My Journey with NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program!

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This is my 5th year leading NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program in my own community. I began leading a Young Writer’s Group at my home with my daughter and her awesome friends, back in Lyndhurst, OH.

I began this group with two intentions:

One: To see if I would be any good at motivating young kids to write (those who already showed an interest in writing, even a mild interest).

and Two: To encourage my daughter and her friends to get together on a more regular basis. The writing part was a common interest they shared, so it just kind of happened that this group of friends ended up as a writing group that met at my house monthly (yes, National Novel Writing Month turned into an ongoing program for us).

This small group ended up most of the time as a rime to socialize and play, but I was surprised as the years went by that the girls continued their focus on writing. Even after five years, they like to collaborate on Google Docs to create stories. November was always the month to focus back on the writing and challenge ourselves once again.

This year we moved an hour away from where we used to live (from Lyndhurst, OH to Amherst, OH), and my daughter has been forced to try making new friends. A tall order for any introvert. All her best friends were the writing buds back home, so I thought maybe I should try launching an after-school writing program here in Amherst to make it a bit easier to find some kindred spirits, or “peeps.”

I ended up bringing the idea of leading an after-school Young Writers Program for the month of November at Amherst Junior High School (as a volunteer). I met with the Assistant Superintendent in Amherst who brought up the idea at the next board meeting. Thankfully it passed, and I was sent over to have my background check run (insert joke here). I ended up deciding to run two groups – one at the Junior High and one at Nord, the Middle School. Why Nord? Well, I couldn’t help but remember that the 3rd-6th grade ages are actually very fun to work with when it comes to a group like this, because the imagination is so free. The inner critic hasn’t completely been unleashed yet at that age.

Ironically, the Nord group ended up growing to about 25 kids and the Junior High group is at 6, including my daughter. It’s been an interesting learning experience, handling two very different group sizes. The large group can be fun, and I’m glad to be able to engage that many kids, but I can’t get as close to the kids in the group as I would like to because there are so many of them! I feel like I’m getting a little taste of what it’s like to be a teacher, in charge of such a large group of kids. Plus, when my head is turned, that’s when a paper airplane goes flying into the next room, onto the desk of a teacher I didn’t even know was behind the wall next door (facepalm)!

The small group at the Junior High has been more what I imagined. With this group, I have more time to get to know the individual kids. I know what type of genre they each like to write, and I get to share my own work with them at the same time. I get to share my worst book ideas with them and they challenge me to work on those very bad ideas to see if it’s possible to make something good out of them (I’ll share that bit later). There aren’t as many kids in this group as I originally hoped for, but I’m realizing the group size is perfect the way it is. PLUS, some of them want to continue to make the group a monthly meetup – which makes me very happy! And the 8th graders are insisting I continue it at the High School next year – which I am happy to do, even if they end up as the only two participants!

Launching the Young Writers Program in a community that is brand new to me (we have only lived here four months now) has been a true fear-facing challenge for me. The whole fear of rejection thing was very real while meeting with the Assistant Superintendent and waiting for the decision from the board meeting. This is something brand new to me, taking the writing club out of my living room and reaching out to involve more kids.

I keep asking myself, “WHY?” Why am I doing this, really? At first it was just to see if I could help my daughter find more friends. But maybe it was more for myself. I get such satisfaction from getting groups together. I like to see what happens when you get a group of people together and encourage them to be creative, handing them the permission slip to let loose their creative selves – no grades, no pressure, just giving them the freedom and encouragement to write. Writing can be one of the loneliest creative endeavors, and I want these young writers to know they’re not alone.

I guess that’s really what it’s all about for me.

 

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Angel: Sony Zambrano ~ In Memorium

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14695379_10208997911159792_2721280924429590629_n.jpgHeaven has gained a lot of angels lately.

Not long after my dad passed away, my friend Sonia (“Sony”) Zambrano passed (January 13). I knew Sony only online, and it was a dream of mine to meet her one day in Iowa. We met on Facebook (2011) in a mom’s group years ago. I shared to the group that I did caricatures, and that’s when Sony contacted me to do a sketch of her brother who had just passed away (January, 2012).

