The first few words…



What I wish to write about today, actually happened a couple of months ago, just as school was ending. It was my last day to assist in the middle-school library of my son’s school. It was also a scheduled testing day for many students, so the library’s book section was closed.

My job was to man a mobile book site: table, computer/scanner, and a rolling cart full of randomly, librarian-selected books. I was ready. Yet, as the minutes ticked by the halls remained silent with only an occasional squeak of shoes or hushed whispers, but no customers. I tried reading the book I’d brought along, but alas, I was bored. And that was when I had the great idea to conduct an experiment.

I had seventy-nine books on the cart: all fiction books, and all middle grade or young adult in content. My testing method was simple: pick up a book, look at the front cover, skip the synopsis and/or any prologue, and then read only the first paragraph. If the book caught my attention in that opening paragraph, it earned a spot on the top shelf of the cart.

At one point the librarian came out into the hallway to check on me. I noted the quizzical uncertainty on her face and felt compelled to explain why there were books stacked on the table, and an oddly empty book cart, especially the top rack.

What did she say? She gave me a furtive high-five as only a librarian could, and with a conspiratorial  smile claimed that I was, “a girl after my own heart.”

With the seal of approval upon me, I quickened my pace–an hour and a half passes quickly when you have a timed goal to complete. I can’t describe what I thought I was looking for, but I knew that I’d know, or feel it when I read it. I finished with literally minutes to spare before my shift was over.

My top shelf was full, and overflowed into the second tier of the cart. It was difficult, but I narrowed my list down to the top twenty-one titles, those that most precisely grabbed me from the first few lines. IMG_1748

Here’s my list:

1)Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

“The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up.”

2)The Lightning Dreamer(written in verse–added commas to note line breaks)by Margarita Engle

“Books are door-shaped, portals, carrying me, across oceans, and centuries, helping me feel, less alone. But my mother believes, that girls who read too much , are unladylike…”

3)The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

“The first time I seen her, I got a bad feeling inside.”

4)The & Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

“I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks.”

5)Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

“It was April and all Monticello was stirring, but in their cabin Mama had just put baby Maddy down to sleep and she told Beverly and Harriet to be still.”

6)Positively by Courtney Sheinmel

“When my mother died I imagined God was thinking, ‘One down, and one to go.’”

7)Taken by Edward Bloor

“Once you’ve been taken, you usually have twenty-four hours left to live.”

8)Number 8 by Anna Fienberg

“I think the best number in the whole universe is eight. The way I see it, eight has everything going for it. It’s even, for a start.”

(The first eight are in ranking placement, however the remainder are not in any order of preference.)

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Spitting Image by Shutta Crum

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

by Erin Dionne

Kill Switch by Chris Lynch

Gone by Michael Grant

The Looking Glass War by Frank Beddor

The Battle of the Labyrinth

by Rick Riordan

Door in the Woods by James Dashner

London Calling by Edward Bloor

So what did I learn?

IMG_9826Those first few lines are so important, but they don’t have to be complicated. They are the gatekeepers into the story, and only need to stand tall, firm and singular. Be inconspicuously vague in the everyday details, but uniquely brazen in the precision of telling the tale. Don’t hold back. Make me extremely curious!

Keep the words simple, but the thoughts so precisely complex so that they belong only to this story, this character, and the moment in time that you are revealing to the reader. What you say must ring true, and if you try too hard, add too much, too soon, you’ve lost me.

The first paragraph, or the story’s beginning, should offer a promise. The promise: It’s that connection between the reader and the writer(narrator), the invisible, timeless contract of whispered truths to come.

Personally, I prefer first-person narration in stories(and my writing). Less than a handful of the above mentioned books were written in third person.


Personal updates:

Obviously, I’m not too good at keeping up with this blog. However, I do “write” blog posts, but mostly in my head–although I’ve taken notes and at some time in the future plan to share them. Right now it seems more important to write, and finish my current project, Sky.

Speaking of Sky, I’m in the process of its transcription into computer files, as well as editing/revision along the way. My goal is to be done with this process around the time school starts, and then move on to a second hearty round of editing. I’d love to be done with the entire project by October/November. Eh?

