Monday, December 7, 2015

Holiday Memories...

Many years ago, the Christmas season couldn't come fast enough for one little girl.  When she and her Dad arrived at the local church lot to pick out a tree, that's when it started.  It was always a glorious day... the trees stood straight on their own or leaned on wooden saw horses.  Some towered over her, some she could pat on the top, some she could reach around and others, well, they were three times as round as she was.  Bright lights twinkled everywhere and Christmas music blared through scarred old speakers at the entrance to the lot.  If she were lucky, she might even catch a snow flake or two on her tongue.

She roamed the makeshift trails through the forest of Christmas trees, singing and twirling.  Finally, she stopped.  Yup, this was definitely the one.  She stared up at her father and pointed a hand knitted mitten toward the oh too tall tree.  Her father smiled and said, "A bit too tall?"  She shook her head, he paid the man and off they drove with the prize tree tied to the roof of the car.

A week before Christmas, the tree stand, lights and decorations made their way down from the attic in the usual parade - bags and boxes of ornaments, the satchel of lights and the new boxes of tinsel and angel hair.  Dad brought the tree into the living room after he had secretly trimmed branches off the top and sawed off a bit from the bottom.  "To allow the tree to drink," he would say.  The rest of the day would be filled with laughter, singing, hot chocolate, and hanging silver tinsel on the tree and on her sisters' heads.  The tinsel hung from their hair like silver braids making them laugh even harder.  Once the ornaments had lovingly been placed in their usual spots on the tree, Mother would stretch angel hair from limb to limb.  Then Father would plug in the lights and everyone "oohed and ahhed" and the season began.

The day after the tree was decorated, a group of small elves arrived, one for each of the three girls.  They sat on a cloud of angel hair on top of the television observing the behavior of all throughout the Christmas season.  The little girl couldn't touch her elf or he would lose his magic, her mother told her.  And so, each morning she would check that he was still there, watching.

When she crept down the old creaky stairs on Christmas morning, he had disappeared.   Mama said, "After Santa places all the gifts under the tree, he takes the elves back to the North Pole on his sleigh."

As years went by, the little girl grew up and lost touch with her elf.  Christmases went by and she never saw him or even thought about him.  And then, one magical Christmas, many years later after her parents had died, she hung an old wreath in her window, the one that had hung on the front door when she was a child.  As she opened the box of ornaments that had been moved from her childhood home's attic, she saw a flash.   She looked up and there, in all his glory, sat her elf on a copper wind twister in front of the ancient wreath.  She laughed and cried at the same time.  He hadn't forgotten about her even though she had left him behind.

And so, her elf returns each Christmas season to help the little girl, now a grown woman with a family and home of her own, make new memories and new traditions.  But he reminds her constantly of the child who once chose the tree with her Dad and who laughed, sang and drank hot chocolate as she decorated the tree with her Mother and sisters - he brings back all of her childhood holiday memories.  

May this season bring you peace, new memories and a return of the excitement that you felt as a child during this time of year.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Recipe for a Children's Book...

I was raking leaves today and thinking about Fiona and the journey that I took writing her story, my first children's book.  I probably never would have ventured down this road if it wasn't for my sister and her death. 

Maybe this is a good time to talk about the ingredients for a children's book (as I used them):  imagination, characters, a story line, a happy ending and illustrations that make the story come alive.

The first ingredient, a big dash of child-like imagination, should be spread liberally throughout the entire story.  As I wrote, I learned that the child inside me still remains.  She might hide sometimes, but she has never totally gone away, thank goodness.  She can still see the fireflies lighting up a warm summer night as she sits on her front porch; she remembers the conversations with her imaginary friends - the favorite dolls and stuffed animals that I still hold dear.  Imagination was not hard for me, but I had to keep reminding myself to see everything through a child's eye.     

The second ingredient, characters, came fairly easy to me as I give birth to new ones in every novel I write.  For this story, I started with the two characters that my sister had talked of - Fiona the firefly and the little girl who I named Lizbeth whose father was a fisherman.  I knew the ending, but how was I going to get from here to there?  I began by tying Fiona and Lizbeth together as best friends.  And Fiona came to life.  Now I had one firefly, but needed a set of more entertaining creatures to fill Lizbeth's day.  She lived far from town and school, so her friends would be these creatures - Sally the seagull, Clarence the grey rabbit, Rowena the red fox, Stuart the squirrel and Betty the bumblebee.  Something happened as I introduced each of these characters into Lizbeth's life.  They all communicated, but the animals never spoke.  I never realized this aspect of the story until one of my draft readers commented how she loved that part of the book - the creatures spoke, but not in words.  Lizbeth's personality emerges as the story progresses - one of my friends said that she is a mirror image of me - headstrong and always believing anything is possible if you work hard at it.  These traits had been instilled in me by my mother and father and so, I blessed Lizbeth with the same qualities.

