Are You Feeling the Love?

By Ellen Leventhal

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

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Imaginary friends and writing

by Mandy Broughton

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My daughter had an imaginary friend. My daughter treated her as a real friend. So real that it was six months before I realized she didn’t exist. Imagine my surprise when I asked the preschool teachers to point out Olivia to me and they told me, “there’s no Olivia in this class.” Turns out there wasn’t an Olivia in any classes at the school. I know, I checked.

Best friends. Olivia was quite the trouble-maker. I’d hear all about these wild parties my daughter and Olivia would throw while I slept blissfully through the night. I said more than once I was glad Olivia was good at cleaning up the house after a wild night of partying.

Olivia’s mom was quite the rebel too. I was informed one day that Olivia’s mom was thrown in jail for speeding. I found myself arguing with a three year old on whether or not her imaginary friend’s mother was thrown in jail for speeding. Sheesh!

I decided to research children and imaginary friends. I never had any. As a child, I was perfectly content to sit and read in my room all day. Friends–real or imaginary–would disturb that peace.

Imaginary friends are what we would expect from highly creative people. Active imagination. Intelligent. Creative. Verbal. What I did not expect was that many adults had imaginary friends. What?! Are these people in need of a mental health professional? Maybe, but mostly they are creative adults. And it turns out many of those creative adults are authors.

As a writer, I know I have proper characterization when I dream about my characters. I can hear what they say in certain situations. I know how they’d act when problems arise. Fictional characters should not be shooting gallery ducks forced to respond in a certain way when a crisis occurs.* Characters should be organic, growing as the story progresses. They should feel more real than some real-life celebrities we watch and follow in the news.

As a writer, have you ever needed a character to act a certain way and she just wouldn’t? She’s supposed to be angry but she’s acting all quirky and sarcastic on the page. Or two characters start flirting with each other and they’re not supposed to even like each other. Happens to me all the time. My characters have taken over the pages of my manuscripts. And many of them are completely unrepentant for derailing my plot. I guess I’ve developed imaginary friends as an adult. Maybe I’m a late bloomer.

So tell me, dear writers, how do you know when you’ve achieved proper characterization? Do you hear voices in your head? Do you dream about them? Do you mock-up a fake Facebook page and imagine what they’d post? I mostly argue with mine.

Back to work on this first work week of the New Year. I hope the New Year brings plenty of good books, lots of writing, and great friendships–real and imaginary!

Oh, and I can’t forget, as a longtime, die-hard University of Houston Cougar alumni and fan… oDPuclxr.jpgCongratulations on winning the Peach Bowl. GO COOGS!

 

*My editor once told me my characters were like shooting gallery ducks, they were cardboard and went back and forth like I was shooting at them.

 

What’s On Your Backpack?

By Ellen Rothberg

Backpacks are icons of personalities. One would never consider carrying a backpack emblazoned with a picture or caricature of something or someone they were not connected to in some shape or form. The advent of the backpack is a real nineties phenomenon, one that obviously earned tons of money for an industry previously employed by Colorado hikers. Have you ever thought about what we carried our books around in before the big backpack bang? I had a red rubber book band. It had two metal doohickey things on the ends that sort of connected to each other and tried to keep the books sort of together, but didn’t actually work well in the New York winters. It didn’t help that I had a pretty long walk to and from school in those cold winter months either because the red rubber band invariably froze and disintegrated on the long, snow-laden treks home. This musing is not, however, actually about my school experience or how I managed those miles and miles of walking in the snow . . . it is about the backpack phenomenon and how each generation is characterized by the apparatus chosen to, well, lighten the load that students have to bear.

Back in the nineties, my children were introduced to backpacks depicting the Transformers and Strawberry Shortcake. There might have been a Batman one school year and I think we might have done Barbie once. There were Nike bags when in middle school and cartoon characters were no longer cool. We had a Jansport era in high school, I think. I can visualize the many backpacks, but there are no photos of them. I don’t think that we record those items the way we do Halloween costumes and holiday sweaters. If I were to ask my son and daughter to name their favorite backpack, I know they would give me that look. The one that says, “Oh, she’s writing something about us” or “Oh, she’s about to remind us of the trials of growing up in an apartment with only one bathroom”. This musing is not, however, actually about my children’s school experience or how their backpacks defined or didn’t define their school success, popularity or ability to roll their eyes at things their mother says. . . it is bout the backpack phenomenon and how each generation is characterized by the heavy-duty canvas surrounding their load of books.

Now tht I have a grandchild, I know that the backpack phenomenon is coming full circle. Will students really contiune to need backpacks? After all, one only needs to have a small tablet computer, right? Do kids really need a whole backpack just to carry their electronic device to school? The answer is a resounding YES! The backpack is here to stay. My precious granddaughter, age 4 1/2 has three current backpacks. The first was purchased at her birth and has the beautifully embroidered words “Aggie Class of 2033” underneath her name (courtesy of her Texas A & M parents). The second one came from Pottery Barn Kids and also has her name embroidered on it (a very Twenty-First Century thing). The third one and her favorite, was purchased at Walmart and has the cartoon character Sofia the First beautifully screen printed across it. It ranks up there with the Strawberry Shortcake and Transformer ones. This musing is not, however, actually about my granddaughter’s school experience or how the more things change the more they stay the same. . . it is about how each generation is cherished by the ones that came before and how, when you get right down to it, we will always be carrying something to school in something that is popular at the moment. Oh, and that we love grandchildren!

