Miles on the Road Less Traveled

And the WINNER is... Nicolle!!

Please email me your choice of story thesaurus and address and I will send it your way! Thank you all for playing! Remember, anyone interested in working on developing their characters, setting, conflict or story line, click here to join me for Story Seedlings, staring June 1st.


Some people make goals for the year.

I did that. I wanted to save 20% of my writing earnings in an envelope to prepare for a full time writing career. It is marked GO-PRO and currently has $1,390 in it! I also made a goal to drink more water… and have been less successful at that.

Some people pick a word to represent the direction they want to go for the year.

I did that too, thanks to the prompting of the leader of my writing group. My word is connections, and in another blog post, on another Writing Wednesday, I will explain the way I am living that out, literally one day at a time.

Some people make SMART goals, create charts to track progress, resolve to do A,B and/or C, get accountability partners, and the list rolls on and on. This year I did something a little different. I picked a theme song.

This isn’t something totally new for me. When I was in high school and on the gymnastics team, we would pick a song to play during the warm up for Floor Exercise. For two minutes we would tumble and leap and dance and stretch and get ready to compete. Each year a new song would be chosen to play during this time, to pump us up. The year I was a Junior we listened to “I’m in a Hurry” by Alabama. It must have worked because we hurried ourselves all the way to a second place finish at the state meet that year. Every time I hear this song, I still think of my teammates, and that season, and all of our hours together in the gym.

My former co-workers and I also used to pick a song that signified our school year… something to help us make sense of the crazy days we lived in public middle school education. One year Billy Currington was our man, and his song “God is Great, Beer is Good and People Are Crazy” seemed to sum up our year perfectly.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when this song singled itself out. I didn’t think, “Hey, I need a song, a motivating force, to remind me what I’m doing in this big crazy journey of authorprenuership.” I didn’t think, “I need something that will pick me up, fire me up and push me onward”. But the song found me and it stuck.

Take a listen.

I could wax on and off about the meaning of the lyrics and the ways they connect to my goals and dreams, my emotions and my work… but I think they are pretty obvious. No moody, read-between-the-lines-to-interpret-my-soul lyrics for this girl. (At least, not this time.)

It’s all out there. Plain and simple. I want to be a full-time writer and writing coach, and as crazy as that might seem to some people, I don’t really care. I am giving it my all and working by butt off to get there. And this song is my cheerleader.

On an even more basic level, this big dream of mine has taken me, quite literally on the road. Since January 1st I have participated, facilitated, taught or presented at 13 author events (and have 4 more scheduled for June). In the past 5 months I have driven 2, 124 miles to be where my work takes me.

Here’s what that looks like.

Each trip, each location, each event, each presentation, each business card I handed out, connection I made, each and every mile on the road this year has brought me closer to my overall destination. So far the road of 2017 has brought me pretty far. I’m excited to see where it leads to next.

1: Rainy day road trip to Ontario, WI for Brookwood Family Literacy Night, 2: Along the shores of Lake Winnebago after an event for the Wisconsin Geocaching Association in Fond Du Lac, WI, 3: Author badge at WEMTA (Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association) Conference, 4: Hitting the road to Chippewa Falls, WI for a Gifted and Talented Workshop in my fabulous heart shaped aviators. 5: Driving past the paper mills that produce my favorite consumer product on the east side of the state, 6: The earliest time I ever stopped at the Kwik Trip near by home (5:25am) before hitting the road for Eau Claire, WI. 7: All fueld up with my life blood (Diet Pepsi - not sure where I was traveling here… to be honest, I wouldn’t even have to be traveling to take this picture), 8: Placard outside of the Charmant Hotel in La Crosse, WI for my reading/speaking event about Champion Chocolatier, 9: Untitled Town website (where I spoke for Green Bay’s first annual book and author festival), 10: Showcasing the new ride (I am super proud of this picture because I now make enough money as a writer to make the monthly payments on this vehicle. It feels good that my passion project can contribute to my family financially), 11: Windmills on the way to the east side of the state (for those of you who know me, you know these gargantuan pieces of machinery freak me out. I had to document the occasion.)

