Little Sparkles

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. The subtitle to this work by the author of Eat, Pray, Love is Creative Living Beyond Fear.

I really wanted to enjoy the book for several reasons. One, it was recommended by my friend and editor, Michelle Houts, and two, anything that suggests Big Things will happen just by setting aside our reservations has my name all over it.

But, other than an occasional twinge of inspiration, the book fell short. Allow me to explain.

Big Magic, according to Ms. Gilbert, happens when we let go of thoughts of incompetency or lack of confidence and just dig into our creative souls. By doing so, we let the universe in and karma take over.

I get that. I’ve experienced the incredible burst of writing energy where conscious thought goes out the window and the spirit moves me. And, I have to say, it’s pretty darn awesome.

However, there seems to have been too much focus on those fleeting Big happenstances and barely mention of those many smaller moments that make a Big difference in our creative lives.

Let’s call them Little Sparkles.

This year has been filled with them for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly had my share of Big Joyful moments and Big Sad moments in 2017.

The ones that stick with me the most though are those tiny nuggets that really encourage me to move forward on my creative journey.

Like when I met a mom and her daughter at the Cincinnati book festival. The young girl had written a report about Virginia Hamilton this past year. I’ll never forget her shy smile as I personally signed a copy of my biography of this amazing author to her.

Or when I spoke on Virginia, and friends showed up just in support of me.

I swear magic dust lines the paths on the property of the Highlights Foundation. It was there that my picture book biography of a little known, historical sports figure took root and grew. I can still recall sitting across from my mentor, Rich Wallace, the former senior editor of Highlights magazine, as he offered his words of encouragement for my project.

Kirkus reviews are anonymous, so I will never have the chance to thank personally whomever gave my book the coveted starred review. His or her incredible praise of my work lit up my world for weeks.

I saw Little Sparkles in the eyes of one of my little kindergartners I read to weekly when, after asking what I did other than read to him, told him I write children’s books. I feel like his newest heroine.

Little Sparkles happen with every kind word about my writing, every nudge from my husband to revisit stories that sit half-finished on my hard drive, every bit of pride expressed by my two children. And, always, I feel the energy from my late daughter, my little reader gone too soon.

The greatest lessons these Little Sparkles have taught me is that I have the power to reflect all this kindness back to others exploring their creative lives. Just think if we all waved our wands filled with sparkles on to each other, how much brighter the universe would be.  That’s where the magic lies.

Here’s hoping your holidays and New Year are filled with tons of Little Sparkles.

I can’t wait to see what you do with all of them. And I can’t wait to see what happens with mine!

Throwing it out into the universe

I had the chance this past weekend to hang with my friends and fellow children’s book authors, Michelle Houts and Nancy Roe Pimm. We bunked together to share on expenses the night prior to the Cincinnati Book Festival. The evening was a writer’s pajama party dream.

After an evening filled with stories about our latest writing projects, joys and frustrations, we settled in for a decent night’s sleep. Dreams of children and families rushing up to our tables at the book festival, just waiting to purchase our books, filled our semi-conscious.

Until one of us kept tossing and turning over a difficult, and eminent decision. This turned into a great discussion, and then ultimately, giggles reminiscent of sleepovers from the past. Our sincere apologies to whomever was in the Westin Hotel room 933 last Friday night.

Ultimately, the conclusion was to make the decision, and then to let it go. Which prompted me to start singing the theme song from Frozen, with more giggles to follow.

The alarm went off way too early several hours later. After brewing some coffee and tea, we picked up right where we left off, chatting and giggling.

And, we agreed that, as Nancy offered, there is something to be said for wishing for something, then throwing it out into the universe. I shared that I was a firm believer in karma, and that for all the bad things that have happened in my life, so much good has come my way. Almost as if Claire, my late daughter, is hovering over my shoulder, sending her energy my way. This philosophy was about to play out in an encounter in the hotel lobby and on the way to the book festival at the Duke Energy Center.

Kate DiCamillo, the author of one of my favorite children’s books, Because of Winn-Dixie, Newbery Medal award winner twice over, and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emerita, was going to be at the book festival.

The Kate DiCamillo was going to be literally kiddie-corner from me in the exhibit hall.

I secretly wished I could meet her. I hoped to see her speak. I also figured I had slim chance to none of either of these happening, simply because I was, well, there to sell my books. Not ogle over hers. Or her.

So, I threw the wish out into the universe.

We made our way down to the hotel lobby, checked our luggage for the day, and went to the area where volunteers from the festival were to escort us over to the convention center.

