Books


Erma Bombeck

I just spent a fabulous 3 days in Dayton, Ohio (yes, it’s possible to have a fabulous time there.)  I attended my first ever Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop, a bi-annual coming-together of humor writers.

Attendees run the gamut of published authors, screen-writers, bloggers, social media fanatics and those who were just dipping their toe in the stream of writing.  There was a fantastic line up of presenters and speakers, including, but certainly not limited to:

W. Bruce Cameron-author of my favoritest-ever (yes, that’s my word) book, “A Dog’s Purpose.” (Which, by the way, will be made into a movie soon.)

Craig Wilson-USA Today feature writer and author of “It’s the Little Things: An Appreciation of Life’s Simple Pleasures.”

Adriana Trigiani-writer for The Cosby Show and A Different World, and author of “Lucia, Lucia” and “Big Stone Gap” which was where Adriana and I both began our lives.

Irene Beckerman- whose writing career began at the age of 60 (Oh, thank you, Irene- there is STILL hope for me!)

Alan Zweibel, one of the original writer’s for “Saturday Night Live.” He also wrote  for “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and the movie “North”, among others.

Dave Fox-author of Globejotting and Getting Lost, and who I consider responsible for my enthusiasm about writing humor. I’ve taken 2 of Dave’s online humor-writing classes, and he encouraged me to go to the EBWW conference.

There were many more inspirational presenters at the conference, and, perhaps most inspirational of all was Erma’s family. Each family member read one of their favorite columns written by Erma, and gave us a piece of their own life with the woman we all consider “Mom.”

The presenters were unique, but the message was the same. Keep writing. Do what you love. Persevere.  “Overnight success is a myth, so don’t give up!”  That is exactly what I needed to hear. Muchas Gracias!

My roommate, Angela, was a former classmate in Dave’s online humor classes, and, although we were virtual strangers, we at least had a clue that we would get along.  She knew my penchant for wine and dropping the “F” bomb, and still agreed to let me room with her.

One problem.

Angela is a “low talker.”  (Remember Seinfield’s Puffy-Shirt episode?)

I am deaf.

No, not totally deaf, but I struggle to hear, much less understand, anything quieter than a passing fire truck or dynamite blast.  I have no idea what I nodded and smiled about for the first hour in our room, but after showing her my hearing aids and asking her to please yell at me, we hit it off. We’re even talking about taking a trip to Asia next year.

Polly arrived 8 ½ months pregnant, but other than that she seemed normal.

Then the truth came out.

Polly is a Mormon.

I’m from rural Appalachia. I’ve never met a real Mormon in person. My exposure lies in the endless TV ads that have ambushed us every 5 minutes, ever since Mitt Romney began his bid for president. You’ve probably seen them: Drug addicts, ex-convicts, Walmart greeters…  Each commercial ends in “I am a Mormon.

Maybe they should get Polly on that ad, saying she’s a Mom and a writer. It would have laid my fears to rest, for sure.

The bottom line is this. Last weekend I was exposed to some of the funniest, funnest, coolest and genuinely warmest people I’ve ever met. Thank you, Erma, for your gift.

The Cracker Queen

This weekend I attended an excellent and entertaining workshop presented by the Atlanta Writer’s Club. I’ve been working on a couple of writing projects for awhile, now, and seem to have hit a wall.  Lauretta Hannon (The Cracker Queen) spoke on the importance of platform for writers. She kept us on our toes with crucial tips to getting ourselves “out-there.”  I totally love that Lauretta, like myself, is a “Whup-Ass Southern Woman”.  The “anti-Southern Belle”.  I am looking forward to reading her book “The Cracker Queen”.

2 hours into the workshop, our break was announced. Immediately,  100 women ran to get in line for the 2 stalls in the bathroom. Thankfully, I’m retaining water, (another symptom of Mental Pause,) so I wasn’t so desperate to pee just then.  So I took the opportunity to buy a book and get it signed. While in the book line, I had a brief conversation with a nice 70-something gent about the book he is writing.  Then I  got in the (now shorter) bathroom line.

As soon as I came out of the bathroom,  the man approached me.

“Would you like to go out with me sometime?” he asked.

Shit! 

“Well, I’m married,” I replied.

He looked at my hand.  “You are? I don’t guess that would sit too well with your husband,”  he replied.

I held up my naked ring finger. “Oh, well, see, I don’t have my wedding band on because I’ve gained so much weight, I don’t know if it’s water or age or what, I had to take it off and I just can’t get it back on and it cuts off my circulation and I’d hate to lose that finger and all, I tried to get it re-sized but it was too expensive so I probably should just lose weight but it’s really hard…

I have no idea the purpose of that aimless babble. We both stood there for an awkward moment before the lights flashed, marking the end of the break.