Secrets to Character Creation...and a FREE BOOK!

A fellow writer (Hi Alex!) asked me an interesting question. What would make a character exceptionally loyal? I mean, loyal past the point of logic. Loyal even when they probably shouldn’t be.

Hmmm. Good question. Good, because it would require some thought, and thought is a great activity for the creative brain. Good, because the answer to this question would make her story so much better. Even if this information doesn’t make it into Alex’s final manuscript in an extensively detailed backstory moment, the knowledge of why her character acts the way he or she does will positively impact this character’s creation as a whole. Good, because knowing why your character is the way they are will help you make crystal clear and specific choices about the decisions the character makes. Clear as mud? Great, let me explain.

A character is loyal. Why?

Maybe…

He never had a solid parental figure. Never had any boundaries. So once he encounters anyone who gives him attention, a place to belong with a role to play, rules to follow if he wants to stay “in”, he’s willing to do just about anything not to lose it.

Maybe…

He was stabbed in the back by a best friend in high school and vows to himself he will never, ever betray anyone. EVER. No matter the cost he will always be loyal, because he is a man of moral fiber. It doesn’t matter that his boss asks him to do questionable activities because his loyalty discounts all of those bad deeds.

Maybe, maybe, maybe… I list as many maybes as I can think of. Listing one option simply won’t do. The first option isn’t the right one because you thought of it first. It’s simply the first one you thought of. Often, the first explanation or solution to any question is the easiest, the most cliche. I challenge you to go further, push farther. If you can’t think of any GOOD options, make a list of bad ones. Priming the pump of thought might push you in the right direction… eventually.

When I run out of maybes for Alex I turn to one of my favorite resources: The Positive Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. This book deeply examines almost 100 positive character traits. For each character trait Angela and Becca list: similar attributes, possible causes, associated behaviors, associated thoughts, associated emotions, positive aspects, negative aspects, examples from literature/film, traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict and challenging scenarios for the character. Holy hotbed of helpfulness!

For example, here is what the authors have to say about being LOYAL.

I asked Alex to look through these pages and she identified coming from a strict military background, and a fear of retribution as probable explanations to her character's loyalty. She also identified that the following behaviors would be a good match for her character: talking incessantly about the object of their loyalty, striving to make oneself more visible to the object of loyalty, putting the object’s needs and desires over their own, believing the best of the object of their loyalty, and dismissing negative things others say about the object of their loyalty. Match these choices up with one of our aforementioned “maybes” and we have a realistic character backstory and personality.

My personal favorite part of this guidebook is the examples from literature and film. For example, loyal characters from books/movies include: Forrest Gump, Rubeus Hagrid (Harry Potter), and Sam Gamgee (Lord of the Rings). I can take these suggestions to YouTube and watch quick clips of the characters they mention and analyze their behaviors, facial expressions, and grounding actions for myself, and then mix up an interesting cocktail of those attributes for my own character.

The Positive Trait Thesaurus is one book in a series of three that help you delve into character motivations. The Negative Trait Thesaurus and The Emotion Thesaurus round out the character resource trio. It is amazing how you can pair up two books to really get an interesting cross section of a character’s personality. For example, I looked up EAGERNESS in the emotion thesaurus and discovered a slew of physical signals and internal sensations that would be excellent additions to Alex’s obsessively loyal character.

The authors of these fine resources also recently created The Urban and Rural Setting Thesauruses. According to the description on Amazon, these beautiful books give us:

  • A list of the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds for over 100 urban/rural settings.

