?

It means I keep doing what I’m doing, but I might do it with a little more spring in my typing fingers. I’ll keep writing about RIDING THE WAVES, but now, I may have the chance to share it with even more readers. It means I’m sitting up a little straighter (which is great…I tend to slouch).

It means that Chicago Now believes my writing deserves a shot at something a little broader, a little wider-reaching.

It means I might get to connect with some new readers and possibly hear back from them.

These are all great things.

When I first began blogging in January 2010, I hadn’t a clue what to write about, so I searched for inspiration everywhere. In the process of doing so, I formed an unconscious habit of seeking inspiration; not only did that help me become a better writer, but it also grew me as a person. I’d ask people what motivated them to do inspiring things and investigate how certain situations came to be. I constantly pondered how I might incorporate many of the inspiring stories into my own life.

Some of my most “popular” (meaning “widely-read”) blog posts have ranged from my children’s entrepreneurial behaviors (How A 12-Year-Old Shags An iPad) to the suicide in a nearby park (Nichols Middle School Bomb) to the worry I felt when my husband and son sailed through the same storm on Lake Michigan that killed two fellow sailors (Trying Not To Cry) to an interview with a guy formerly known as Barry (How I Got To Interview The President Of The United States). Each of those posts serves as a distinct mile-marker on my newly-discovered writing journey. I’ll always remember how those events moved me so deeply that I couldn’t wait to write my feelings about them. Whether they made me laugh or cry or shake my head in disbelief, they each inspired me to sit, breathe, write and exhale.

Expanding my blog to a potentially wider audience on Chicago Now feels a little scary, but then so did talking to President Obama. What I’m telling myself as my blogging branches out is exactly what I told myself when the camera lights went on during the Obama Hangout: It’s just you & the person in front of you.

When I spoke with the President, I didn’t let myself think about anything other than the fact I was talking to a guy who used to live in Chicago. When I write my blog entries, I always try to write as if I’m talking to you directly…not to a slew of readers who may pass one of my posts on to someone else. The only way this works for me (and the way I keep my head fastened on tight) is to write with an honest focus, just to write what I’m thinking — as if I’m talking with a friend over coffee. It’s essentially a stream-of-conscience style, but that’s how my mind works. I’m pretty simple.

I hope you’ll visit my new site on Chicago Now and continue reading RIDING THE WAVES. And, if you’d like the latest posts delivered to your inbox, just put your email in the subscription box.

You’ve been with me from some of my earliest posts, and I’m grateful for the support, the comments and the encouragement. Thank you for RIDING THE WAVES along with me. This is getting pretty fun!

Click here for the same blog, exciting new address!

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Finding Your Passion Later In Life

Have you ever asked yourself, “What’s my passion?”

Ever wondered, “What am I good at?” or “Why does everyone have a hobby but me?” or “What do I want to do for fun?”

I asked myself each of those questions for years.

I wanted to find the magic answer…and for many years, I searched in areas that led me to believe I’d hit dead ends forever.

For quite awhile, I felt as though my whole existence was merely reacting to circumstances around me. I’d see others acting on what I perceived as their destinies. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life for such a long time that I literally gave up looking.

And thank God I did.

With hindsight, I’ll tell you with certainty, that if you’re still looking for your passion, you can relax. It’ll happen if you stop seeking it.

Your passion is deep within, but you can’t embrace it until you — and it — are both ready. I know you want to shoot me for saying that, but it’s the truth.

Don’t worry. Your passion will always be there, and you’ll bring it to the surface if you keep moving forward, trying new experiences and getting to know others. You will wake up one day — possibly frustrated, possibly at peace, or perhaps a combination of both — and look back at the experiences and people in your life…and you’ll put the pieces together and see how things have all been leading up to THIS.

THIS? What is THIS?

I can’t tell you what THIS is…because it’s yours. But you’ll know.

I waited for my THIS to announce itself. I thought that going to a good university and getting a good job and marrying a good guy were all part of the path toward discovering what I was all about. I worked hard. Apologized for the mistakes I was aware of (and prayed to God to forgive me for all the unintended ones).

Still, I never achieved clarity.