And . . .speaking about books, Come out and Celebrate Local Authors at the Maud Marks Library, 1815 Westgreen Blvd., Katy, Texas on Saturday, October 24, 2015 fom 12:30 PM — 5:00 PM. Mingle with local authors of children’s and adult books. Books can be purchased and autographed. The library will also host presenters reading excerpts from a variety of genres. Attendees are eligible for door prizes! Come in costume for a bonus door prize ticket!

Heard & Overheard During NaNoWriMo

by Mandy Broughton

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In case you live in a cave or have been kipnapped by the Fae-Mer-folk, it’s NaNoWriMo. What is this bizarre acronym? It’s just a fancy way of saying National Novel Writing Month.

For one crazy-fun-filled month, November, writers from around the galaxy, commit to writing a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. All output, no editing. No deleting. No lamenting, “I shall write a novel one day.” That day is now. And we’re in the midst of it.

I personally believe that NaNoWriMo is better than sliced bread. For a numbers gal, who never got praised for being creative in ANYTHING, I get the chance to cast aside all responsibility and to create. It is a wonderful and exhausting experience.

As with any of casting aside of responsibilities, there have been some interesting conversations overheard in my particular NaNoWriMo quarantined household. I’d like to share just a few.

  1. “Mom lets us watch as much TV as we want but we also have to scrounge for food.”

From December to October, media time is severely limited for my kids but I do reward them with lots of home-cooked meals. But in November, they catch up on all their missed media and out-Netflix the most devoted Netflixers.

I disagree with peanut butter sandwiches being considered as scrounging for food. It’s like a fast, only with peanut for thirty days.

  1. “Would a tree spirit in human form be healed if she were planted in soil and watered?”

Yes, I asked this question. What do you think?

  1. “I can’t find the Apache name for a Dryad—a tree spirit? If I can’t find the name, then what am I supposed to call her?!”

“What about ‘tree spirit?’”

Okay, this happened in writing group. I get so caught up in my research that I forget maybe sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  1. “Outta my way, it’s NaNoBaTi. I’ve got three minutes.”

NaNo word sprints are the greatest thing ever. Tweets from my phone set me to typing as fast as I can. I make Clark Kent look like a slacker. Only problem is that sometimes they don’t call the National Novel Bathroom Time often enough. Especially when I’ve been downing caffeine like a camel on water after a long journey through the dessert.

  1. “I sorry, I can’t come in to volunteer today.”

I really hope the organizations where I volunteer don’t read this blog.

  1. “Taking notes on the bulletin about the sermon today?”

“Uh… no.”

I do not NaNo during church. I promise. Just because I jot down a few ideas doesn’t mean I wasn’t listening to the sermon. I promise!

  1. “You killed off the horse I named?!”

Sorry, kid. Yes, I needed a name of a horse. And, yes, the werewolves got him. I’ll write another horse one day. And let him live. Maybe.

  1. “Maybe if the house were cleaner, the kids would enjoy going to school more.”

The house gets messy. The kids get cranky. And my husband gets desperate. I promise I’ll clean… December 1. But wait, I might be doing National Novel Editing Month then…

  1. “What are you doing for lunch?”

“Mining silver.”

Did you know YouTube has videos of mining silver? And smelting silver from ore? And one lady has an entire blog series on the making of silver bullets? You can’t melt silver over any old campfire.

10. “I just finished the first draft of my new novel.”

I haven’t said this one yet this year. But I will. I love NaNoWriMo. If you haven’t done it, try it. If you love it, please consider donating. It’s a wonderful cause. And we always need a little more creativity—and fun—in this part of the galaxy.

Okay, my phone is calling. The new NaNoWordSprints leader is ready to sprint. I’m off to finish my novel.

Write This Way To A Successful School Year

by Ellen Rothberg

I can feel it. I can taste it. I can smell it. It’s the beginning of a new school year and it’s right around the corner! Unlike a New Year’s Resolution, we don’t have to make a promise to get fit, lose ten pounds or even find a new love interest. We  just have to put on our new shoes, pack up our freshly sharpened number twos and head out, with a sense of great expectation, to find our educational fortune. Ah, but what if you are, in fact, the teacher? Or the assistant principal? Or, like me, the guidance counselor? Then we have double-duty. We must find a way to reach our returning students, while garnering a bit of self-fulfillment, a sort of “cherry-on-the-top” of the sundae that has become the Back-to-School Restaurant Week!

So, in honor of Back-to-School, Houston Restaurant Week (which is really a month), and my never-ending search for the perfect beginning of the school year pair of shoes (both stylish and able to leap small children in a single bound), I offer my top ten positive goals to increase career satisfaction and keep my mind off the donuts that will undoubtedly be lining the workroom for the next few weeks.