I dashed back to my seat and pretended to scrutinize my notes.

I felt bad for him, sort of. I mean, he put himself  “out there,” which, I bet, is really hard to do. Especially when you’re, um, old.  Then again, good for him. I admire his balls. You know what I mean.

After the conference, I ran into him in the doorway.

“Good Luck,” I smiled, not sure if I meant with his book or finding a date.

On the drive home, I thought about the day. The workshop. The man. The necessity to “put ourselves out there” in order to achieve what we want. I vowed to make more of an effort, even at the risk of rejection, to accomplish my goals. Yep, starting now, I’m gonna put myself out there. Thanks, Lauretta. Thanks, Mr. Man.

There’s nothing like a good picture book. Well, except oysters. And red boots. But other than that, I love sitting down and reading a few words and looking at great illustrations. I’m not sure if you know this, but I am working on several picture books right now. Mostly books about dogs, since that is my real passion.

On Wednesdays, I read at the local library for preschool kids. The child librarian, Madigan Mcgillicuddy (isn’t that the perfect name for a child librarian???) has set up a wonderful program with lots of cool things going on over at the Ponce Branch of Atlanta Fulton public Library.

Anyway, I was over at Madigan’s blog, and saw this post on “Where the Wild Things Are” narrated by Christopher Walken. Have a watch. Since it is mostly pictures, he describes them in his own words.  It’s funny.  Really funny.

In honor of No More Excuses Month, I have to say I’ve done myself pretty proud!

Yesterday, in looking over my writing projects, I reviewed some notes I took at the recent SCBWI conference. (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators).  In the notes were a few random ideas for children’s stories that had popped in to my head at various times, like driving in the car, laying in bed with the pups for “snuggle time” in the morning, and while enjoying a nice long soak in the tub. I realized during the conference that I was investing too much time and energy in this one story that is going to make me a break-out phenomenon.

For one thing, while a story is sitting in an editor or agents slush pile, it is common courtesy not to send it elsewhere. That is called a simultaneous submission, and by most accounts, it is a no-no. So I figured it’s time to get off my ass and start writing another one of my great story lines. Well, I sat down at about 10:00am, and other than a 1 1/2 hour appointment with my physical therapist (shoulder rehab), I had completed my rough draft by 5:00 pm.   And this one is pretty damn good, if I may say so myself.  I’ve read it aloud several times (using my “voices”)  to the dogs, and Chance and Kismet think it’s pretty great.  Chance especially likes it because he is the main character, and Kismet likes it because, well, he just likes me to talk silly to him.  Roxie… not so much. If there is not food or a Frisbee involved, she pretty much hangs out under the bed.

Anyway, sometimes we just need a prod to move us along that path that lies directly in front of us. We often find ourselves just standing there, staring, knowing that that is the ultimate direction that we will need to take to get from point A to point B, but there is often that little something that diverts us. Some little detour in the road. A nice blade of grass? A new facebook message?  The decision to have a cup of tea followed by a glance at your email only to see that one of your favorite bloggers has posted a new entry and you have to comment on it which leads you to reading 7 other comments from bloggers you don’t know and adding them to your RSS feed and then seeing that you have 3 more emails…..

God, it’s no wonder I can’t find the time to write.

This weekend in Atlanta, I attended my first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference.  Dubbed “Spring Mingle”, it is the Southeast members yearly big whoop-dee-do. Since I’ve only recently decided to write children’s books, it was the perfect introduction into the world of the craft. There were so many amazing attendees present, writers, illustrators, presenters, and published authors.

My favorite part of the conference was a critique of my picture book (manuscript only, I’m not an illustrator) by an editor and writer that has published over 50 children’s books of her own.

The critique was optional. For $40, anyone could send in their work for a one on one, 15-minute critique.  I had done this in the past for a non-fiction book that I had been working on, and it did not go very well. This one was so markedly better. For one thing, I wasn’t nearly as nervous. My critiquer put me at ease, and we actually had a lot in common. She also gave me both written and verbal suggestions to strengthen my work, but overall had many positive things to say about it. YAY!

During the conference, there was a lot of buzz among participants about the growing popularity of kindle and e-readers.  This has been of growing concern to writers of all genres over the last couple of years. Will books, much like record albums, become a novelty item from the past?  Will all of our reading, from news to magazines to books be electronic in the near future?

