A day in the life of a writer

When asked what I do, I used to rip off a litany of roles I’ve served.

Wife, mom, founder of Claire’s Day, former council woman.

Now I simply respond; I write.

I write.

The next question is the obvious. What do you write?

And I say, children’s books.

Usually people are pretty stoked about that and assume I’ve written picture books of renown.

That is not the case, but most people are still impressed when I tell them about my books, all of which have been traditionally published.

Usually the conversation ends there, but every now and then someone asks me the same question I find so fascinating about other writers.

How do you write?

The simple answer is I write nearly every day, at my desk, in my home office.

But, to be very honest, a writer’s life, or at least this one, is so much more than that.

I’ll start by offering that I am blessed to have the emotional and financial support of my husband. I’m not yet at the stage that I could be self-supporting on my income. Many writers aren’t. I’m amazed by those who work full-time at another job, and just as much as a writer.

In my case, my goal is to get my derriere in chair by 10 a.m. every morning.

I take care of my non-writing responsibilities in the morning. I watch the sunrise while having a cup of coffee and hanging with my husband and 3-year-old Labrador Retriever, Luna.

Then I drink a magic potion consisting of kale, spinach, avocado, almond milk, and frozen fruit. It’s green, but it’s yummy, I promise.

Luna, known as Lunatic when she was a puppy, usually whines at the front door if I don’t have my tennis shoes on by 7:30. We high tail it around a golf course for 45 minutes, give or take a few if we visit with the golf professional or groundskeepers, then home.

Correspondence, social media, laundry, groceries, housecleaning all fall in the category of chores before 10 a.m. My local librarian and grocer are used to seeing me with a ball cap on.

Then, with the help of my magic potion and Pandora, I’m at my desk by the bewitching hour.

Then I stay there until 4:30, writing, creating, musing, meeting deadlines, both contracted and self-imposed.

But, and here’s the trick for me, I’m not glued to my chair.

Between my walks in the morning and breaks from my chair, I’m easily wracking up 10,000 steps daily.

If I get stuck, I get up.

I dance. (Although I can only listen to so much Michael Jackson, otherwise my response to the question as to what I do would be that. I dance.)

I daydream.

I sing.

I imagine.

I research.

I read.

I get back in chair.

I write.

I finish.

I query.

I submit.

I hope.

I wait.

I celebrate.

I repeat.

So, as simple as this all seems, it is.

And, I am so happy to be able to answer the question as to what I do, simply.

I write.

 

 

 

 

List of Happys

My daughter Kyle gave me an incredible gift this Christmas. It is a letter book, Treasured Passages, for mother and daughter. The concept is I fill out a card with a writing prompt, and send to her. She then fills out the card with her answers, and sends back to me to include within the book. I am so touched by her memories, loving responses and sharing of experiences both as a child and now as a young woman. One of the cards reads, “List of Happys” and is entirely too small to list all my reasons for being happy.

As she, her brother Ian and memories of her sister Claire are at the top of my list of Happys (along with my husband Brad, of course), I thought I would share with you, in honor of Mother’s Day.

Enjoy, and my your List of Happys be a long list too!

Any time with your dad. Seeing him first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Talking about our days, challenges and successes. Holding hands. Getting back rubs. Making him dinner. Cooking dinner together. Going out for dates. Both of us walking Luna. Playing any sport together, especially golf. Traveling and discovering the world as a team. Discovering fun things in our own back yard. Watching TV with him, even though I fall asleep a lot. Snuggling and reading. Snuggling some more.

Just being together.

Any time with you and Ian.

Visiting you and Ian, or having you visit us. I treasure every moment. When we can’t see each other, phone calls “just to chat” are the best. Sharing the world with you both!

Memories of our travels together. Memories of raising you, Ian and Claire. Precious moments spent discovering parks, zoo, museum. Memories of cuddling together with books when you were all three little. Playing board and card games. Kisses for boo-boos when you were little, a shoulder to cry on when you were older. Watching you both play sports. Offering guidance and support.

Just being your Mom.

Hanging with friends. Giggling over dinners and glasses of wine. Ladies annual golf trip, one of my most sacred times with close friends. Traveling with friends. Celebrating milestones.

Just being together.

Family. I feel so blessed with my relationships with my brothers and nieces and your dad’s family. My family. Our family.

Writing. Nothing gives me greater joy than creating story and then sharing it with the world. My words are little pieces of me that will live on forever. And, I am so honored for the recognition of my hard work and talent. May they both continue!

Reading. My favorite memories revolve around books. From being read to as a child by my mom, to reading to you, Ian and Claire every night. Discovering new authors of different genres. I love the feeling when you can’t put a book down, but all the same, don’t want it to ever end.

Claire’s Day. It warms my heart to see children enjoying and being impacted by our tribute! Her day provided me with something positive to focus on to move forward through my grief. The best part is, it helped me be a better mom to you and Ian, never taking either of you for granted.

Great music. It inspires me! Whether listening to my favorite artists while writing, (Fleetwood Mac, Idina Menzel, Beatles, etc.), dancing by myself at home or going to a concert, I love music.

