Kids and Summer Reading

Here’s a subject with which I’m intimately familiar. Having raised three kids, I spent many summers trying to figure out how to get two of them to do even just a little reading. My oldest –  my daughter Morgan – was, quite fortunately, an avid reader and considered a trip to Barnes & Noble better than a trip to the amusement park. My middle kid and my youngest kid – well, that was a different matter. These two each had a learning disability that impacted their ability and interest in reading. My middle child – my son Ryan – had an issue with comprehension. He could read several pages to you with fluency, but when you asked him about what he’d read, he had only the vaguest of ideas. My youngest – my daughter Amanda – had a different issue. Her learning disability was communication centered. For her, letters and words were just lines and squiggles. She struggled to make sense of the words on the page, but if you read to her, she could repeat almost word for word what you’d read.

Trying to get my younger two kids to read often seemed a more difficult task than performing a root canal on a crocodile.

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Without anesthesia.  I tried bribing, I tried taking away privileges, but this turn reading into something my kids resented or felt was a chore they were being forced to endure. As a writer for children, I couldn’t bear the thought that my kids would hate reading and books because of my efforts to help keep them engaged and learning during their time off from school. So I came up with a plan that was sort of a compromise. I told my kids that we would go to the book store. They could pick out one book, any book they wanted. Morgan went for Harry Potter – because they were new and all the rage. My son wandered around, looking at things like the Guiness Book of World Records. Eventually I managed to lure him to the Young Adult section. I pointed out a few sports themed books, and casually mentioned that I had met Walter Dean Myers.  The book Slam was on the shelf, a book about basketball (well, more than basketball, but that is my son’s first love, so it was all that mattered). My son had found his first of what would be a long-term affinity for Walter Dean Myer’s books.

Somehow, my youngest daughter discovered Manga books. For those not familiar with Manga, they are graphic novels which feature Japanese anime style drawing along with text. I have to say, at first I wanted to tell her no, she needed a “real” book, but then I remembered that I said they could pick “any” book. And thus began a love affair with Manga and graphic novels that my daughter enjoys even now that she’s in college. It’s easy for her to follow, and she can read them over and over. She’s moved through a variety of series, and I’m so grateful I didn’t tell her no all those years ago.

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Many years ago, when the  Goosebumps series first started, many adults were outraged by the books and fought to steer kids away from them (and in some places, tried to ban them outright). But many writers and educators defended the books, and in one interview I read at the time, a wise parent said, “I’d rather see this book in my son’s hands than the remote control to a video game.” I absolutely agree! If it’s a choice between a book (even one deemed “trashy” or “worthless”) or the X-Box, I’d far rather the kids’ version of pulp fiction than mindless zombie blasting.

My advice for summer reading? Let your kids pick. Even if it’s not on their teacher’s summer reading list, give them the choice. My married oldest daughter is still a voracious reader. My college student son still reads sports books, and he still reads Walter Dean Myers. And while my youngest college student daughter still enjoys Manga, she also stole and read my Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe.  Give kids the freedom to choose their own entertainment through a book, and it won’t feel like you’re sentencing them to an agonizing chore. (But if you happen to recommend my books, that would be okay, too!)

And here’s a great summer reading tip for young kids: personalized books! Emergent readers (those just learning to read) get an absolute thrill when they see their names in a book! Surprise one of your favorite youngsters with this very special gift. Many companies are encouraging parents to spend time with their kids, and nothing is more fun than having your child on your lap with a book in hand! The wonderful people at Personal Creations are making this easy by offering delightful books for young readers, customized with their names! To learn more, visit http://www.personalcreations.com! Make summer reading more fun, and spend some valuable time with your kids. Trust me, they grow up way too soon, so don’t miss those opportunities to connect!

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What’s the Definition of Insanity?

There’s a wise saying that reads: The definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over but expecting a different result!

I’ve also heard it said this way: If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

The message to me, my own interpretation, is that becoming stagnate is like digging a hole for yourself and then wondering why you can’t get out! I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating this recently for a variety of reasons. First, it’s getting to the end of the year and I tend to get a little reflective during this time as I look back on the past year and look forward to formulating my goals for the coming year. Second, the last year has been one that has forced changes on me. Some of these I have embraced and welcomed, while others I’ve gone into kicking and screaming and digging my heels into the dirt. Finally, I’ve made it a goal of mine to look for ways to improve as a writer, as a mentor, as a partner, as a friend, and as a person.  Change can’t happen when one is stagnant.

