National Parks Birthday – 100 Years Old Today! (Yellowstone National Park)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, U.S. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE!

I took Stu Patterfoot to visit Yellowstone National Park. This was the first US National Park, signed by an Act by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. The park is mostly within the state of Wyoming, but also covers parts of Idaho and Montana.

It displays many geothermal features, like Hot Springs and Old Faithful Geyser, which Stu is sitting in front of. Besides the unique land features, there is also an abundance of wildlife.

This park, particularly is near and dear to me because long ago, between college semesters, I spent a summer in the park. I was a cabin maid at Mammoth Hot Springs.  This was my first time seeing mountains up close, and took me nearly two weeks before I no longer felt like I was walking inside a picture. The entire summer was one wild adventure. Back then, there were a few times at work when my maid-partner and I waited inside a cleaned cabin to allow a bear or bear family to wander on past us before we deemed it safe enough to dash to the next cabin to clean.

Although I haven’t added geothermal features to any of my stories (yet), nor bison or many of the hundreds of unique experiences or near-misses I experienced that summer working in Yellowstone, all my adventures are stored with many of them sneaking into my characters’ adventures. I strongly encourage you all to get out and experience nature, over and over again. The National Park Service has over 400 “units” to explore. (https://www.nps.gov/index.htm) This is our country.

I’ll now return you to your regularly scheduled author writing posts. Keep on writing.

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One Week From Writers’ Conference

Next week at this time I’ll be on an island in northern Michigan for our SCBWI fall writers’ conference along with Arthur Levine and Jodell Sadler, just to name-drop a couple of speakers. I also will be on a panel discussing non-traditional publication and epublication. No pressure.

It’s a five-hour drive up there, a ferry ride across to the island, and staying in a hotel twice as expensive than what I’d normally spend. Will it be worth it? Every minute and every penny!

Besides the incredible amount of knowledge intake from an event like this, there are the reunions with writers and illustrators I haven’t seen for a while and the networking and meeting of new comrades. The excitement builds. So do my worries. Even a seasoned conference-goers like myself has some concerns. Will I make the right travel connections? Will the travel weather and the island weather be lovely, horrid, or not matter?  Will I bring too much, too little? Will I be able to speak without having a cotton ball throat, even to greet people, or want to hide in my room?

I therefore share two important things to know when attending a writers’ conference: 1) It’s not about you; and 2) It’s all about you.

For the first point, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing cute shoes. Really. It doesn’t matter that you feel insecure about a thousand things. Only you will know that. Every other honest person would admit the same. You will need to step outside of worrying about the way you look or speak or act, and try to set yourself free for the weekend. Breathe deeply. You are there for your written words (or illustrations). Quit looking in a mirror. Straighten up. Stand tall. Remember, it’s not about you.

For the second point, it really is all about you, or rather what you represent. You are at the conference not only to learn, but also to connect with others in similar positions as you. The world of writing and illustrating for kids is a wonderful avocation/vocation with dynamic people who care — care about fellow writers and illustrators, and care about our readers. We’re all in this together. Reach out to others. Talk. Share. Reflect. Take home ways to better your craft  and to proceed into a lifetime of this twisting and changing and wonderfully spinning career choice. Remember, it’s all about you.

Mackinac Island SCBWI-MI 2014 Conference, look out! Here we come!

 

My SCBWI-MI Children’s Garden

Literature Blogs

We’re coming up to the one-year anniversary of the storm which damaged our house and yard and lives. (News Flash: The last dumpster just left our neighborhood only a week ago! Hallelujah!)

After the 2011 Memorial Weekend Storm, a SCBWI friend (waves to Ruth) suggested on our listserv that we Carlsons could use money. I didn’t know that was coming. I was humbled by the response of three writing strangers from SCBWI-MI (waves to Valerie, Ginny, and ABC — forgive me, ABC; I can’t remember the name of generous person #3). Also, another MI writer (waves to Ann) sent me a box of irises, one which has already bloomed!

With our house broken for nearly six months, and our yard still needy, it was difficult to decide what to do with these special monetary gifts from my writer friends. Instead of using the money to replace food or for cleaning supplies, I decided to start a SCBWI-MI Children’s Garden around my yard. I worked at the Battle Creek Children’s Garden for a while, so I didn’t lack inspiration. Here is what I have done and planned so far:

That I can now grow sun-craving veggies in my yard goes without saying — only, I just said it. I’ll have a salsa garden and maybe a pizza garden.  How about a sunflower house, anyone? (These are still in the works as the soil warms up enough for those summer crops.)

I bought seven stepping-stones to make a rainbow walk among my hostas and irises on the north side of the house, where there is actually shade. We went from 90% shade to 90% sun in just about ten seconds. Each time I pass, I go out of my way to walk the rainbow . It lightens my heart.

I made a smiley face accent with a grass walkway separating the “mouth” from the rest of the garden area (mostly irises at the moment) on the east side of the house. Inside the smile are roses, peonies, more irises, and a tall purple perennial I can’t remember the name of right now, either. I’ll call it LMN, since I know it starts with an L. I think it starts with an L.

At the top of our little western hill, next to what used to be a wooded lot, I’ve started Daffodil Hill. The twenty bulbs I planted there last fall looked stunning this spring, and reminded me of SCBWI-MI whenever I saw them.

Of course, there is the start of The Animal Garden, with tiger lilies and lamb’s ear beneath the dogwood tree. I have an elephant’s ear planted off to the side since it’s supposed to grow rather bushy.