I saw several people gathered. Then I saw her.

Kate. The Kate.

She graciously greeted us all. “Hi, I’m Kate,” she said as she extended a hand. I almost forgot my name.

I shook her hand, and commented on how tiny she was, and how amazed that such great big works came from someone so small. I was mentally kicking myself for my blubbering. She laughed, and offered my words were a great compliment.

“Well, should we go?” the volunteer asked.

I assumed he meant just Kate and her marketing manager from Candlewick, her publisher.

“Yes, let’s all go,” Kate replied.

With that, we all walked to the convention center. Well, some walked. I floated.

We began conversations with one another. I was blessed to have a few moments alone with Kate.

She asked how I became a writer.  I responded with a rapid-fire, elevator speech. I shared the story of our loss of Claire, establishing Claire’s Day, and literally being drawn into the world of children’s literature by my friends in the industry.

Kate had tears in her eyes as I spoke. So did I.

I seriously wanted to pinch myself, but at that stage I risked falling on my derriere if attempting to do so while walking and talking to Kate.

Before we headed into the center, Nancy, that brave, native New Yorker, suggested we get a picture.

As if it couldn’t get any better, Kate and her manager accepted my business card, and offered that they’d love to try and join us for Claire’s Day, someday.

I did get the chance to see Kate again much later, as I purchased several of her books to sign, one for my great-niece, and one for me.

She signed it, “To Julie, in memory of Claire.”

I thanked Kate, and said meeting and talking with her was a highlight of my day. She smiled, and said, “As it was for me.”

So, here’s throwing one more wish out into the universe.

Hopefully, we’ll see Kate at Claire’s Day.

Someday.

 

Impact

While researching new releases for middle grade readers for a blog I contribute to, I came across an intriguing title for us slightly older readers. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences have Extraordinary Impact sounds like it is right up my alley. And a perfect lead-in for my own personal blog.

This is me with Linda Sue Park.

 

Linda is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve novels and nine picture books. She is also the winner of the 2002 Newbery Award, for her incredible story, A Single Shard.

This is Linda acting intimidating after I shared that having written a biography about a Newbery Award winner, which was daunting enough in itself, being given the task of introducing one at a children’s writer’s conference was even more so.

Then she tried to act scary, which cracked us both up.

This was a powerful moment for me. One, because she was impressed that I had written about Virginia Hamilton, and two, that she made me feel at ease, despite her status in the children’s literature community.

Linda proceeded to offer amazing insights and advice to all of us fellow writers. Read. A lot of what you want to write. Then write your own book. Play with your work to make it better.

Most of all, Linda shared that she takes advantage of the moments she has had available through her life to write. Every day.

Just two pages a day is what she writes. Every day.

I walked away from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Northern Ohio region filled with moments that inspired. And a new promise to write two pages a day.

I don’t want the wrath of Linda Sue Park coming down on me.

Photo credit: Michelle Houts

I just have to say something…

It’s raining outside, gloriously, as we need it in my corner of the world. The weather reflects the sadness in my heart, so bear with me as I share.

My sunflower posting on Monday was intentional. My silence was not a reflection of denial of the events from the weekend, just my Pollyanna syndrome kicking in. I always try to see things on the bright side.

I’ve struggled with how to use my words to address the horrific events of this past week. First and foremost, my heart goes to the family of Heather Heyer. No parent should ever have to bury their child, especially under such circumstances.

Hate is something that is taught out of ignorance and born out of insecurity. I cannot understand what motivation lies under such venom as I witnessed from the footage of the protests.

Fortunately I was blessed with parents who taught me to love everyone for who they are on the inside. I know I’ve passed those lessons on to our children. It is every parent’s responsibility to do the same.

The protest was an incredibly infused situation. It begs me to question what it was really all about, and encourages me to learn more. I’m challenged with the decisions to attempt to remove all statues that honor our past, for removing them doesn’t change our history. Where would we stop? Do we blow up Mount Rushmore? Do we eliminate statues of Lewis and Clark, as their expedition was supported by Jefferson and led to the expansion of our country and the massacre of Native Americans?

We can’t literally white-wash the past. We must learn from it, and not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.

And this is what scares me the most about Charlottesville. History is repeating itself.

The Pollyanna in me is hoping that love wins. It starts with each and every one of us.