  • Possible sources of conflict for each location to help you brainstorm ways to naturally complicate matters for your characters

  • Advice on the many effective ways to build mood, helping you steer both the character’s and readers’ emotions in every scene

  • Information on how the setting directly influences the plot by acting as a tuning fork for what a character needs most and by testing his dedication to his goals

  • A tutorial on figurative language and how different descriptive techniques can bring settings alive for readers while conveying a symbolic message or deeper meaning

  • A review of the challenges that arise when writing description, as well as special considerations that apply specifically to rural and personal settings

Let me tell you, they are already sitting and waiting patiently in my Amazon cart. Wouldn’t you love one? Tell you what, I’ll buy. :) For real. For each time you share this post on social media, I’ll enter you into a drawing. Then, next week Wednesday, I’ll announce the winner, back here on my blog. When you respond to this email with your screenshotted social media share, let me know which of the 5 thesauruses you want.

Final thoughts. Did you find this post helpful? Because I’m going to be doing this each and every day in the month of June. Story Seedlings (aka: 30 Scenes in 30 Days 2.0) is a closed online community of writers working through the beginning stages of novel writing. We will take the seed of an idea and through writing prompts, group critique, inspiration and encouragement grow it into something solid and strong. We will specifically cover the story elements of character, setting, conflict and dialogue. If you are interested… you can learn more about it here.

Alright, That’s enough for one Writing Wednesday by word nerds.

Until next time, happy writing!

Your Northwoods Writer’s Paradise Awaits!

 

Today I have BJ Hollars visiting the blog to tell us all about the Cirenaica Residencies sponsored by the Chippewa Valley Writer's Guild. Man do I wish I had looked at these offerings before my summer filled up. Believe me when I say I will DEFINITELY be applying for a spot next year. If you are needing a writer's escape, a push on a project, or some expert advice, settle in and read on... because BJ is about to hook you up with some knowledge on an four amazing opportunities. 


Love writing? Fellowship? Nature? And some pretty incredible food? Then Cirenaica’s the place for you!

Nestled on 43 acres of hills, farmland, and forest near the quaint village of Fall Creek, Wisconsin, our summer writing residencies promise participants an intensive yet rejuvenating experience amidst an inspiring natural backdrop. Complete with guest writers and editors, an on-site chef, and even a waterfall right up the road, we strive to provide the perfect summer writing experience for writers of all levels and genres. If your life’s filled with a thousand little distraction, there’s no better fix that three wondrous days in the wilds of Wisconsin.

During last year’s inaugural summer, our jam-packed residencies provided incredible opportunities to 60 lucky writers from across the nation. And by summer’s end, over 15 of our participants had published their work in an array of literary magazines, journals and even on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Wisconsin Life! Upon reflecting on the residency, one participant, wrote,

“I am unable to overstate the value of Cirenaica. The natural beauty of the region, combined with exquisite tutelage and talent [and the] exceptional facilities yielded the perfect storm for creativity.”

Another added:

“I used to think writing was a solitary experience, but after the residency I realized the importance of community and the energy derived from a community of writers. I entered this residency not knowing anyone and left with friends and wisdom that I will never forget.”

These sentiments are echoed again and again, confirming— for me, at least— the value of writers coming together for the benefit of their craft.

This summer, we invite you to apply! And as a special thank you, for every referred application, receive $10 off your own accepted application. Bring 5 friends and save $50! Space is limited, the deadline is May 1, so we encourage you to apply today!

This summer we will be hosting five, 3-day residencies:

 Stranger than Fiction

On Writing Narrative Nonfiction and Memoir featuring writer-in-residence Allyson Goldin Loomis (June 8-11)

 Theory and Practice of Fiction

Featuring writer-in- residence Nickolas Butler (June 22-25)

 The Art of Memoir

Keep it Honest, But Keep it Interesting with writer-in- residence June Melby (July 6-9)

 Poetry in the Shadow of Walden

Featuring writer-in- residence and former Wisconsin poet laureate Max Garland (July 13-16)

 Writing Young Adult Fiction

The Magic Formula featuring writer-in- residence Marsha Qualey (July 21-24) 

Click here for an overview of the program, here for details on this summer’s offerings and here for testimonials.