Next was the story line and the happy ending - I had all the characters, but they had to interact and I had to move the story along from a perfectly delicious day with friends playing together to a fear-filled one... the storm was born.  I made the sea crash, the rain pelt, the thunder reverberate, and the lightning - it made the lighthouse go dark .  I was almost to the end.  At this point I'm going to quote a review from Amazon which I loved:   "The book aptly describes parallel worlds: the imaginary one of Lizbeth and her animal friends each of which the author endows lovingly with his or her own personality.  In the adult world, anyone who has ever taken care of children, will identify with Mama, who worries about Lizbeth’s homework, her proper upbringing and above all her safety, while Daddy is away at sea, fishing. And then there is Mr James, the lighthouse keeper, who struggles to keep the light on for the safe return of those at sea.  There is a storm and fear, but in the end the two worlds come together in a sweet happy ending."  Again, a reader had the insight into what I had written before I did!  I think that this is the most gratifying part of being a writer - people seeing all these wonderful twists and turns and layers in your writing.

And the ending was just as we would all want it... Stuart runs, finds Fiona who brings her entire family, flies up the lighthouse stairs to the lantern room and Daddy has his guiding light.

The words can be perfect, but unless a child can see all the characters, the storm, the lighthouse, Daddy and Mama, they're just flat words on the paper.  I was lucky to have a very good artist friend of mine read those flat words and bring my characters to life... Mary Licata, a wonderfully talented illustrator.

Well, enough rambling.  To close, I'll just say that I enjoyed this adventure and may write a few more children's books - possibly sequels.  Lizbeth and Fiona and all the animals have become my new set of imaginary friends... bless them.  They brought the child in me out again - I thank them.

Keep writing -- it's good for the soul. 


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A sweet children's book, Fiona - the Lighthouse Firefly

I have to say that I'm very excited to see Fiona on Amazon.  It was a labor of love, for sure. The above illustrations by Mary Licata are just a few from the book.

Profits will be split between my sister's scholarship fund and the United States Lighthouse Society.

I said a few days ago, I would give a little synopsis of Fiona... this description is found on the back of the book.

"Children love to read stories that transport them to another time or place.  And parents love to read stories to their children that evoke memories of their own magical childhood.  Fiona - the Lighthouse Firefly is such a story. 

Fiona comes to life in this tale, using her fairy-like powers to save Lizbeth's Daddy, a Maine fisherman.  Lizbeth, a sweet young girl who lives in a magical world of animal friends including Fiona, always finds herself in a bit of trouble, like being late for school or losing her Math homework.  Tonight though, her fears are real.  Will her father's boat crash or be lost at sea because the lighthouse has gone dark in a storm?  Against her mother's wishes, Lizbeth runs to the lighthouse through the rain, thunder and lightning to find out why there is no guiding light at the top of the lighthouse.  Stuart, the squirrel, awoken by Lizbeth's shouting, appears by her side.  Mr. James, the lighthouse keeper, tells them both that he has no solution; the new generator was hit by lightning and is broken.   There will be no guiding beacon tonight.  After a few minutes, Stuart, not happy seeing his Lizbeth’s sobbing, has an idea and disappears over the rocks chattering.  

Well, can you just imagine what happens next?  No?  Well Lizbeth will have to finish the story."    

As one of the agents said, "Thanks for sharing your sweet story with me. There is a real poignance to your writing."  I'm not sure about that, but it was nice to hear.

I'm a pretty driven person and when I start something, it is never left undone - mostly :-)  Even so, it feels so good to have this project completed.  I wanted to do it for my sister.  And here it is.

I'll return to my regular blogging soon - I just had to share my excitement!!

Keep writing -- it's good for the soul. 


Monday, October 26, 2015

Almost published....

It has been awhile since I wrote, but life has been very busy with travel, family health issues, and my children's chapter book!  I feel the other issues are mostly under control and therefore I'm very excited to be talking about my decision to self-publish Fiona - the Lighthouse Firefly.

