A Good Mother Would’ve . . .

It’s February again, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. I’m sure the holiday is welcomed by romantics, but not so much by this clutter-minded momma of four. Especially not this year: It’s my youngest child’s last year in elementary school. My baby girl is growing up. There’s to be no more class parties where sticky-cupcake fingers exchange obliged valentines. Bittersweet. I’m trying to maintain a semblance of parenting perspective.

Two years ago, when my daughter was a third grader, she taught me a lesson in planning ahead—being prepared. I was in the kitchen, hurriedly slopping together a late dinner when she said, “Momma, don’t forget I have to take in a decorated box with my valentines tomorrow.”

“Valentines?” I rummaged through a stack of school papers on the counter: Father-Daughter Dance invite, spiritwear order, the soon-to-be-late soccer physical, donation requests, and an urgent plea for Box Tops. Near the bottom, I found it. I glanced over at the calendar. Darn it. She was right. But in my mind, Valentine’s Day was still floating faraway in next week somewhere. A good mother would’ve remembered.

I turned down the stove, then rummaged through the recycling bins until I found a shoebox. I plopped the box on the table and reminded my daughter where she could find the construction paper, glue, and tape. I returned to cooking while she assembled her shoebox—unaided, other than help with the scissors. She patched her box in various shades of blue and created a kitten of sorts on the top; its mouth cut open to receive the cards. It was simply beautiful, completed all on her own. But still, we had no Valentine’s Day cards. It was very cold outside, and I’d just spent two hours at the grocery store not four hours earlier. So we ate our dinner and went to bed. A good mother would’ve run to the store for valentines or stayed up late making homemade hearts.

The next morning, after I got the high-schooler fed and out the door, it was time to wake the middle-schooler. My first daughter. Some mornings she’s delightful and thoughtful, but some days, like this day, she was totally unreasonable. From wanting to wear shorts in eighteen-degree weather to the food she was not going to eat, everything was a battle. By the time her carpool ride pulled up, I was emotionally drained and still wearing pajamas. That’s when my third grader ambled down the stairs, rubbing sleep from her eyes. I remembered then! Hastily, I got us ready and out the door. No time for breakfast. A good mother would’ve made the time.

At the nearest store, the boxed valentines were nearly picked clean. It’s no longer acceptable to give out just valentine cards; kids expect candy now, too. We continued looking, hoping. Most of the remaining valentine-candy combo kits had the dreaded warning: “May contain peanuts or tree-nuts.” Finally, I spied a lovely box of “Tootsie Pop Valentines.” The ingredients read safe! I smiled down at the promising, colorful images that plastered the packaging: butterflies threaded with sucker sticks. Simple, but cute. We checked out and left hurriedly—and hungry. I’d forgotten to buy a package of string cheese and mini muffins like I’d planned. A good mother wouldn’t have let serendipitous luck derail her plans.

We stopped at McD’s to eat and label the valentines. We walked carefully in the parking lot, avoiding icy patches, only to realize at the door that I’d forgotten the class list and permanent marker in the car. After navigating the ice again, finally, we settled into a booth near the cashier counter. I left my daughter at the table to start assembling the cards and suckers while I ordered. After paying, I looked over and saw her making funny faces—arms waving wildly. And then startling words reached over the short distance that separated us, “There’s no cards! Only candy!”

I slid the tray of food onto our table, and then studied the sucker box. Near one of the endearing butterfly images, in the tiniest of print it read: “Use your own cut outs with the enclosed pops.” I had nothing but a box of regular suckers. I turned one over in my hand, hoping for a writable place on the wrapper, but nothing. Time was ticking loudly in my head now. I looked at my disappointed daughter’s face and wondered if skipping school would be an acceptable option. Damn it. “Okay, look. This is what we have—suckers and a Sharpie—and we’re gonna have to make it work. Write the names on the white sticks of each sucker.” She printed the miniature names as instructed, while I marked each completed child off the list. Our food sat on the tray getting cold.

Fifteen minutes later, I was driving us to school, sipping my cold coffee at the lights. My daughter finished her breakfast sandwich. Time still seemed doable—maybe we’d only be slightly late. But then, I turned the corner and saw the surprising line of minivans and SUVs. I pulled to the side of the road. “Let’s walk,” I said. We jogged instead. A good mother would’ve anticipated the loads of box-carrying kids not riding the bus.

I got my third grader to the school door just before the bell rang. She flashed me a sweet goodbye smile. I watched until she disappeared into the long hallway, then turned and headed back to my car. While walking through the parking lot, I noticed some things: shouting mothers pulling their kids along, late kids popping out of minivans, and several little red faces streaked with tears. Many carried elaborately decorated valentine boxes that were just too perfect, too precise. Too pink. My child went to school happy with her self-made blue box, filled with unadorned suckers. Even though I’d goofed in preparing for Valentine’s Day, it got done. And maybe my daughter learned a few things too: improvisation, making do, and just how to go with the flow. Cluttered mind or not, a good Mother did well.