Little did I know, this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and Sony over time became my most cherished patron. 2013 was the year she first approached me to do what we called an “Angel Caricature” for a little boy named Bradley who had just passed away. This was someone she didn’t really know. It was a story she had read or heard about and she felt she wanted to do something to gift the grieving parents with.

I sketched the face of this little boy, giving him angel wings and surrounding him with floating, happy angels. It was the first time I ever shed tears while doing a caricature. I believe some of my tears dropped onto the drawing itself. I never felt such meaning in my work before. I thanked Sony very much for the opportunity.

Time after time, Sony would approach me with projects like this – every time for complete strangers. I would ask her to find the address for me and I would send the original directly to the grieving family. I started leaving notes inside the shipping tube to be sure the family would know who this caricature was from and that it came form the heart (the heart of Sony Zambrano). I counted myself merely as the vessel in which Sony expressed her love and support to others with these special gifts.

After a while, I thought I’d try to promote our mission on my website to ease the financial blow on Sony. She was such an amazing patron, there were times I would “GIFT” her a free caricature just because I appreciated her loyalty as a patron and her mission at the same time. I even started giving her what I called “The Sony Discount” because I appreciated her so much!

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Original Website featuring Bradley, the original inspiration for the project.

Since this original “Angel Caricature” idea, I thought perhaps we could try a digital approach to the project which would save on cost, and there would be less need for donations – more a way for people to request these special caricatures to carry on Sony’s vision.

 

Today I felt saddened as I sketched out Sony’s Memorial Caricature, but wanted to lighten it with the same spirit of love she always wanted me to have in the caricatures she called on me to do for her. Just like Bradley, I surrounded her with happy, floating angels and surrounded her with bright glowing light, mentioning on the sketch that she earned her wings, and scripted something special which she had posted on her Facebook page over Thanksgiving: “Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks to the Holy One.”

Sony, I give thanks indeed, to the Holy One for knowing you as well as I did, here on Earth. I thank Him, and I thank you for teaching me the love I can spread using mere markers and paper.

Thank you, Sony. I will never forget you, and will hold you in my heart forever.

 

I Miss You, Daddy!

It might sound like a strange thing to do – to write an obituary on your birthday.

My dad passed away two days ago and as a writer I volunteered to write his obit. He didn’t want a funeral, so I’ve been doing things on my own to honor him in my own way. Sharing favorite pics on Facebook, creating a shrine at home based around the wonderful floral arrangements I’ve gotten from family, and now writing this obit. The writer in me had to do this… needed to do this. I had to brag about my dad.

There was something about watching the actor Jackie Gleason on the screen that made me think about my dad. I believe it was that SPARK – whatever it was that made people call Jackie Gleason “The Great One…” My dad had that same special SPARK.

I began to write notes during our conversations on the phone, double checking my accuracy – he had so many stories, I mean to write them down for him and share them with the world – as unbelievable as these stories might seem.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

daddy-loresRobert Arthur Carrick (A Man of Many Stories) passed away at the age of 71 at the Hospice House of Southminster in Charlotte, NC on January 4, 2017. Robert (Bob) is survived by his loving wife, Charlene, of 21 years who was at his side when he passed.

Per his wishes, there will be no funeral service.

Bob Carrick began his life Canadian-born in Toronto, Ontario. As a youth, he hung out with “Aunt Ella” (Fitzgerald) while working at Oscar Peterson’s house. In Toronto, he grew a music career with offers to work with bands like Louis Prima and Woody Herman. He even gave Neil Peart a drum lesson.

In 1986 he became a Resident Alien of the United States and began his Security career at Wells Fargo and finally at Carolina Medical Center in Main and Pineville, NC.

Bob Carrick was never a passenger in life. He was a driver of his own dreams. Perhaps his favorite thing to do in life was to see how far he could drive down the path of a dream before hitting a new crossroad. Bob was the kind of person people loved to be around, accepting of everyone, with wit as sharp any legendary comic.

Bob Carrick will be greatly missed by those fortunate enough to have ever known him. He goes down as one of the Great Ones.

Celebrating my new book launch!

bookLast year during November, I participated and succeeded in the Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) challenge, coming up with a handful of ideas I liked and a couple ideas I LOVED. This book is one of those concepts originally scribbled down a year ago!