The poem I posted last year on this site, “Shame,” will be published the week of August 24th via a great site:! Oddly, I receive the most random traffic to this blog because of that poem, so I wanted to have it officially accepted/published somewhere before someone tried to plagiarize it off of my site. (Not that this would prevent such things, but still, makes me feel better regardless.)

I have one non-fiction short story and one new poem out there in the world, awaiting either rejection or acceptance. At this point I still have naive hope that both will be given the latter.

One of my planned, upcoming/someday blog post will be about my writing group. I started the small group at the beginning of the year, just for local moms. It’s been such a great experience and a wonderful way to promote more writing in my life, as well as to encourage other moms.

I’m still reading as much as I can, to improve my writing. I’m almost done with Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home–there’s hidden wisdom between the lines.

That’s all, folks! For more frequent, less loquacious updates, please like my Facebook page:

The End!!!


This is my completed rough draft of, SKY, an upper-middle grade novel about a young-teen girl contemplating the burden of living, in a world that is not too kind.

Well, it is sort of “the end,” as I’ve completed my first novel-length rough draft!  Yay! And, high-five super duper yay!!! I’ll admit I’ve been smugly smiling to myself the last couple of days with this accomplishment bubbling inside.  🙂

stock-vector-colorful-vector-runner-silhouette-background-with-butterflies-152366162It is emphatically wonderful to announce this news, especially since I slowed my writing pace towards the very end of the story.  There was a vague sense of uncertainty plaguing me, despite knowing the ending and what needed to be written, there was an unexplainable fear to cross the marathon’s finish line.  Thankfully,  I pushed past that  foggy fear and made it to the other side of completion.


stock-vector-vector-illustration-of-transparency-of-start-and-finish-in-cartoon-style-158473007 Humbly, I begin another long marathon*.  Now my task at hand will be to transcribe my handwritten draft into computer files.  This step will not be nearly as exciting, or free flowing  as creating the story, and thus I anticipate many grumpy moments ahead at the laptop.   However, I’m equally impatient for the editing and rewriting/realigning to begin.   I’m not sure if this is a realistic goal or not, but I hope to have all of this accomplished, and a completed 1st/2nd draft by July 1st, so that I can rest the draft, and my memory of the story for a couple of months before nitpicking the heck out of it when my kids return to school.

*I suppose I should clarify that analogy and say half-marathon, for my book is an upper middle grade novel of roughly 45-50K words in length.

Everything is awesome…

Seriously, the new Lego Movie theme song has been continuously looping through my head for the last day.   YIKES!  So, here I am riding in on that awesomeness wave of optimism to reconnect with my blog.

Alas, lonely little Blog, I’ve been neglectful for far too long.  (Wow,  exactly 100 days to be precise!)

I’m happy to report that even though my blog has been void of words, my writing has not.  I didn’t finish November as a first-time,  National-Novel-Writing-Month(NaNoWriMo) “winner*,” but I did finish the month with a solid, and completed outline and well over 15,000 words “carved” into my current project, SKY, which currently stands at around 27K in words.


My “Wonder-Mom” Lego keychain figure…

My 2014 writing goal is/was to write everyday, and for the most part I’ve been following through and connecting in some tangible way with writing everyday.   There are a few poems that I’ve been fiddling around with,  that desperately need a lot more thought and time.  I’ve even come up with the very great, yet very naïvely awesome idea to submit to  Writers of the Future ( at some point during the year.

In January, I submitted two, equally “awesome” flash-fiction pieces.  So far, I’ve received one rejection, but no word on the other yet, so I’m hopefully and totally awesomely stoked either way.   Why?  Because it means two important things: I’m writing and I’m trying!!!  In the end that’s all I can do–try and put myself out there.


How’s the writing year going for you so far?  Awesome, yet?  There’s still time!!!

P.S. I know I used an awful lot of adverbs in this blog post, but really inserting the word “awesome” just seems to require heavy usage of LY-words.  🙂

*I’ll post more on this in October, if I can remember to do so. 😉


Last-minute NANO participant…eyeroll at self!!!