Of course I was passionate about being a mother, but for me, parenting is a shared joy with my husband; mothering never fit into my “personal passion” column. Hold up now…don’t call the Department of Children and Family Services quite yet. For me, mothering is rewarding, challenging, mezmerizing…but for me, being a parent is not my own, personal passion. While I’m a passionate mother and I’m passionate about everything related to my children and our family, my own personal passion is a separate entity.

Which leads me to define a passion. I won’t look it up in a dictionary because that may influence the words that come from my heart:

Your passion is what moves you like nothing else can. Your passion is always on your mind and in your soul, urging you to get back to it. The flame of your passion never dies, though it may change shape and color depending on what sort of fuel you’re able to offer it. Your passion provides a light to help you through your darkest times, and an ongoing set of benchmarks by which you can see your own development as a human being. Though others may share a similar passion, your passion is entirely yours. Once discovered, your passion will reveal layers upon layers of opportunities.

I speak from knowledge, not as someone who has it all figured out, but as someone like you, who’s been at the end of her rope, wondering what the point was. I’ve known the crushing feeling of everyone around me seeming to know what they want…yet having absolutely no idea what I was even slightly good at or even partially interested in.

As I mentioned earlier, I stopped searching for my passion altogether. Instead of digging for it, I put down the [pick axe/shovel/front loader] and listened for an answer. I was approaching forty years old, wondering when I’d grow up and figure out my life.

“Until that time comes,” I thought, “I’d like to do some writing. I’ve always loved to write and I’m not very good at it because I never make the time for it. I used to journal all the time until I graduated college and then…I just stopped. Maybe writing will help me figure out what my passion is…” I didn’t even know what I wanted to write.

Memoir? Comedy? A children’s book? A novel? Magazine articles?

Once I gave myself over to a place that allowed so many options to float within my reach, I realized how hungry I was to try them out.

New perspective on an old activity.

Imagine this. You’re at your desk just before lunchtime. You’re starving, but you don’t have an appetite for the sack lunch you prepared last night. You don’t know what it is you crave, but you know it’s not the plain old turkey and swiss you brought. You walk down the hall to the snack machine and stare at the usual offerings. “What’s the point?” you wonder. “It’s just food.” You grab your sack lunch from the fridge, but, instead of eating it at your desk (as usual), you take it outside and eat it on a bench three blocks from your office. The sun warms your face and, as you eat the same turkey on wheat that you always make, you think, “I’m happy I didn’t blow money on vending machine crap, and tomorrow I can totally do better than this.” The next day, sitting in your new lunchtime spot, you eat your turkey sandwich topped with cranberry chutney…and you start thinking about all the other ways you might spice up your lunchtime sandwiches without blowing your budget. Synapses start firing, and you can’t keep up with your ideas. You ask someone for a piece of scratch paper to write down your variations, like turkey/bacon/avocado and turkey/pepperjack/strawberry preserves and turkey rubens and turkey/bacon/swiss/maple syrup and turkey with olive tapenade and turkey with carmelized balsamic onions, only to discover that the person you’ve borrowed the scratch paper from is enjoying a turkey on focaccia with roasted red peppers, garlic mayo and lettuce. You form a friendship with the scratch-paper stranger. The friendship leads to lots of opportunities and people you’d never considered, and the biggest benefit is that all these new people offer fresh new perspectives on life and activities and chances you hadn’t noticed before. Before you know it, you see yourself in ways you’d never thought about. And by stretching yourself…even later in life like this…you’ll feel younger, more excited, more motivated, and more interested in the world around you. Most important, you’ll have a new perspective on how your experiences, your skills and your passions fit in.

There is no magic formula to find your passion later in life. It’s already in you. And, I’ll guarantee you’ve accumulated more life experiences than you give yourself credit for. And, rest assured that most of them (especially the suckiest ones) will come in handy.

It won’t take a life coach to find your passion. Or an analyst (though I’ve loved mine). Or an expensive, contemplative vacation to “figure yourself out”.  Just switch something up…even if it’s as simple as where you eat that same old turkey sandwich. You just might surprise yourself.

Even Homecoming Queens Get Depressed

I was the 1985 Homecoming Queen of Hoffman Estates High School near Chicago, Illinois.