Find your Voice

 

I hadn’t been on the tennis court for nearly two months, and even then, had slightly injured myself during the match. I was grateful to be back, yet, a little hesitant. Even though it was just a “Monday Fun-day” match, I felt a little intimidated. My playing partners and opponents were 3.5 and 4.0 players. Lovely ladies who can crush the ball. And, me possibly.

The first to arrive, I spotted the tennis pro, or maybe she’s the assistant, I’m not even sure, that’s how little I’ve played this year. We exchanged pleasantries, and I went into a litany of excuses as far as my expectations for my play.

“But you’re an athlete,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”

I don’t even know her, and here she’d summed me up as an athlete.

Those of you who know me, I would hope would agree with her assessment. My good friends and my daughter would probably slap me and say, “Of course you are!”

I remember a conversation with my daughter Kyle, an incredibly natural gifted athlete, years ago, when I offered I didn’t really consider myself athletic. Her response was like a cold splash of water on my face.

“Seriously Mom? I mean, you’re a great golfer, you do yoga, you bike, you’ve run a frickin’ (well she didn’t say this, but the implication was there) marathon, and you don’t consider yourself an athlete?”

Nope. It’s all about our self-talk and confidence. Sometimes, I just need a little nudge, a reminder of who I am and what I’m capable of to get me going.

Maybe you’re the same way.

 

I had a similar experience while attending the Highlights Foundation nonfiction writers workshop recently. I went into the experience unprepared. We were supposed to send 10 pages of a work-in-progress or a complete picture book manuscript. Life had gotten away from me, and all I had was a subject for a picture book biography, and this scene that kept running through my head.

I almost cancelled. I’m so glad I didn’t.

My mentor, Rich Wallace, is the former senior editor of Highlights Magazine for Children, and has written over 25 books for kids of all ages. He also happens to be an athlete.

My subject was involved in baseball, and I would assume it was for this reason I was paired with Rich. The first night we met, I told him about my proposed picture book biography. Rich was intrigued. I told him I had nothing, other than this scene that kept nagging at me. I left the reception and holed up in my lovely room, fueled by the magic of fireflies dancing outside my window and tree frogs encouraging me with their rhythmic chats. The words tumbled out of my brain and onto my notepad.

The next morning at our appointed mentoring session time, I slid into my seat across from Rich at a round table in the little library off the kitchen in The Barn. The Barn is not really a barn. It’s a new building, built on the foundation of what once was one. Instead of animals being fed and nurtured, writers and their ideas are.

With a deep breath, I read my first scene, what I envision as being the first page-spread of this book.

He looked at me. “You wrote that last night?”

My eyes met his.  “Yes,” I said.

My heart raced and my palms were kind of soggy. I was glad I remembered to use my natural deodorant. I was feeling a little sweaty, kind of like before today’s tennis match. I didn’t know what his response would be to my late-night whipping up of these first pages.

“That’s very good,” he said. “Vivid, descriptive introduction to your subject.”

And, then, he said, “You’re a writer. You’ve got voice.”

Voice, for those of you who aren’t in writing circles, is something we strive for in this industry. It’s our own personal take on story, our perspective, our individual imprint on the presentation of our tale.

It’s like the way a pitcher holds the seams of the baseball to perfect his curve ball, or the uniqueness of each golfer’s swing.

My husband Brad has been telling me for years the same message Rich offered. I’m a writer.

And an athlete, apparently. My partners and I each won our matches 6-4. All it took was that little boost before my match, to remind me of who I am.

So, I offer this to encourage you to do the same. Go out there and do what you do, knowing that you’ve got this. Believe in what you know to be true.

Find your stride, find your voice.

Words, life and loss

Terrific. Radiant. Humble.

Perhaps these words sound familiar. They are the words that Charlotte A. Cavatica created to save her friend Wilbur from certain death.

Charlotte’s Web was one of my childhood favorites, and as this is a summer filled with reading the types of books I want to write, I decided to revisit this classic story of friendship.

I’d forgotten all the lovely messages presented throughout the tale of the little girl Fern who saves the runt pig and names him Wilbur. The grey spider Charlotte becomes Wilbur’s dearest friend, teaching him to build himself up, get plenty of sleep, chew his food thoroughly, and most of all, “never hurry and never worry.”

Charlotte literally changes Wilbur’s world through her words. She inspires him, encourages him, and enlightens him through the simple adjectives she spins on her web. E.B. White is an enchanted storyteller, and through Charlotte, he weaves tales and imparts his wisdom for all of us to enjoy.

There are lots of ways to change the world.

Kind, encouraging words are a great start.