When I last wrote, I was pursuing a publishing lead through a friend.  Circumstances, the death of a well known agent in that agency, kept them from taking on my book - the shared workload had increased for them all.  That was a turning point for me and I decided that it was definitely time to seriously investigate the self-publishing route.  Fiona needed to be out there.

I talked to a number of people and searched the Internet for leads and decided CreateSpace, tied to Amazon, would work for me.  This is my first self-publishing effort and I wanted an experience that would be fairly easy and quick.  CreateSpace appeared to offer both.  

The process of uploading text and illustrations was straightforward with CreateSpace providing a proof copy within 24 hours.  They also provided a set of different cover designs to choose from - I would have liked more choices to tell you the truth, but....  They did offer a personalized cover consult for a fee which I didn't choose.  As I said, I wanted something quick, easy and relatively inexpensive.  I did go for a color book, glossy cover.  I think the illustrations demanded that.

Proofing the book took maybe five times before I was satisfied with the illustration and the text placement.  I tried all the offered cover templates just to see how the illustration would look in each one.  I chose one and then went back and changed it to the one above.  It has a nice front to back look and a story description on the back.

The book is available on the CreateSpace website today, but I'll provide the link to Amazon in 3-5 days when it is available on their website.  Profit from the book sales will be sent to my sister's scholarship fund and the Lighthouse Society.  I wished that she had lived long enough to see Fiona come to life.

I am excited about this step and wanted you all to know that I had made great progress since I last wrote.  I'm now going back to my other novels and may self-publish them as well.  The novels will be much easier to publish because they have no illustrations.

Stay turned - I'll be back in a few days.  I'll describe more of Fiona's story and let you see what it looks like on Amazon.

Keep writing -- it's good for the soul. 


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A writer's dilemma...

Copyright 2015 Mary Licata 
Here it is September  - hard to believe.  Time passes so quickly...

I wanted to update you on my progress with the children's book - so far, no agent and no publisher, but I do have a contact.  We'll see how it plays out.  Since I last wrote, I have researched additional agents and publishers.  Many of the children's book publishers require "snail" mail, so I have sent out about fifteen packages.  No rejections yet - no acceptances yet as well.  At some point, I'll have to decide whether or not to self-publish this story.  How many of you have done this?  Please share your experiences with us.

The illustration above is another of Mary Licata's wonderful drawings.  She has produced nineteen of these, each one more stunning than the last.  This one is especially touching for me - a young girl with her Daddy.   How can we forgot those cherished moments.  I lost my Dad when I was young, but there is not a day that goes by that I don't think of him, talk to him, miss him.  The touching moments that Mary has depicted in her drawings evoke emotions in all of us, parents and children alike.  

I'm thinking of writing a sequel to this story... the little girl is strong, adorable and sweet, but like most of us, finds herself in trouble, more often than not.  I can see her on many more adventures accompanied by all her supporting characters.

While my children's book is seeking a publisher, I'm back editing my other two novels.   It was good to be away from them for a few months because I can read them with a clearer eye.

I'm going to be traveling soon and so I've bought two new books to read, Lisa Scottoline's Betrayed, a murder mystery and  Nan Rossiter's Nantucket, a lost love romance.  These are two authors I haven't read before and I'm hoping that they will open new writing channels for me.  Everyone always says to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.

Keep writing -- it's good for the soul.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Three months later...

© Mary Licata, illustrator

Is my sister's dream complete?

Just when I thought that I had finished my sister's story, a friend and beta reader responded, "It needs some background?"  So I added a preface.  Then, I thought, "A preface in a children's book?  I don't think so."  I began typing and about an hour later, I had a chapter about the main character, a little girl named Lizbeth. This addition dovetailed well with the previously written chapters that dealt with other characters in the story

Chapter One brought Lizbeth, her town, mother and teacher to life.  The story felt grounded.  It had background, setting, and a foreboding that set up the rest of the tale.  The new chapter went to Mary, my fantastic illustrator and friend, and she immediately came up with three new fabulous illustrations - one is shown above.

The last time I wrote, I had sent out a number of queries.  Unfortunately, they went out without the new opening chapter.   I wanted my sister's dream fulfilled so much, that I violated my own good writing rule -- let the words sit for a week or so and then return and see how they read.

