18 November 2011

"Nothing Ever Happens to Me"

Last week, I went with my 7th grade daughter on a class field trip to the zoo.  Whenever I chaperone, my kids and their friends bombard me with questions, prompting story after story of my adventures when I was young(er).  This time was no different, and as we rode the bus to the zoo, my stories began.

Because we were going to visit the animals, naturally, I told stories about my various animal adventures.  And because the girls had just finished a debate over whether or not we would visit the reptile house, I pulled out my favorite snake stories.

I told about my junior high school science teacher, who had 2 giant boa constrictors that he would allow to slither through the hallways during class times, when the halls were empty.

I told about the time when I was working at the college print shop, and a snake reared up and hissed and struck at me when I tried to take a stack of papers out to the dumpster.  (It didn't bite me, didn't really even come that close before I ran away screaming, but this marked the beginning of my snake phobia.)

I told about the time, when my daughter was about two years old, that I took her to the zoo.  She wanted to pet the boa constrictor when the zoo keeper brought it out.  Being the amazing, wonderful, terrific mother that I am, and not wanting to pass my phobias on to the younger generation, I swallowed my terror, forced a few deep, steadying breaths into my lungs, and stood in line with her.  I even pet the snake with her, to show her little hands how to do it gently.  I didn't pass out from the fear, and my daughter still remembers it as one of the coolest experiences of her early years and proof positive that her mother loves her.  (Definitely worth it!)

At my daughter's prompting, I also told the girls about how my mother, back when she was a fearless tomboy, used to catch ribbon snakes and wind them around her neck and wrists as jewelry.  She would also catch tarantulas and carry them around on her shoulders.  And because she was such a thoughtful little girl, she never failed to find my grandmother and offer, "You can pet him, mommy.  He's so soft!"  Grandma never did pet a tarantula, but she must have been so glad to have the opportunity so often. :)

When I finished my tales, one of my daughter's best friends spoke up.  "You're so lucky! Why does everything happen to you?"

I asked what she meant, and she explained, "You always have so many cool stories to tell.  Why does the creepy, scary and cool stuff always happen to you? I've NEVER had anything interesting happen to me."

Before I could answer her, we arrived at the zoo, and in the chaos of finding our way into the zoo, along with about 200 other seventh-grade students, along with dozens of teachers and chaperones, our conversation was forgotten.  I wonder what I would have said, if I'd had the chance to answer then and there.  Probably something as mind-boggling as "I don't know."

Since then, I've pondered the question. 

Why do so many interesting things happen to me?  Do I possess some rare and wondrous quality that draws the universe's interesting vibes my way?  Probably not.  Am I exceptionally adventurous, going out of my way to find the cool and creepy elements in any given situation?  Not particularly.

But I'm a story teller.  I watch.  I pay attention.  I write.

Over the years, I've learned to pull the cool, creepy and interesting tidbits out of an otherwise mundane day, and weave them into a fun, true-life story, tailored to the interests of my audience.  And I'm not afraid to make myself look ridiculous in the retelling.

Everyone has fascinating stories to tell.  The trick is learning to watch for those moments. 

My daughter's friend (the one who thinks nothing interesting has ever happened to her) could tell about the time when she and her friends practiced "planking" on all of the play structures in the children's area of the zoo during their seventh-grade field trip. 

She could tell about how they bought several large baskets full of french fries from the zoo's food vendor at lunch time, and shared them with their friends.  She could talk about how they kept going back for more and more french fries, everyone gorging on fried potatoes until they all declared that they never wanted to see another one as long as they lived.

She could tell the story of how her group was late getting back to the bus at the end of the day (and almost caused the entire seventh grade to get back to school too late to catch the buses home), because they were waiting for one member of the group to make a purchase at the gift shop.  She could tell about running across the parking lot from the zoo to the bus, with nearly 200 kids and dozens of teachers and chaperones all yelling at them to "hurry up or we'll be late getting back to school!"

And that's just one day!

So what about you?  Think about your last 24 hours.  What amazing stories could you tell?

10 November 2011


As you know, last week, the worst day ever turned into the best day ever, when I found out that I won a copy of Anna Staniszewski's debut novel: MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about, read this post.)  When I received the book in the mail, I was so excited that I tossed my daily to-do list out the window (not literally. Littering is never a good idea!) and sat down to read.  I was hooked by the end of the first page, and I couldn't put it down!

MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE is the story of Jenny, a 12-year-old adventurer who spends her free time in one enchanted kingdom after another, helping magical creatures in need.  With corny, cliched nuggets of wisdom like "sharing is caring," Jenny saves fairies and elves and teaches unicorns how to share.  The job comes with its own unique dangers, and sometimes Jenny has to escape dragons who want to turn her head into a flaming volleyball or unicorns who run her down when she attempts to show them how to share the rainbow, but she used to love being an adventurer.

When Jenny is assigned to save the kingdom of Speak from the evil sorcerer, Klarr, who holds the land under a silence spell, she refuses.  Klarr is much too scary.  Jenny decides she'd much rather be a normal girl, worrying about normal things like schoolwork and tests and hanging out with her friends.  Someone else can deal with the psycho sorcerer.

But life as a normal girl isn't as idyllic as Jenny imagines, and the creatures of Speak will never defeat Klarr without her help.  She must face her fears and find the courage to keep fighting, even when she doesn't think she knows how.

MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE is one of the best books I've read in a very long time.  When I reached the last page, I couldn't wait to read it all over again!  Staniszewski weaves together the trials and insecurities every young girl faces with a long list of fantastical "what ifs" to create a magical world that draws you in and won't let go.  It was the perfect afternoon escape from my very own unfairy tale life!

Update 11/16/2012: Anna Staniszewski is running a giveaway contest on her blog right now (until December 12, 2012) for a chance to win your choice of either MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE or the sequel: MY EPIC FAIRY TALE FAIL, along with TWO other books!! Make sure to enter for your chance to win!

03 November 2011

A Little Perspective Makes All the Difference!

Have you ever noticed that one unexpected thing can turn your whole day around, for better or worse?

On Tuesday morning, I woke up earlier than usual, refreshed, excited and full of energy.  I wasn't sick!  For the first time in nearly a month, I didn't have a sore throat, a headache and tired, aching muscles.  I knew the kids all had after school activities that afternoon, which gave me an extra hour and a half to catch up on the many things that I've let slide while I've been sick.  Since I was awake early, I took my time getting up, eating breakfast, checking my email and getting dressed for my weekly Temple day.

It didn't even phase me when my oldest two kids missed the bus.  I simply gathered up my younger daughters and drove all the kids to school.  (The older kids were even almost on time!)  When my son announced as he was getting out of the car that he'd left his homework on the table, I smiled and shrugged.  No problem!  I had just enough time for a quick detour back to the house before dropping my daughters off at their elementary school.  Added bonus?  I could also grab my cell phone that I'd left plugged into the charger.  And I could easily swing back by the middle school to drop off the homework on my way to the Temple.  It wasn't too far out of my way, after all, and I knew the quiet peace inside the Temple would more than make up for the crazy chaos of our suddenly hectic morning.

When I got home from the Temple that afternoon, feeling relaxed and spiritually refreshed, I had a quiet lunch and then got caught up on a few projects.  I even managed to finish my entry for the writing contest I've been working on for the past month, and I got it in just before the deadline!  Yes, Tuesday was definitely the best day I'd had in a very long time.

Then, as I finished submitting my writing contest entry and gathered my things together to go collect the kids from their various after school activities, my phone rang.  I smiled, recognizing the ring tone I'd created for my husband, and realized he must be calling to let me know he was on his way home from work - a little earlier than I had expected.  Could this day get any better?

His voice was a little strained.  "Honey, I'm on my way home, but when I get there, we're going to need to pray together for guidance.  I have some potentially bad news."

He told me that the Air Force is going through a force reshaping again, and due to a series of recent events, he's right smack-dab in the middle of the group most vulnerable to early separation.

I knew I shouldn't worry.  We've been in uncertain circumstances before - way too often to recount here.  It hasn't always ended up the way I wanted it to go, but it's always been, in the end, the absolute best thing for us.  The Lord knows what he's doing.  I trust Him.

Besides, I knew my husband's commanding officer would do anything in his power to protect my husband's job.  After all, just days ago, he was recognized as one of the key reasons that they passed their recent inspections with flying colors.  He's the go-to guy when programs need to be fixed.  They won't let him go without a fight.

Still, I felt like I'd been slammed up against a wall.  My amazing, peaceful day came crashing down all around me.  In a flash, the joy and tranquility dissolved, and I struggled through a dark cloud of fear and "what ifs."  Our bright, promising future suddenly seemed bleak and hopeless.