As I’ve looked back on the preceding 12 months, I’ve come to understand that the times I’ve struggled most are the times when I’ve resisted the obvious changes I needed to make. There have been so many good things that happened.  In many ways, this year has been one for the record books! My writing world has been filled with exciting events that continue to evolve even here in the final weeks. There was the sale of Death’s Kiss, the sale of a short story entitled Rita, the release of The Deepest Blue, and soon the release of Death’s Kiss. I participated in numerous signings, workshops, and conferences in 2013 – more than I ever have in years past. It seemed like almost every month I had something involving writing (other than my writing group) to participate in. Then came the opportunity to edit a book for one of my publishers, something I absolutely enjoyed and hope to do again! So many changes took place so quickly that sometimes I didn’t even realize they had happened. All of it required flexibility, organization, and the willingness to step outside my comfort zone – something most of us don’t like doing. But not all of the changes I faced were as easy to accommodate.

I had to let go of a lot this year: hopes that I held for myself and others for a number of issues. I know that sounds terribly cryptic, but the truth is, I can’t go into a lot of detail because it’s very personal, and it’s not just about me. Here is one example, though, that truly pushed my limits. I’ve had to let go of a friendship with someone whom I’d been close to for several years. I hate letting go of people I care about, whether through choice or through loss. I don’t give love easily, so when I commit, it’s with my entire heart and soul. Unfortunately, continuing to allow this person in my life was literally asking for continued pain and destruction. For reasons I will never understand, someone who claimed to love me and be my friend was working behind my back to undermine me and hurt me. I’m pretty much a nice person most of the time. I’m not a saint and I have my moments to be sure, but I don’t go out and deliberately try to hurt someone while simultaneously professing to be a friend to him or her. It required some drastic measures to accomplish, but I think I’ve successfully eliminated this individual from my life. It hurt  to do it, but it was a change that needed to be made.

And there are other changes as well. After holding firm to the idea of independence for so long, I’ve finally determined that I need to get an agent, and I am pursuing that even as I write this. After eight years in print, my first three books (the “Hey, Ranger” series) was taken out of print. I will always love those books and I hope one day to be able to do more with that series than the publisher was willing to do. After years of letting it languish, I update my website and I am proud to show it off now!

So what’s the point to all this? Anyone who is close to me will tell you that if you look up the definition of crazy, you’ll see my picture next to it. I move at a fast pace; I’m constantly busy; I’m writing more, editing more, helping other writers, and generally running around like a headless chicken. Things are in a constant state of change in my life: personally, writing-wise, and professionally as well. I don’t think I ever do anything the same way twice, and if that means I’m protected against crazy, well, I’m not sure I agree. But my definition of crazy is what’s keeping me happy, and as the new year approaches, I look forward to more of the same that won’t be the same!

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Change of Seasons

The weather is beautiful – around 75 degrees with a slight breeze to keep things comfortable. Our family took an amazing vacation to San Francisco where we indulged in fabulous food, tourist attractions, and a whole lot of fun with each other. The first handful of raspberries have been harvested, and the nectarine tree is heavy with the hard, green fruit that will ripen into sweet, juicy treats.

My feet have the tell-tale tan of my golf sandals, (no, these are not my feet!)  sandal-tan and my skin is faintly browned (though I’m very careful with sunscreen to be sure). There are camping trips scheduled for July and August, a new patio to be built in my back yard, and so many long walks and longer drives to be taken.

Summer has truly arrived full force, and so I find myself struggling with an annual dilemma: outside vs. writing. I love summer, I love being outside, I love working in my garden, I love going for walks, I love driving with the top down on my Mustang,

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and I love heading off somewhere to watch the sunset. What I don’t like is sitting at the desk in my office. That, of course, means that it is difficult to write during the summer months, and as I have experienced before, I am struggling to make progress on my projects. I was feeling quite negative about this; in fact, I was pretty much beating myself up mentally and emotionally because I’ve fallen so far behind on my work-for-hire project and on the new young adult novel I’ve started.

