The Highlights of Highlights

I recently returned from Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where I’d spent four days at the campus of the Highlights Foundation.

Yes, that Highlights, which produces this magazine.

Why’d I go there? For an unworkshop. What’s that? An unscheduled time without a workshop leader, giving you time to write, write, write; eat excellently prepared meals (the only scheduled aspect to the unworkshop); and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I went with three friends and fellow writers. We each had a little cabin in the woods—the proverbial ideal writer’s retreat. (Well, our little cabins in the woods were on the edge of a clearing. 😁)

  

Three meals a day were served here:

Behind that building was

where I could go for

or when I just needed a good word. (Who doesn’t love cattywampus??? It’s okay if you don’t, but I do.)

   

Very few trips were made to the internet. I spent the time reading books, writing, walking, and having great conversations. I met many other writers, some of whom were on their own unworkshop. Others were on a meditation/revision retreat. Still others had come for a poetry workshop.

The staff at Highlights is friendly and the food is excellent! I loved my little cabin. Throughout my stay, I had that “ahhhhh” sense of being cared for, with snacks provided whenever I wanted them, meals I didn’t have to shop for or provide, a coffee maker and coffee packets if I wanted to brew my own, or hot coffee/tea already prepared at the Barn if I felt like walking over and chatting with whomever was there.

Two writers I met told me they’d been at Highlights six times. One writer returns every few months. Many others request to stay in the same cabin each time. I feel the same way! My friends and I hope to return to Highlights next year.

What’s the most memorable place you’ve been to recently?

Photos by L. Marie.

Trying Something New

Check this out.

What’s that you say? Is that a red mummy? No, but thank you for asking.

When a teen asked me to make a Yarny for her, I almost passed up the challenge. What’s a Yarny? It is the main character of this video game.

What’s it made out of? Red yarn for the body and white yarn for the eyes. But a wire armature was needed to give it a shape. That was why I almost said no. I’m pretty much a novice when it comes to making wire armatures. But I had some needle nose pliers, wire, wire cutters, and the requisite colors of yarn. So, I was without an excuse to refuse.

I watched this video to see how to make it.

The armature took hours just to bend the wire (a time frame that video doesn’t show).

That’s a wrap!

Almost ready for my closeup

I hesitated to do this, because this kind of project was fairly new for me. Months ago, I’d bought wire, wire cutters, and needle nose pliers for another project, under the inspiration of another YouTube video. But I’d given up on that project early on, thinking it was too hard.

In this case, the fact that a teen asked me to do it made me rise to the challenge (especially since this was the second time she’d asked). I watched the above three-minute how-to video several times, and bent wire until my hands bled. And then I wised up and donned my winter gloves. Made working with wire a little easier.

So, my Yarny might not look like much to you. (It is a work in progress after all.) But to me, it represents the hurdle I had to jump: the fear of trying something new (which is basically the fear of failure—the lizard brain at work).

Now that this project is near completion, I feel silly for having been afraid. Maybe you’ve felt the same way about something. Sometimes fear comes, because we don’t have all of the facts. The video I watched on how to make Yarny didn’t present all of the facts, despite how inspiring it was. It didn’t explain the large amount of time it would take or the bleeding hands factor for novices.

But isn’t that what happens a lot of the time? We’re shown a quick, this-is-all-it-takes video, but not the actual cost of a project.

Sometimes we have this view of writing. Skilled authors make it seem easy. We watch them in interviews after their book was published and think, I could do that. What we don’t see are the days, months, and years of writing, rewriting, editing, crying, chocolate eating, rejection, chocolate eating, persevering, etc. It’s hard to fit all of those into a three-minute video.

Speaking of writing, as promised, I have book giveaway winners to reveal. I’m giving away books by Jill Weatherholt and Sheila Turnage. Go back to this post and this one if you are totally confused.

  

The winner of A Father for Bella by Jill Weatherholt is

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Gwen Plano!

The winner of the Mo & Dale Mysteries series by Sheila Turnage is

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Ally Bean!

Please comment below to confirm. If you already have these books or wish to decline, please let me know, so that I can choose another winner. If you choose to accept what you won, please email me to let me know your street address or email if you prefer to receive an ebook.

Yarny wire skeleton image from playerattack.com.

Write to Please or Write with Ease (i.e., What I Really Want to Write)?

Hope you had a splendid Easter. I had an Easter meal at the home of some friends and came away with a ton of leftovers, including the Peeps in the photo below that my friend Carrie decorated. I’m useless at this type of thing by the way.

Before church, I watched a behind-the-scenes video by a music artist I love, which was about the making of a video for one of the songs on her latest album. During this video, she talked about how she was finally at a point where she was no longer desperate to please people. She didn’t say that as if to imply that she no longer cared if anyone bought her music. The songs she’d written for the album came from a place of confidence and joy, because she was finally free to be who she was.

Kirstea feels free to be who she is. But she hopes she won’t become a free meal for the giant owl standing near her.

I love that sense of coming to a place where you create the way you want to create. Yes, there are risks involved. You put your stuff out there and people might hate it. Or they might love your vision.