What I didn’t realize then, that I only see now at 43, is that I suffered from depression at seventeen years old.

In 1985, a 17-year-old didn’t know as much about depression as a 17-year-old does today. In 1985, we didn’t have access to the Internet, nor did we talk openly about “being blue”.  In 1985, a 17-year-old couldn’t Google “I feel sad” or “my life sucks” or find a blog about someone’s similar experience. We’d have to go to the public library or use the Encyclopedia Britannica our parents collected with grocery store stamps to look up the term “depression” yet even then, depression was all about the crazy-haired kooks who laid in bed all day drinking Sanka and snacking on toenails.

It’s now 2012, and I’m here to tell you: depression affects anyone at any time.

I’m also here to tell you that it gets better.

At 17, I was emotional.  I cared deeply—often too much—about everything, and I tried to please everyone: parents; friends; friends of friends; boyfriends; teachers; boyfriends’ teachers; coaches; boyfriends’ coaches; the senior citizens I played bingo with; even my cranky boss at Baker’s Square Restaurant.  I rarely felt good enough or that I tried hard enough, which always left me feeling exhausted.

From the outside, I came off as the consummate over-achiever, the go-to gal willing to fix, mend, take charge or carry the load when no one else could or would. Inside, however, I never felt I gave 100% of my efforts to any one thing (excellent preparation for motherhood, but how was I to know?).

To my surprise, I was nominated to the Homecoming Court my senior year in high school. I should have been on top of the world, right?  But, the honest-to-God truth was that I never once understood why I was on that damn court. I never felt I belonged. I didn’t feel pretty enough. Tall enough. Smart enough. Nice enough. Worthy.

The afternoon of the Homecoming assembly, the ten members of the Homecoming Court (5 guys, 5 girls) were excused from their regularly scheduled classes to primp and fuss in the locker rooms. The 5 of us girls smiled nervously at each other as we reached for our long dresses, hanging in plastic bags suspended from the open, upper lockers. My dress was a satiny, fuschia number with big, puffy shoulders to match my permed, soon-to-be-Aqua-Net-crusted hairdo. While I couldn’t read the other girls’ minds, I still remember my own dizzying thoughts as I waited for the butane to heat up my portable curling iron:

Why am I even on the Homecoming Court?

Kari should win because she’s sporty and smart and doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.

Simone should win because she’s the kindest, sweetest person.

Kim’s going to win because she’s so smart and nice to everyone.

Tracy ought to win since she knows who she is and isn’t fake at all.

This is insane. Why should any one of us even win? Who’s to say one person is better than another?

Some teacher probably felt sorry for me and fixed the voting to get me onto the Court.

I can’t wait to see the water fountains they’re putting up in the gym. I hope I can see them in the dark.

I bet I’m only here because I’m one of the shortest kids in the school — all the short kids must have voted for me.  Oh, and probably all of Beth’s [my sophomore sister’s] friends, too.

As the five of us prepped for the assembly in the locker room, I thought about how I’d known these girls my entire high school career, if not longer. We’d sat through classes together; rode buses together; stood in cafeteria lines, crossed our arms across our budding chests on the sides of the school swimming pool so the totally disgusting boys in their gross Speedos wouldn’t stare at us; researched papers with them; held doors for each other, jockeyed for mirror space during passing periods, sat through assemblies and cheered at bonfires with them. I’d seen each of them at Woodfield Shopping Mall with their boyfriends or their families, buying salted pretzels from Hot Sam or walking out of Chess King with a pair of parachute pants. I’d noticed how nice/quiet/friendly/moody/beautiful each of them could be on any given day. Most of all, I envied each one of those girls for what they were and for what I was not.

Yet, as the clock clicked closer to the assembly’s start, I felt an ironic sense of distance and tension. The five of us, alone yet together in this vast locker room, were all that we had, yet we barely spoke a word.

“You look so pretty,” someone said.

“No, no, you look gorgeous,” another insisted.

“I love your dress,” one of us said.

“This? Oh, but look at yours.”

Not an ounce of cattiness was detected. Just deference — and an urgency to get this thing the hell over with.