This project will be written entirely in longhand using notebooks(on purpose). Can you guess my favorite color? 😉

I had no intention to sign up for NANO–really!  In the last couple of years, I considered it briefly with the same intrigue someone might consider eating a basket of fried Oreos.   Interesting concept, but probably a really bad idea, that could lead to unpleasant distress.

November is the kick off to the holidays, right?  My kids have five scheduled school days off this month.   There are several birthdays and end-of-season sports parties to plan/attend.  And, let’s not forget the twenty-pound turkey that needs cooking with all the fixings…let alone the Christmas crazy haze that has already began in haste.   Whew!  That’s overwhelming!  But, you get an idea of why November is one of the worst months to immerge oneself into writing 50,000 words.

Unfortunately for me, I often don’t listen to the rational left-hemisphere of my brain.   I’m actually looking at this as an auspicious occurrence that was possibly meant to align at this very moment.  There is a trio of elements that flourished the NANO seed:

  1. The new project that I want to see in rough draft ASAP(  )
  2. I honestly can’t remember, too much coffee does this to me! Darn!  Ha!  How could I forget!  A major age-related milestone is coming up.
  3. A conversation hubby & I had Wednesday afternoon.

Without any doubt, it was that conversation that not only shone brightly on that little seed of NANO consideration, but soaked it until the roots were spreading quickly.   The conversation?  Well, it was the basic we-need-more-money lament.  But, when hubby finished with, “Why don’t you hurry up and finish that book and make us a million dollars?” I felt a belief in his words(maybe for the first time).  Perhaps it was merely desperate, temporary dreaming on his part, perhaps, yet I heard in his voice an undercurrent of hope and belief.  I needed that.  In that moment I knew I would push harder, try harder and struggle more.

I have been treading lightly; my footfalls have barely left an imprint.  I’m committing to the long hours and unrest of struggle, relenting to its beauty.   “Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” Frederick Douglass

There y’aIMG_8786ll go, that’s my “why” in a nutshell.  I don’t plan to blog this month unless something truly remarkable happens(fingers crossed).  If you’re curious enough to want to follow along with my month-long journey, please like my Facebook page: .  I’ll update my word counts there sporadically throughout the month.


I hope everyone had a safe and happy Halloween!

Where does a writing voice come from?


 Can voice be taught?  That is the question!

For weeks, I’ve been attempting to help navigate my twelve-year-old son with his assigned middle school writings.  This has not been an easy endeavor.  Evidently, It seems there is a new writing buzzword in our local schools: voice.  Students need to have their own unique, vibrant and creative voice, while actively engaging their readers.  That sounds great in theory, but in reality is this an easy concept to teach, let alone assess and grade based on a rubric checklist of conforming standards?

In the years past, my son did an okay job writing, getting by with putting together complete sentences–minus grammar and spelling errors.   If he had a writing style before, it was(still is) sparse, reticent and painfully to the point.  So when he writes, that is his voice, too–making the material seem obtuse and nowhere near engaging.   Alas, but that is his own writing voice.

In comparison, his slightly younger sister has brought home papers recently that exalt with praise of her “excellent voice.”   She wrote a small homework assignment on pork last week effortlessly, as my son and I banged our heads together for over an hour trying to add “voice” to his assignment.  In just a couple of paragraphs, she had an energized commentary that was both funny and persuasively moving(enough so that I felt a pang of guilt for sneaking bacon into her soup the previous night).

So, I’ve been thinking about the “writing voice” lately.   Can I even accurately articulate its meaning to my children?   What are the differences that might influence, or enhance a writing voice?  Regarding my children I’ve concluded the following:

  1.  My daughter loves reading, my son does not.
  2.  She does not fear(or care much) what others think of her, whereas my son does.
  3.  They have totally different personalities!

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.”
― Kurt Cobain

Hmmm, number two intrigues me.  I’ve been told that I have an “OK” writing voice.   But I don’t know how “OK” that voice would be if I’d not made it to that point in life where I cared more about expressing my own thoughts, than what others might think of those words(thoughts).  Perhaps voice becomes most potent when we let go of the fear of saying something wrong, and we speak with an authentic essence of self .  But, again, how can that be taught?  How can you teach someone to let go and be expressive without fear, especially young writers, and most especially young writers that don’t really want to be writers?