As we like to say here at Cirenaica: be inspired, inspire others.

Split Personality aka: Writing With a Pen Name

Today's guest post comes from a fellow word nerd, Donna Schlachter, who has a new book out entitled: Echoes of the Heart. Donna and I both write for Forget Me Not Romance (Champion Chocolatier's Indie Press) and I told her I'd be more than happy to spread the word about her most recent project. Echoes of the Heart is part of The Pony Express Romance Collection. All 9 stories in the collection are available in paperback now on Amazon for only $7.90. 

Donna is talking with us today (actually talking with herself) about the task of writing under two different names... her own and a pen name. It is an interesting concept that many authors consider and I found this conversation both helpful and amusing. I'll let you listen in for yourself...


Leeann, my alter ego, and I were chatting the other day.

She wanted to know why I created her.

“I was writing and hoping to publish in two different genres: historical suspense and contemporary suspense. I didn’t want to confuse my readers by writing in different genres,” I answered.

“How did you pick my name?” She wondered aloud.

“My husband’s middle name is Lee, his mother’s middle name is Ann, and my mother’s nickname in nursing school was Betts.”

“Isn’t making up a name illegal?”

“Not unless I’m trying to avoid a legal claim or defraud somebody.”

She chewed on her bottom lip, a funny habit she has. “How do you keep us straight?”

I smiled at her. “First of all, you’re cute and perky and all the things I’m not. Second, you write different stories than I write.”

“Such as?”

“Most of my historical suspense are stories about women who have made some bad choices, and now they want to straighten out their lives. Your stories are about stronger, quirkier women who are driven to excel.”

“Sounds like you,” she complimented.

Now it was my turn to chew my bottom lip. Maybe she inherited that trait from me. “But the women you write about don’t know they are strong. Or quirky. And the women I write about are just like me. Hoping it’s true that God is a God of second chances. And finding out He is.”

“So we’re different but the same?”

I patted her on the head like she was an obedient puppy. “Exactly.”


So what do you think? Are you interested in playing the pen name game? Just for fun, write your would-be-pen-name in the comments below! For extra fun, tell us what genre this new persona would tackle. 

Until next Wednesday, Happy writing, 

Amanda


Author bio:

Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid publisher who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. Her current release, Echoes of the Heart, a 9-in-1 novella collection titled "Pony Express Romance Collection" released April 1. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests. She will be teaching an online course for American Christian Fiction Writers in June 2017, “Don’t let your subplots sink your story”. Donna loves history and research, and travels extensively for both.

Get in touch with Donna via any of the following social media platforms.

www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com

www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/DonnaschlachterAuthor

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/DonnaSchlachter

Books: http://amzn.to/2ci5Xqq

Echoes of the Heart: http://amzn.to/2lBaqcW

Solstice Stanzas

This week at my writing group our prompt asked us to consider the oppositional nature of the Solstice. The dark and the light. The good and the bad. I thought about the season of winter and how, for most of it, us Midwesterners complain about the snow and ice and cold and dark and blah, blah, blah. Most see winter as a hinderance. I pondered this and then thought, what if we viewed it differently? What if we viewed the cold and darkness that kept us indoors as a blessing that slowed us down, focused us in, and helped us relax? 

Below is the poem that I crafted after the ten minute free write. I hope you both enjoy it, and use it to reconsider this season in perhaps a kinder light.

Welcome Guest Author, Linda Matchett!

Hello fellow word-nerds! I am excited to introduce you to my writing friend Linda Matchett.

Linda describes herself as an author who writes about “ordinary women who do extraordinary things.” Sounds like my kind of writer! In addition to writing this novel Linda is an avid blogger on the site Stitches Thru Time, works at a high school boarding school, is a docent at a WWII museum and leads a bible study! Sounds like she is doing some pretty extraordinary things herself!