The Very, Very, Very Bad/Good Day is a FLIP-BOOK about attitude.

It was very important to me to create this as a flip-book because I wanted the reader to experience physically flipping the book upside down in order to change the perspective of the day. WHY? To drive the message further to the reader that changing one’s attitude takes ACTION. You shouldn’t just sit and wait for something to happen to change your mood around. Don’t depend on people or circumstances. You must make the effort to change your own attitude!

This book shows the reader exactly how attitude affects not only how you view the world around you, but how others may react to you (or NOT react to you).

I guess part of my inspiration was the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray lives the same day over and over until he finally gets it right. The book takes a boy, Danny, through the exact same day twice, to show what happens when he lives the same day with two completely different attitudes!

I had so much fun making this little book trailer, below:

I’ll be having an official Book Launch Party on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) website starting December 1, which will also launch a special giveaway contest where you can win original art from the book (I created all art with marker on paper, which I then scanned and manipulated in Photoshop)!

The Very, Very, Very Bad/Good Day is already available for sale on Lulu.com, and I’ll be getting my own samples soon to sell autographed copies.

Two Challenges in One Month (PiBoIdMo & NaNoWriMo)!

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I’ve decided to tackle both of these challenges for the month of November. NaNoWriMo is more of a tradition for me. I don’t really expect to meet 50K words in one month (which is the goal in Nano). I have my own word count goal I am working toward instead.

PiBoIdMo is my REAL goal for the month, which is to come up with a picture book idea every day for the month of November. I did this successfully for the first time last year and I grew a LOT from it. Plus, I have a book filled with ideas for picture books – one of which I am finishing up this year, hoping to get it out for sale online before mid-November!

I’m also hosting a Young Writers Program at my home as well as an online classroom to encourage the young people I know to write as much as they can this month as well!

Monday Toastmasters Table Topics: Take Two!

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I recently rejoined Toastmasters (the CCF/TRW Toastmasters Club in Lyndhurst). Why? Like my life isn’t complicated and stressful enough?

I guess I just wanted an outlet to tone my speaking skills. I am quite rusty lately.

And of course that means I am once again having to face my ultimate fear: Table Topics.

Table Topics are 1-2 minute speeches you give in front of the club which are completely impromptu. You don’t know what your topic is until you’re up in front of thew group. Let me make this clear: I HATE Table Topics. But there was a time when I was so used to them, they no longer gave me the dry heaves (I know – TMI).

But here I am back in Toastmasters and having to face my fears once again. I gave my first Table Topics speech last week and of course it was a bit of a flop.

I’ve decided that I will face my Table Topics fear and volunteer to do it every week. AND I’ll blog about my topics here as a way to exercise: “What would I have said if I could do it over?” At first I thought I’d do it as a writing exercise, but – hey – that’s a cop-out. I must resort to video instead.

So…

HERE IS TODAY’S ~ TABLE TOPICS “TAKE TWO!”

Standing at the Edge of the Diving Board…

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Rose on the Lyndhurst Community Pool diving board, July 11, 2015

I watched in amusement over and over again as my 9-year-old daughter, Rose, repeatedly climbed the tallest diving board at the local community pool. She made it all the way to the very edge of the diving board platform. She even plugged her nose, edging and swaying to ready herself for the jump. She would get SO close to jumping… and inevitably decided to turn around and go to the back of the line again.

We were all cheering for her – family, friends, and strangers alike. It’s exciting to watch people take their first big leap! We watched in anticipation, smiling, and saying, “You can do it!” And we would all let out a disappointed sigh when she turned back around to the beginning again.

The first jump off that diving board is the hardest, of course.

Rose told me the reason why she “chickened out” was because when she looked down at the clear water, she couldn’t judge the distance to the water surface. It was that uncertainty which made her hesitate – over and over again.

She kept trying, nevertheless. But she has yet to make the plunge.

Rose went back to the line of divers a few more times, watched from behind while others (including her baby brother) made their carefree leaps and plunges off that tall diving board into twelve-and-a-half-deep water below. What I found curious is that it really wasn’t fear that made her turn back every time… it was UNCERTAINTY. Her brain couldn’t visually judge how high she was, so there she stood, looking down, ready and wanting to plunge, but hesitant because of that uncertainty. She wanted to KNOW – to be sure.

