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Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Illusion of Balance

Probably the question people ask me the most is How do you do it?  How do you balance everything? How can you be both a teacher and a writer?

And even though I've answered this question hundreds (yes) of times, my answer really isn't that good.  I don't actually know how to do it all.  Most of the time, I struggle.

I love being a teacher. There is something so incredible about living a life dedicated to the future of our world. Everyday, I get to see evidence that what I do is making a difference in the lives of children.  It's

And I love being a writer.  Being able to conjure something in my imagination, being able to put it into words and having those words be the right words is a puzzle that I can't stop playing with. Knowing that the stories I write are read by children in schools or to children as they lie in bed each night makes my heart soar.

But these two endeavors take time.  And we all get the same amount of time. I don't get more time than anyone else, so I struggle with how to stretch my time to accommodate my two passions. And with that stretching comes the understanding that sometimes (most of the time) I have to let other things go.

I've been deep into drafting a new novel.  I thought the last novel I wrote (SECRETS OF SELKIE BAY in case you were wondering) was HARD, but this new one, this strange sci-fi story that eleven year-old me won't give up on, is HARDER. I started it in 2013. I wrote 10 pages and stopped, then revisited in May of 2014 and have been deep into it since. But pouring so much of my soul into getting these words right means there is less of that soul left for other things. One of those things that I've had to give up a bit is my blog.  Aauugghh. It makes me so sad when I open my blog (which is where I always click onto my twitter) and see that I've not posted in weeks.  And although I really appreciate it when people read my blog (THANK YOU!!), my blog's true purpose is for self-reflection.  It is a web-log of my journey, both as a writer and as a teacher.

I hate when I have to let that kind of think-time go. It makes my head jumbly and forgetful.

But, as I said, there is only so much time.

And if you are wondering if my house is messy, it is.  Dinners are MUCH simpler right now. If it weren't for crock-pot Mondays and salad Wednesdays, we'd probably starve.  

This time of year it gets extra tricky because of Christmas (which I love). I have decorated, but with a lighter hand this year. I had to cut myself some slack.

I think that is probably what I am trying to get at here, what I am trying to reflect on more for myself so that I can understand and embrace it.  There is not enough time to do it ALL. There just isn't.

So I have to cut myself slack.

There is so much more I want to say about this, about how I basically get to watch NO TV, how reading is the most luxurious treat--but only if I finish my daily word count, how I have actually hit my head on my desk falling asleep trying to write more (but the next day finding out it was jibberish anyway), but I am running out of time. Again. This post was supposed to be filled with advice about how to manage a life such as this. Obviously I am in no position to give advice. Ha.

I guess all I can say is, when you are trying to balance your life, cut yourself some slack.

That is how I balance my life.  With slack. (How do YOU manage it?)




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankfulness (and no whining)

 I am thankful that I even get to write books at all.  I mean, it really is an honor to be a part of the world of children's literature, to create stories and books for kids---it's just really the best.

But I do whine about it sometimes.  I whine that I don't have enough time to write.  I whine that what I am working on is "hard" and that revising it is "hard".  I whine that I am too tired sometimes to put a word on the page after a day of teaching school then coming home and being a mom. I whine because my characters decide to do things other than what I'd planned for them, or worse, when my characters do nothing at all and I have to keep throwing things at them to get some kind of authentic action.  Man, I do whine about that a lot.

I whine when I lack inspiration because it feels like the muse is giving me nothing--and then I whine when I am inspired, SO INSPIRED, because the muse has given me a ton but I don't know where to begin.

I whine because it takes me a long time to be satisfied with what I am creating and I wish I was faster. (I whine to myself about this almost daily.)

Whine, whine, whine.

But tonight, the evening before Thanksgiving, I will not whine that the pie crust is not made because my characters cannot decide how they are escaping from an secret library underneath Mont St. Michel. Nope. No whining (even though they are driving me crazy!!)  I am remembering to be thankful.  I am so fortunate that the stories from my heart are finding their way into the lives of children.

It's just really the best thing ever.



