Thursday, August 22, 2019

Conference-Vacation Packing Tips

Aiguille du Midi, French Alps

This year, I traveled to two conferences and extended the dates of my stay, making them vacations too. Since I don't waste time and money checking bags, packing was a huge challenge. To make things more difficult (of course), I brought my laptop. I love typing and rearranging my notes on the spot, but the device adds weight to my bag. For one trip, I also needed clothes for temperatures that ranged from below freezing to 107°F. Talk about challenges. 
This is the afternoon temp.

I needed that warm jacket.
Here are some of my packing tips:
1. Pants - Convertible pants (roll-up or zip-offs) do double duty as pants and capris. (Prana Halle). 
2. Shirts - Nicer sleeveless shirts work under a blazer and also with shorts.
3. Packable down coat - lightweight and doesn't take up much space (Patagonia Nano Puff) - I tested this jacket out beforehand. It's warm, but on a windy day, you need a windbreaker over it, so I brought one.
4. Lightweight travel blazer (Uniqulo jersey blazer)
5. Underwear - ExOfficio -2-3 pair for a 2 1/2 week vacation
6. Downy Wrinkle Releaser - 3 oz. This stuff works great, but it's a liquid so it does take up valuable space in your one quart bag.
7. Makeup - Rather than bring a heavy glass container, I put it in a plastic contact lens case.  
8. Toothbrush - I cracked off the handle and threw out the toothbrush before returning home.


Sénanque Abbey in Gordes, France - It was over 100°F that day.

Instead of dealing with laundry, I washed out my things in the sink with shampoo and body wash. After rolling them in a towel, I hung them up to dry. Despite all of my efforts, my backpack was still pretty heavy, but I had everything I needed.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

critique tips

While I was in Florida for a nonfiction conference, I did my first radio interview on the Tiberius Show. Here's a short clip of that session.

The conference was excellent. Admission included a fifteen-minute critique, which brings me to the subject of this post. I have some advice for my fellow critiquers:

1. Have a pen and paper handy. The editor was speaking as I rifled through my laptop bag for the thin notepad that I had tucked inside it. My laptop bag has so many compartments, I couldn't find it. Flustered, I grabbed a piece of paper, flipped it over and started taking notes on the backside. I wish I  had the pen and notepad in my hand when I sat down.

2. Bring extra manuscripts with you.  This probably isn't necessary for a fifteen-minute critique, but I've had twenty-five minute critiques that ended early. One editor at the Falling Leaves Retreat asked me if I had anything else she wanted me to look at.

3. Prepare your pitches.  For longer critiques, you might have some time to pitch additional manuscripts. At the Falling Leaves Retreat, someone told me they pitched one. She said you could use the critique time however you wished.

4. You might be able to tape it. Someone at the Beachside Retreat in Florida told me she asked the editor if she could tape the critique session. The answer was yes. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Work-for-hire deadlines

This juvenile barred owl was sitting on my next-door neighbor's deck.
In the writing world, it's common knowledge that work-for-hire books have tight deadlines. If you're considering this kind of work, you might want to know exactly what that means. Here are my deadlines for Lerner:

For two books in a 4-book series:
Length = 1600-1800 words

January 3 - received guidelines, compensation information, and deadlines
January 17 - sent outline to editor
January 23 - received editor's comments about outlines
April 2 - due date for book 2 (the harder one)
April 16 -  due date for book 1
May 23 - received edits for book 2 and the text for the frontrunner* in the series
May 24 - received edits for book 1
May 31 - sent revisions for book 2 to editor (they typically give author's a week for revisions)
June 7 - sent revisions for book 1 to editor
June 13 - received photo wish list for book 1
June 23 - received photo wish list for book 2
July 1 - I uploaded most of the photos (I had to wait on a few) 
July 30 - received book layouts for review
January 2019 - publication date 
When they're begging for food, juveniles have unusual calls.

*The first edited text in a series is referred to as the "frontrunner."