Rose WANTED to jump. She watched all the other kids doing it. They seemed so carefree. They were having fun! I can imagine her thinking:

Are they all just braver than I am?

Am I just a chicken, being silly not to jump?

Or are they the foolish ones?

Why aren’t they scared like me?

Rose, the reason why all those other kids are jumping over and over with confidence is because:

IT IS NOT THEIR FIRST DIVE.

Everyone feels the same way the first time they take the plunge. It’s scary! Looking down into that water there are many uncertainties:

  • How long will it take to hit the water?
  • Will it hurt?
  • Will I be able to hold my breath long enough to get back to the surface again?

All these uncertainties YOU CANNOT KNOW – UNTIL THE PLUNGE IS MADE.

We can have all the information we need to make decisions. Research all we want. But in the end, we stand at the edge of the diving board looking down at the deep dark water, and at that moment we realize there is still so much that we don’t know. And how can we make that last step off the diving board when we feel so much uncertainty?

It’s all up to the individual.

Some people spend their whole lives looking down at the water, trying over and over, testing their courage, but they never do take that last step off the edge.

Some people make that decision to dive in, and from that point on in their lives the unknown is gone, and they gain wisdom from it. They proceed to cheer others to take the plunge at that point, encouraging them because they have the wisdom in knowing “it’s going to be okay!”

And then there are some people who look off the edge of the board into the waters of the unknown. They stare down, shake their heads deciding “I can’t do it,” turn away, and choose to never try again.

I know Rose will make the decision to step off the edge of that diving board eventually.

Sometimes it takes several visits to the edge, but after enough time, you have to just say, “this is it!”

You’ll just never know what it feels like until you close your eyes, take that last deep breath, and jump!

Hope is a GOOD Thing!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about HOPE lately, and my past and present feelings about it.

I used to be quite a tentative “hoper.” I would hear all the time AND say to myself frequently:

“Don’t get your hopes up!”

But I have a new attitude about HOPE recently.

My thought is that life is scattered with hopeless moments. There are times when you wish you had even a fragment of something to look forward to. Those are depressing times. I’ve lived those times… OFTEN, and far too recently.

I’ve decided that when I finally have something to actually hope for, DANG IT – I’m going to get my hopes UP! I want to stand on the rooftops and shout it out! “I HOPE!!” I LOVE how I feel when I am HOPE-FILLED.

It feels SO GOOD!!

Sure, what I’m hoping for might not actually happen.

Often I end up being disappointed, and that’s my forever excuse for not being hopeful in the first place. But isn’t it worth it to just allow yourself to feel joyful with HOPE? At least for the precious time to wonder and imagine that maybe something GOOD is about to happen? It is in our moments of hope when our imaginations soar. We see life as an endless sea of possibilities! It’s such a wonderful place to be… even if only for a fleeting moment.

At least you HAD that moment. You felt it. You held it. A moment to raise your face to the sun and smile, grateful for the feeling… because for so long you have felt such void of hope.

And because you allowed yourself to feel that hope, maybe you’ll allow yourself the treat of feeling it again.

I know I will.

It’s a wonderful place to be.

“Hope is a good thing,” Stephen King writes in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. “Maybe the best of good things.”

I totally agree.

 

Mid-Life THRIVING!

200277130-001I recently had an amazing conversation with a friend back in my hometown who was feeling more than a little frustrated about her mid-life slump. Life is feeling dry. There are no exciting prospects, not even the feeling of something great to look forward to.

Another friend of mine spoke with me about the disappointing aspect of mid-life, and we both realized WHY it feels like such a slump.

Here’s what we realized:

When you are in grade school, there is something to look forward to – every year. You look forward to spring break, Christmas, summer break, Halloween trick-or-treating, birthday parties, the school year being over, the next school year starting up again, so on, so forth. In middle school, you look forward to when you finally get a boyfriend. When you’re in high school, you have real goals. You start to feel like your life is about to begin and you get excited! You get excited about your career goals, wondering what’s going to happen. The future is one big, open, exciting question mark! College gets intense – you feel right on the cusp of finally getting the life you are hoping for – a great career started, or at least your first real job! After you graduate and you begin your first jobs toward your career, you look forward to finding the perfect partner to marry, and fantasize about having a family. And then you experience the joys and miracles of having children.

