Every writer needs support and guidance as they are learning to hone their craft and navigate the world of publishing. I wrote for several years before I found my current writers group, and with it some wonderful mentors. I never knew what I was missing! One of those mentors is Elaine Marie Alphin.
Elaine joined our writers group not long after I did. She is a passionate children's writer with more than 30 books under her belt, and numerous awards, including the Edgar Allan Poe Award for mystery for her book Counterfeit Son. Elaine took me under her wing. She spent hours discussing my stories with me, offering suggestions and critiques, but always in a strong, positive way. She helped me see my writing in new ways. She worked with me during writers group time, in the car on the way to conferences, over gyros for lunch, and by email and phone chats. She taught me what it means to truly live your writing.
Elaine also taught many other people. She traveled extensively for school visits, SCBWI Conference presentations, and writers retreat collaboration. I brought Elaine into my school where I teach, and she worked with me and the entire student body to write our own mystery. The kids actually wrote a mystery novel, with each grade level providing a chapter. This was an amazing project that inspired the writing of countless kids.
A little over a year ago, Elaine suffered a massive stroke that has left her physically unable to write. She is in the process of rebuilding brain neuron pathways to hopefully bring her passion back.
I imagine there are probably thousands of writers out there who also claim Elaine as their writing mentor, but I claim her special. I'm so grateful for her teaching, her guidance, her knowledge, and her friendship. Here's a shout-out to you, Elaine!
We got our cat from the animal shelter after he'd been there for almost a year. No one wanted him. He still had his claws, had a fierce reputation, and didn't know how to purr. We were looking for a mouser, to maintain patrols at the wood pile in the back yard. His name was Sailor Jerry. Who can resist a cat named Sailor Jerry? He was perfect.
"Do you have a dog?" they asked us.
"Oh, then you better not take him. He hates dogs, and has been known to attack them."
My husband smiled. "We can handle it."
They weren't kidding. Poor, sweet Alice couldn't understand why we'd brought home such a vicious beast. For the first two weeks, Tim had them sleep in separate kennels, doors butted up against each other. Alice cowered in a tiny pile in the back of hers, and the cat stuck his paw through the bars and hissed whenever anyone was watching. Gradually, they began to tolerate each other. We knew Alice would be the weaker specimen - she's just too nice - and Sailor Jerry quickly figured out that she wasn't even the tiniest threat.
It's been two years now. Sailor Jerry has a solid place in the household. He's a great mouser, just like we needed. He teases Alice and even plays with her when he thinks no one is looking. And he has learned how to purr. He snuggles and purrs for hours on end if we let him.
We took the fierce Sailor Jerry and taught him what it means to be loved. He loves us right back.
Photographing snowflakes is a tricky proposition. First of all, they are tiny, delicate, precariously frozen natural creations that don't like to be caught. When you do catch them, they clump together with their friends, or instantly melt into a pool of quivering destruction.
Learning to catch them and then take photographs is a skill that takes lots of practice, and lots of failures. Unfortunately, most snowfalls don't produce interesting snowflakes anyway. Only when the conditions are perfect - just the right amount of humidity, just the right temperature - are beautiful snowflakes formed. It's a little like trying to manipulate anything in nature. We humans really don't have a lot of control.
Most of my snowflake photographs have been practice - experimenting with catching techniques, using the digital microscope's focusing specs, figuring temperature controls, and trying to keep my bare hands from freezing. I've practiced on my own, with my family, and even with my whole 5th grade class. My students loved it, and actually got some pretty good pictures.
My daughter Bailey and I are teaming up this coming winter. She's a photographer, with lots of know-how at that end. We're going to take all we've learned so far, do some fine tuning, and hopefully create some exceptional images. The process is the battle. We need to mix a large amount of craft knowledge and practice, with an even larger amount of luck.
That sounds a little like becoming an author.
After months of practicing, planning, researching, and preparing, I've just taken the next step. For my birthday today, I asked for a new digital microscope. A Dino-Lite AM413T. I hope it does just what I hope it will do. Now if only it would start to snow...
I've been writing for long enough now that I've spanned several computers. Five, I think. I went searching the other day for an old play that was lots of fun - "The Frontier Wish". I found it! A few computers ago.
Sure, I've backed everything up in various methods. Floppy disks, colorful hard disks, CD's, 64 megabyte flash drives, and even 'the cloud'. (Although I'm still not sure about that one...) But today, I decided it was time to spend some time in consolidation.
I went to my favorite office supply store (and had to leave the car running so the battery wouldn't die on me). I ran inside and quickly perused the flash drive aisle. Amazing! Shocking! Science Fiction! Huge amounts of gigabytes on tiny little decorative ornaments. For cheap! There were skateboards, turtles, monkeys, TV characters, flowers, food items, and tiny little colorful rectangular prisms.
I finally, (after about 45 seconds - remember the car running outside) decided on a small, blue, slightly concave box. The cap on the USB end is bigger than the drive itself. 8 GB. $6.99. I hurried through the checkout and on my way.
All of my writing, from years and years and drafts and drafts, will fit in that tiny little box. With room for at least twenty more year's worth. Now, if I can just keep from losing the itty-bitty thing...
Are you looking for an excellent writing/revision resource? I would suggest Martha Alderson's 'Plot Whisperer'. One of my talented critique partners, Janet Fox, gave me a copy for Christmas last year. In preparation for our retreat this summer, I finally read it.
What I found was a great pool of information that worked whether you are a planner, or a pantser. Alderson gave instructions and specific methods that work for any type of writer. Overall, the book analyzes the structure of story in a concrete, visual, understandable way. Her four energetic markers, or turning points of every story, were just what I needed to learn and recognize.
While at our retreat, we also watched a video presentation of Alderson's 'Plot Whisperer' techniques. She walked through and picked apart a book we had all read, to point out her structure secrets in action. It was very informative, and led us to several excellent discussions in our group.
I highly recommend this book to any writer seeking to hone their craft. I've also learned that recently, an accompanying workbook has come available. I'm ordering one!
When we lived in Utah, where the summers are long and hot, I grew a huge garden with everything imaginable in it. Fresh garden tomatoes are one of the best foods in the world. I learned how to can, and freeze, dehydrate, and put up all the excess to eat during the winter. It was work I enjoyed very much.
Then we moved to Montana. At first we tried to grow a big garden, but it didn't take very long to figure out that things are different here. After a few years of failure, I gave up for a while. Not long ago, we decided to give it another shot. My husband put in a great rain water collection system for watering, and built me a big raised garden bed. We planted seeds, of crops we knew would grow here. I also put in two tomato plants (wishful thinking). The radishes were delicious. The beets have grown well, and I've already done one batch of sweet pickled beets. Yum! Lettuce, good, carrots, good. Beans? We chose to do pole beans, something we've never done before. They wouldn't budge past 5 inches high. I'd mostly given up on them for the year, vowing to amend the soil and try again next year.
This morning I discovered about a third of the row, on the west end, has started to climb and grow. Go figure! I have no idea why that section of plants has suddenly realized its purpose after months of stagnation, but I'm not complaining. My daughter and I drove posts, and ran twine, and now I'll sit back and cheer on the vines.
Writing for children is a passion - along with reading kid's books, writing plays for kids, and teaching kids how to write!