I don’t like making excuses. The truth is that I’m making choices. I’m choosing other activities over writing, and I’m suffering the consequences of those decisions. So I’ve been seeking alternatives that might somehow allow me to enjoy my summer hours while still achieving my writing goals. One example of my compromise is this specific blog: I’m using my laptop while sitting in my back yard and enjoying the warmth and the birds teasing my kitties. Another switch I’m trying, for those times when my laptop is inconvenient or not an option, is going old school – handwriting in my notebook. It’s worked for me before, and the really important thing is that it takes away the technology excuse. Millions of books were written without benefit of electronic devices, and while I often get frustrated (because I can’t write by hand as fast as I type), I can still record thoughts, work forward on scenes, and continue to make progress even when my laptop isn’t available.

I also use a rewards system with myself to provide the proper motivation to get my writing done. If I know I really want to go to the farmer’s market on Sunday, then I have to have at least ten pages written by Saturday night. If I want to sit on the porch after work and enjoy the garden, then I need to have written for at least an hour the night before. I’m pretty good about holding myself accountable, but I’m even better at it when I let others know what my requirement of myself is. I tell my friends at work, but I also tell my husband and my kids. If they see me trying to get away with something without having finished my writing time, they are quite good at scolding, cajoling, and flat out harassing me to get done what I need to do.

I love summer, but it comes and goes (every year – go figure!), but writing is my passion. So I find ways to make it happen, instead of finding ways to make excuses. Okay – times up. I need to get an hour of writing done now so I can enjoy a long walk tomorrow night!

Career Day!

I’ve been invited to attend the Hunter Jr. High School career day this Friday to talk about being a writer.

I  both love and dread these events (I’ve been to Hunter twice before, and a few other schools as well). I love them because junior high-aged kids make me laugh. They are so full of life and so ready to let you know that they will challenge anything you say if they think you’re trying to put one over on them. They are struggling to find themselves and their identities so they are open to new ideas even if they act like they are completely unaffected by what you say.  Some will chime in and engage in the conversation, others will listen eagerly, and others will just slap on a glazed expression and stare at you like zombies.

By the way, it’s often the zombies who approach me after the session wanting to pick my brains! (Sorry, couldn’t resist). They are the ones with the personal questions who don’t want to reveal that much of themselves in front of their fellow classmates (insert zombie joke of your choice here).

I”m always asked about the benefits of being a writer.  My co-author Jared did a very funny blog on this subject here on WordPress (Jared S. Anderson – check it out!) and I mostly agree with his assessment, but I don’t think I’d be mentioning a few of his perks in a junior high environment.  Perks like working in your jammies, being your own boss, and being able to stare at clouds and call it research are all excellent aspects to being a writer.

A lot of kids want to know how I got started in writing, and I tell them that I was interested in writing before I even really knew how to do it.

No, that’s not me, but it could have been.  I would play on my dad’s manual typewriter pretending to write books. I would write poetry for my mom when I learned to rhyme (my spelling was something hysterical to be sure), and when I was in 3rd grade, I wrote my own book and did a book report on it. I had a pen name and everything! In junior high, I wrote for the school newspaper (the Bonneville By-Line), and in high school I had poetry published in the literary magazine, and I was the type editor for our school newspaper (the Colt Round-Up).  In college, I majored in English, but decided to go into public relations and advertising. I wrote all the time, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be writing. So I decided to try writing professionally. I did a lot of research, I studied, I worked with mentors,   (thank you Carol Lynch Williams), and eventually had some success. I wrote for CitySearch.com and for a local magazine called Wasatch Parent. My first book, Love & Loathing, was published in 1998 and is still in print today.

 Then I decided I wanted to go back to school. I earned my Masters from Vermont College and the creative thesis for my degree became my first novel for kids (“My Brother the Dog” which is soon to be rereleased as “Kiss Kiss Bark”). That was preceded by three nonfiction books just a few months before (the “Hey, Ranger” books), and now an adult horror/suspense novel has arrived (“Beautiful Monster”) and a young adult novel will be released next year (“The Deepest Blue”).

But there is always the part of these career days I dread. Unfortunately, kids ultimately want to know “How much money do you make?”