That video came at an interesting time. I’d recently had a conversation with a grad school classmate who asked me if I felt pressured to write a certain kind of story (i.e., contemporary realistic issue-based or something based on the mythology of my culture). Please do not misunderstand me. I love both kinds of stories. I’ve actually had a contemporary realistic novella published under a different name. But honestly, I gravitate to fantasy stories based on the mythology to which I am most familiar. I told my classmate that I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I write the stories based on characters who deeply interest me, regardless of whether they look like me or not.

I seldom lean in the direction that well-meaning people steer me. In college when people told me I needed to major in something “useful” (like biology, poli sci, or physics) rather than continue in the writing program (part of the English department), I continued in the writing program. Though they didn’t see the “use” of such a program, I found it very useful when I had to write books.

To be fair, under contract I’ve written books that other people had suggested I write based on a need (like a picture book for an ESL program). Some were ghostwritten, others as work for hire under my name. (L. Marie is a pen name, as many of you know.) Pleasing the client (usually a publisher or a famous person contracted by the publisher) was paramount.

But creating a world like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, or Charles Yallowitz’s Windemere has been my desire since I was eight years old. That was back when cuneiform was all the rage. I’m very influenced by writers like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Sheila Turnage, Juliet Marillier, Robin McKinley, N. K. Jemison, Neil Gaiman, Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, Holly Black, and many others.

Sir Terry Pratchett, N. K. Jemisin

Still, I know several people who would never willingly read a story I’ve written because they don’t like fantasy stories. It would please them greatly if I returned to contemporary realistic fiction. I won’t say never, if a character comes my way whose story is compelling to me. But I won’t say yes just to please someone.

How about you? Is the freedom to create what you want to create something you desire? What do you think about pleasing others? Is that good, bad, or something you’re indifferent to? Feel free to share. (If you are curious about the video I mentioned earlier, you can find it here.)

Having escaped from the owl, Kirstea has resumed being free to be who she is. But now she wishes she was tall enough to carry off one of the Peeps.

Terry Pratchett photo from Wikipedia. N. K. Jemisin photo from Wired.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Kirstea Shoppie is a product by Moose Toys.

The Courage to Keep Going

Awhile back (this post actually) I mentioned that I might have news. I do, but not the kind of news I wanted to post here. But the reason why I am, is because I recently read some posts by people who had to courage to write about their pain. So, here I go.

In the post I linked to above, I mentioned that an interested party (code word for agent) expressed interest in my middle grade novel. I felt like Cinderella, finally getting a chance to go to the ball. But after I revised the manuscript at the request of that person (I now know what it means to bleed over a manuscript) and turned it in, I later learned that the interested party was now disinterested.

Cinderella anticipating the ball

You know how it feels when you’ve heard dozens and dozens of no’s, only to finally have someone say yes, but then to have that person turn around and say, “On second thought, no”? One of my sisters-in-law told me, “It’s like the rug was snatched out from under you.” A feeling she has also experienced recently.

Imagine this bear pillow is a rug. Now, imagine it being taken away.

I found myself spiraling into depression—an unfortunately familiar place, where getting out of bed seemed pointless. If you don’t suffer from depression, you might not understand that. And I get it. There are worse things in life than being rejected. But when you’re depressed, everything looks gray.

Some really good friends refused to allow me to stay in that dark place. So, with their prayers and encouragement, I got up. Took in a really entertaining movie (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) with a friend who also has had a hard time. Started a new book. Began revising some of the old ones.

Perhaps a disappointment like this might not rock you. You might even have a “Why don’t you do this?” piece of advice ready and waiting. Believe me, I get a lot of advice. To which I answer with this image:

We all have a path we follow. Some of us go in one direction. Some of us go in another. My path might not look the same as yours. The path I’m on is not an easy one (nor am I suggesting that others are). But it is the one I’m on. Believe me, I’m not a masochist who delights in my own pain. I’ve wanted to give up so many times.

I can’t help thinking of someone who came to speak to my SCBWI group. After 300 rejections for one book (you read that right), an agent accepted her manuscript. It was later published as the first of a three-book series.

Would you have the courage to keep going after that many rejections? That author’s persistence humbles me, especially when I consider that I only have a fraction of that amount. (And I’d thought having well over 60 rejections for one book was bad.) I think the title of a book I’m about to give away says it all: Keep Calm and Sparkle On! That’s what that author did. That’s what I plan to do.

If that’s not a segue, then I don’t know what one is. Let’s move on to the winners of the books that were the subjects of the interview posts here and here. They are Legends of Windemere: Warlord of the Forgotten Age by Charles Yallowitz

Cover by Jason Pedersen

and The Wish List #2: Keep Calm and Sparkle On! by Sarah Aronson.

The winner of Warlord of the Forgotten Age is

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Lyn Miller-Lachmann!

The winner of Keep Calm and Sparkle On! is

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Penny from Life on the Cutoff!

Winners, please confirm below. Thank you to all who have put up with my ramblings over the years.

Jumanji movie poster from dvdreleasedates.com. Path sign from geeksundergrace.com. Book covers and author photos courtesy of the authors. Other photos by L. Marie.

