Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hammonasset Beach State Park

I love this tangerine sky and the way sunlight lit up the crest of the waves.
I'm writing this post in the spirit of Linda Lou Who, which is what my Aunt Esther used to call me.  Bless her soul.  Now that the sun is setting on 2013, it's time to reflect on the year.  Despite the Christmas morning (1:12 a.m.) rejection, I'm going to focus on all the good things that the year has brought:

1. I got a far better handle on the art of the picture book by developing a method to create a typed dummy to see page turns.  It also helped to read it aloud to a teddy bear that Walt bought for the dog (on the right hand side of this website, click on "asylum"). 

2. I found a good way to get moving when I'm stuck trying to work out a first paragraph.

3. I am much better at multi-tasking because I got a lot of practice this year.

4. It was quite a productive year.

5. I expanded my editorial contacts and my network of writer friends by attending the 21st Century Nonfiction Conference and other SCBWI events.

6. It was a stellar year for some of my writing friends who won contests, went to acquisitions and landed contracts!

7. I used social networking all year long to get the word out about climate change.  Every single time I read some crap being passed off as fact, I plastered it all over Facebook and Twitter.

8. I took Climate Literacy Navigating Climate Change, a class offered by the University of British Columbia, and did well enough to land a spot as a teacher's assistant for the course.

9. I wrote a clever little manuscript with a number of activities.  I had no intention of writing any activities at all, but they evolved with so little effort and added to the fun that I simply had to include them.

10. I went to the American Association of School Libraries conference in Hartford and had a great time.

While standing in the bitter cold and harsh wind, we watched the sun set at Hammonasset Beach State Park.  I was wearing thin gloves, so it took a long time for my fingertips to thaw out.  It was worth it though.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The view from the Prudential Tower, Boston
I spent the year cranking out some good stuff.  Time and again, I cast the line out into the lake where the fish nibbled enough for me to know they were interested.  Much to my dismay, they failed to hang onto the hook.  So, for the time being, I'm fishing from a new dock.

Polar Bear art aptly titled, "The Discarded."
Lately, I've been thinking about how to be objective about my work.  Writers deceive themselves.  They think everything they write is great.  Everybody has work that is worthy of publication.  It could be the biggest chunk of crap or it could be beautifully written.
Traffic wasn't clear enough to venture home.

I just wrote something that I'm enthusiastic about, but I'm trying to take off the rosy colored glasses and see it from a distance in hopes of learning the truth.  I'm trying to view it from a critiquer's eyes, from an editor's eyes, from the eyes of anyone, but my own lying eyes.  I've packed it in a drawer and formatted it into a book with page turns.  I've worn myself out trying to punch holes in it, in hopes of sparing it from the firing squad of rejection.  I've been asking myself questions like these:

Planes landing at Logan Airport

Is it age appropriate?  I think so.
Is it suitable for illustrations?  Certainly
Is it marketable?  1,000 times yes!
Am I deceiving myself?
On November 19th, we were in Boston to see our daughter off to Italy.  Enroute to the Prudential tower, we stopped in a sheltered doorway to get our bearings.  It turned out to be the home of HMH.  Deep sigh.  I hope we can get out to visit her in Italy because I would absolutely love that.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bolton Lake
In the past few weeks, I've surged forward on a small, but challenging piece of writing.  It has been SO much fun to put together that I've lost track of time, staying up past midnight a couple of nights.

My approach was different than it has been in the past.  Instead of writing the picture book then fitting it into the format, I designed it with the layout in mind.  Huge difference.  I definitely think this is the way to go.

It also helped immensely to be able to see what it would look like.  That old cut and paste the manuscript process was not for me--too inefficient and slow.  I started by making a little booklet and writing the story in it.  Then I had more revisions.  The thought of making more booklets and writing the whole thing again and again was not at all appealing.  I'm really pleased that I finally devised a way to make a typed book of my manuscript relatively quickly.  It helped me see the page turns and it also gave me a better perspective as far as age level, wordiness, balance, and where it fell flat. 
These photographs represent my "reflection collection."  All were taken at Bolton Lake.      

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A colorful wall:  yellow sulphur, rusty iron, silver manganese.
It's miserable when I struggle for words.  When the clock is tick...tick...ticking...thoughts of I stink at this echo through my head.  Once I find the right words or the way into a story, it's a glorious feeling, a feeling of freedom.  It's like being cooped up inside, then opening the door to the bright sunshine of a spectacular day.

This formation reminded me of  brain coral.
There is a big difference between knowing what you want to say, but now how to say it and not knowing what you want to say.  Generally, when I start something small, I know what the first paragraph is going to be about.  It's only a simple matter of getting it down.  Cough. Cough.  If I'm having trouble, the thing that works best for me is to hop on the treadmill and walk slowly (I put a board over the treadmill arms--voila, desk).  I did this the other day and in five minutes and thirty-four seconds, I had a first paragraph!