Finally, is my chocolate garden. I already have chocolate mint, which, as a writer, I must say is a rather verbose plant. I plan on getting brown and black flowers to bloom at different times through the season, with maybe some white chocolate blooms sprinkled in there, too. I will mulch that section with cocoa bean shells. Yummy.

Thank you, SCBWI-MI. You have my heart.

 

Non Conference Goers Alternative

Literature Blogs

This weekend is our local SCBWI chapter’s annual fall conference — for the first time, it was held on Mackinac Island. (Heaving a long, wishful sigh.) For about a month, chatter on our listserv has been mostly about the upcoming conference. Since about three-fourths of the chapter members are not at the conference, I thought I’d start a discussion on the listserv about what books we each are reading. The responses plum made me grin. Writing is about so much more than writing, or even reading for that matter, but it’s a start. There were books others mentioned which I’d been meaning to read and now have been given that extra nudge. Community. We may write alone, but we are not alone. Even though we 200+ were not on the idyllic island, trying to pay attention to dynamic and inspirational speakers, we are still connected, as writers, as readers, as adventurers.

Today, I finished a Louis L’Amour book (not in my writing genre, but it’s essential to read out of your genre now and then). I also am reading through THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron, taking one chapter per week as the book suggests, in order to unblock my blocked creativity. Of course, several of the suggestions in her book would work best if I were a monk, uninvolved in this ole world.

So…? What books are you reading at the moment?

Tight Writing

 Literature Blogs

I must gather my thoughts (and notes) from this past weekend’s SCBWI-MI writers conference. Lots of great stuff to allow to soak in. I’ll pass on my notes soon. In the meantime… We all hear about how important it is to have tight writing. Here is an excellent example:

A university creative writing class was asked to write a concise essay containing these four elements:
1) religion
2) royalty
3) sex
4) mystery

The prize-winning essay read:
“My God,” said the Queen. “I’m pregnant. I wonder who did it?”

Self-Published v.s. Waiting for the Traditional Press

 Literature Blogs

I had lunch today with a self-published children’s book author who has written and published three picture books, three middle school books, and will have his first young adult book published this December. He already has orders for 1,000 copies of the YA book. He travels throughout the USA, presenting a highly energetic, entertaining, and musically talented school visit.

Anytime we get together (he is a local author), and he happens to read parts of my WIP (whichever I may be working on or wish to share), he is impressed with how well I write. He says I am a much better writer than he. I humbly tend to agree, since I am associated with SCBWI, been in several critique groups through the years, have had numerous critiques with agents and editors, and am constantly improving my craft. Whereas, he tends to write for himself and doesn’t take a critique very well, although he may tend to disagree with that statement.  This author keeps trying to talk me into self-publishing. I keep telling him, “No, thanks.” So what is my hold-up?

1) Fortitude. I want what I write to last beyond my lifetime. I want my stories to be published by others who will continue the story long after I’m dead. Only a traditional publishing house would do that. My friend not only self-publishes, he self-promotes, self-markets, arranges his travel and hotel and meals for school visits, and carts all his books in his van on his tours. Who will do all that for his books when he dies?

2) Editors. I want a professional who is trained in literacy and experienced in what is excellent to look over my writings, to make them the best I (we) can make them.

3) Money. Time and money have always been deciding factors in things which I do. I haven’t got the money to put forth for a self-publishing adventure.

I am glad for my friend. He is happy with what he is doing. As I mentioned, he is highly entertaining, and kids love his visits, and he does encourage children to read and to write. Plus, many literary authors are rather dull speakers. (Rats! I know I’ve just offended thousands of friends. Double-dog-rats!)

Even though he is making a rather good living at what he does, and I am making nothing, I am not willing to follow his path, even if I were given a chunk of start-up money to do so — all for the reasons listed above.  He’d love to see me published. Hello! Me, too. But I’ll remain a hold-out for the traditional press, recession or not, e-books or not, wading through the ever-evolving world of publication.

Here’s to me — to my high hopes of every week becoming a better writer, and of someday becoming a book-published author with an editor in a traditional house.

WriteOnCon, part III — online v.s. live conferences

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I am all for writers conferences. I’ve been attending them for about twenty-five years, and have co-chaired four and a half of them.

I participated in last week’s WriteOnCon — a free online conference for children’s writers. I am slowly catching up on day three because I was out of town for a week. During my absence, I thought of a few differences between online writers conferences and live writers conferences, and thought I’d share them.

1) Cost. WriteOnCon was free. Our 2-day fall SCBWI-MI conference — which I’m attending — costs between $235 and $285, plus attendees must arrange for our own overnight accommodations.

2) Information. Both forms make my head ache with overload of things to absorb. Both have things for new-to-the-business writers and seasoned, published writers. Online offered far more speakers, but live speakers can be approached.

3) Networking. This can work well for both types of conferences. Online can be a bit more difficult, but you can also meet people from around the world. On the live side, depending on your personality, meeting an editor for the first time in person can terrify some. An editor once told me the story of a face-to-face critique at a conference, where as soon as the writer sat down, she burst into tears from being so close to an actual editor.

4) Presentations. Live conferences have… well, live speakers, with question and answer times. Online conferences have YouTube videos, or live chats, or written talks (like a blog post).

5) Fashion. Spending a couple months deciding what to wear to a live conference (and usually changing my mind the night before) v.s. pajamas or grubs.

Personally, I appreciate both types of conferences. I appreciate the work which conference organizers put into making conferences dynamic and memorable information houses for willing-to-learn writers. I appreciate speakers willing to give of their time and knowledge, and to possibly pick up some new clients or authors or illustrators, which is, of course, every attendee’s hope. And I love meeting fellow writers who generally huddle together, us against the world.

Keep on learning. Keep on writing.