I hope you are able to pick up some amazing writing tips, or find your next read as we discuss Linda’s second book: Love Found in Sherwood Forest.

Award-winning Broadway actress Leighanne Webster has it all until an on-stage panic attack brings her career crashing to the ground. Then her sister throws her a lifeline: Come home and help produce the annual Robin Hood Festival play. Returning to England could be the salve Leighanne needs to heal her bruised feelings, except for the fact that ex-fiance, Jamison Blake, is the play’s director. But she’s a professional, able to do the job without letting old relationships get in the way. Then why does she find it so hard to focus on her work?

Five years ago, Jamison Blake broke off his engagement to Leighanne, so she could travel to New York and become the brilliant, sought-after actress she deserved to be. But he didn’t count on his heart’s refusal to stop loving her, and life has been empty since she left. Her return to Nottingham is temporary, and she is still angry about their breakup, avoiding him at all cost during rehearsals. Can he convince her to give their relationship another try despite careers that span an ocean, or will he have to let her go again? This time for good?

Can two people entangled in their own hurts and misconceptions, find their way clear to discover God’s plan for their lives-plans that may include a future together?


AZ: How did the idea for this novel develop? What was your inspiration?

LM: The idea for this story came from a writing prompt. A major publisher put out a call for submissions. And listed prompts based on the type of stories they were looking for. The prompts were a list of three items (such as an arrow, a hidden space, and a book) and also a location. I love history, but the submission request was for contemporary stories, so I had to come up with a way to incorporate history. When I saw  the lists that included Nottingham, I immediately thought of the Robin Hood legend and then came up with the idea to wrap the story around a Robin Hood play.

AZ: Writing prompts are the best! Anyone out there on the lookout for some great writing prompts? Click here for a free prompt gift from yours truly. :)

AZ: Do you have any connections to theater productions or Robin Hood? Were you able to use any of your real life experiences while you wrote the on stage scenes?

LM: Over the years I have attended a lot of stage productions, but last year I performed in our school's production of Fidder on the Roof. I even had three lines! LOL. That experience helped quite a bit in writing the scenes.

AZ: Taking a research vacation is high on my writing bucket list. Did you travel to England to write gather info for this book? What was your research process for this book and do you enjoy this part of the writing?

LM: I was blessed to be able to go to England in March 2015. Until then I did research from my desk. The internet helped a lot, but I also have friends and acquaintances from England and often talked to them. The interviews were a huge help and I highly recommend interviews for any writer while in their research phase. For this particular story I had to research the Robin Hood legend and all the people associated with it. There are myriad opinions on who Maid Marian actually was, and I also stumbled on the Major Oak, a massive oak tree in Sherwood Forest thought to be 1,000 years old that was the shelter for Robin and his men. I love research and had a wonderful time during this project. And I would got back to England tomorrow if I had the chance. It was a fascinating trip, and I only scratched the surface of an amazing country.

AZ: What are you working on next?

LM: I am currently working on a novella for Celebrate Lit Publishing that will be part of a collection. The story is about a young woman on the eve of her wedding who finds out the fiance she thinks died during the war is alive. The manuscript is due to the publisher in early January, and the book will be published sometime in the Spring.

AZ: How does your faith impact your writing?

LM: My faith is an integral part of my writing. I hope to encourage and edify readers through my stories without banging them over the head or being preachy. The themes in my books are usually issues I'm dealing with personally. It helps me to work them out through writing the story.

AZ: Do you have any productivity tips for other writers?

LM: I try to pick a regular place to write. I have found myself to be more productive because it's almost like "muscle memory." When I sit down at my desk, my brain knows I'm in my writing space and it's time to work. Also you have to make time to write (vs. finding time). Schedule writing time in your calendar and stick to the appointment. Also, find a critique group. I am a much better writer thanks to the critique group I'm part of. It's an online group, and I've never personally met any of the women, but we are very close nonetheless. We came together through the ACFW main critique loop.