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pep Talks I Give Myself

*Who am I kidding?  I cannot write this kind of book. I don’t even know the kind of book I can write, but it is not this. Maybe I should just give it up.  Okay, fine. I give up. BUT THEN WHAT??  What then would I write?

*What story calls from my soul, demanding to be told?  That is tough to find sometimes.  But keep looking. Keep listening.  It will be worth it.

*Do not lose faith.  Each story is its own entity.  It cannot be anything other than itself, just as you cannot be anything other than yourself.  

*Right now, it’s just about continuing.  The ability to make this happen.  The ability to reach the end.  That is all it is about right now. Continuing.

*When I have scenes that I don’t want to write, it is usually because I have lost my voice somehow—I no longer know what/how to say it. Find the voice again and the words will come. 

*Having compassion for ourselves and where we are is one of the most important things. Do not forget.

*It is amazing how 238 little words can bring me such hope and joy.  And it will allow me to write the next bit because I know that this bit exists.

Hoping these words bring you a little encouragement if you find yourself needing it.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Scary Books for October

I don't know what the deal was, but I ended up reading three scary middle-grade novels right in a row this summer.  Each made my spine tingle in a different way.  I started with:
Great cover, yes?
This book puts the creep in creepy.  I remember thinking as I read it in July that is would be a perfect October read--it totally screams Fall.  It's author, J.A. White, also managed several surprises in this book which blew me away.

I adore this cover, too.  Something about the branches...
The first page of this book completely captivated me.  I could NOT put it down.  And yeah, it is best read during the daylight hours if you are a chicken like me. Well done, Aaron Starmer!

Again with the branches.  I am a sucker for branches.
This one took me far away--incredibly mysterious circumstances.  And Jonathan Auxier managed to make me care about his characters from the get-go, which them made me want them to GET OUT OF THAT HOUSE NOW!  But of course, they didn't. *cue evil laughter*

Anyway, if you are looking for a book filled with suspense and chills, you can't go wrong with THE THICKETY, THE RIVERMAN, or THE NIGHT GARDENER.

Happy reading!



Sunday, September 28, 2014

What I Am Working on Right Now

It is not unusual for me to work on multiple projects at a time.  Right now I am working on FOUR!  But since they are not all in the same genre, it seems to work out okay.

1. Picture Book--This books is about a narwhal.  I love narwhals and have been dying to write one into a picture book.  Right now, I have gone two different directions with the same narwhal character in two separate manuscripts.  I am just not sure which one is better.  Yet.  I will eventually.  That is the thing about picture books--like a fine wine, you have to give them time to breathe.  I have opened the cork on these two attempts, and they smell pretty good right now, but I am only going to use one of them, so I have to wait and see which will end up tasting better.

2. Easy Reader--I am SO excited about this book--well, this is actually a planned series.  It is a book with friendship at the heart of it, kind of like Frog and Toad (which I LOVE!).  But my characters are NOT very Frog and Toad-like, which makes it different in all the right ways.  I have one of the books completed, but after a few conversations, it was decided that they needed an "origin" story, so that is what I am working on now.

3. Chapter Book-If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that I am dying to write a chapter book.  (It's the kind of books that happens between an easy reader and a middle grade novel.) Seeing as I have written both in the past, it seems logical (to me, anyway) that I should be able to write this type of book, too.  Also, I teach third grade, which is a hotbed of chapter book love.  It would please me so much to write something accessible to the majority of my students (my middle grade novels are a little too hard for some.) Anyway, I have been waiting for the right vehicle, the right idea to come along that I could work with in this format.Finally!!! IT IS HERE!!

4. Middle Grade- I am about half way through a middle-grade sci-fi that is warming my little eleven year-old heart.  Growing up, I was shaped by Lost in Space, Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Gallactica, the X-filess (okay, I watched this as a grown up, but still).  I have been wanting to write something out of the box for myself, take some real chances and write the book that my younger self needed.  But here is the rub:  It has been HARD!  I have struggled with the voice, just recently deciding to change the point of view.  Climbing out of the little, comfortable Celtic box I've built for myself is risky.  But worth it, I think.