10. I Will Climb Every Mountain. I hiked this summer in Colorado. I am not an outdoorsy type, but I accepted the challenge. This school year, I will hike the four city blocks between my office and second grade, five, no, six times per day, even if I am not looking for a second grader.

9. I Will Let A Smile Be My Umbrella. Rainy Day Dismissals? No problem! Can’t find the extra shoes I always keep on hand. No worries. This year I will realize that dry feet are highly overrated.

8. I Will Conquer  Pink Eye. Is there an app for that? I will wash my hands until they feel like sandpaper and buy all the hand sanitizer I can find on sale at Walmart.

7. Is That a Roach or a Longhorn? Roaches in Houston are so big, we can saddle them up and ride them around the playground. This year, I will rope and tie me a big one and show him off at the Livestock Show & Rodeo.

6. I Will Know That Elvis Has Left the Building. At the same Livestock Show & Rodeo, I will sit ringside for Blake Shelton, and not in the nosebleed section. I will politely decline when he asks me to sing a duet and then gradually give in after several minutes of coaxing.

5. I will Convince the Houston Texans that Manziel is Not  Too Little to Play in the NFL. I will turn back the hands of time to the point where the Texans forgot that they needed a quarterback and offer my opinion, which they will quickly acknowledge and agree with.

4. I Will Eat at Every Houston Eatery Offering a Special Three Course Meal During Restaurant Week and I Will Not Gain Even One Pound. It’s for a good cause – feeding the homeless. This is my crazy goal list – I get to say whatever I like.

3. I Will Remind Every Politician in America That Children are the World’s Most Important Asset. They will agree with me and act accordingly when it comes to legislation affecting those seeking to enter the U.S.

2. I Will Abolish School Paperwork.

1. I Will Make a Difference in at Least One Child’s Life.

Someone please rescue me from what has become a full on nightmare of positivity! I know, I know I am totally off topic. This year, I will probably not conquer my fear of the infamous Houston tree roach, especially the one who invariably shows up in my office and then hides out just waiting to scare me. I will not conquer the mountain of paperwork haunting me at school and home. I will not learn every name of every child in my school by Halloween. I will try, though, to make a difference in the lives of my students. And that is my goal for the new school year! What’s yours?

I Can’t Say No To Books

by Monica Shaughnessy

Not My Kid – Someone Else’s

I buy very few things for my child with abandon. To look at her room, you’d call me a liar. It’s bulging with toys, stuffed animals, electronic gadgets, stuffed animals, craft supplies, dolls…and did I mention stuffed animals? But she acquired many of these things with her own allowance, by “earning them” through some task or another, or by receiving them on her birthday. Santa, too, is a generous guy and gives out his share. So when she asks me to buy her something out of the blue, my reply is usually “No, you have enough stuff.”

Except when it comes to books.

By the time she was old enough to read, I decided that one of my personal parental policies would be to NEVER SAY NO TO BOOKS. Now, I’m not talking about those funny quiz booklets or feather-strewn diaries. I’m talking honest to goodness sit down and read books. Basically, if we’re in a store, and she gets excited about the newest novel her classmates have been reading…cha-ching! The cash register rings.

Now, I can’t afford to do a lot of “cha-chinging” at my local Barnes and Noble. Sure, it happens occasionally. But I also get her a lot of books at Costco (they’re half price, people, half!), our local used book store (a novel for fifty cents? yes!), and the library. And let’s not forget about Scholastic Book Club during the school year. I don’t buy the cookie dough or the wrapping paper or the crappy tote bags. But give me one of those Scholastic leaflets, and I’m checking boxes left and right.

We’re working on ebooks. She certainly has enough gadgets to read electronically, but still prefers the “real thing.” I find this laughable since every other activity seems to be done virtually. Play dates? Face time. QQ? TXT. TV? Streaming. Reading? Books…made of paper…whaaat? And I don’t believe she’s alone in this desire. Take one look at the chart below and you’ll see what I’m talking about. (graph courtesy of the Author Earning’s Report)

 

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I have a feeling, though, that when she gets a little older, she’ll see the benefits of reading on a gadget. To be fair, paper books haven’t disappeared from my shelves altogether. But I buy a lot more electronically than I ever did before, and she sees me make those decisions. Anyway, ebooks aside, you get what you reward, folks. And for my time, effort, and money, I’ve got a life-long reader on my hands.

“No, you have enough books.” You will NEVER hear this in my house.

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How about you, parents? Do you limit the number of books you give to your kids? Or are you nutty like me and bend over backwards to give your kids more reading material? I’d love to start a discussion!

Summertime (Take it away, Miss Ella!)

Game Dice

by Artemis Greenleaf

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Summertime

And the children are restless

Chutes and Ladders

And lots of Lego.

 

Oh, we read out loud

Now my voice is so croaky

A book full of stories

All about ghosts.

 

Maybe in evening

And sweet kids lie dreaming

I’ll make my word count

And edit my podcast

 

But until that evening

A dinner needs cooking

Tired daddy comes home hungry and frazzled

 

Summertime

Children are busy

Swimming lessons

And playdates with friends

 

Time flashes past

Deadlines a hurtlin’ by

So little children,

What game is next?