A brachiopod fossil?
I've been laboring over how to approach a picture book about a challenging subject.  Neither walk, nor run, nor treadmill was of any use putting down that first line.  Ideas bounced back and forth in my head.  I'd get going in one direction only to find out it wasn't the right way.  Nothing worked.  The process was laborious, like lifting and scanning rocks, one at a time, hoping to find a precious fossil.  Last night, around 3 am, the right way came to me and indeed it was a glorious moment!
An underground river
The last tour on a Monday in November was a great time to visit Howe Caverns.  Aside from the tour guide, we were the only ones in the huge cavern where white-nose syndrome was first discovered.  There were no bats in this part of the cave.  It was an incredibly neat place to visit.  Our guide used a long pole, gondola-style, to propel us down an underground river.  In the quiet semi-darkness, water trickled as we imagined what it must have been like to be the first to explore this place.  A number of different fossils were found in the cave, but I'm not so certain that the brachiopod (above) was one of them.  I question everything.  
Glistening silver manganese

A view of the water-carved ceiling


Saturday, November 16, 2013


AASL in full swing
On Friday, the Connecticut Convention Center was bustling with librarians.  The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Conference was in full swing and my writing friend and I were not about to miss it.  We browsed through books in rows and rows of booths, scooping up publishers' catalogs and advance reader copies.  We passed vendors marketing laminators, plagiarism software, book repair tape and research databases.  We listened to Junior Library Guild employees explain how they select books.

ARCS, publisher catalogs, magazine samples, a magnifying glass and whoopee cushions!!!
As the day progressed we split up, exploring different genres, speaking with publishing representatives and reconnecting to share a laugh.  I spoke with authors I admire:  Pam Turner, Steve Sheinkin, Leslie Bulion, Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  At the Penguin booth, I picked up Hope's Gift, illustrated by Don Tate, who I met at Chautauqua.  The day flew by so fast that lunch became free candy and mints.  I drove home content; it was a day well spent.
Penguin's booth.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rose Farm, Bolton

Rose Farm, Bolton, CT
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are fantastic opportunities to take college courses at no cost.  It's wonderful that complex subjects such as climate change are available to all.  Although scientists concur, the general public still considers climate change to be a controversial issue.

I help out as one of the many teacher's assistants in a Climate Literacy class at the University of British Columbia.  The voluntary job entails monitoring the discussion board, answering student questions, providing links for further reading and reporting problems that need the instructor's attention.

Walt and Lola
Alternate viewpoints and healthy debate are encouraged on the discussion forum.  Disrupting the forum, derailing discussion, demeaning other students and discrediting teacher's assistants are not tolerated and are dealt with on a case by case basis.  In only two runs of this class, all of these problems have occurred.  This has brought about a flurry of discussion and suggestions on how to prevent future problems.  It has been an eye-opening experience realizing the lengths that some people will go to to disrupt a learning environment.  Unreal.

At this point, I've had enough of picture time
I am really looking forward to the American Association of School Libraries Conference in mid-November in Hartford.   

These photos were taken at Rose Farm in Bolton, at the height of fall foliage.  I'm really not big on appearing in my own blog/website, but the leaves were spectacular that day, so I thought I'd share.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Home tweet home
At New Media Day in Amherst MA, I listened to speakers discuss the digital revolution.  James McQuivey, author of Digital Disruption, was the first speaker.  He impressed all one hundred people in attendance by giving his entire lecture without Powerpoint because the projector wasn't working.  To get an understanding of the quantity of the digital marketplace, he mentioned Apple has sold 155,000,000 ipads.  He also said that the most successful writers are those that publish with traditional publishers and also self-publish.

Reflection in pond water
Rubin Pfeffer, who works at East/West Literary Agency, discussed the market and how publishers are creating digital imprints and collaborating with e-publishers to meet this new demand for digital content.  Three authors discussed their experiences turning their out of print books into e-books.  Sales are tough because the app search facility is lousy. Lastly, Ruth Sanderson spoke about her long career and being flexible and willing to try new things.

The nicest strip of community garden
I brought my camera on a stroll through the woods out back.  Color was everywhere.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Yesterday, I attended a workshop about school visits given by Alexis O'Neill.  I was fortunate and grateful to have had that opportunity.  She was excellent and covered a lot of material in two hours.  The time flew by as I sat their soaking up her words of wisdom.  She discussed how to create engaging presentations with a beginning, middle and end and she also stressed that this was THE most important consideration.  Then, she talked about getting gigs, how much to charge, promotional material and what to send the booked customer.  One of the things she cautioned against was ending with a question and answer session.  If you do that, the momentum and enthusiasm will slow right down and the presentation won't have a strong ending.  . 