The ceremony itself remains a blur. The packed gymnasium was dark and noisy. Worst of all, I couldn’t get a good view of the fountains. I thought about the kids who’d spent countless hours decorating the gym, wondering if they, like me, wished someone would turn up the lights, even for a few seconds. I knew my mom and my stepfather and my six-year-old sister were somewhere in the audience. My fifteen-year-old sister was definitely in the audience: I heard her (and all of her friends) calling my name. I wondered if my biological dad was somewhere nearby — possibly drunk – as well.  Sure enough, he was (nearby — and possibly drunk) but that’s another story altogether.

The chorus sang. The King was crowned. My name was called…and as someone hung a white satin sash across my fuschia chest for everyone in the gym to see, I crumpled into tears. A local newspaper photographer ensured my twisted grimace was captured forevermore.

The King and I took our “victory lap” around the dreamy, faux path created by the Decorating Committee. We walked quickly — just as all of us on the Court had been instructed to do earlier in the day at the Homecoming Assembly Rehearsal – stepping in time with the music, past the spurting fountains, heading back toward the starting point so we’d land it just as the song wrapped up, exactly as we’d been told to do.

Ever the pleaser, I’d be damned not to hit the mark a second beyond the final note of the song.

My King and I clung to one another, elbows locked, along our faux path as the crowds in the bleachers yelled and screamed. I wanted to cry the entire time.  I looked at my four Court-mates who should have strolled along with me. I wanted to say, Can’t you see? This is all so ridiculous! Come walk with us. This is so embarrassing. My King cracked heartfelt, smart-ass jokes that left me laughing until tears rolled down my face. I must have looked elated, but I was crying for real inside. It’s been my coping technique ever since: happy on the outside and they’ll never look deeper at the sadness within.

Before today, I’d never told my children about being named Homecoming Queen. I never felt it mattered, never felt I deserved it, never thought it was something to be proud of. Instead, I thought of it as some popularity contest I didn’t sign up for, one that I somehow won out of pity.

And that’s what depression can do. Even when the world is your oyster…even when things fire on every cylinder…depression has a way of whispering doubt and self-loathing so quietly that you’re almost able to convince yourself you didn’t hear it…until you start listening for it. You try to hear that whisper so intensely that, when it floats like steam past your tightly-wound psyche and evaporates before you can deal with it rationally, you feel sucker-punched and exhausted from the effort of it all.

—–

Someone in my family recently told my daughter I’d been voted Homecoming Queen in high school. I pulled out the sash and hung it across my middle-aged chest, the same chest I used to hide with embarrassment, the one I nursed three children with and the one that now swells with pride when I see those children today at 14, 12 and 8.

My 12-year-old daughter looked at the sash with awe, and then said, “What exactly IS a Homecoming Queen?”

“You know,” I said, smiling. “It’s just a silly thing they do in high school.” While I’m glad she hasn’t lived in the shadow of a mom fixated on the notoriety of something as superficial as a homecoming title, I must remember to look for any shadows of depression she (or either of my boys) encounter. I know so much more about how it can be maked. Blended. Hidden. I know depression strikes anyone at anytime. That it hurts. That it feels like it will never end.

But I also know that it’s okay to talk about it. Not to be ashamed. Give myself permission to retreat and recharge. Let myself cocoon when I need to, and to accept that I am human like everyone else.

I tucked my homecoming sash back into the small cardboard box I store it in, a box that once held a corsage from some event I’ve long since forgotten.  It’s been years since I thought of that sash, and even longer since I’d pulled it out; I suspect it won’t come out of that box for many years to come, but I no longer feel ashamed of it.

It’s taken me 26 years to accept the honor of my title, and while there is no white satin sash for depression, it is yet another title I carry that I am no longer ashamed of.

How Does A Book Get Published?

You know you’re in trouble when an article about a writer’s path to publication brings you to tears, especially when you’re on a United flight from Chicago to Boston, in the middle seat, and you don’t know the people flanking you.

You also come to realize, once again, that you are a writer.

I just finished Keith Gessen’s powerfully written piece on his friend Chad Harbach’s 10-year journey to bring a debut novel, THE ART OF FIELDING, into the world. Gessen’s article, How a Book Is Born: The Making of The Art of Fielding  (Vanity Fair, October 2011), is outstanding. Some critics claim its focus is too narrow and only describes publishing from the viewpoint of the educated and privileged, but I feel privileged to read the inside scoop on this rapidly morphing industry.