As you can see, these books kept me busy the first half of the year. If I had to do it over again, I'd ask more questions at the start to confirm that what I was thinking matched what they were looking for. The photo portion of the project was a lot of fun and there were no deadlines. I delivered the photos via a steady stream of Dropbox uploads. Since I had planned a vacation in early April, I lost a week of work time, so that added to my stress level, but I made all my deadlines. Even though the deadline for book 2 was shorter, I worked on and handed in book 1 first. Logically, it made sense to do it this way.

The nice thing about the process is that a published book is produced in a relatively short period of time.


The owl has spotted me hiding behind my neighbor's garage. It's ready to fly.
I wondered why the deadlines were so short? Do editors allocate less man-hours to save money? Is the demand for this book so strong that they have an urgent need for it? Have they found that giving writers an extra week or two doesn't affect the quality of the book? Got me.  



Thursday, April 19, 2018


I had my writing career all planned out in my head, or so I thought. I'd write lovely, lyrical books and editors would acquire them. It hasn't worked out that way.
The TransCatalina Trail goes up and down some mighty steep mountains.
Over time, frustration softened my resolve to stay on course and I became more open to new possibilities. This year, it's clear being flexible and snapping up opportunities when they surface are key attributes that allow a writer to grow and survive in this über-challenging business.

The University of Southern California's Wrigley Marine Science Center was below this hill on Two Harbors, Catalina.
Ten years ago, I never could have predicted I'd be writing two computer-related work-for-hire books and pitching scripts. Although I still aspire to achieve my original goals, I'm less focused on getting somewhere in particular. Now, my direction isn't so set in stone. It sways with the wind and takes me places I could never have imagined.
Emerald Bay, Catalina

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Shade Swamp Sanctuary

I signed a contract to write my first two books for Lerner! So, I've been hard at work on them. My goal is to get one first draft done by the end of this week. One more chapter and some sidebars and I'll meet that deadline.

The zoo started out as a sanctuary for injured birds and other animals.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to Shade Swamp Sanctuary in Farmington, Connecticut. It's unusual because it's the site of an abandoned zoo. I wouldn't want to do this hike when mosquitoes are buzzing about, but during the spring it might be a great place to view wetland birds.


 I believe these are bobcat tracks cutting across the frozen swamp.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Agent-Editor Day

Ragged Mountain - Metacomet Trail
In early November I drove to Devens Massachusetts for Agent-Editor Day. It was my first time attending this workshop and by the look of things, it's pretty popular.  I brought two manuscripts that I thought were ready to submit. During the morning session, my manuscript was read by the person to my left. During the afternoon session, I read my own work.  Critiquing was done primarily by the agent or editor that was at the table. If there was time, other writers chimed in with their thoughts.

Love this hike!
I learned that my ideas were marketable. Both the agent and editor that reviewed my work thought the concepts were good ones. However, I discovered the manuscripts that I thought were ready to roll, needed to be hauled into the shop for some small repairs. I got some great advice that I believe has improved both pieces. I was also impressed by the work of my fellow writers.

Rock climbers scale this cliff.
If you're going to this next year, here are some tips:
  • Bring your best work, the stuff you think is ready to submit. You might be surprised.
  • Bring two different manuscripts. The folks that brought the same manuscript to the morning and afternoon sessions got the same advice.
  • Pick out which manuscripts you want to bring before you register.
  • Decide who you want to sit with before you register and have a backup person ready too. You will be at your assigned tables most of the day, so there isn't much opportunity to network with the other agents and editors.
  • If you have questions about your manuscript, you can ask those after the agent/editor is done critiquing. 
  • It was helpful for me to take notes while the agent/editor was speaking about my work.
  • You can also learn by listening to the critique advice given to others.   
To think I've lived in this state my entire life and I've never hiked Ragged Mountain, and what a hike it was! Take the trail on the left to get to the cliffs and the scenic vistas. There are more lookouts when you reach the Metacomet Trail. I will be back.   