So, here are a few pictures that I find inspiring as I work on this stuff. I am not going to tell you which picture inspires which book--you can figure that out on your own!


Saturday, September 13, 2014

What's New, Pussycat?

I am slowly crawling out of the craziness that is my life at the beginning of the school year.  I seem to have a mental block against remembering how I manage to get everything in the classroom (and out of the classroom) into the "groove." Daily schedules, packing lunches, dinner time, homework--those kinds of things, always throw me for a loop.  I never seem to recall how long it takes me to be able to sit and take a deep breath again.

But things have calmed down a bit (not really, actually--spent yesterday in the ER with my teen, as it were) and I am finally ready for Fall*.

That being said, I have a few AUTUMNAL ANNOUNCEMENTS (nifty alliteration, I know.)

First off, here is the cover for my latest book, out in March.  Are you ready?  It is so adorable!!  It is a picture book about a very cute but subversive kitten.

Wait for it.....

Wait for it......

Ta Da!!

Oh, Kitten!  I do so love you!
The pictures were done by Lori Nichols.  She is awesome!! Here is her website if you want to check out some more of her stuff: .  Maple, which came out this Spring, was just so sweet.  I am anxiously waiting for her follow-up, Maple and Willow.

Second, I wanted to let you know that if you are interested in booking me for a school visit, my contact information has changed,  Please contact Catherine Balkin at  She is taking care of visits for me this year, which will be a great help, believe me. I've only a few spots available during the school year (since I am a teacher, too!), so let Catherine know soon if this is something you are pondering.  She has information regarding the types of performances offered (anything thing from wacky storytelling with puppets to more authorly types of things for older audiences).  Again, my availability during the year is pretty small and my calendar fills up quickly.

That's it for today!  

Hope you are getting into your Fall groove!


*Hey, SoCal, if you could change the weather a bit, you know, make it a little less hellishly hot, that would be awesome. Thanks!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The End is Near (the end of Summer, that is)

Sorry the blog has been so quiet!  I meant to post  Story Schools 8 and 9  while I was away, but it didn't work out the way I had planned.  Sometimes Blogger is fun like that.  Oh well.

Anyway, you guys hit it out of the park on the last Story School.  So many different types of superheroes!  I couldn't choose a favorite if I tried.  But I will tell you that Celery Man has a very unusual power and you don't want to meet him if you are chowing down on junk food, and Star Baby is downright adorable, but watch out for the tantrums!  Oh, and the battle between The Pinkie and The Goldfish has to go down in the record books as one of the strangest things ever!!

And there was one piece, a poem, about what it really means to be a hero that tugged at my heart.  This young writer made me think about heroism in a new way.  Well done.

The school year is knocking on the door here, and some of you have already gone back. Can you believe how quickly the summer has gone?  I can't.  I mean, I just can't.  The other day I was in JoAnn Fabrics and they were selling CANDY CORN by the register!!  My first Candy Corn sighting of the season.  It was only August 8!!  (I wonder what Celery Man would have to say about that!!)

But I did manage to accomplish some of my summer goals, which is a good thing.

I did watch a desert sunset:
From the review mirror.  New Mexico sunsets are the best.
And I made it to the Santa Fe Opera:

The view from my seat before sunset.  Just to the left is the stage.  Those folks down there are just enjoying the awesomeness.
 And I rode in the tiny tram car to the top of a mountain:

The mountain was HIGH and Cali and Sean hiked the La Luz trail to meet us at the top.  Yes, they are beasts!
And I ate a cronut but I didn't get a picture because I ate it too fast.

I got to see one of my covers (for NO, NO, KITTEN) and the design but not finished product for SECRETS OF SELKIE BAY. Hopefully I'll have stuff to show you soon.

And...I got to breathe.  Lots of wide open spaces and big skies really helped me out some. 

So, not too bad--didn't get to Catalina yet, but that was mostly due to heat.  It has been HOT here.  It was actually cooler in New Mexico than it was here in SoCal for most of August.  

Now I feel like I can face my WIP draft again.  At least I hope I can.