America at Work

By Ellen Leventhal

happy-labor-day-15661549[1]

Labor Day. People are lining up for sales, barbecue grills  are going  full blast, and some of us are putting the white shorts away until next Memorial Day.

But what is Labor Day really? It wasn’t meant to be an end of summer celebration, and it wasn’t meant to signal the start of school or football season. Labor Day is a day set aside to honor the American labor force. If you don’t know about the divisive Pullman Car Strike, you may want to take time this Labor Day to read about it. In 1894 President Grover Cleveland initiated the holiday as part of the federal response to that strike. But even so, a lot more work needed to be done in order to secure living wages and safe workplaces for American workers. Do you recall learning about the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory? Again, if you are not familiar with it, Labor Day is a great time to learn about it and the Labor Unions which had a huge impact on workplace safety.

The Labor and Working-class History Association put out this list of what they feel are good books about labor. Take a look and see what you think.

http://lawcha.org/wordpress/2015/06/08/twenty-best-labor-books-first-

So yes,  we can take this day to relax.  We can enjoy our friends and family, and we can hit the snooze button a few times.But let’s always remember the meaning behind Labor Day and be thankful to the workers who make our lives what they are.

I HEAR AMERICA SINGING

~ Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day-at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

 

 

 

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Have a Piece of Chocolate and Move On

By Ellen Leventhal
rejection

I know I’ve written about rejection before. But see, that’s the thing. It’s not something you think about once, get over, and move on to a field of daisies and puppies to write happily ever after.  Yes, after a rejection, eat chocolate, have some wine, and move on.  Definitely move on. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking that once you move on, you’ll never get that punch in the gut feeling again.

For traditionally published authors, and those attempting to be one, the rejection letter is sometimes a literary form of “It’s not you, it’s me.” It usually reads something like this: “Although you have a wonderful way of telling a story, it’s just not right for our list. We hope your manuscript finds a home.”  (That always makes me think of hundreds of poor manuscripts huddled together under a street light; homeless and cold.) Sometimes that’s true. Different agents and editors are looking for different things. And sometimes it’s timing. I once got a beautiful rejection telling me that they liked my writing, but they just published a book with a very similar theme, and they are a small press….blah, blah, blah. You know, it’s not you, it’s us. But then there are also the ones that pretty much tell you that you are a fool to have submitted because your work is way below their standards, and you might as well throw your computer away because you are a hopeless hack. OK, I may have overreacted and read that into my last rejection, but you get the idea.

So how about if you indie publish? No rejections? Right and wrong.  Although there may not be actual rejections, you still need a thick skin. Most critique groups have caring, diplomatic members who will point out issues in your manuscript without making you cringe. Critique groups are wonderful for finding things you missed because you are too close to the project. But sometimes an editor may not be as diplomatic. And what about when you pay someone to critique your work and then get a less than stellar review? You may take their criticisms as a form of rejection. Again, drink wine, eat chocolate, and fix the manuscript. You still may feel like you have been punched in the gut, but at least you have a chance to revise. So do it.

Now, what about the indie writer who doesn’t get his work critiqued or edited? Well, maybe they won’t face the same type of rejection, but most likely, their book won’t do well. But those writers are for a whole different blog post. Indie writers need to go through all the same steps as traditionally published writers. When they don’t, they make the rest of us look bad. More on that another day.

We all face some type of rejection. It’s not just about writing.  How do you handle it? I’d love to hear because I’m running low on chocolate and wine.

 

 

Happy Leap Day/ List Day

time management threeBy Ellen Leventhal

The writer’s life and time management. Unfortunately, these two don’t always go together well. At least not for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in my wish for more hours in the day. Does anyone else end their days staring at the ceiling, ticking off all the tasks you did NOT get done that day? Please tell me it’s not just me!