Yesterday, when I crawled out of bed, I was still seeing those dark clouds.  Not a single silver lining in sight.

Never mind the fact that my kids all got ready for school without fighting me, and I got to go to the gym for the first time in weeks.  By 7am, I already knew it was going to be a BAD DAY!

Since I've been sick and my gym routine has faltered lately, it took longer than usual to gather my things together.  I was late leaving the house, and arrived fifteen minutes late for my deep water jogging class.  I thought about skipping it altogether, but my lethargic muscles screamed for the opportunity to move again, so I trudged into the gym and changed into my bathing suit.  I tried not to notice that my favorite red suit was starting to wear through in patches due to the high chlorine levels in the pool, but I noticed it anyway.  Oh well.  I couldn't do anything about it now - my other suit was at home. 

I walked out to the pool and climbed in, barely noticing that the water wasn't freezing, as it usually is.  Normally, I would be grateful for such a blessing.  Yesterday, I couldn't make myself care.  My friends teased me about my extended absence, and even though I knew they love and missed me, the good-natured ribbing was almost too much.  I had to fight the tears that threatened to spill over.  Only 9:15am, and this was already shaping up to be the worst day ever!

I'd been looking forward to getting together with my friends for knitting club.  I've missed more Wednesdays than I can count lately, with my illness and various doctor and dentist appointments for the kids.  Unfortunately, I left the knitting project I'd so carefully set out that morning sitting on my dining room table.  I knew I could still go to the knitting club and visit with my friends.  I've missed them, after all.  But really, without a project to work on, what was the point?  Yep, worst day ever!

I took my car in to get the tire fixed (it's been leaking air), and they wanted to charge me for the repair, even though it was covered under the road hazard warranty I'd paid extra for when I bought the tires not many months ago.  Then, the 45-minute repair took just over two hours.

I couldn't even work on my NaNoWriMo writing goal while I waited in the overcrowded waiting room, because they had the TV tuned in to soap operas and daytime talk shows at such a high volume that I couldn't even hear myself think! 

When I finally got my car back, they informed me that both my front and back brakes were dangerously low.  I should make an appointment to bring the car back in for a repair as soon as possible.  Great!  There was no way this day could get any worse!

As I pulled into my driveway, I noticed a large box on my front porch.  The nook I'd been waiting for to replace my defective one had arrived right on time.  I took a deep breath and brought it inside.  At least one thing had finally gone right!  If nothing else, I could curl up with a good book and pretend that this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day had never happened.  I carried the box inside and pulled out my "new" (certified, pre-owned) nook.  I plugged it in to charge the battery - and nothing happened!  After hours of charging, I later had to admit that they'd sent me a defective nook to replace my defective nook!  I just couldn't catch a break!

I glanced at the clock and saw that I had just enough time to eat a quick lunch before my kids came home from school.  I popped it into the toaster oven to warm up, then answered the phone when it rang.  The dentist's office was calling to yell at me because I had questioned a recent bill.  Apparently, the amount they'd charged when I was in the office (telling me I had paid in full) didn't take into account the fact that they used a type of filling for my daughters' teeth that isn't covered by my insurance ("many policies don't cover this type, and we simply can't take the time to verify which items will or won't be covered prior to providing service.  You should have verified that yourself.")  When I had the audacity to ask that they use the type my insurance will cover for any future fillings, she reamed me for my bad parenting skills.  Apparently, if I really cared about my children, I would use the expensive, non-insured type! 

As politely as I could (I admit that I may have been a little more snappish than I meant to be), I explained that I didn't have time to argue, and I ended the conversation.  Then, I ran back to the kitchen to rescue my lunch, that was already starting to burn in the toaster oven.  As I tried to quickly pull it out, my lunch crumbled into a hundred tiny pieces, littering the bottom of the toaster.  I managed to save about half of it, and I tried to be grateful that I had something to eat, but really, I was just counting the minutes until I could crawl back into bed and forget that this day had ever happened!

As I finished the last bites of my smaller-than-anticipated lunch, the kids came home from school.  I took a deep breath, started them on their homework, and retired to my writing corner, determined to salvage the day by getting at least a little bit of writing done.

No such luck.

Within seconds of sitting down, I leaped up again and ran downstairs to rescue my youngest daughter, who was screaming in terror, as if she'd discovered a dead body.

She had!