AZ: Thank you so much for sharing your time and words with us Linda!

LM: Thanks for hosting me!

If you would like to find out more about Linda you can visit her website. To order your own copy of her eBook: Love Found in Sherwood Forest, click here:  You can read the first chapter for free here

 

A Blog Post in Which I Share Several Lists and Give Shout Outs

If you spend any amount of time with me, you will quickly discover 5 things.

1.       I am more than slightly addicted to Diet Pepsi.

2.       In the list of my life priorities, words are #2 on the list (behind my family).

3.       I like lists.

4.       My writing heroes include Maggie Stiefvater, Taylor Swift and Eminem. (An eclectic list, I know.)

5.       If you happen to look at my hands… while I type, while I talk and use them to gesticulate, while I sign your book… you will notice my nails are always nicely manicured. It’s vice #3, right after Diet Pepsi and Cherry PopTarts.  (Did I mention I like lists?)

 For this blog post I am going to combine #2, 3 and 4 to create the ultimate piece of WRITING WISDOM. Also, I may or may not be drinking a Diet Pepsi while I write this. Who am I kidding? I am most definitely drinking a DP as I write this.

In an interview I once watched on a morning talk show, Taylor Swift said, “You need to find the people in this world who are the same kind of weird as you.” This is a paraphrase because it happened during a rare moment in my life when I didn’t have a pen and notebook next to me. Weird, I know. But the general truth still shines through. If you love pickles. Hang out with other pickle loving people. Go to pickle serving restaurants, attempt picklicious recipes, buy t-shirts featuring pickles, shout out your love of pickles! And while your obsession might be totally random and misunderstood, being with people who also love pickles will make you so darn happy, you will not care. There is nothing that can replace the peace, joy, productivity, inspiration or energy of spending time with people who love the same thing as you. How does this in any way, shape or form connect to writing advice? Keep reading.

If you look at Taylor’s advice again and substitute the word NERD for WEIRD, you will come up with my best piece of writing advice ever. FIND PEOPLE WHO ARE THE SAME KIND OF NERD AS YOU. What does that mean for writers? Find other word nerds, and spend time with them regularly. I have found a variety of ways to put this advice to practical use. (Ready for a list? C’mon, you knew it was coming!)

1.       Attend Conferences and Writing Events

Last spring my writing partner and I jumped in the car to spend a weekend in Madison, WI at the Writer’s Institute. Three days full of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, manuscript critiques and agent pitches, social hours, public readings, new writer friends (Hi John!) and more… it was worth every penny. I also attended NerdCon in the Twin Cities last year and the opportunity to geek-out with 3,000 other word nerds was an experience I will never forget.

2.       Find a critique partner and meet with them regularly.

Whether online or in person, set regularly scheduled times to share and trade your work with another word-nerd. This will force you to have quality things written on a consistent basis, and also allow you to get feedback in a safe environment. Set a schedule and stick to it to get the most out of this experience. (Shout out to my critique partner Marci! Everyone click here to read Marci’s book Lily Laughs.)

3.       Take Writing Retreats

When you are free from the daily constraints of schedules, children to raise, a full-time job, TV, the laundry, etc. you are able to fully immerse yourself in your passion for writing. This summer I attended my first (and hopefully not my last) Highlights Foundation Workshop. While in rural Pennsylvania I learned about a specific niche market of writing from seasoned veterans. I also made amazing nation-wide writing friends that continue to support one another from home via the magic of the internet. A writing retreat on my bucket list can be seen by clicking here

4.       Join writing organizations

I recently moved to a new town and joined Women Writers Ink. Through this organization I was able to meet new friends, hang out with a writing group that meets every other week and also participate in the organization’s public reading and selling events. If your city doesn’t have a face to face organization, join an online group. I am part of a few very productive Facebook writing groups and with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) officially starting on Tuesday, the internet will be full of writers looking to make new connections. SCWBI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is another great community to consider joining. 