As I drove home I thought about the presentation that I created.  It definitely was engaging--definitely, but the beginning and ending needed work.  I'll have to think more about how to improve those.  The talk also sparked my interest in creating a new smaller workshop, one that I could give at the art center in town.

When I take photos, sometimes I'm so immersed in getting the shot that I fail to notice the details, like goose C484 (see prior post).  In these photos, I didn't notice the small notch of red on the clear wings until after I downloaded the photographs.  They reminded me of colored tabs in a file cabinet.  I believe this is an immature male autumn meadowhawk dragonfly.

Btw, this looks like a great website to identify wildlife if you live in Connecticut.     

Friday, September 27, 2013

Lake Waramaug State Park

Moonrise in a pink sky, Mount Tom Pond, Litchfield
I applied for and was accepted as a teacher's assistant for the Climate Literacy class at the University of British Columbia.  Thirteen TAs from Australia, Thailand, India, Germany, Vancouver, the United States, and possibly other locations, were enlisted to help.  Even though class doesn't start until September 30th, I've already fielded one question.  About fifty students have introduced themselves in the discussion forum.

Although it takes time to browse the threads, I am enjoying reading comments from all over the globe.  It is rewarding knowing that I'm contributing to the students' greater understanding of climate change.
Eating a "quacker"
October is shaping up to be a very busy month.  On October 6th, I'm going to a school-visits presentation by Alexis O'Neil, a school-visits guru and excellent presenter.  On October 19th, I'm going to New Media Day, another SCBWI event.  The third week in October may give me some anxiety with a first-time platelet donation, a trip to Boston, and notification about something.  It has the potential to be an awful week and it has the potential to be a great week.  So, I'm not allowing myself to think about it.

Lake Waramaug, Kent Connecticut
I've been making inroads.  I've learned it's a lot more work to get the water wheel moving again once you let it stop.   Today, I finished up a lovely piece of literary science.

It wasn't until I looked at my photos that I noticed Goose C484.
Last week, I spent the day at Lake Waramaug with my friend Carol.  We sat by the shore admiring the beauty of the lake and watching the wildlife waddle way too close.  She read while I wrote.  I would have loved to have kayaked on the glassy lake, but the rentals were closed for the season.  On the ride home, the harvest moon was stunning, shining over the pond.

Our stomping grounds on the shore of Lake Waramaug

Friday, September 20, 2013

Story ideas continue to stream in faster than I can tackle them.  The urge to write a blog post seems to stem more from photographs I want to share than from writing related news.

Faulkner's Island Lighthouse
This past week I received a couple of nice emails:

From the Climate Literacy class I took:

"I'm writing to invite you to apply to become a Community TA for the next run of Climate Literacy, which will begin on September 30th.  If you're reading this email, it means that you were one of the very top students in the class, as measured by a mixture of class performance and forum contribution. In a class so large this is quite an accomplishment."

From Denise McConduit:

"I checked out your website and I was amazed at the good environmental work you are doing! Just bringing awareness about climate change, wildlife and nature is so worthwhile."

Two weeks ago, I drove down to the shore, hoping to take a boat out to Faulkner's Island Lighthouse, which is only open one weekend per year.  When I got to the marina, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency was debating whether to take the aluminum boat out in three foot swells.  Although high seas sounded quite exciting, the open house was eventually canceled completely.  On that cloudless day, I sat on the rocks, watching the seagulls and taking photographs.       

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Writing Chair

Along came a spider, who sat down beside her
Last month, I shipped out a whole bunch of things.  After tallying everything up, it turns out, I churned out the same amount as when I wrote science passages in the fall of 2012.  It will likely be a long while before I hear back about any of these.

This month, we gutted the family room.  It was long overdue.  We've been painting and painting and painting and painting the dark paneling, and it's still not painted.  Walt used a sledgehammer on the couch.  He said I spend a lot of time in that room writing and I should think about getting a couch and/or chair with that in mind.  So, like Goldilocks, I've been sitting in all kinds of chairs and sofas, testing them out.

That got me thinking about what makes a good writing chair.  Outside my Adirondack chair has wonderfully wide arms and comfortable seating.  I can't see myself writing in a stiff backed formal chair.  Some couches and chairs are meant for tall people; the cushions are so deep that your feet dangle in mid air.  Other seating is hard or butt ugly.  We settled on a couple of cushy recliners with wide padded arms.  I can't wait to sit in my new writing chair!