This year’s box.


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 surely 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 brazenly unique in the special stuff. Intrigue the reader into the tale. Don’t hold back. Make me extremely curious!

Keep the words simple, but the thoughts so precisely complex and revealing that they belong only to this story, character, and/or moment in time. 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 beginning, should offer a promise. A timeless connection between the reader and the writer (or narrator) should offer an invisible contract of whispered truths to come.

Personally, I prefer first-person narration in stories (and most of my writing). Less than a handful of the above-mentioned books were written in third-person POV. But maybe that’s just me. Interesting though!


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 drafting my current project, Sky.

Speaking of Sky, I’m in the process of its transcription into computer files, as well as drafting and expanding the story along the way. My goal is to be done with this process around the time school starts, and then move onto a hearty round of editing.

The poem I posted last year on this site, “Shame,” will be published the week of August 24th via a great site: http://www.thevoicesproject.org! 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 plagiarized it off my site (It happens!).

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 naïve 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, for fun and 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:
Twitter @ShermieRayne


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 unkind.

Well, it is sort of “the end!” 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 acquired accomplishment bubbling inside. 🙂

It is emphatically wonderful to announce this news, especially since I’d slowed my writing pace toward the end. There was a vague sense of uncertainty plaguing me. Despite knowing the ending and what needed to be written, an unexplainable fear held me from crossing the marathon’s finish line. Thankfully, I pushed past that fogginess and made it to completion.stock-vector-colorful-vector-runner-silhouette-background-with-butterflies-152366162But in reality, I just began another long *marathon. Because now my task will be to transcribe my handwritten draft into computer files. This step will not be nearly as exciting. Let’s just say I hated typing class in high school. A lot! I anticipate many grumpy moments ahead at the laptop. However, I’m equally impatient for the editing and rewriting/revising 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 draft, by July 1st. I want to rest the files a few months before nitpicking the heck out of them when my kids return to school. Plus, summers are so important to me. I cherish that time with my kids.



*I suppose I should clarify and say a 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 end the month with a solid outline and well over 15,000 words for my current project, SKY. Presently, I’m at 27K in words.



My “Wonder-Mom” Lego keychain figure…

My 2014 writing goal is/was to write every day, and for the most part I’ve followed through, connecting in some tangible way with writing. There are a few poems that I’ve been fiddling around with—all desperately need a lot more thought and time. 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 hopeful and totally awesomely stoked either way. Why? Because it means two important things:
I’m writing
I’m trying!!!

In the end. that’s all I can do—try and put myself/writing out there. So that’s awesome!

P.S. 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. 🙂



Last-minute NaNoWriMo Participant!


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 NANOWRIMO. In the past, I’d considered it briefly with the same intrigue someone might consider eating fried Oreos. Interesting concept, but probably a really bad idea that could lead to unpleasant distress.

November begins the holidays, right? My kids have five scheduled school days off this month. There are several family birthdays and those end-of-season sports parties to plan/attend. And, let’s not forget the twenty-pound turkey that needs cooking with all the fixings. And that Christmas craziness that the stores started pushing before Halloween. Whew! Overwhelming! November is one of the worst months to delve into writing 50,000 words. Or, is it?  http://nanowrimo.org/

Often, I don’t listen to the rational hemisphere of my brain. So, I’m actually looking at this as an auspicious occurrence, that was possibly meant to align despite difficulty. I’m always looking for signs. And there have been a few that watered the NANOWRIMO seed:

  1. A new project that I want to see in rough draft ASAP! https://shermierayne.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/when-the-dogs-bark-listen/
  2. 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 growing seed, 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 actually felt belief in his words (maybe for the first time). Perhaps it was merely a desperate, temporary dreaming lapse on his part. Yet, I heard in his voice an undercurrent of hope and confidence. I needed that. In that moment, I knew I would push harder, try harder, and struggle more. And not for the possible selling of a book that might someday make a little money, but because I had a believer.

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

There y’all go, that’s my “why” to NANOWRIMO. I don’t plan to blog this month unless something truly remarkable happens (fingers crossed). If you’re curious and want to follow along with my month-long NANOWRIMO journey, please like my Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/ShermieRayne?ref=hl . I’ll update my running word count there! @ShermRayneIMG_8786


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 my twelve-year-old son with his assigned middle-school writings. This has not been an easy endeavor. “He lacks voice.” So I’m told. Evidently, there’s a new writing buzzword in our local schools: voice. Students need to have their own unique, vibrant, and creative voice to engage their reader/teacher. This sounds great in concept, but in reality, is this an easy skill to teach? Let alone assess and grade based on a rubric checklist full of conforming standards?

In the past years, my son did an okay job writing, getting by with putting together complete sentences that were error-free. If he had a writing style before, it was (still is) sparse, reticent, and painfully to the point. He’s a quiet person. That’s his voice, too. Maybe to the teacher, the material seems obtuse and nowhere near engaging, but, alas, that is his own, unique writing voice.