Who needs to read the article? Let’s see:

Novel writers

Beginning writers

Anyone wondering how publishing works

Disillusioned writers who doubt they’ll ever be published

Anyone curious about eBooks and digital media

Someone considering a career as a literary agent or an editor

Why did I love it? Gessen details his friend’s path — beginning in Racine, Wisconsin, and rising to the top of the international publishing world – with such an honest and engaging voice that it felt like he’d written the piece specifically for (the anxious, unpublished, full-of-self-sabotage person that is) me.

Harbach worked on his novel for 10 years and received countless rejections. Many of his friends, including Gessen, thought he’d be better off moving on to another project. Time and countless distractions took him away from his novel, yet those very elements helped round out the final product.

It’s fascinating to read all the behind-the-scenes activity in the world of publishing, particularly the emails exchanged between Harbach and his soon-to-be agent, Chris Parris-Lamb just after the latter finished reading the first 250 pages of Harbach’s manuscript. I realized I’d been holding my breath while reading the agent’s emails. His enthusiasm for the project is what every debut novelist hopes for: an agent who unequivocally gets it, who promises to care for and protect your manuscript as if it’s his own, who feels honored to represent you.

I cut the emails out of the October 2011 issue of Vanity Fair and copied them here for you. The first was sent after the agent read the first 250 pages. The second was sent once he finished the book, the next day:

The emails I dream of receiving...

I’m not naïve; the chances of receiving emails like this from potential agents are slim to nil, but just reading the account of how a passionate writer kept going, kept the faith, and kept improving his manuscript until he felt it was right…well…that’s the stuff that keeps me going when it just feels too hard.

It’s also reassuring to hear what industry insiders say about the changing face of publishing. Yes, eBooks are thriving, but as Amazon’s VP of Kindle content told Gessen, “The only necessary parts of the business are authors and readers.  Everybody else has to figure out how to be useful and relevant in connecting those two groups.”

I’d highly recommend the article to anyone who’s in – or looking to enter – the worlds of writing or publishing. It may not make you cry, but it’s guaranteed to demonstrate how a writer’s dreams can really come true.

For Kids (And Adults) Who Love To Write

Thank goodness you’re here, because I know you’ll understand what I’m about to say.

I’ve wanted to write since I was little. I know you have, too.

If I ever see a scrap of paper, I get excited. You know the feeling.

A blank Word document on a monitor feels like a gift.

My hands usually to catch up with all the thoughts in my head. I love the feel of a keyboard under my fingertips or a pen in my hand.

I used to be a kid who loved to write. I’m 43 years old now, and I officially began my “writing career” when I was 40. I still have so much catching up to do, but one of the things I promised myself is to share whatever I learn, especially to kids who were just like me.

So, here’s an open letter to any kids (or the adults they’ve become) who love to write and who want to do it as much as possible:

Dear Writer Friend,

You realize how good we’ve got it, right? Our love of writing opens worlds beyond description, and not just on the page. Writing things down is just part of the wonderful world we’re part of. Talking about writing, sharing our writing, and reading others’ work adds so many layers to our own writing satisfaction.

There are lots of people who write, but true writers share a language of understanding with one another that is like no other.

Those of us who love to write are so fortunate. Ask anyone who loves to write and they’ll tell you it’s just something deep inside that needs expressing, and the options available to express that need are limitless. Journals, essays, poems, novels, blogs, short stories and letters are only a few of our choices.

True writers cross-train when they’re “stuck”. A novelist can take a break from her conflicted characters and write a magazine article for other writers about conflicted characters. A magazine writer can stretch her writing skills by outlining a picture book. A picture book author can sign up for a conference on eBook writing to learn how to share her work with more readers. The options keep going.

The writing community is like a family. We’ve got the crazy uncles we’re a little embarrassed by, the gentle, grandmotherly types who remind us we’re the very best in the whole wide world, the bossy sisters who try to outdo us, the cousins we see only once a year and wish it could be more often. We’ve got younger siblings who look up to us, and older, wiser siblings who take risks and show us the way. The family of writers is full of opportunities to learn from others and, most importantly, about our own talents and interests.