My cats had killed a mouse and brought it into the library, leaving it right next to our favorite beanbag chair.  I tried to be grateful that they hadn't brought in a live mouse.  After all, they were doing what cats are supposed to do, right?

While I calmed my daughter, I persuaded my son to grab a plastic bag and remove the offending body from the house.  He took it to the outside trash can, then returned to wash his hands - only to discover that my thoughtful cats had also left a dead mouse as a present for us on the bathroom rug!  (Now, my youngest is convinced that the only safe room in the house is her bedroom.  She keeps the door closed, and the cats aren't allowed upstairs.)

I gave up on trying to salvage the day.  I told the kids they could eat as much Hallowe'en candy as they wanted, and I went upstairs so I could call my husband at work and cry in private.

While I waited for him to answer his phone, I pulled up my email.  The first message waiting for me in my inbox was from Anna Staniszewski (author of MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE), informing me that I won an ARC of her book!

I read the email to my husband, and he laughed.  "You are so lucky!  You always win these book contests.  If I were a gambling man, I'd tell you to buy a lottery ticket!"

And you know what? He's right.  I am so blessed.  I may have the most UNFAIRY TALE LIFE kind of day from time to time (don't we all?), but I have friends and family who love and care for me, and I really have just about everything I could want.

Besides, I'm getting a free copy of one of the books at the tippy-top of my wish list - one that, by the title alone, fit the theme of my day to a tee.  How could any string of bad day events compete with amazingly good news like that?  Yesterday was THE BEST DAY EVER!

01 November 2011

NaNoWriMo, PiBoIdMo, and General Writing Craziness

Happy November, everybody!

This is the month when writers and aspiring authors everywhere set crazy writing goals, and sometimes achieve them.

First, the month of November is known in writing circles as National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo.  This is when we pledge to write a 50,000-word novel within one month's time.  It's a goal that can only be achieved by turning off that internal editor and letting the writing flow, even if it's not perfect (which, I guarantee, it won't be).  By the end of November, you should have a full first draft of your next novel (or at least the first 50,000 words of it), and presumably, you will start revising it on December 1st.  (I don't care who you are, NO ONE writes a fully polished, ready-to-publish first draft.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something.)

I've taken up the NaNoWriMo challenge a couple of times.  The first was in 2007, when my husband and I decided to write a book together, alternating chapters.  Our idea was fun: a historical novel with a hint of time travel and a young boy who comes to understand the importance of his heritage.  Our research was solid (that was my dear husband's favorite part of the process!).  Unfortunately, the motivation wasn't quite there.  We stalled out when it was his turn to write his third or fourth chapter, and I didn't want to simply take over the project we were supposed to be working on together.  By the end of the month, our poor main character was stuck in time-travel limbo.  Hopefully, we'll go back and rescue him one of these days.

In 2008, I took up the challenge once again, sort of.  I was in the middle of a cross-country move, and I knew that November would be entirely dedicated to packing and all of the moving craziness, so I moved my NaNoWriMo up a few weeks.  I started in mid-October, counted out 30 days on the calendar, and gave myself a deadline.  I wrote my first 50,000-word novel in less than a month, and I told myself I'd have a publishing contract by the next November, at the latest.  Well, that hasn't happened quite yet, but thanks to some great advice and encouragement from an amazing editor, I've finally started working up the courage to try submitting my work, and I've gotten some positive response so far.  (Fingers crossed!)  I'm not going to make any "I'll have a contract by this date" sweeping declarations this time around, but I will promise that I'm not giving up.  I'll keep submitting and working and writing and learning until it happens.

This year, I've discovered something new.  As not all writers are novelists, we also have Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo - logo by Bonnie Adamson, isn't it great?)!  The challenge?  Come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days that you will then turn into actual picture book manuscripts throughout the coming year!  I've decided to accept this challenge this November and combine it with a modified NaNoWriMo challenge. 

So my goal for this November: I'll write 1,700 words each day this month, for a total of just over 50,000 words by month's end, but instead of working on something entirely new, I'm going to keep working on the projects I've already started.  I have a novel I'm already working on.  I finished the 1st draft a little more than a week ago, and if prior experience tells me anything, I'll have a lot of writing to do on that draft once I get the feedback from my first-round critique partners next week.  I also want to finish the picture book ideas I have already swimming around inside my head, to make room for the ideas I'll be adding to the mix this month!

What are your goals (writing or otherwise) for this November?