In comparison, his slightly younger sister brought home papers exalted in praise of her “excellent voice.” She wrote a short homework assignment on pork last week effortlessly, while 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, my daughter 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). But that’s her personality too. It wasn’t taught, but rather, organically filtered into her writing.

So, I’ve been thinking about writing voice lately. Can I even articulate its meaning to my kids? What are the differences that might influence, or enhance voice? Regarding my children, I’ve observed 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. Perhaps voice becomes most potent when we let go of the fear of saying something wrong. 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 write?

I believe writing voice to be a fragile and subjective thing, that can’t quite be described, explained, or forced. My fear in schools objectively grading subjective material, like a student’s writing voice, is that eventually a paradox is created. One where being genuine to self and expressing a unique voice is graded against conforming, standardized criteria. Thoughts!?!


Side Notes:

  • My son rewrote his English paper three times, while I baited, hooked, and pulled personable responses out of him. The paper was finally accepted and highly scored—hopefully containing enough voice.
  • Not long after drafting this post, my first-grader brought home her first writing assignment of the year. The graded rubric scored her a 2/4 for writing voice. (Yes, you need voice in kindergarten and first grade nowadays). And that is perfectly okay, because I read it and graded the story with hugs and kisses to the moon and back.

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—and not to hopscotch around, dividing my limited writing time. But, the pot of thoughts began boiling many days ago. I honestly tried to put a lid on it, ignoring the flashing of ideas. Yet before I realized it, my main character 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 desk, my hand casually retrieved a legal pad from the floor. In an instant, I knew the only question was whether I’d use pencil or pen to start writing. The lid had popped off the pot, releasing the steam.

After I’d finished scribbling out the first entry (epistolary), the paper literally vibrated in my hands—holding 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, in spite of spending a rushed day running about, including work on a dental crown, the story is still strong. I garnered a nice collection of napkins, receipts, and Post-its scribbled with written material.

So, when the dogs are barking or the pot of water is boiling, pay attention. Listen, don’t suppress! Perhaps everything does have its own season and time. Maybe this is the very right moment in time to write this one particular story. I will listen and write!

A Poem: “Shame”






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

Street owns me, prostrates.
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. Never to be seen.
That’s shame.

Wanted to be a teacher,
daydreamed my nights in books.
Now waits for a sandwich from the preacher,
while reading street signs
and the promise on cig’ packs.

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

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

Need to escape.
Shooting up liquid heaven,
can’t make the evade.
Arms marked in lines;
My scars 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.



Today I can have a pumpkin latte . . .


It’s officially fall. We all know this, except for those that profit from the gratuitous, pre-extension of holidays. For many weeks, commercially, Halloween, fall, and even Christmas, have been pre-emptively pushed down my throat. Stressed by the never-ending list of back-to-school requirements and requests, my mind has mutated this pre-mature “let’s get ready for the holidays” mindset into a beast that waits, ready to insert itself into my busy back-to-school month.

So, I vented my indignation against this unwanted pressure in the only way I could think of: boycotting. Did Starbucks notice that I had sworn off anything pumpkin flavored until true fall? No. And the local department store did not take down their Christmas decorations because I openly gawked in dismay. (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, entering the grocery store. Its doors flanked with pumpkins on one side and watermelons on the other. I bought the watermelon out of rebellion. After all, I was still wearing summer flip-flops. My right to enjoy a season or holiday in its proper time frame is being taken away.

Sometimes it feels like I’m running a race and just as I near the end banner, it’s being taken down and replaced for the next race. One that has already started without me. The week before school, and for a couple weeks after, days are packed with deadlines, never-ending packets of paperwork, new schedules/commitments, and a myriad of other changes that need tending to ASAP. I need to be present and focused for that onslaught, not distracted by the next busy race. I mean really, pumpkin spice is in everything food now, starting as early as July.

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’m diverting my frustrations toward the poor pumpkins that represent so much hurry. And, 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’s true nonetheless. I could produce a long list of things I did complete, or have almost completed, but won’t. Perhaps venting against the commercial industry is merely a self-soothing way to lessen my guilt while allowing my writing to fall victim to a busy month. Eh, but still.

IMG_8282So now, it is officially fall. I can sense a return to “normalcy” in the household (if that even exists). My kids’ schedules & my volunteering days are plotted. Their afterschool events are aligned, the long back-to-school nights have come and gone, and the avalanche of back-to-school paperwork has been completed and returned. Now, I can return to writing. But first, I must tackle the laundry (this is what just a few days of falling behind looks like)!!! Oh, and my writing space—that is another blog posting all together though! IMG_8612



My first interview (kinda) . . .

Well, I was interviewed once by a very rural newspaper. I’d won first place in a national recipe contest. That was a cool experience, but my author Q & A interview with WOW! was surprisingly awesome. Feel free to check it out! There are some writing tips included, and perhaps more personal insights than I should’ve divulged. Here!


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