Exercising. Walking. Riding bikes. Playing sports. Hot yoga. Dancing. Just moving!

Cooking and enjoying good food. I love being at home, making a great meal and enjoying with dad, family and friends. Favorite is pesto chicken, yummy salad, nice glass(es) of wine, something chocolate.

All the little things in life. Your dad’s smile. Seeing yours and Ian’s face anytime. Luna. The smell of stargazer lilies. Purple. Sunrises. Sunsets. Birds. Surprise phone calls. Giggling with my kindergarten readers. Kind words, both giving and receiving. Cards in the mail. Smell of coffee in the morning. Candles. My writing space. The sun on my face. Memories, sweet memories.

Every day is a gift.

Post Script

Post Script noun

an additional statement or action that provides further information on or a sequel to something.

Seven years ago, I served as the adult leader in a church youth group mission. The teenagers assigned to work with me were from across the country. They were amazing as we were thrust into a situation that none of us were prepared for. Our task for the week was to paint both the interior and exterior of the home of a man who was an alcoholic. A nasty, mean man.

I figured God must have known what he was doing, because I’ve had my share of experiences with alcoholics. Maybe I was meant to learn something from the experience, to be enlightened, and to guide the teenagers through the challenge.

A young woman confined to a wheelchair lived next door, and my crew gravitated toward her. In just a few hours the kids befriended her and learned a lot about her. Including the fact that the man she was living with was beating her.

They were afraid. For her, and for us.

We discussed whether to stay, or to work at a different site. The vote was unanimous. We left.

But, I’d always wondered if we stayed. What difference would we have made in the life of either the alcoholic or the young woman next door?

So of course, I wrote the story, imagining what was never to be in real life.

And I set that first draft aside for five years.

I’m now actively rewriting that story, thanks to a tremendous jump start through the magic of the Highlights Foundation. I participated in an on-line course led by the incredible Sarah Aronson. Eighteen of us involved in the workshop came to know each other and our stories from afar.

We gathered together last week at the home site of the Foundation, featuring cabins, a farmhouse (which I had the pleasure staying in along with a new friend, Elisa) and the Barn, where we heard lectures and ate amazing meals that Amanda the chef whipped up. (I want the gluten-free meat loaf recipe!)

Our stories were shared, listened to and critiqued by Sarah, her co-leaders, and by each other.

What a blessing it was to hear positive affirmations of my writing, my believable 17-year-old Joey’s voice. To hear words such as “crisp, visceral, strong” in describing my prose.

And to have the opportunity to offer the same to my fellow writers.

I’ve made a promise that the final draft of Joey’s story will be available to my group members to read by August 1. Every one of them offered their support and willingness to read again.

What I’m discovering through Joey is the post script. His story is mine. Mine is his.

Maybe writing this story is the lesson intended so long ago.

God works in mysterious ways, they say.

A tribute to my kids

As I begin to write this, my cell phone flashes 3:33.

I wake up constantly to this same time, almost to the point that I think my circadian rhythms are aligning to this number.

What it symbolizes to me is that I have 3 kids, always 3 kids.

I have one who is no longer physically present in my life.

And, I have two others who are. I thank God every day for them.

I’m grateful they are not only in my life, but they embrace me being in theirs.

I’ve got to admit that there were times when they were teenagers that I never thought I’d get to where we are now, but I’m so grateful for the journey.

I’d always say to them that it wasn’t easy being a good kid, any more than it was being a good parent. Especially under our circumstances.

It is hard to set limits, to offer structure and to offer guidance as a parent. As a bereaved parent, I often had to do the same for myself, to be the best version of myself when at times, all I wanted to do was to crawl back into bed.

Our daughter Kyle, 26, and our son Ian, 24, gave me reason not to.

And, to not only get my butt out of bed, but to be present in their lives.

To embrace the moments, all 525, 600 of them each year, because I knew all to well and tragically that there’s no guarantee for the next. For any of us.

Now having weathered the toughest times together, we all enjoy the results of our efforts.

And what a joy they are.

From the phone calls “just to chat” to concerts, museums, travels and visits all together as a family whenever we can tuck them in, each is such a blessing.

Kyle gave me a special Christmas gift this year, one where we exchange notes with each other, following writing prompts. Her words bring tears as she reflects on how I’ve inspired her, why she’s proud of me, and what she hopes for me.

Ian offered the same to me last Mother’s Day, in typing a letter on an old typewriter he has.

Just as their words have touched my heart, I hope mine touch theirs.

Love you Kyle and Ian!