My typical reply is a bit evasive, but it is none the less true: It depends.

It depends on the book.

It depends on the publisher.

It depends on the contract.

It depends on the sales for that book in a given time period.

Sometimes kids will be satisfied simply to know that you can make money from writing. Others want details.  So I tell them: It depends.

Some of my checks for my book advances have been a few thousand dollars, some have been a few hundred, and some publishers don’t pay an advance.  Some of my royalty checks have been over a thousand dollars, some have been a few hundred, and some have hardly been worth driving to the bank to deposit.

I don’t really get offended when they ask; it’s just embarrassing to admit that I’ve been doing this for so long, but I still don’t make a living at it. I’m committed to making that change, however. I have set a timeline of 5 years (well, 4 1/2 now) to living solely from the procedes of my writing.  Of course, one of the benefits of being a writer – to me, anyway – is that I will do this for the rest of my life even if I don’t make a living at because it’s what I do for my heart.  It’s what I do for me and it is something that not only do I love, but that I hope when my time comes to meet my maker, they find me dead at my keyboard with a long string of “f’s” being typed by my nose.

So wish me luck on Friday! Maybe I can inspire a young mind. I just pray I don’t put them all to sleep.

Word Nerd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, my name is Kim, and I’m a word-aholic.

I fell in love with words at a young age. It began – as it always does – just as innocent fun. When all my classmates were out on the playground for recess, I would sneak into the library and look through the big dictionary. I thought it was totally cool that this one book had a pedestal; its own private stand.

Soon, I was coercing my friends into going with me. “Are you chicken?” I’d say. We would play the “dictionary game” – each of us closing our eyes and randomly flipping through the flimsy pages, stopping when the energy felt right. Then everyone else would pick the hardest word on the page. You had to memorize the word, its spelling, its meaning – you had to know the word.

Of course, we got caught and usually were ushered out of the library for a turn on the swings or the monkey bars. We would lurk on the edges of the playground, sulking and scowling at anyone who invited us to play four-square.  One of my friends began bringing a pocket dictionary to school so that we could play at recess without causing a problem, but it didn’t have as many words, and it didn’t have a lot of the better words. For a quick fix, it was okay.

I loved junior high English. It fed my need for words and gave me new and exciting ways to explore language. We got to make posters for our vocabulary assignments, or we could look up “challenge” words for extra credit. We were encouraged to explore words in new ways, and I used to tell people I wanted to be an etymologist. Of course, most of my friends would reply, “You don’t even like bugs.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many years, I hid my nerdiness from others. I couldn’t have survived high school otherwise. I denied knowing the Greek or Latin root of a word, alternate definitions, or even what part of speech it was. But secretly, I kept a dictionary close at hand. “For homework,” I would tell people. But always, I was feeding my habit.

Today, I am pleased to be able to admit my word nerdiness publicly. I no longer worry that others will find me odd or that I will somehow stick out in society.  True, my family won’t play Scrabble with me, but I have an ap for that! My vocabulary isn’t pompous or pretentious because I don’t let it be. I don’t need to try to impress anyone.  I’ve got my degrees, I do my writing, and I beat the Scrabble ap enough to feel confident in my language skills without flaunting them. I miss the days in the library, though, with musty-smelling paper and stiff bindings that crackle as you flip the big dictionary open to the page of your choice.  Anyone wanna play?

 

 

 

 

Few and Far Between

A Facebook friend asked me about my blog a few days ago, and I acknowledged that I hadn’t been actively blogging.  This morning I awoke to the realization that it is now September, and another summer has slipped past me and into memory, and yet I hadn’t really done much that was significant.  I felt saddened by this at first, and then I took a look and realized there was more on my list of achievements than I realized.

Early in the summer I started mentoring a writer who has become a wonderful friend.  His writing journey has been one of significance and has been incredibly inspiring to me.  I have no doubt that he will become a published author, and not because of me, but because of his own effort and determination.

I bought a new car – a 2008 convertible Mustang – a car I’ve wanted since I got to ride around my uncle’s convertible Mustang as a little kid. I’m very proud of my car.  It is the first car that I bought on my own, with my own money, my own credit, MINE MINE MINE! I’m very proud of my baby, and I enjoy the heck out of her!