The Gift of Words

I’m late posting this week, because I’ve been busy revising my middle grade fantasy novel for an interested party. I hope someday to have news to share on that score. (Sorry to be cryptic.) In the meantime, I wanted to talk briefly about the gift of words before I return to revising.

Being able to tell a story, to use the right combination of words to entertain, encourage, or enlighten is a gift. Every once in a while I’m reminded of how valuable a timely word can be.

Ever have someone affirm you in a way that galvanized you to action? Perhaps you’d been stuck, and someone said just the right thing to get you moving. Perhaps what he or she said inspired to go beyond what you thought you could do. The gift of words.

Sometimes, you only need one word to lift your spirits or to bring about a positive change. There’s one in particular I’m thinking of: Yes. A balm for a soul bludgeoned by too many No’s. The gift of a word.

When has someone’s yes lifted your spirits? What recent story inspired you to go beyond the limitations you thought were the framework of your life? Feel free to share in the comments below. And have a great weekend while you’re at it!

Yes, ’tis the season for crochet projects. I found this mini mitten ornament pattern (designed by Rebecca Lynn Taylor) at Ravelry.

We’ve got snow! At least a little.

Revise sign found at clashesandcollisions.wordpress.com. Yes button found at clker.com. Photos by L. Marie.

Drive On, Worker Bee

People are like cars. Some are newer, sportier models, zipping down the street, engines freshly oiled and cranked for speed. Some are reliable sedans or mini-vans. They get where they’re going. Some are older models that have weathered many storms, but are in need of an oil change every now and then.

(Where is she going with this? I hear you whispering.)

Lately, I’ve felt like the old model slowly making its way on the road, while the newer models zip around me, heading toward opportunities beckoning toward them that older models seem denied.

Of course, that’s a matter of perception. But man, I’ve felt beaten down lately.

Recently, I received this badge in the mail:

I have to thank Andy of City Jackdaw for it. He told me that the worker bee is the symbol of Manchester—a reminder of its industrial past. But it’s also a reminder of their resilience in the wake of the May 22 bombing at the Manchester Arena.

I needed this reminder, as I consider my life. Worker bee? Check. I’m happiest when I’m working on something. Resilience? Why do I always forget how necessary that is? Haven’t I lived long enough to know that you have to persevere through hard times? Rejections, money issues, writer’s block, loud neighbors, illness, the death of a loved one (I’ve experienced all of the above recently), breakups—they pop up like potholes here and there on the road of life. It’s our choice whether to stall out or drive on—to persevere through them.

   

I’m grateful for friends who prayed for me and encouraged me through this dry season, where I’ve felt trapped in a canyon surrounded by walls of doubt; a place where I can barely write even a grocery list. Words fail me. This too shall pass, they say.

I’m suddenly reminded of some lines from Peter Pan—“second [star] to the right and straight on till morning.” Sounds like driving directions to me. I know you can’t get to Neverland by car. You need pixie dust for that. But I can return to a state of wonder—a place I see just over the horizon—if I keep on driving.

Have you felt stuck in a canyon lately? What did you do to climb out and keep going?

Photos by L. Marie. Cutie Cars by Moose Toys.

The Prism Effect

When I was a kid, I was given a prism to use in one of my science classes in elementary school. I thought it was the most awesome thing ever. (Yes, this was way before cell phones were invented.) We discussed Sir Isaac Newton’s experiments with light refraction. As it passes through one object to the next object, light bends. Newton used prisms in his experiments.

As an article here mentions

Newton was the first to prove that white light is made up of all the colors that we can see.

In science class, we duplicated Newton’s experiment with a light source, cardboard, and a prism. (Yes, this was back in the day.) I don’t have photos from that experience. But this one comes close.

The white light containing the color spectrum makes me think of something else: a blank page. I see that confused look on your face. Let me explain what I mean. First, let’s switch out the phrase color spectrum and insert words. Now, think of a blank page as something containing all of the words that can be seen—wonderful, colorful words describing vivid images. A prism is needed for those words to be seen and understood. The writer is the prism that helps others see those words.

My mind turns on odd things sometimes. This was something I was thinking about recently. 😀

If the writing aspect doesn’t fit your life, think of the prism analogy this way. Our minds are prisms. We often take whatever is beamed into us and show the world the result. For example, let’s say we hear a lot of negative comments. Such a drab view of life might result in a negative mindset that spills over in our dealings with others. We tell everyone, “This is how life is—drab.” But unlike an actual prism, we have a choice as to what we do with what we’re given. We can either show the drab colors and say, “This is how life is and always will be,” or we can show something else: the colors of hope. Even if we can’t see them yet. By this we say, “This is how life can be. And it starts with me.”

For someone like me who is prone to depression, the latter is a challenge. But I’m still willing to give it a shot. How about you?

     

I saw this rainbow months ago while standing outside of a grocery store. A rainbow is a nice example of refraction.

Prism image from 924jeremiah.wordpress.com. Refraction experiment image from myscienceacademy.org. It is from an MIT YouTube video. Blank page from imgarcade.com. Rainbow photographs by L. Marie.