To my writing friends, near and far, present, past and future, thank you for the countless gifts you have given me. Time, critiques, listening ears, words of encouragement, Facebook likes and shares, evenings of reflection, weekends of rejuvenation, weeks of learning, advice, recommendations, reviews and more. You are the champions of craft, the master marketers, the forever friends that make what could be a lonely and solitary place dominated by a blinking cursor a fulfilling world of words and friends.

So, if you are reading this and thinking, “Man, I really need to go round up some nerds!” I resolutely concur. Open your door, internet browser, community center brochure, local college course booklet… open your mind and go find your nerds, whatever kind they might be. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

What kind of NERD are you? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below! Happy reading! Happy writing!

<3, Amanda

Writing in the Good Old Summer Time

The longer I am a teacher, the weirder it feels to not work in the summer. Granted with boat loads of freedom, an endless array of weather-warm options and minimal responsibility just seems… too good to be true. It was this gift of limbo-time that allowed me to complete the ungodly amount of things I accomplished this summer. Things like, visit seven states, ride six planes and drive for twenty-four hours in a twelve day period of time; things like celebrating the lives of two grandparents now gone to heaven; things like sell a house and move; things like plan and attend a class reunion; all without taking a single day off of work. 

While this summer was busier than most, I did manage to use this weird, child-like time off to accomplish some writing. (It may not feel like it if you use my blog as a measuring stick, but I assure you, I did write… some.) Below are the writing highlights of my summer. 

In June I attended a one week workshop at the Highlights Foundation. I spent five days in the Pennsylvania wilderness learning the ins and outs of the Educational Market. Unlike the traditional market or the self-publishing world, this writing niche is home to assessment text, classroom materials, purposeful fiction series and nonfiction book sets. I learned about the practical application of my writing skills and educational experience and made a dozen new writing friends a long the way. The quaint cabins and gourmet food were the icing on this piece of word-nerd cake. The week was capped off with a tour of the Highlights offices and Boyds Mills Press. I hope to return for another workshop in the future. If you are debating on attending, save your money and go. You won’t be disappointed. 

In July I traveled to Glenwood City, Wisconsin to teach an all day young writer’s workshop at the incredibly beautiful Everwood Farmstead. Generous hosts Chris and Bill have created an artist’s haven. Nine young writers and I spent the day creating and polishing, playing and critiquing. I was blown away and humbled by the abilities of the writers who attended and beyond impressed when they braved the stage and read their stories aloud for parents and friends at the end of the day. Definitely put visiting Everwood, whether for a workshop, concert, or culinary event, on your bucket list. 

 

Finally, I finished, truly finished, two manuscripts. 

The first one, has been a long time in the making. A reallllly long time. The manuscript for The Birthday Cache has been through seven drafts, a couple of agents and their thoughtful feedback, an editor, and critiques from a writing partner and writing mentor. I had begun to feel like the story wasn’t even mine anymore. BUT, then I thought about the writers whom I had listened to over this past year in conference presentations, author panels, blog posts and online articles. They went through how many drafts? How many rounds of revisions from their editor? How many interns helped work on their text? When I felt like I was relying too heavily on others to create high quality work, was I really just becoming more professional? Instead of putting out low grade literary work all on my lonesome, was I really just working hard (really hard) and using the resources available to shine and polish and mold my story into its best possible version? I am choosing to go with this second line of thought. I now have a really great middle grade story that I can’t wait to get out there. Stay tuned for this first geocaching book in the exciting series Adventures Await. 

