Tag Archives: author

Giving Back: Researching Donation Options

So, as a writer with a handful of short stories and two books in the publication channels, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my goals as an author.

I want to make a difference in the lives of the kids I write for. I can do that in two ways. I can write compelling stories that help my readers reach their potential, and I can donate a certain amount of my proceeds to the causes I believe in.

The first option seems relatively easy in comparison to the second one. I have spent the last few weeks researching how best to donate to the futures of my potential audience. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it first seems.

In part, I balk at scholarships that have a GPA criteria. There are 1001 of them out there for outstanding students. These kids are already well on their way to success. Instead, I want to make sure the kids who benefit from any money/goods I donate are at risk of not succeeding.

You see, literacy is probably my biggest soap box issue. Poverty, crime and literacy rates are so tightly linked that some states base their need for prison beds on the reading success of elementary students. This is a great American travesty and not the only one out there when it comes to managing literacy.

Eldest Son has severe dyslexia. Completing high school was a struggle. Getting academic scholarships was not in his cards. Yet, according to research, his brain works six times harder to complete educational tasks as a traditional student’s. By rights shouldn’t that entitle him to six times the scholarship money? Alas, however, it is these students who fall through the cracks and end up in jail. The ones we don’t help succeed when it is whithin our ability to do so.

Another part of the equation is that many programs are geographically based. Sure I can donate to the Detroit area where 47% of the population is functionally illiterate. But I don’t live in Chicago. If I’m going to pinpoint a single geographic area, it will be my own.

Yet my neck of the woods doesn’t have a viable charity/scholarship for the individuals I want to help. In fact, my neck of the woods–because it’s small and at the corner of Nowhere and More Nowhere–gets overlooked by nearly all important services. As a whole, we are economically and educationally suppressed and service poor.

Anyway, long story short, I am having a difficult time finding a charity to donate to that hits the demographic I am passionate about: at risk students who could reach their potential if given the chance.

I want to be part of that chance.

Any suggestions?

Writing Lessons from the Playground

Yesterday when I dropped my boys off at school, the temp was a balmy 34 degrees.  Here’s what I saw:

  • Frost on the ground.
  • Kids in t-shirts and shorts.
  • Kids in shorts and sweatshirts.
  • Kids in pants and t-shirts.
  • Kids in jeans and jackets.
  • Very few hats and/or mittens.

The jacketed kids played.  The half-dressed kids huddled.  The mittenless pulled their sleeves over their fingers and the hatless/hoodless pressed their hands against their ears.

Today, the temperature gauge on my truck read 43 degrees.  Here’s what I saw:

  • Pants and long sleeves.
  • Lots o’ mittens and hats.
  • A fair number of jackets.
  • Everybody playing.

This strikes me as the same sharp reality that we writers get when we begin submitting our first manuscripts.  We are simply unprepared for the journey.  We often go into writing a novel with little or no understanding about the process as a whole.  We write to “the end” and we feel accomplished.

And we are.  What we aren’t is ready to send it out.  We aren’t ready to succeed.  We aren’t ready for the yes and the hard work that will follow.  So, I offer you: 

Writing Lessons from the Playground

  1. Wear long sleeves: Get your manuscript in top form.  Even a cool breeze is tolerable if we protect our core.  A poorly edited manuscript leaves us completely vulnerable to the elements, which ultimately culminates in a form rejection.
  2. Wear long pants: Write a killer query letter.  No, this doesn’t mean only dress pants are acceptable.  Jeans or sweat pants are just fine, as long as your attire query fits your story. 
  3. Wear a hat: Research your agents/editors before ever sending out your submission package.  We lose the bulk of our body heat through our heads.  A simple cap helps regulate our core temp.  Likewise, careful research into an agent’s likes, dislikes, preferences, past sales and business style are a must.  Too often, we get so wrapped up in the idea of any agent/editor attention that we lose our heads and forget that not all acceptances are a good fit for us.
  4. Throw on some mittens: Keep writing.  Write your marketing proposal and write your next book.  Write your blog.  Write in your diary or write a short story or article.  Write.  Keep your fingers limber and warm.  Prepare for the next step in your journey, because sometimes an agent/editor says yes.  And when he does, you’ll want nothing more than to be able to play in comfort. 
  5. And you  know what comes after fall…snowsuits and boots.  Receiving a publishing contract takes us from writer to author.  We literally become wrapped up in the written word.  We edit old pieces, write new ones, brainstorm for even newer ones, network socially and juggle real life.  It’s a veritable snowstorm, and one we won’t survive unless we fully prepare for life as a writer.  Routine, organization, resetting of priorities…the list is endless, but it all starts with a long-sleeved shirt on a frosty morning.

Yeah, one miserable cold snap was enough for parents and kids to drag out the warm clothing.  It was enough for everyone to realize how ill-prepared we were for playground fun.  It was enough to redirect our behaviors and approach something as simple as dressing with a bit more purpose and thought.

I’m not going to lie.  I get that it’s totally embarrassing to be the first wussy kid on the playground to don a stocking hat.  There’s something uncool about being warm until you’re so cold you can’t feel your toes.  When my boys balked about their hats and mittens yesterday morning, I provided them with my mantra: Put them in your backpack.  If you’re not cold, don’t use them.  Your choice.  But at least you’ll have them when you need them.  At least you’ll be prepared.

And so, dear writers, I ask: are you prepared?  What steps have you taken to help smooth your path to success?  Do you stash your mittens in the bottom of your bag, or do you unabashedly wear them for all the world to see?

Curious minds want to know.

Red, Black and Blue: what color is your hook?

Contrary to my blog title, I was patriotic this weekend.  We journeyed up north and stayed longer than expected, ate more than necessary and had not internet connection.  Henceforth my hiatus.

We also had a little mishap–or two.  Henceforth my title.

Eldest broke his toe in a barefoot soccer match.  He should have been wearing tennies, but impromptu backyard games make us forget to nab our sneakers before fully engaging.

On the same day, DH capsized his sailboat in the middle of the lake.  When my father-in-law jumped in the speed boat to save him, I followed without thinking.  In the trial and error process of rescuing DH, I ended up bruised and battered.

Eldest and I reluctantly wore black and blue.

The red, however, was all good news.  Last year at an SCBWI conference, I heard an editor speak about a new book she had recently acquired.  She was thrilled to have it in her hands and spoke enthusiastically about this YA novel.

Turns out Sisters Red was worthy of her praise.  It’s not often I find a fairytale that really grabs me, but this book did.  And it got me thinking.  Did I love the book because of Jill Dembowski’s enthusiasm, or would I have loved it equally without her gushing about it?

I had no intention of buying this book as I scanned the shelves on Friday.  Yet the title popped into my head after lying dormant for over a year, and something stirred deep within me.  I knew I had to have it. 

I was prepared to love it and I did.  I was not prepared to rescue DH and I suffered for it by fumbling with a wet, heavy mast in gale force winds.  Eldest was ill-prepared to kick the ball around and will pay a high price for his foolishness as marching season ramps up.

Preparation goes a long way in dictating how we experience things.  It also plays a major role in how we present our writing.

A great novel deserves the undying love and respect of its author.  We should be able to paint it with passion in a few choice words.  If we can’t, we will end up with a battered a bruised hook.  One that does nothing but highlight how ill-prepared were are to represent our writing.   

How do you answer when someone asks, “What are you writing about?”  Do you have an enthusiastic and engaging hook to present?  One that will stir something deep inside and suck your potential readers in?  Or, are you a bit unprepared and fumbling?