Cooked chicken dangling from a spider web
Last week, I was outside writing.  Every time I looked up, I noticed this spider.  I decided to try an experiment and see what the spider would do if I dropped some cooked chicken in its web.  Initially, the spider ran up the web and hid under a shingle, so I think beef would have been a better choice.   I wondered if the spider would wrap up the chicken or if it would try to clean up its web.  After a few hours, the dog came outside, smelled the chicken, poked her nose in the web and destroyed it.  So much for my experiment.       

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review - The Boy Who Wouldn't Read

 A fellow Chautauqua conferee asked me to do a book review.  After reading the book, I was glad to oblige.  It will be published in September 2013.  
 The Boy Who Wouldn't Read
 The Boy Who Wouldn't Read by Denise McConduit

Robbie doesn't like reading.  With the sweep of a sorcerer's magical wand, he no longer has to worry about this dreaded activity.  In this rhyming book, his expression goes from boredom to glee to horror as he gets a glimpse of a world without words.  Colorful lively illustrations make readers realize that reading doesn't only take place in the pages of a book.  This story has the potential to open up a whole avenue of discussion about where we read and why reading is an important skill.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rose of Sharon, a hibiscus
For most of the past month, I've been hunkered down in my writing cave, digging up ideas, drafting letters, and developing stories. Ever since I finished my class, I've been sprinkling seeds, lots and lots of seeds.  The diversity reminds me of a wildflower mixture.  With luck, something lovely will sprout.

My approach has changed.  Usually, the story comes first, then I find the market. Lately, I've started with the market and gone hunting for the story.  For my effort, I've uncovered entertaining, amusing and wildly exciting subjects.

I've backed away from the social media writing community because, right now, I don't feel a need to divulge these sparks of activity.  I've cut back on blogging too.  I'm particularly satisfied that I finally wrote and sent out a cute story I've been wanting to write since 2009.

When the weather cooperates, my writing group meets at this picnic table for plein air critiquing.
I signed up for New Media Day despite it falling on my birthday.  Groan.  It's all about technology and the digital age, which is my background.  I decided if I don't go, I might miss out.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Birds and The Bees

Bee with its proboscis sticking out
After debating whether I wanted to commit to a summer course, then debating how much effort I wanted to put in, I'm mighty pleased with the grade I received today.

Some people wrote on the discussion forum that they thought the quiz questions were tricky and meant to deliberately trip up a student.  I disagreed because I thought they went beyond the material, challenging the student to think deeper about the subject matter.

Other problems on the discussion forum with some students (climate skeptics) showing general disrespect to all of those who disagree with one's position were corrected.  "A small number of students have resorted to outright abuse, rather than simply expressing alternative or unpopular views. This has now been remedied: students who are regularly abusive will be banned from the forum."

Male cardinals are striking.
Class Statistics:
24,303 registered to take the course
2,600 were active in the last few weeks of the course
750 earned certificates (a mere 3% of those who registered)

Alumni have since started groups on LinkedIn, Facebook and on Google.  I joined all three. 

Male cardinal
I've decided that my mid-range camera takes great macro shots, but the photographs aren't so crisp from far away despite resting the camera on the deck railing.        

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Enders State Forest, Granby

For a sense of scale, take a look at the umbrella on top of the falls.  Someone was under it.
I try to take advantage of conferences when they're in my area.  So, when I found out the AASL (American Association for School Librarians) was planning a November conference in Hartford, a mere twenty minutes away, I was delighted and so were my writing friends.  I think I can get by with a one-day, exhibits-only pass.  Excited!!!

The first view of the water.
The Northeast region of the American Chemical Society is also having a conference in New Haven at the end of October.  I will be checking back on that one to see if there is anything of interest.

Walt and Lola look dwarfed by the water.  Here you get a sense for how slippery it was.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Climate Literacy class that I just finished was the world map.  It had numbered pointers that corresponded to other students' written classwork.  The impacts of climate change could be seen from Kiribati to Crete to Croatia, from Bangladesh to Belgium to Bulgaria, from the Southwest to South Carolina to South Africa.  It was an eye-opening global view of how climate change is affecting the planet.  Many students wrote of drought, rising sea level and fires.

It is shameful that while we haggle here in the United States over whether climate change is manmade (it is) or natural (don't be a moron), there are other people on the planet that are suffering the very real consequences of inaction.

Another waterfall
These photographs were taken at Enders State Forest, a place where roaring waterfalls cascaded from the rocks.  The hike was short and more like a walk with an incline.  On a hot humid day, the only rain shower in the state dumped a bucket of precipitation on Enders while we were there.  We were soaked, which made the trek along the edge all that more treacherous.  Since someone had recently slipped at the park, a couple of news teams were in the parking lot.  I practiced my speaking skills by agreeing to be interviewed, dripping as I was.  They aired footage of kids doing flips in the water instead of one soggy hiker pretending she was at Toastmasters.  What a shame!