And then…

… um…

… What now?… What now? You ask yourself.

You find yourself in what feels like a pit of nothingness, depressed, because you have no idea what there is to look forward to next. Retirement may never be an option, and even if it is, it’s over 20 years away. So… so what is the next goal? The next thing? The next piece of your life to hope and look forward to?

I really see this a lot in people. It’s an easy place to find yourself if you’ve never really done anything more than what has been expected of you. It’s a very frustrating place to be.

One of my friends decided to make a new name for her “mid-life crisis” – renaming it her “MID-LIFE THRIVING.” I freakin’ LOVE that. Ingenious!!!

What I’ve been doing to get through it is continuously work on the things I always told myself “I CAN’T DO.”

My “I CAN’T” LIST:

  • I can’t write without having complete and utter solitude, so I’ll never be able to finish my books.
  • I can’t get my writing published.
  • I can’t focus on my work with distractions around me.
  • I can’t be a teacher.
  • I can’t work with kids – they scare me.
  • I can’t do belly dancing.
  • I can’t be a good cook.
  • I can’t make time to do the things I want to do.

Write out YOUR “I CAN’T list, and try REWRITING your “I CAN’T” into “MAYBE I CAN…”

FOR EXAMPLE:

  • Maybe I CAN write without having complete and utter solitude, so I can finish my books! I should try!
  • Maybe I CAN get my writing published! Hey, what about trying self publishing, or guest blogging to start with?
  • Maybe I CAN focus on my work with distractions around me. I am getting used to tuning things out. It’s worth a try!
  • Maybe I CAN be a teacher! I should try and see if I like it or not.
  • Maybe I CAN work with kids! I do have two of my own, and THEY think I’m funny.
  • Maybe I CAN do belly dancing. I could take a class and just try it out to see if it’s any fun.
  • Maybe I CAN be a good cook. I should try cooking more things I would order in a restaurant.
  • Maybe I CAN make time to do the things I want to do. Even little bits of time could be helpful!

You’ll notice that every “maybe I CAN” also ends with an idea of what to TRY OUT. Really work on figuring out what you could do to FIND OUT if you can turn that “I can’t” into an “I can!”

All the things on the list above are real for me – I faced them and continue to work on turning those “I can’ts” around!

Share in a comment what you would like to try turning around!

I’d love to hear it, and promise to answer you with positive encouragement!

 

 

Time to “Make Good Art!” ~ as Neil Gaiman would say

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I am so excited to be involved with Lilla Rogers “Make Art That Sells” Assignment Bootcamp! I’ve been involved in so many different online programs, but this is the first one which is 100% geared toward furthering my career in freelance illustration. I’ve been a professional illustrator for a long time, but it wasn’t until I was laid off from American Greetings (as an ornament designer) when my illustration career actually began to TAKE FLIGHT! I was able to concentrate on my efforts to become a full-time freelancer. In April, 2011 I was finally hired (dream job) as an illustrator for an Akron company, Blue Frog Gaming. I was thrilled to finally have a job with the title “Artist” by my name.

But all good things must change, of course. The company had to downsize after a few years, and I was back to full-time freelancing again. Since then I have been trying to rework my portfolio as well as dip my toes into picture book writing, illustrating and PUBLISHING (a childhood dream of mine).

Now that I have a few self-published books under my belt, I feel I’m ready to commit to 2015 as a YEAR OF PRODUCTIVITY. My intention is to produce books, of course, but by joining this course I know the commitment is really about producing work as an illustrator and really polishing my new, improved portfolio, geared toward thrusting myself fully into the world of illustration so I can reach financial success and freedom.

I have a handful of clients (good ones), but I know in order to be lucrative as a creative professional, I need to really concentrate on producing a strong, new portfolio.

Wish me luck, please! And I wish you success as well!! There is enough work out there for all of us!

LRSSchool-logo200Time to share this again, by Neil Gaiman – the BEST advice for artists ever given.