I believe a writing voice to be a fragile and subjective thing, that can’t quite be described, explained or captured by others.  My fear in trying to objectively grade subjective material, like a student’s writing voice, is that eventually a paradox is created, one where  we no longer seek a genuine and unique voice, but one that conforms to pre-determined, standardized criteria.  Thoughts!?!

Side Notes:

  • After three attempts of my son rewriting an English paper, while I figuratively baited, hooked and pulled personable responses out of him, the paper was finally accepted and highly scored, and surely contained a voice.
  • I started this blog post in draft form yesterday afternoon.  Ironically, and much to my chagrin, not long after, my first grader brought home her first graded writing rubric of the year.  She scored a 2/4 for her writing voice(yes, you need a voice in kindergarten and first grade nowadays).  And that is perfectly OK, so I’m not worried, at her tender age, spelling and punctuation take precedence.

When the dogs bark: listen!


Art sculpture is titled “Muddy Dog” and produced by a local artist that I’m rather fond of.

I started a new writing project last night. I know I had promised myself to stick it out with only one big story at a time–one novel and not to hopscotch around further dividing my limited writing time. But, the water began boiling many days ago. I honestly tried to put a lid on it, or ignore the flash of ideas, yet before I realized it– she had a name and a face and a heart full of pain.


So when I sat down to declutter the ever-growing paper mess at my writing desk, and casually retrieved a legal pad from the floor, in an instant I knew the only question was whether I’d use pencil or pen. The lid popped off the pot, the steam released.

When I finished the first entry(epistolary format), that pad literally vibrated in my hands. It held me as much as I physically held it. I didn’t want to go to sleep, afraid I’d lose that connection. No worries! In fact, or in spite of spending a rushed day out and about navigating everyday life(including work on a tooth’s crown), I’ve garnered a nice collection of napkins, receipts and Post-its scribbled with written material.

Back to the odd blog title: listen, don’t suppress! (Has anyone ever heard of such a saying before, or did I actually make it up?) Perhaps everything does have its own season and time, and moment of birth.  This could be the very right instant in time to write this one particular story.  I must listen!

A poem called “Shame”




News reports that I’m trafficked,
my heart denotes that it’s racketed.

Street owns me,
prostrates me,
bends me to knees,
for money that touches my hand, but never reaches my pocket.

Fettered and tethered in invisible chains,
puts me on display—but never seen.
That’s shame.

Mom hooked on crack and reefer,
allowed uncle to become my creeper.
In a haze she turned her gaze.

Wanted to be a teacher,
spent my nights daydreaming in books.
Now looking for a come up from the preacher,
reading street signs and the promise on the cigarette packs.

Easy prey, that’s what I was.
Not enough love at home to lift me up above,
the grip of a pimp.
That’s shame.

Need to escape.
Shooting up liquid heaven, can’t make the evade.
Crisscrossed wrist so scarred in lines,
my signs of dying to live.

I’m a commodity—an item, a purchase.
Change it!
No demand–no supply needed!

But, the Johns drive by.
Buy my time and my pain is your crime.
That’s shame.

I entered the above poem in the Library of Virginia’s Dark Side Writing Contest:  I did not win.  And I was OK with that, honestly the poem was a tad indecorous for library walls.  However, I felt the pulling, indignant urge to put it out there into the world nonetheless ( ).

There is now a People’s Choice Award vote, that is ongoing until October 5th for all of the prior contest entries.  So, if you have the time to browse through some fine poems and short fiction pieces, please have a look: !!!  Voting is super simple, and requires no login–merely a simple click.  My poem “Shame” is the seventh entry from the top(the photo icons seen in the right corner have entries posted as well).  However, please only vote for me if you’ve read other entries, but still liked my poem–no sympathy votes allowed.  😉

Today I can have a pumpkin frapp, or latte…

IMG_8327Today is fall.  I know we all know this fact, except for those that can profit from the gratuitous and preemptive, pre-extension of holidays.   For the last many weeks, commercially, Halloween, fall and even Christmas have been figuratively pushed down my throat.  Stressed by the almost never-ending list of back-to-school requirements, requests and requisitions of my time:  my mind has mutated this premature “let’s-get-ready-for-the-holidays” mindset into a beast that waits, attempting to insert itself into my already hustled back-to-school month.