Full Circle

As I began to reflect on an amazing series of coincidences which lead up to a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us involved, a classic Seals and Crofts song came to mind;

Life, so they say, is but a game
And they let it slip away
Love, like the autumn sun
Should be dyin’, but it’s only just begun

Like the twilight in the road up ahead
They don’t see just where we’re goin’
And all the secrets in the universe

Whisper in our ears
And all the years
Will come and go
Take us up, always up

We may never pass this way again, we may never pass this way again, we may never pass this way again…

Back in October, I was invited to participate on a panel of middle-grade authors at the Ohio Educational Library Media Association conference in Columbus. The panel discussion was scheduled bright and early, 8 a.m. Instead of getting up at zero-dark thirty to drive down that morning, I had dinner with our son Ian the evening before and stayed over with my friend Barbara Sears, former State House representative. After dinner we joined up with neighbors, and I met Laura Battocletti, the director of the Statehouse. Yes, the Statehouse in Columbus, the one with the big cupola, and the beautiful rotunda with its dazzling skylight, restored through a penny-collecting campaign with schoolchildren from Ohio.

Barbara, taking on her new role as my publicity agent, shared my latest book, a biography of children’s literature icon, Virginia Hamilton, with Laura. Virginia is the most honored children’s book author ever. Yet, there was one award she had not received. Laura asked if I was aware of the Great Ohioan award. The award has been in existence since 2003, and given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to World, American or Ohio history by the Capitol Square Advisory Board.

As we talked about Virginia’s accomplishments, including being the first African American woman to receive the Newbery Award, we agreed Virginia was an ideal candidate.

Fast forward to several weeks later. While participating in the Cincinnati Book Festival, I met a young mother, Angie, and her daughter, fourth-grader, Annie. They were thrilled to learn that I had written a biography of Virginia. Annie wrote a report on Virginia several years before, based on her love for her stories. Angie knew Jaime Adoff, Virginia’s son, and Annie reached out to him as a resource for her paper.

So, there I was at the book festival, looking at little Annie with her big brown eyes, filled with excitement as I personally signed my biography of Virginia to her. Angie and I exchanged contact info, promising to keep in touch.

Several weeks later, I received an email from Laura, with a link to the Great Ohioan Award nomination form. I reviewed, submitted, and sent in my nomination of Virginia.

And then I reached out to Angie, to see if perhaps she, or Annie, might want to send a letter to support my nomination. Of course, they would, Angie replied.

Time passed, and I didn’t think much more about it. Until I received a note from Laura, advising me that Virginia was to be confirmed formally as a recipient of a Great Ohioan Award. And, the board was so impressed by little ten-year-old Annie’s letter, that Annie and her class were to be bused to Columbus from Cincinnati for the confirmation, and given a private tour of the statehouse. How cool is that?

I was sworn to secrecy until yesterday’s ceremonies, but I could not wait to tell Arnold Adoff, Virginia’s husband, and Jaime. Arnold could not attend the ceremonies for health reasons, but Jaime took a personal day from his teaching position at McKinney Middle School in Yellow Springs to join the momentous occasion.

Annie, her parents and grandmother, her teacher, Jaime, and yours truly were ushered into the Capitol Square Foundation Board meeting. Annie was invited to sit beside Chair Charles Moses. Cool as a cucumber, Annie read a synopsis of her nomination, and in a glimpse of her future as a politician, finished with a joke. Yes, in front of the stoic, now smiling board members, since Virginia loved frogs, little Annie told a joke.

“What do frogs order at McDonald’s?”

And, with perfect comedic timing, Annie offered, “Burgers and flies!”

I looked over at Angie, who was laughing and crying at the same time. We all were.

Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger introduced Jaime, who offered that of all the awards his mother had received, that she would be so honored by this recognition, as she was so proud of her home state, and much of her writings featured Ohio’s landscape.

After the nomination was formally unanimously approved, the member’s eyes filled with appreciation, the meeting was adjourned.

As if the process was not enough for Annie and all of us, her entourage, we were escorted to the House floor, where typically no one, outside of representatives, are allowed.

Much less the Speaker’s chair.

Yep, that’s Annie, with the Speaker, who lent his pin to her for the honor of overseeing official photos of the occasion.

From there we were escorted through the Statehouse, Jaime, Angie and I sharing our amazement over the coincidences leading to the day.

I shared over lunch that it was not lost on me that it was my forever fourth-grader, Claire, who as my guardian angel, may have had a hand in all of this.

Claire’s assigned number, based on alphabetical order throughout her class years was #17. Ohio was the 17th state admitted to the Union.

Claire loved books and sharing stories, and we’ve chosen to honor her through Claire’s Day. It was through Claire’s Day that my first book, a picture book about the state, Hidden Ohio, came to be.

I loved writing for children, and hoped to have more books published. To accomplish this goal, I started attending Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conferences. It was at one of these conferences that I learned my friend, Michelle Houts, was writing and editing for a new series being published by Ohio University Press. Biographies for Young Readers features primarily Ohioans who have made their mark in the world.

It was through Claire’s Day that I became aware of the Virginia Hamilton conference and came to know Jaime and Arnold, ultimately leading to writing Virginia’s biography for the series, and nominating her for the award.

And then, reaching out to another little fourth grader to help honor Virginia.

Coincidences or secrets of the universe whispering in our ears?

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep listening.

In honor of the late Virginia Hamilton, a GREAT OHIOAN.

Photos courtesy of Ohio Statehouse

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.