Friday, September 29, 2017

    
A blue-and-yellow macaw at the Southwick Zoo

Earlier this month, I attended Encore in the Student Union at Rhode Island College. My writing friends had raved about this one-day event, but I had never gone. Instead, I chose longer retreats and conferences, like Falling Leaves and the 21st Century Nonfiction Conference.

a rare white Bengal tiger
At Encore, I sat at one table throughout the event and listened to five author-presenters. They were all great speakers with a wealth of knowledge to share. I scribbled character traits on Post-it notes, completed writing exercises, listened to revision techniques, and delved into numerous ways to add emotion to a manuscript.
Turkey
Two-toed sloth
The buffet was also excellent. Overall, I found that Encore was an affordable way to connect with other writers and to advance my writing skills. 


Monday, August 14, 2017

One thing I did this summer that has boosted my productivity and organization skills was to switch from a freebie Hallmark calendar to a planner that spans one and a half years. Now, I have plenty of room to jot down multiple tasks. I have found that when I write it down, it gets done. It was well worth the few dollars I paid for it. At the end of every day, I look at my list and smile at all the things I've accomplished. It has also reduced those writing ruts--the kind that used to swallow me up and leave me wondering why I bother.

Last week, I took a day off and went to the Southwick Zoo. It's fascinating to watch the animals. 

chimp

I stopped by the tiger and lion cages numerous times because they were sleeping. Finally, the Bengal tiger woke up.

A grad student told me this young male and his dad were play fighting

A parakeet landed on my hand!
      

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Picacho Peak, Arizona

Picacho Peak (taken from the car while on the highway)
I'm astonished at how much time has passed since I last posted. Right now, I'm busy writing passages and line items for a major test. The process is taking longer than I expected, but the amount of work has doubled. What started out as chemistry and physics work has now grown to include Earth science and biology. The work requires some thinking, but creativity is sorely lacking. 

The cables got progressively more challenging.
It's getting a little steeper. Gloves are recommended for this hike.
In April, I volunteered at the New England SCBWI Conference and two days later, I attended it. I'm so glad I went. It was nice reconnecting with the gang from Falling Leaves and with a science writer I met at the AAAS conference in Boston this past February. It was even nicer getting a long list of editors and agents I could submit to.

This was insane! I was trembling a little bit here.
On the way down, a gust of wind swept my new sunhat off my head. I ventured beyond the cable to retrieve it (scary).
When I was in Arizona in March, we hiked Picacho Peak. Someone from town suggested it and said he loved that hike. I read up on it before going, so I knew it was going to be a challenge (understatement). In the top photo, you hike up on the left side until you reach the cliff wall. Then you trek to the right and go up and over the middle (the saddle). To climb the peak, you hike it from the back and end up on the left peak. Sounds simple (laughs).  Walt called this the most hazardous hike we've ever done.  



What a gorgeous view!



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Grand Canyon - South Rim

South Kaibab Trail head
At the top of the South Kaibab Trail, in the frigid morning air, I passed a woman who seemed petrified. The upper canyon was shrouded in snow, and ice coated the first mile or so. Even though I was wearing stablicers, I still went slow.

Beyond the ice, the trail looked like this.
Fabulous vistas changed at every switchback. I was thrilled to spot the river, then the bridge across. I shot my fist in the air when we entered the tunnel before the bridge--it was level the rest of the way.


This area had a steep drop-off, so I hugged the rock wall and gave the mules the precipitous edge.
Despite seven miles of downhill, I didn't get a single blister. Not one. In the past, my feet have killed me hiking down Mount Washington, so the downhill was my biggest concern. I made three changes to my footwear: new boots with a wide toe box, Injinji liner toe socks, and boots tied for downhill hiking. I also wore these cushy socks that my friend gave me. They were wonderfully soft.
Lunch with a view of the river. Phantom Ranch is on the right.
Phantom Ranch was nestled under an oasis of trees across the Colorado River. I was lucky to get a reservation at one of the few cabins at the ranch. One couple had brought their baby all the way down to the bottom of the canyon. The young woman planned to carry her 16-pound bundle uphill, and that pack wasn't going to get any lighter.
Across the river, the trail goes left to the ranch.