So how happy am I that there is a full extra day this month? VERY happy. Surely, I will use this day to check things off my list. There aren’t that many things, right? I can do this! Here we go:

  1. Send poetry to that magazine.
  2. Dig out the email that tells me the name of the magazine.
  3. Type out texts of picture books to work on pacing.
  4. Go to the library and check-out said picture books.
  5. Begin work on that new website I’ve been talking about for years.
  6. Find someone to help me do that.
  7. Walk around the block. Sitting all day is bad for you.
  8. Finish three critiques.
  9. Call Comcast so I can get online to pull up the stories to critique.
  10. Re-write that short story in picture book format.
  11. Re-write that picture book manuscript into short story format.
  12. Have lunch!
  13. Stop at the Galleria after lunch to pick up those cute clothes for grandkids.
  14. Text daughters-in-law and double check sizes.
  15. Reply to store’s request for more books. Yes, the reissue of that book will be out by summer.
  16. Nag anyone who is responsible for getting the new book out.
  17. Have dinner.
  18. Climb into bed and tick off every item I did not accomplish. Sigh….

Sometimes it’s time management issues. Sometimes it’s computer issues. And sometimes life interferes with the best laid plans. But I will take this extra day for something. Even if it means counting my blessings because, although the book deals aren’t rolling in, a lot of other great things are.

Happy Leap Day, everyone! Use it to do what makes your happy.

 

 

Are You Feeling the Love?

By Ellen Leventhal

broken-heart-1316091

Here we are. It’s Valentine’s Day. Street corners are crowded with vendors selling roses and balloons. Throngs of last minute shoppers are mowing down each other vying for that last box of chocolates. Come on, folks! It’s just a day.  But I get it. It’s hard to resist a fluffy rabbit holding a sign that says “Some Bunny Loves You.”  But our loved ones  know we love them all year around. Or at least they should. So I decided this year that I wouldn’t feed into the hoopla.  Sure, I’d get everyone a card, but the hoopla? Not me.

But then there were puppies. Real puppies asking to be adopted for Valentine’s day. Stuffed puppies calling out for cuddles from behind a stack of bananas at the grocery store. And all those “Dog Gone It…Be My Valentine!” puppies next to the cough medicine at Walgreens. How much can a person take?

I know it’s just a Hallmark holiday. But now I’m thinking. What harm will it do to have some fun? If a yellow marshmallow Peep is ok for Easter, why not a giant pink cookie for Valentine’s Day?

However, not everyone has a Valentine. Some people dread this day. Holidays are not always easy. Society wants us to wear red and smile today. But that’s not the reality for everyone.

So here’s my suggestion. Sure, give gifts and chocolates if it makes you happy. But try to do more. Let’s make sure that today is not just about our loved ones and chocolate hearts. Let’s make this a day of kindness. Kindness to those we know and those we don’t. Reach out to everyone today. It doesn’t take a lot to smile, open a door, or say thank you.  Of course, we should do that every day, but sometimes we need a reminder. So this year, let’s celebrate “Kindness Day.”

Keeping that in mind,  I have to give props to the Space City Scribes. I thank my SCS buddies for all the help they give me. They even put up with my technical ineptitude. Thanks, guys!   And of course, this group of dynamic women  write a pretty awesome anthology! (Like that segue?)

So,  to those inclined, check out First Last Forever. It’s a group of stories about disastrous first dates. They are sweet, funny, and even a bit devilish.  We hope you like them. And if you do, we’d love a review! 🙂

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01AEDZFMK?keywords=first+last+forever&qid=1452800466&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8

FLF hands FINAL

I wish all our readers a wonderful day with or without stuffed animals. Reach out to someone new, compliment someone, and smile at a stranger. And go ahead and eat some chocolate if you’d like.

For now, I’m off to my son’s house. How can my granddaughter survive without a stuffed dinosaur telling her she is “Dino-mite”?

Happy Kindness Day!

 

 

 

 

 

Small Steps First

change ahead

By Ellen Leventhal

Here we are approaching the end of the year. Time for resolutions, right? When we make resolutions, we look forward, but I think we look back as well. Speaking personally, my resolutions are based on things I didn’t achieve in the past year. In other words, if I didn’t get in shape in 2015, I may resolve to find my ideal body in 2016. If I didn’t get a book deal in 2015, I may resolve to get one in 2016. Sounds kind of crazy, right? Right.  Things like getting a book deal, snagging the perfect agent,  and certainly obtaining that ideal body aren’t really resolutions. They’re goals. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think you can put a time limit on those types of things. They can take years. Or you may never achieve those long range goals. But you CAN resolve to take steps that may lead to your goals. Those steps are what I consider resolutions.  So here they are, out in public, a few of my writing goals and resolutions.