I know of several friends already that get their news delivered online. I also have a few friends that utilize kindle. Like in most things hi-tech, I am a hold-out. I like my newspaper in the morning, along with my coffee and cereal. I don’t mind that black newsprint rubs off on my forearms and finger tips. There is something about the whoosht of getting the folds out of the opened paper that puts me at ease.

Books? I love the feel of the pages in my hands, the smell of an old favorite on my nightstand. And in the children’s book world, specifically picture books, I can’t imagine them being confined to a small electronic screen. I want to point to the pictures, so colorful and vivid, hearing the feedback from the children hearing them and looking at the pictures. I can’t imagine a mother sitting with her child in her lap learning to read on a tablet. It’s just not right.

Kindle and E-readers have their advantages, though. One that is important to me is the fact that they take no paper to add to pollution or the hacking of our trees. They take up less room in your purse, and you can load hundreds of books on them for a mere $10.00 a pop. All huge bonuses.

But what do you do when a newer, shinier version comes out? Electronic waste is a huge problem, and I don’t want to contribute to it. ( I resell or pass my books along to other readers).

Here is an older post I came across this week about the subject.  It’s an ongoing hot topic.

What are your thoughts about pulp-y books vs. e-books? Have you made the switch? Are you a resister? Add a comment and share your thoughts.

Ok, so, as some of you know, I am working on writing a children’s picture book. It’s a sweet, uplifting little book that features the newest addition to our family, Chance the dog, as the protagonist.  (Click here to read his blog)

As you also may know, I don’t have kids. Nope, never really wanted them. In fact, at the age of oh, say, 13, I made the announcement that I would never have children. I think this may be because that’s about when I started being big-time rebellious in my teeny-tiny hometown of  Harlan, Ky. and my mother “threatened” me with words I will never forget. “You just WAIT until you have a teenage daughter!” Yes, it was those words, repeated over a period of several years, that convinced me that I would never give her the satisfaction of letting those words come to fruition.    And honestly, I never regretted my decision to remain child-free.  I’ve never been one of those “oh, a baby! Let me hold him,”  kind of people. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. Shoulder shrug. No big deal.  Ahhh, but I digress…


Now, at 51, I realize that in order to attain interest in my hidden gem, my soon to be discovered blockbuster debut, that I need a platform on which to stand. And that platform better damn well be related to children.  So, having none of my own, and no nieces or nephews in the picture, where am I going to find little ones that will appreciate my genius?

Rewind a couple of months. While checking out children’s picture books at our public library, I asked the librarian if they had a children’s reading program. It just so happens that their reader left in the fall, and they were looking for someone to replace her. Jackpot! Bingo! I gave her my card, the main branch manager called me, and voila- I am now the Tuesday morning reading lady.

So now I have anywhere from 20-40  1 to 3 year olds that single file into my reading room every week, sit attentively at my feet and listen to whatever stories I have picked out for them that week.  Well, being as my book is about a dog, I typically choose at least one book per session that revolves around a dog, and they eat it up!  (They especially like when I use my “voices” to recreate the dialogue  of the different characters.)  Back in Junior high school, I was into storytelling, and won some regional awards for my re-creation of “The Grandfather Tales” stories in competitions. I’ve always been a storyteller, I just needed an audience. Now I have it. A captive audience, but an audience, nonetheless.

So in the process of gaining a “platform” by volunteering at the library, which began as a purely selfish act, I have come to look forward to my time spent with these little ones.  I love to see their faces light up when they recognize a specific creature on the pages. We have fun practicing the sound a frog, or a dog, or a hog makes.  And when they become restless between stories, we stand up and sing and dance, and I like that, too.   It’s funny how things work out that way.

Good Dogs Doing Good

Good Dogs Doing Good

Ohhhhh! I’m so excited!! It’s official, and this adorable, poignant, and touching book contains a story that I wrote about my dog, Kismet.

As you know, I am an extermely proud Dog-Mom. Kismet and Roxie have their own series of blogs, called Kismet and Roxie’s Xcellent Adventures, and are, in general, spoiled rotten.  Oh, sorry, I got off the subject at hand.  Anyway…

According to LaChance Publishing, the book Good Dogs Doing Good is packed with inspiring, moving and amusing true stories of dogs that have given hope to people with none, helped teach valuable lessons both large and small about the human condition and brightened the darkest night. From the largest breeds to the tiniest pups, the canine stars of Good Dogs Doing Good amply demonstrate how the humble dog continues to earn its nickname “man’s best friend.”
As for my true story, several years ago, following the horrific death

(more…)

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