I recently lost a dear friend who, every time I saw him, offered gracious words of support. He often commented on my Facebook posts, sharing that he was “honored to be my friend.”

When I said goodbye to him at hospice last week, I gave him one last kiss on the cheek, and told him I was the one who was honored.

Charlotte blessed Wilbur with her friendship, and Wilbur continued to honor her through his days on the farm, remembering her as being both a true friend and a good writer after her life ended.

I hope to continue to honor those I love who are no longer with us with my words, and those who remain, with my friendship.

In honor and memory of Richard Schroeder, a terrific, radiant and humble man. God bless your soul.

Roots

Darn roots.

That’s what I said to myself the other day when I tripped over one of the many spindly, long roots that run through the flood plain I’ve walked on daily for nearly twenty years. I almost fell after my shoe became entangled in the tuber that stretched across the path. My body responded automatically, with a rush of cortisol, rapid heartbeat, hands extended, preparing myself in this sudden battle with gravity.

In this case I won.

Once my heart beat returned to normal, I looked up the trail to see my two-year old Labrador trying to yank one of the long, woody obstructions out of the ground and off the path. I just cracked up. The root is still intact, but she keeps working away at it. It will soon be gone, saving some other hiker the same adrenaline rush of almost crashing to the ground when becoming entangled.

As I finished my walk, I thought about the significance of these knotty obstacles. If not for the complicated web of what I’m certain is miles of nature’s infrastructure, my sacred floodplain would not exist. I would not have been blessed to traverse the mile loop all these years, bearing witness to God’s work through nature. Sun rising, deer grazing, coyote roaming, skunk lumbering, ducks squawking, frogs peeping and a persistent hawk searching.

And me, just walking, and dreaming.

Heading back to what will be my home for just a short while yet, I thought about my roots. Those that served as my foundation, those I’ve grown in this community, the new ones that are springing forth.

I thought about how life is like those darn roots. We can either let it trip us up, or we can embrace it as we stumble our way through, catch our breath, and move on.

Or, you can take it a step further like Luna did. Clear the path to make it easier for others to follow.

I can only imagine

Brad and I have been discussing doing some cosmetic updates to our home. We’ve been here for 23 years, and some of our furniture just as long. Almost. Almost.

At least that’s been my stance as far as our green leather, brass tacked, reclining sofa and love seat are concerned. Now that our son has inherited the basement furniture, it’s time for the leather furniture to make its way there. Brad maintains that we’ve only had them for six or seven years. So, just like Nancy Drew, I got out my flashlight and investigated.

October 31, 2000.

As I looked at the receipt from the local furniture store, my first reaction was to share it with Brad, because of course, I was right. The pieces were as old as I thought.

My second thought was disbelief. Our daughter Claire had died just months before. How was it that I was shopping for furniture then? How was it possible that at a time I could barely make it through a day, that I could make a conscious decision about a major purchase?

The answer is the same one that applies anytime I wonder how I’ve managed to put one foot in front of the other every day for the last sixteen years.

Friends. And Family. And sometimes complete strangers.

I had a friend who was an interior designer and helped me through the process of updating our family room then.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her.

For years, I’ve heard, “I can’t imagine” when sharing our story.

This morning it dawned on me that I can’t imagine what it has been like to be the one literally holding my hand, making me dinner, helping with my kids, or assisting my efforts to get Claire’s Day off the ground, and me right along with it. I can’t imagine it has been easy hearing my pain rise from my gut and out from my soul. I can’t imagine it has been easy bearing witness to my grief journey.

But, because of all of you, I’ve slowly made it to the other side. The pain will always be there, but it no longer knocks me off my feet. It’s been replaced by joy, gratitude and purpose.

Because we’ve all worked hard together through this journey, now we get to rejoice in what my end-goal always was; to keep my family intact despite how we had been broken at our core. Claire’s Day served as that vehicle to help me grieve, all the while holding on to Brad, Kyle and Ian.

So, with that, I raise my cup of late afternoon tea to all of you who have been with us, through the downs, and now the ups, as we celebrate exciting news. Kyle and Ian are both settled into the start of their new jobs and lives in Atlanta and Columbus. Brad and I are doing great. Luna, our amusing Labrador, is healed from her surgery. Claire’s Day is expanding to three different dates and locations this year. And Claire’s Day has been featured in an article in this month’s Reader’s Digest. How cool is that?

I can’t imagine what all you’ve been through, any more than you could me.

But I’ve imagined, wished and hoped for all this goodness for a long time. Thanks for helping me get here.