  1. GOAL: Get a particular story traditionally published.  RESOLUTION: I will polish it, have it critiqued several times, revise as much as I need to, and most importantly, send it out to targeted editors.
  2. GOAL: Snag an agent. RESOLUTION: I will go to conferences, network, take classes, and again, most importantly, send my stories out.
  3. GOAL: Redo my website.  RESOLUTION: I will find people who can help me with this (I resolve to ask for help a lot this year!), and I will dive into it head first instead of just talking about it.
  4. GOAL: Indie publish an anthology of short stories.  RESOLUTION: Write two short stories a month.
  5. GOAL: Learn more about e-publishing.  RESOLUTION: Again, ask for help. (Especially from my wonderful, talented, and helpful Space City Scribes buddies!)
  6. GOAL: Reissue Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets.  RESOLUTION: All the resolutions are taken care of on this one. Ellen Rothberg and I are thrilled to be working with Joel Cook to create an even better book than the original. Stay tuned!

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On another note, I’d like to tell you about a goal I did reach this year. I was honored to be part of a Middle Grade anthology in which all proceeds go to the Sturge-Weber Foundation. It is a wonderful organization that helps families affected by the neurological syndrome, Sturge-Weber. If you want to find out more about Sturge-Weber, please check out www.sturge-weber.org. If you want to help, go to Amazon and purchase Kissed by an Angel compiled by Robyn Campbell.  You won’t be sorry you did!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and peaceful holiday season!

http://www.amazon.com/Kissed-Angel-Robyn-Campbell/dp/151936055X/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1450096921&sr=1-9&keywords=kissed%20by%20an%20angel

 

 

Veterans’ Day 2015

memorial day

By Ellen Leventhal

A little history lesson and food for thought today.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year 1918,  an armistice was signed, and the fighting between the Allied forces and Germany ceased. Although The Treaty of Versailles wasn’t signed until June, 1919, most people consider November 11, 1918 the end of World War I.

A year later, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first Armistice Day. This day was to honor those who served as well as to commemorate the armistice.

Of course, although some called WWI “The war to end all wars,” this was not to be. And it was certainly not the end of US Veterans coming back to a different home from which they left.

In 1945, a WWII vet named Raymond Weeks came up with the idea to honor all veterans, not just those who served in WWI. Thus Armistice Day was changed to Veterans’ Day.

We still celebrate Veterans’ Day, but what does that mean in 2015? I asked a group of third graders for their definition of a veteran. One said, “Someone who retired from a war.”

Another said, “An alumni of a war.”

Still another said, “A man or woman who fought for our country, but they just need to be in the military. They don’t need to fight in a war.”

All good answers but my eye was on one girl deep in thought. She stood up and said this. “A veteran is someone who fought for our country, but isn’t respected when he or she gets home. It’s very hard to come back home and go back to your normal life. People need to be nicer to them.”

Hmm….out of the mouths of babes.

This is not a political post. I’m a teacher and a writer, not a politician. But I am a human. And as a human, I find it difficult to understand why some of our veterans have to stand on street corners and beg because they cannot find jobs. It pains me to see some having to wait months or sometimes years to be seen in a Veterans’ Hospital. And my heart breaks when I see veterans turning to drugs just to stop the pain…both physical and emotional.

So what does that say about our celebration of Veterans’ Day 2015? I’m not sure. But I would like to think we can do better. Please join the conversation.

Memorable First Lines

By Ellen Leventhal

ferris wheel

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

                                        Natalie Babbitt

These first few sentences of the middle grade novel, Tuck Everlasting take my breath away. For brevity’s sake, I didn’t include the whole prologue, but trust me, the rest of it is just as strikingly beautiful. I am in awe of Natalie Babbitt’s use of language to draw the reader in and set the stage for her story.

Opening lines can make or break a story. Because I normally (although not always) write kid lit, some of my favorite opening lines are from children’s literature. As writers, we need a hook. Not a Hook as in Captain Hook, but something to transport readers into our story. Of course, speaking of Captain Hook, JM Barrie gave us one of the most memorable first lines ever. It is that first line that begins our journey to Neverland. Without it, we may never venture out of the Darling’s bedroom.

Just for fun, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite openings from varying genre. See if you can guess what books open with these lines.