The second manuscript was a MUCH faster ordeal. I started it in February and finished it last night. Six months, three beta-readers (thanks ladies!), two drafts, and thirty-five thousand words. Champion Chocolatier is being released next month by independent publisher Lovely Christian Romance. This book is part of a six book collection. Each author was asked to write a story that took place in a northern state during Christmas time and had hot chocolate play a major role in the story. I haven’t read the other novellas in the collection yet, but I can’t wait to see what everyone came up with. This book is my first non-self-published book and also my first book to be turned into an audiobook. Proud and excited do not even begin to describe how I feel about it. If you'd like to pre-order this book, please email me! amanda.zieba@yahoo.com  

So, tomorrow the summer ends. I start back too school with teacher meetings and orientations and technology trainings and a million other work-related tasks. So long to the summer hours and the lack of structured schedule. Sure part of me is sad, but there is another part that is ready for the school year and the order that it brings to our family’s chaotic life. See ya later summer, hello fall.

Have Books, Will Travel

So… we’re moving. At least, that is the desired end result.

Last night my job was to prepare the house for our first showing… on about 24 hours notice.

After work I raced through Wal-Mart to pick up some of the Glade plug-ins YouTube is always advertising on my writing music playlists, a few Rubbermades, new rugs and shower curtains to update my bathrooms and some Windex. I got my children from daycare and then quickly fed them a gourmet dinner of chicken nuggets and tater tots before depositing them at a friend’s house for a couple of hours so I could get some serious cleaning done. (Thank you Cathy!!)

The largest task was cleaning and organizing the items belonging to the youngest two Zieba’s.  I started in the living room and quickly realized that the both the books and toys would not fit in the shelving unit. I made an executive decision and started piling the books into the Rubbermade. As I did this, I realized a few things.

  1. We have a lot of books. They easily outnumber the DVDs in our house four to one. Maybe even five to one. I also realized that I am ridiculously proud of this ratio.  

  2. As I stacked up the books, I realized that each one is a memory. Moments in time are pressed safely between their covers, just waiting to be revisited again and again. I relived the first time I read my first child I’ll Love you Forever. I’d read it before, but never to MY child. I had never understood why everyone cried at the seemingly simple and predictable story, until I read it to MY son. It was then I cried like a baby while blubbering to him, “Kameron, it turns out your momma is a sap, just like everyone else.” I relived afternoons spent reading in our deck tents, enjoying both our stories and a cool spot on a hot summer day. I relived the moments the books were given… for birthdays, baptisms, and just becauses. Each book packed away was like time traveling to each time it was read. Book by book, year by year, a childhood encapsulated in cardboard covers.

  3. By the time I was done in the living room and both boys’ bedrooms I also realized the 30 gallon Rubbermade was too heavy to move on my own (even when I tried pushing it across the carpet). It was a job I would need my husband to help me tackle.

When I looked at that tote, so full I could barely snap on the lid, I looked at 6 years of reading memories and love. I looked at a thousand precious moments. I looked at the foundation we built of a life of loving to read.

After I was done, I couldn’t help but go downstairs (where, thankfully, it was already clean) and gaze at my own bookshelf full of memories. There was the young reader’s edition of Heidi that I read at a fifth grade birthday sleepover while the other girls fought for most of the night. There was the copy of Speak I read as a high schooler in my front lawn and marveled at the problems that existed in our complex world. I smiled when I saw Oliver, Amanda and Grandmother Pig and struggled to remember who exactly got me this first beloved chapter book. Mom and Dad? Auntie Jan? Grandma? There was the entire set of Harry Potter books, the set I loan to no one, right next to the copies I do allow to leave my presence. My eyes pass over my growing collection of author autographed books. I count the titles on the shelf that I own, but have yet to read. (36, for inquiring minds).

If things go according to plan, these memories will also have to be boxed up. The moment will be bittersweet. We have spent the last 9 years in this house, with these jobs and these friends. Even though it is somewhat sad and scary to move on, we are excited for all the future holds. Knowing that we are taking some of our history with us, will make our new space feel automatically like home.

So last night I realized something else. Have books, will travel… and luckily the memories will come with us too.