Keep writing, even when you’re tired. Keep writing, even when you wouldn’t share your work with your worst enemy. Keep writing until you feel written out…then write some more. As a writer, the best part of you is your deepest, most honest core. That’s where your voice is. That’s where your strength is found. That’s the place you’ll want to write from. You won’t always reach it, but it’ll never, ever go away.

Sincerely,

Your Fellow Writer

P.S. If you’re a kid who can’t wait to be published, look into places like these to practice your skills.  Most of all, have FUN, and check out these great websites for inspiration:

Amazing Kids Magazine:  Here are the submissions guidelines

Click here for Websites for Young Writers.

Resources on Kids Learn To Blog

Genna’s World, endorsed by the Newberry Award Committee.

KidPub: Books and stories by kids, for kids.

Aaron Shepard’s Young Authors page.

The Young Voices Foundation, mentoring young writers.

The Betty Award writing contest.

Poetry and Essay contests: Creative Communication

Creative Kids magazine (and writers’ guidelines)

Launch Pad magazine

Stone Soup

Magic Dragons

Motivating Other Kids To Blog

Where else can kids hone their writing skills?

My First School Visit!

In my dreams, I imagine schools and book groups calling me to come talk about my novel and about what it’s like to be a writer.

First, though, I should probably get my book published.

While that process continues, I got my feet wet with my first official school visit as a writer, and I absolutely loved it.

My husband’s cousin, Kate, teaches 4th graders at W.C. Petty Elementary School in Antioch, Illinois.  We’ve talked at family gatherings about teaching and children’s books, and she asked if I’d be willing to come talk to her students about my writing process.  I’d assumed she meant 20 or so students — but she arranged for me to meet the entire 4th grade — over 100 eager readers.

It. Was. Heaven. I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more.

I brought a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted who I am and what I like to do.  I tried to include some fun photos, like me on a dune buggy, sailing, and holding my dog, just to demonstrate that I don’t sit at a desk all day and make up imaginary stories. I talked about some of my favorite books, including Rules, Kira Kira, Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself, So B. It and two by Brenda Ferber: Julia’s Kitchen and Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire.

The kids asked a ton of questions and gave me lots of feedback, and every comment meant the world to me:

How’d you get started writing?

Does your hand get cramped?

Do you use a typewriter? (I think that kid figured I’m a lot older than I am).

Do you wear a lifejacket when you go sailing?

My personal favorite:

You know, you’re kind of like J.K. Rowling, before she got famous.

My second personal favorite:

Can I get your autograph?

The kids actually lined up for my autograph.  Aside from signing credit card slips, I’ve never been asked for my autograph by anyone.  I wanted to cry, especially when some kids chose not to use paper and have me sign their arms.

I’m never washing this arm again, they said.

The experience reminds me just how important it is to bring this book to market.

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Before I made my trip to W.C. Petty School, I put out a request to fellow SCBWI-Illinois writers, asking for any advice they had for me on my first school visit, as well as what I could tell 4th graders what some of my published author-friends feel like (I can only hope to join their ranks).  Here’s what some of them said:

Christine, your very enthusiasm – your excitement about writing – will carry through to the kids. You’ve probably already experienced that connection – that spark – through your talks to the Scouts and your Book Club. What you want to convey to kids is what it is that intrigues you so much that you want to capture it in words to share with others – that’s writing. 
And yes, this is what I hope I’ve done with my books – especially my middle-grade historical novels, Sean’s War and Sean’s Quest. With these books I wanted to show 12-yr.-old Sean’s struggle to understand the “whys” of conflict, whether political, as in the Black Hawk War of 1832 between the settlers and the native Americans, or personal, as in the “war” between his father and stepmother – and make it as relevant to today’s young people as it was to Sean in his time. 
Write on! 
Leone Castell Anderson

Good luck on this!  I have not been in class with this age group, so no wisdom to share, except…  DO make sure you areready to wander around and not stay in the same place the whole time… I think it keeps them awake! At least for middle school that seemed important.
Have fun
Lisa B.