I finished revisions on a novel that is sitting on an agent’s desk awaiting an answer.  I also started a new novel and made pretty good progress on it over the three months I’ve been working. It’s a different story, one that is forcing me to stretch, but I’m enjoying feeling a little off-balance and pushed beyond my limits.  It is rejuvenating.

This summer (well, actually starting this spring) I launched a new program to get control of my health and my life.  The result has been exciting.  I’ve lost over 30 pounds and have dropped three clothing sizes. I am healthier and more active than ever, and I haven’t felt this good in close to 15 years.

I attended a private writing retreat put together by some of my friends.  We went to the southern part of the state and had a fabulous time writing, talking, exchanging ideas, and reading each other’s work.  While there, I started another novel, and I am excited to see where it goes once I finish the one I’ve been working on all summer.

There is so much that I achieved – even if I didn’t take any big trips or do anything for the record books.  There is time enough for that (Scotland next spring, Myrtle Beach next summer). For now, I’m pleased to know I am on the right path and doing everything I should be doing for myself and my family.

Personal Preferences

So a group of writers gets together . . . I know: sounds like the set up to a joke, but actually, it happens all the time. We get together for critique group, we get together at conferences or signings, and inevitably we talk about – duh – writing. I’m always fascinated by these discussions because we all approach this weird business in our own way, and I love hearing how others handle different aspects of being a writer in today’s market.

Every writer has his or her own system, his or her own style, and his or her own set of preferences when it comes to the task of writing.  The late and amazing Norma Fox Mazer preferred to sit at a keyboard (originally a typewriter), with a hat pulled low over her eyes so she couldn’t see what she was typing and couldn’t edit while she was creating.

Norma was a witty and wise writer; she was a giving writer who shared insights and humor interchangeably and generously.  But she was very clear in her admonition that this was her system, and her system may not work for everyone.

Liza Ketchum writes all of her stories long-hand for the first draft. She keeps stacks of notebooks just for this purpose. She explained that, for her, the writing process was as much tactile as it was intellectual.

 And she has beautiful handwriting! If I could write as beautifully as she does, I’d write everything long-hand too!  In fact, I do that sometimes, but I start to worry more about my handwriting than I do about the story. However, when inspiration hits and all I have is a pen and some paper, I’ll start writing notes, and maybe even a scene or two, rather than waiting until I have access to technology.

Some writers have a favorite chair they sit in to write, and others have a favorite pen which they use.

These are glass fountain pens from Murano, Italy. I have given them as gifts to writer friends and mentors.  I want one, but I refuse to indulge just yet.  My favorite pen to write with is the Sharpie Fine-Point Pen, the one that doesn’t bleed through the paper but gives you that Sharpie permanence. 

Some writers have a favorite place to write. If I had my choice, my favorite place to write would be beneath a multi-colored umbrella at a cafe on the beach in Hawaii or Puerto Aventuras or Nassau.

As long as there was someone to bring me food and drink, I could sit there for hours and work. It would be glorious. Currently, my favorite place to work is anywhere that I have my baby laptop.

 I can plug it in anywhere and instantly be productive.  The little coffee shop across from my office has Wi-Fi and makes a great raspberry mocha! They also have outside umbrellas for when the weather is nice (although April in Utah is pretty inconsistent weather-wise). It’s not the beach, but I can pretend.

My friend Mette Ivie Harrison likes to write an entire novel straight through before she starts revising – though actually, she admits she does do some revision as she goes along.

 She also does triathalons and Iron Man competitions. She’s a stud. She’s amazing.  How she manages to do all she does is astonishing to me and continuously makes me feel inferior.  But I’m not Mette.  I can’t be. It’s hard enough to be me.

In seeking to become a better writer, one of the hardest parts is figuring out what your individual system is.  And for me, there is no one system.  Sometimes a certain technique or approach will work, and the next time it won’t.  But what I know for certain is that my system won’t work for anyone else the way it does for me.  Each writer has to find those aspects and elements that are effective for him or her. No book, no “expert”, no other writer or would-be writer can tell you exactly how to be an effective writer: you just sort of have to try things and see how they work – or don’t work – for you.