  1. “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
  2. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo lying on the floor.
  3. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  4. In an old house that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.
  5. A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood; a fox saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.
  6. Once there were four children whose names are Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy.
  7. All children, except one, grow up.
  8. It was a pleasure to burn.
  9. This is George. He lived in Africa.
  10. It was love at first sight. The first time Yosarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.

So how did you do? Did you know the books? What lines did you know? What lines did you have to look up? (In this age of instant information, I’m sure you looked them up if you didn’t know them.)

Please comment and share some of YOUR favorite opening lines.

Happy reading!

I NEED THAT CHERRY SCENTED HIGHLIGHTER!

by Ellen Leventhal

 

BackTo-School-Kids-At-Desk-Lead-In[1]

I admit it. I’m a Back to School geek. I kind of get into all the Back to School hoopla. The ads, the sales, all of it. It may be the middle of August and 100 degrees, but it’s still Back to School Season.

Back to School time is like New Year’s. The beginning of the school year is filled with possibilities. But to be honest, that’s not the reason I like this season. The real reason lies at Office Max and teacher supply stores. My name is Ellen, and I am a school supply junkie. I started young. I began hoarding pens and pencils in elementary school. My habit got worse as I went through school. By the time I was a student teacher, I found that I couldn’t be trusted with loose supplies. They ended up in my possession, and I could never remember how they got there. As I reflect, I now wonder if I went into education just for the supplies.

At first,  pencils and blue ball point pens were my supplies of choice. When that didn’t do it for me anymore, I moved up to bigger things. Gel pens and highlighters. I couldn’t resist the colors. Now I’ve added sticky notes. Not just the yellow kind. Oh no, I have sticky notes in every color. And pens to match each note.

I’ve always had a problem. When I think back on my life, I realize what an impact the school supply aisle had on me. Cue the dreamlike music…

Elementary School: My feet really hurt in these new shoes, but I get to sharpen all those yellow number two pencils. I wonder if the president of Crayola got my fan letter. A crayon sharpener right in the box! Brilliant!

Junior High: I hope that boy will notice me. I’m sure he likes my brand new pink eraser and Beatles notebook. And those girls must be pretty jealous of my Herman’s Hermits’ pencils and note pads.

High School: I love my blue notebook and college lined paper. The separators with multi-colored tabs are the best money can buy. I think that boy is pretty impressed too. He looked at me when I clicked my Bic. I think I’ll write his name on my notebook.

College: This may be the real thing. We go school supply shopping together. We spend hours at the store enabling each other and then go back to the dorm and look at our stash. Sigh.

Post College: I’m the teacher now, and that boy is still shopping with me. He’s kicked his habit, but he still enables me. Do I really need two attendance books and highlighters of every color? Sure. You just never know. Oh, and look at those stamps I need!

Fast forward many years to a recent conversation.

Me: Honey, my house flooded, so I won’t be able to tutor you there for a while.

Student: Did all our markers and highlighters get ruined?

Me: Yes.

We both wept just a little.

Wishing everyone a wonderful school year filled with happiness, success, and cherry scented highlighters.

Unicorns, Glitter, and Green Neon Marker

By Ellen Leventhal

I’ve had better summers. My house flooded, I broke two teeth, and I gained five pounds. Did I mention my house flooded? I watched parts of my life, including manuscript upon manuscript, float away. In the aftermath, I found soaked stories and putrid smelling poems. Ideas scribbled in journals were illegible, and water oozed out of notebooks and folders. Along with all of this, my creativity seems to have drowned too.  I have to assume that it will resurface at some point, but for now, I’m focusing on the creativity of seven and eight year olds.

Every year, teaching at the Writers in the Schools/ Rice Literacy and Culture Creative Writing Camp is the highlight of my summer. This year it saved my sanity. I usually teach older kids, but this time I was assigned seven and eight year olds. I was a bit concerned about working with such young kiddos, but there are definitely some advantages to working with kids this age. Here are a few.

  1. They laugh at my jokes and don’t roll their eyes.
  2. They are silly. And they don’t care.
  3. They ask questions like, “Why does glitter glitter?”
  4. They write about unicorns and kidnappers all in the same story.
  5. They love everything they write and think that “wings” and “fins” rhyme.
  6. They know that writing is better when it’s done in neon green, and the margins are decorated with pink hearts.
  7. They totally get that if you sing while you write, you can conquer the world.
  8. They know that writing with a friend is the best. Especially when you giggle and illustrate your work.
  9. They fall over laughing when they read their work aloud.
  10. They smile. A lot. And cry. Just sometimes.