Since then, I have searched for possible agents/publishers for children's books who say that they accept unsolicited manuscripts for review.  Let's see what happens with these newest contacts.  Hopefully I will find a publisher soon for this very sweet story.

I miss my sister....  Yet, throughout these three months, I have felt connected to her, inspired by her to keep going as I wrote.

I've finished her dream.... I hope someone out there will fall in love with this sweet poignant story of a little girl named Lizbeth, who believes that she can do anything, even light up the lighthouse after it goes dark in a storm.  Lizbeth is spirited, big hearted. and is always finding herself in trouble --- for the right reasons.  If my sister so inspires me, Lizbeth may be in for many more adventures in the future.

Keep writing...  it is good for the soul.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A view to the future...

Everything moves on - whether you want it to or not.

It has been almost two months since my sister died.  They have been hard months, sad months, but productive ones.  I finished writing the children's story that she had always talked about writing, but never did.  It kept my mind and fingers busy and kept me connected to her in an odd way.  A very dear artist friend drew and painted all the illustrations for the book and now I am looking to publish it.  I plan on donating most of the profits to the United States Lighthouse Society, www. in my sister's name.  She loved lighthouses and so, of course, her story revolves around a Maine lighthouse. 

As we have discussed before, finding an agent to take you and your story on is not easy.  I have emailed out forty-four query letters so far to agents who represent children's books... I have received six rejections.  

At the start, I thought I had written a children's picture book, but one of the early agents that I queried kindly responded with an encouraging email saying, "Thanks for sharing your sweet story with me.  There is a real poignance to your writing."   He went on to say that the story might actually be better written as a children's chapter book.  I took his advice and did just that - wrote it as a chapter book.  It had natural breaks and these became my chapters, named for the characters that they dealt with.  I added a bit more depth here and there, but didn't want to dilute the story just to make it longer. 

So, out of a very sad situation came a beautiful, sweet story that had been waiting to be told... if not by my sister, then by me.  As has happened before, writing helps me find my way out of darkness, sadness and mourning.   This might not work for everyone, but it has for me.  I hope my big sister feels that her dream has been fulfilled.

If there are any agents out there reading this blog who represent children's books, please let me know.  If I haven't secured an agent or publisher by fall,  I'll self-publish the book.  I want it published and read for my sister's sake.  

Keep writing... it's good for the soul.



Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When events change the course of your life...

From "Safe Harbor" by Judi Getch.... published in Ocean Magazine 2012

             "This cadence of the sea continues until a violent storm appears, forecast by dark, heavy clouds, and off and on snow squalls.  Nor’easters, as these large ocean storms are called in New England, hit the Massachusetts’ coastline a few times a year.  The winds build to hurricane proportion and the waves, instead of being gentle and rolling as they are today, grow huge, crashing, destroying, and changing landscapes, eating up old sand dunes, spitting out new ones, sucking cottages into the surf.  Then, when their ferociousness dies down, the sea calms and resumes a natural rhythm once more.
Are we so different?  We establish a comfortable tempo in our lives that we take for granted, until something untold happens to disrupt or destroy it. 
How many times had the unexpected occurred in my life to change the rhythm I’d enjoyed?  And how many times did I return here, to the ocean, to mend a broken heart, replenish my soul, to fight to recover the rhythm of my life."

New Year's Eve day 2014 changed my life.  I sat with my sister as the doctor pronounced the word that neither of us wanted to hear - cancer.  Four months later, she was dead.  In those sixteen short weeks, I couldn't write, couldn't paint, couldn't focus, forgot things, and had no concentration.  I resorted to working on my large Victorian doll house that had occupied a corner of an upstairs room for years, unfinished.  Why?  As one of my friends said, "it's because you don't have to concentrate on what you're doing."  I laid down copper roof trim, measured and glued shingles on the plywood roof, and wallpapered... all things that I didn't have to think about; she was correct.
When my sister became bedridden, I needed something for us to do together, to keep her interest.  And then I thought of it, her story; we could write the children's book that she had always talked about, but never wrote.  I knew the general premise of the story, but I needed to bring her idea to life, to paint it with words, something she had always wanted to do, but couldn't.  I sat one day at her side and read the first two pages to her.  She smiled and said, "Why didn't you ever do that as a living?  That's so wonderful."  She meant writing.  I laughed ... oh how I had tried.  She loved what I had written.  I had hoped she would be there to see the finished product, but in the blink of an eye, she was gone.
These last few weeks following her death, I have filled my hours with completing the tale.  I'm now concentrating on painting the cover and a very dear friend, a wonderful artist, is working on the illustrations to go with the story.  
Out of all the chaos, pain and sadness of these last few months, have come a beautiful story and a connection to my sister that still goes on.  I will find a new rhythm for my life, one without my sister.  It won't be easy, but in the end, it was the writing of her tale that carried me through these dark, sad weeks following her death.  I thank her for that.