I wore shorts on the 10-mile uphill hike. It energized me in temperatures that hovered around 50°F. On the first mile or so, the Bright Angel Trail was sandy and followed the river. Eventually, the trail wound its way uphill inside a canyon. Slick ice greeted me at the top.
suspension bridge on the Bright Angel Trail
As I crossed the Colorado River, morning sunlight gave the canyon a golden glow.

The top of the Bright Angel Trail was a bit hazardous.
Overall, the hike was a phenomenal experience, but the time flew by too fast. It was a lot easier than I had expected. What I found challenging was balancing a writing deadline and an active vacation. With most jobs, you leave your work behind. I brought mine with me. The plane ride gave me a long stretch of time to get immersed in my work and accomplish enough to put my mind at ease. When I returned, I put aside the unpacking until my article was close to finished.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

This yellow brain fungus was delicate, like a flower.
I've started 2017 with a flurry of webinars--I registered for five. I like webinars. They're inexpensive ways to learn. They cut down on carbon emissions and offer flexibility. If the time doesn't work for me, I'll get a link to the recording and listen later at a more convenient time. Often, participants get the opportunity to ask questions, but admittedly, I never have. At a recent webinar, I was pleasantly surprised to discover I got the opportunity to submit!

The remains of an old quarry reminded me of Greek architecture (purple trail).
On the science front, I went to a Science on Screen documentary that was fascinating. The event had sold out, but a generous man gave me a free ticket and he wouldn't take any money! At that price, I'm planning to go again next month (laughs). I also want to see Elizabeth Kolbert at UConn in early February. I used to drive to campus to see the Teale lectures, but now I watch most of those at home (except for Kolbert's).

There's a guy in a white shirt a little more than halfway up this trap rock ridge.
I took these photographs at Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden, Connecticut. In the past, I've taken the easy crushed gravel path to the tower. This time, we climbed up and down ridges via the blue trail, which is rated difficult. The recent rain made some rocks slick. The dog had trouble in spots, so we had to help her up some of the steeper sections. On the way back we took the easier purple trail, which was fairly level.


The blue trail took us atop the ridge to the giant's head.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Falling Leaves 2016

This is the hotel where we slept.
I had a fantastic time at the Falling Leaves Writing Retreat on the shore of Lake George, New York. Last year, I enjoyed this retreat too, but due to the circumstances, I wanted to be alone, I went to bed early, and at times I fought back tears. This year, I went to bed late, I wanted to socialize, and I laughed--a lot. I was pleasantly surprised to find the gorgeous fall foliage was still on the trees, an added bonus. On Saturday, we had a four-hour block of time that included a critique. I revised a manuscript for half of it and went for a walk for the other half.

The view from the front porch of the hotel.
Lisa Rush and I stuck out our thumbs and hitched a ride with the elderly golf cart driver, named Roger. We had a blast! He shared some venison jerky with us and drove us to an area that we didn't realize was part of the grounds.
We devoured brownies and roasted marshmallows at the Saturday night bonfire.
The week before I left for this retreat, I fell into a writing rut after receiving two rejections on the same manuscript. I started thinking about the holidays, the memories, and the hole that will never be filled. I had the attitude that I was paying a lot of money for five lottery tickets, one from each editor. After hearing a couple of retreat success stories and meeting so many published writers, I came home hopeful.
Lisa Schnell, Chris Mihaly, Mary Kay Carson, Alisha Gabriel
I was impressed by the caliber of the attendees. Many had published books. These photographs were taken during the last 15-20 minutes of the retreat. "Smile, like you've bonded!"
Linda Marshall, Susannah Buhrman-Deever

Lisa Hladish-Rush, Angela Calabrese, Annie Kuhn

Sue Heavenrich, Marie Sanderson and her husband, Annie Kuhn

Becky Loescher, Carolyn Scoppettone