Good for you for getting out there!  I spoke before I had a book too, and the kids don’t really care. I find that with fourth graders, it’s great to speak to them as “fellow writers,” and show them that you do the same things they do — revise, make mistakes, feel frustrated sometimes, etc.  I always tell kids that they’re just as much writers as I am.  I’ve just been doing it longer!
Good luck!!
Sara Shacter

Hi Christine:
Congratulations on your school gig.  I think they’re great fun, and 4th grade is the best–kids still interested in what adults have to say and awed by authors to ask questions and be excited yet old enough where you can explain more sophisticated ideas.
I, too, had a former life as a special educator.
As for what it feels like to be an author, I think it feels like I’m on an amazing roller coaster.  There’s the slow, steep climb that involves research, writing and rewriting, the exhilaration of reaching the top when I finish something I’m proud of or when a box of published books arrives (which never gets old), to the quick drop of receiving a rejection or not quite writing what or how much I intended on a given day.  Bu thten I start over on another day and begin my climb anew with the same ms. or another new one.
Hope this is helpful.
Enjoy,
Marlene
Hi, Christine,
I’ve spoken to quite a few schools and the best advice I can give is you have to be more expressive with slightly younger middle graders. When I spoke in Joliet’s junior highs, they had me talk to the grades separately, and I found younger kids don’t get dry, subtle humor. You have to smile and let them know you meant it. They’re sharp, but not yet very good at reading expressions.  I found the same thing talking to Girl Scouts. They may all be in the same organization, but there’s a huge difference between a fifth grader and a seventh grader.
But don’t go the other way and hit them like you would second grader.  So it’s a bit of a fine line.
My presentations are all humor, and if they aren’t laughing, you’re bombing.
Hope this helps.
Norm

Grouchy In The Morning

I’ll admit, I’m not a morning person.

Never have been.  Never will be.  It’s actually been confirmed by a doctor.  I have something called hypersomnia (a freakishly deep sleep)…and have had it most of my life.  I sleep through anything: ringing telephones, doorbells, alarms, thunderstorms, you name it.  Thankfully, my mothering instincts kick in when one of my children is in desperate need (ie., vomiting or screaming from a nightmare).

My idea of a perfect morning?  A warm bed, soft pillow, and hours of nothing but sleep in front of me.

I’ve always wanted to be a morning person:  I’d get up before anyone else, luxuriate over coffee and the paper, take a brisk walk, then write in peace for an hour or two.

Not gonna happen.

That Christmas morning smile hides the longing I felt for my pillow. My performance that morning was Oscar-worthy.

I’ve trained myself how to set my alarm at a screechingly high volume — out of bedside reach — so I’m forced to get up.

Waking up is a “process” for me.  I go through several stages of grief as I say goodbye to sleep every morning:

1. Denial: It can’t REALLY be 7am already.  I just fell asleep.

2. Anger: Why is it so hard for me to shake sleep off?  Why is it so easy for others? It’s not fair.

3. Bargaining: I’ll just snooze for ten more minutes.  After that, I’ll get up.

4. Depression: I. Hate. Mornings.

5. Acceptance: If I don’t get up now, not only will my kids starve, they might  get eaten by the dog who’s also starving.  Even if the kids are clever enough to outrun him, they need someone to get them to school.  If not, I’ll be arrested for child neglect and thrown into jail, where I’ll be required to rise earlier than 7am anyway.  Fine.  I’ll drag my butt out of bed and make some coffee.

As you can see, I’m dealing with my own demons every morning.  Throw a grouchy child into the mix (which I experience on an almost daily basis these days with my 8-year-old) and I’m near the breaking point.

Enter a wonderful bit of advice I just read this morning.  The Chicago Tribune Sunday section ran an article by Heidi Stevens called “Dealing With A Child Who Is Mad At The Morning.” 

Not my child...or my photo...but this picture says it all.

Like the Tribune’s Stevens, I seek humor in tough situations — it’s my coping mechanism.  The advice about using a kitchen cabinet or refrigerator door to “talk back” is simple, brilliant, and most of all, funny.  I think the technique might work with anyone who’s in a grouchy morning mood.

We might not be able to alter who we (or others) are at the core, but if we’re aware of our shortcomings (or those of others) and add a bit of humor when it’s appropriate, we just might get through tough times a bit less ruffled.