Thursday, March 5, 2015

Hope Springs Eternal

Well, we are almost to the Spring/Vernal Equinox!  I'm sad in some ways to see the winter end.  It has provided me with hours in which to sit in front of my computer and write... in my castle.  It is too cold to do much of anything else.  I can, on a good day, sneak in a walk, but even then, my thoughts are circling around characters trying to create some new and interesting characteristics for them, to have their dialogue be more real and meaningful, to make them come alive for the reader.  During this long winter, I have been very productive - I've managed to draft two new manuscripts and produce ideas for a third.   

My first manuscript is still being circulated, with one agent still "reading" it.   My writer friends say that I might have a better chance with a second novel as many of them have - I sure hope so.  I'm dogged and not giving up.  As I write or revise my second story, I'm always on the lookout for an agent who might be interested in my first one.  I've been careful not to blast my query to every agent in existence.  I do my research and send queries only to those who seem to be looking for the type of story I have written.  Even though I have published a few pieces, it continues to be difficult to find an agent who is willing to take on a first time novelist like me ... or you. 

You must be experiencing the same type of responses that I am - a form email or nothing.  Most of the form replies say, "Thanks for sending me your query. I'm afraid this doesn't seem like the right project for me, but I'm sure other agents will feel differently. Best of luck placing your work."  All in all, not very informative.  Why doesn't it seem like the right project?  Is it because the story line doesn't peak your interest?  Or is the writing poor?  Or maybe the query  or the synopsis is poorly written?   Or do you just have too much on your plate to take on another author?  

 I have received informative replies... "I don't usually take on novels that are set in a small town ."  Okay, I can understand that.  Another agent said, "I have almost all the authors that I can handle at this time, so I'm going to have to pass."  Well, it sounded like she could have squeezed in another, but I wasn't me.  Another agent liked the synopsis and would have to think about it more.  Then again, many of the agents never bother to respond.    Maybe we should change places with them for a day and have them experience that empty inbox feeling.  Ah, but if that could only happen!! 

Well, time to return to my revisions.  

Keep writing, and remember, hope does spring eternal!


Thursday, January 8, 2015

And on we march into 2015!

May I first wish you a happy, healthy and productive 2015!  

Well, when last I wrote to you, I had two agents who had asked for my manuscript.  What I have learned from this step in the submission process is that when the agent receives your manuscript, it goes on a pile and you wait until he or she has time to pull your story from the stack and read it.  I finally queried both agents to let them know that I was still waiting for a response.  Both answered that they were very busy and would get back to me.  I'm still waiting...

In the meantime, when I was on a trip in November, I stumbled across a panel of writers speaking about their experience finding an agent and being published as a first time author.  You bet I was there - front and center. They were a mix of fiction, non-fiction and poetry writers.  I felt much better listening to them because they all had had the same experiences that I have undergone - a never ending list of agent queries (hundreds) and an almost equal amount of  "Thanks, but not for me."  They spoke of entering contests to receive recognition and in the end, most had not been published for well over five years.  But their best advice was not to sit and wait for an agent to swoon at your submission, but to start writing something new.  In some cases, it was not their first piece that was published, but their second or third. Another point I found interesting was that they all resisted self-publishing.  A message there?

I'm glad that I had done exactly what they said.  I have just finished the draft of my second manuscript and I'm in the process of rewriting and energizing it, as I like to call it.    In addition, I have begun two addition novels, one a sequel to the first that I've submitted and a totally different story based in Paris.  They both have to be fleshed out.  So, as you can see, I have much to keep me busy.

As I wish you a wonderful 2015, I want you to keep reading and most of all, keep writing, no matter how many negative responses you receive.  Our writing grows in emotion the more we write, our word usage changes, we become less inhibited the more we write and our characters become more robust and 3-dimensional.  I know this from my own experience.

I write because I love the process... I love creating characters and I love that they take me on an unexpected journey.