So, I vented my rebellious indignation against this unwanted pressure in the only way I could think of:  boycotting.   Did Starbucks notice that I had sworn to not order a pumpkin Frappuccino or latte until fall?  No.  And, a local department store did not take down their Christmas decorations because I openly gawked in incredulous dismay.  For goodness sake,  it was very early September and I was shopping for back-to-school socks!   And yeah, just days ago, that was me shaking my head as I entered the local grocery store–the door was flanked with pumpkins on one side and watermelons on the other.   I bought the watermelon.   After all, I was still wearing flip-flops and it was still technically summer.   My right to enjoy a season or event in its proper time frame is being taken away–it’s being taken away from everyone.

Sometimes it feels like I’m running a marathon, making it to the last mile of the race and the welcome banner is being taken down–and a new race has already started without me.  The week before school and for a few weeks after, days are packed with deadlines, never-ending packets of paperwork, new schedules and myriad of other changes or commitments or demands that need tending to ASAP.   I want to be present for that reality and not be distracted by the impending onslaught of the next busy race.   I mean really, photos of pumpkin “frapps” proudly posted around Facebook the day before my kids even started the school year.

You might be asking, “what the heck does any of this have to do with a writing blog?”  Because I have been struggling, that’s why.   I have not worked on my current novel in over a month.  There I said it.  I feel a mix of shame and regret to admit that, but it is true nonetheless.   I could produce a hugely long list of things I did complete, or have almost completed, but I won’t.  Perhaps venting against the commercial industry is merely a self-soothing way to lessen my guilt at allowing my writing to fall victim to a busy month–or maybe not.

So now it is IMG_8282officially fall.  I can sense a return of “normalcy”(if that even exists).  My kids’ schedules & my volunteering days are plotted, their afterschool events aligned and routine(mostly),  the long back-to-school nights have come and gone, almost all of the paperwork avalanche has been completed and returned to school.  Now, I can return to writing and hopefully get back into a fitness routine, and organize the unorganized  remnants of summer,  but first I must tackle the laundry(yes, this is what just a few days of falling behind looks like)!!!  Oh, and my writing space, yet that is another blog posting  all together!


My first interview(kinda)…

Well, I was interviewed once, by a very rural newspaper when I won first place in a recipe contest.   That was cool, but my writing Q & A interview was a surprisingly awesome experience.   Feel free to check it out, there’s a lot of writing tips and ideas included, and perhaps more personal insights than I should have divulged.


The above books I ordered with some of the winning-prize money!

The naming game…


Last week my writing hit a wall!  That wall was made of colorful Post-its, pinned to the cork board above my writing desk.   I had come to the point in the story where I could no longer get by with general, generic names–those given out in the initial pursuit of practicality and momentum.

As I introduced my leading character’s sidekick, this became painfully obvious.   The words were stifled and lacking, because an element of liveliness was missing.  My character was ready to live and breathe–yet could not!  Hence, he needed to be named, like all things that are created.  (Actually, he still needs to be named.)

From this fantasy story’s earliest conception, he has been called simply: “Red man”.   (Rest assured that this is not an ethnic reference, more of a literal observation.)  Similarly, other characters had/have temporary pet names, take Yoda-like man for example(short, wise and speaks his mind).  So, I pulled out the baby-naming books and my overflowing “name” file, which holds scraps of papers scribbled with various names and words.  Those names are found(stolen) from books, magazines, movies, the shoe boxes at Kohl’s, name tags of workers and even the yearly unclaimed money/property register.  Names are truly everywhere–you just have to be open to receiving them.  I do, however draw the line at searching the obituaries!

Again, I’m at a standstill.  I need the name.  A solid and strong name, perhaps a name from long ago that can be resurrected and recycled.

I’d love to hear from other writers!  What is your character-naming process like?  I’m especially curious as to the naming process for fantasy and/or other uncommon world genres.