These children’s creativity bubbles to the top. It hasn’t been buried under concerns about state mandated tests and grades. They are filled with wonder, and they are carefree. They make me smile. So when I am with them, just for a few hours,  I am not worried about FEMA, insurance, and the fact that I need to adjust to a new normal.  I just take a neon green marker and write a story about unicorns that save the earth. And of course, I decorate the margins with pink hearts.

Time and A Soldier’s Gift…Let’s Remember On This Day

memorial day

By Ellen Leventhal

In honor of Memorial Day, I’d like to share a few memories. I post this every year, and I hope it helps you remember all who have served.

The story starts many years ago; just one moment in time. The place was Belgium on the road to Bastogne.  The soldier was brave, but had no idea what lie ahead of him. The date was New Year’s Day, 1945.  He believed in the fight, and he believed in his orders. But despite the best laid plans, war, like life, doesn’t always follow a set path. He was to lead the attack, but when he looked around, all he saw were enemy tanks and machine guns. Time stopped, but duty didn’t. Looking out through blurry eyes onto the devastated scene in the frozen distance, the soldier saw two wounded men. One was carrying another on his shoulder. Sticking out of the walking man’s shattered leg was his bone, or what was left of it. The soldier ran and carried both men to safety. He left them at the aid station, fearing that death was a certainty for these men. When he returned to his tank and had time to look, he saw that it was in ruins. All that remained was a picture of his high school sweetheart.

Time passed. The war ended, and miraculously, the soldier came home. With him he brought medals, injuries, hope, and too many memories.  But still, he knew the memories would fade, and he had his life ahead of him. As the soldier stepped off the train under smoky blue skies in his familiar New Jersey city, he took a breath and reveled in the excitement of the welcoming party.  But there were doubts, pain, and memories. But time, the gentle healer, would take care of that.  He was sure of it. And time passed.

He and his sweetheart married, set up house, went to work, and raised two children. And the soldier told stories. Sometimes the stories were told between bites of steaming buttermilk pancakes in New Jersey diners.  Other times, on family trips, discussions of historical monuments and natural grandeur were peppered with casual comments about how this café or that group of young men reminded the soldier of his war days. The stories were familiar to the family. They were woven into the tapestry of their lives. At first, these stories were about buddies and a loud, blustery fellow named Patton. But when they were old enough, the children heard about that New Year’s Day. And slowly, very slowly, the soldier shared the horrors of the concentration camp he helped liberate. Even time wouldn’t allow him to forget that. The images stayed with him, surrounding him as much as the air itself. They were not just stories. They were part of him and a part of history. But they were in a different time.  Life went on. But still, there were the memories. While others planned their New Year’s celebrations, the soldier’s thoughts were filled with the memories of a bloody New Year’s Day. He thought of the dead soldiers and the soldiers he carried to a brief safety .He knew in his heart, those men didn’t survive. Each New Year’s Day he made a toast to those who fought with him that day and to those two strangers who surely did not make it home.

But time went on. The soldier tried to find some meaning in the deaths and injuries. He himself did not escape unscathed, either physically or emotionally, but life and time would go on. He counted on time. So much can change in one brief moment.

And then it happened. Another moment in time changed the soldier’s life once again. Forty years had passed and the soldier was busy working at a popular publishing house. The phone rang and grudgingly he answered it. It was a ghost. It had to be. “Do you remember New Years Day, 1945?” said the phantom on the other side of the phone line. “You carried me to safety.”

The color drained out of the soldier’s face, and another point in time appeared as if no time had passed at all. It was a reunion of soldiers and a blending of time. Each man thought the other was dead, but through a series of unlikely events, time was tying things together. They talked and found out they had many things in common, not the least being that they survived when so many others didn’t. They also found that they lived near each other, and they soon became close friends, as did their wives. Several years after the reunion, the man died, and the soldier helped look after his widow. He knew that he was still saving the man in some way.

The soldier has since passed away, and with him he took many memories and much pain. But time does have a way of healing and tying things together. The wives stayed friends and speak every day.  They talk about the miracles of their husbands finding each other, and in turn, the miracle of their friendship. The story continues, and yet each day is just like that day so long ago, just one moment in time.