Saturday, December 29, 2018

Bustin' Out with My 2018 Successes

Children's author Julie Hedlund, challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post SUCCESSES (rather than resolutions) on our blogs this year. She believes the way New Year's resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity - what DIDN'T get done or achieved in the previous year.  Instead, she suggests we set goals for the New Year that BUILD on our achievements from the previous one. I decided to participate in this Anti-Resolution Revolution! Here is my list for 2018.

Bustin' Out with My 2018 Writing Successes
The 2018 year was a like a bucking bronco I tried to tame. I had some time-consuming illnesses that set me back for a few months (concussion/broken nose after I fell off a treadmill, back injury that had me in ER twice, injured left knee and ankle when I tripped over my dog, then 2 months of PT). However, I busted out of the gate and mounted the writing pony again. 

Goals Met that I Set After 2017's 12 Days of Christmas
1. Beth Stillborn and I set up a weekly check-in as writer buddies to keep each other accountable. I'm proud to say we kept it up all year. This helped me manage my time better and motivated me to focus more.
2. By end of January I switched offices with Bob to get more space. I purged the office, my files, and email subscriptions to blogs I didn't read. We painted the office a restful green, and I bought a second desk for the research piles that appear when I'm writing.
3. I evaluated my best manuscripts, revised them and submitted more than I did in 2017. (13 subs, but I've been gun-shy due to an agent dropping me awhile ago.)  I entered 6 twitter pitch contests, too.
4. Stretched myself and embraced new opportunities instead of my go-to safe standbys by attending new conferences - Whispering Pines Writing Retreat, Harold Underdown's half-day revision workshop, and my first Highlights workshop, The Nuts and Bolts of Writing Science.
5. Tried my hand at writing for new age groups and in new genres: I completed a chapter book that both Harold Underdown and Rachel Orr critiqued. I wrote an informational picture book with a science theme that 2 editors asked to see. (A very nice "no" with comments, and one editor yet to reply from a twitter pitch request.) Wrote a proposal for a magazine article plus two NF writing samples for ASK magazine.
6. I joined my usual kid lit challenges that I completed: Storystorm (30+ ideas), ReFoReMo, and added inktober to exercise my drawing muscles.  

7. I began my first bullet journal and kept it up for the entire year. 
8. One critique partner had her first book published this year and it was exciting to know I helped her with revisions, ideas for PR, and educational activities for her picture book.
9. The Ohio Educational Library Media Association asked me to write a blog post on picture books. 
10. I judged middle grade compositions for the Ohio PTA's annual Reflections contest. (This put me in touch with the MG mindset as I've been reading and studying middle grade this year.)
11. The State Library of Ohio asked me to serve on the Choose To Read Ohio Advisory board. I am currently writing a teachers' toolkit for one CTRO award book.
12. I wrote two new picture book manuscripts, one a PB bio, and did my first interview with the biographee's daughter. (I worked on revisions more this year.) 
13. I began working part-time at a children's only indie bookstore, Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers. In the new year, I will be in charge of the ARCs. 
14. I wrote 8 blog posts for the GROG blog: book reviews, interviews with authors, miscellaneous posts on craft. My best post had almost 900 page views and the Highlights Foundation recommended it, too.
15. My online critique group met once a week every month of the year. ( I missed some sessions due to illness, but I count on my weekly 2 hour sessions with my "Mojo Women."
17. A success that is hard to "quantify," but my writing IS getting better, and I am receiving more personalized rejections.
18. I am ending 2018 hoopin' and a hollerin' as I revised 3 more mss with Marcie Colleen's December Study Hall class, and Agree Chung's Maker program for 2019.
Revision, craft, and study marked 2018. This new year, 2019, is going to be the year of 100 submissions.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Super Squirrels to the Rescue

Eleven lords a'leaping, readers!  It's that time again, time for mistletoe and holly, and Susanna Hill's 2018 Holiday Writing Contest. This year writers are to craft a holiday story for children 12 and under about a holiday hero. Our hero's act of heroism can be on a grand scale or a small one, BUT it can only be 250 word or less. So cuddle up with a cup of cocoa and a chuckle or twoI hope my story leaps into your funny bone today as it features the most unknown of super heroes...THE FLYING SQUIRREL!

Super Squirrels to the Rescue!!!!

by Kathy Halsey

             Hurricane-strength winds, ice thick as windowpanes, a real Snow-ageddon pummeled Santa’s reindeer. The pack shivered – not with anticipation but with fear of flying.

            Nothing interested them – not reindeer games, not even SUPER LICHEN, a treat that stoked their bellies for liftoff.
            Grounded reindeer. Ho-ho-NO.  Santa paced, pulled his beard, and peered. What to his wondering eyes did appear— flying squirrels in flight gear!

            “Never fear, Holly and Berry here. Able to leap 150 feet in a single bound, fly under the radar, and pierce the dark with x-ray eyes.” 

            Visions of flying reindeer did NOT dance in Santa’s head. “Come quick. The herd’s sick.”

            “Eleven Lords a’leaping, Berry. Grounded reindeer? Oh dear and no levitation? What a strange situation!”

            Super Squirrels vowed to get them upright. Comet and Cupid and all the rest perched on tree branches to learn from the best. 

            Reindeer spread antlers, sensed the wind. Puffed fur like squirrels, headed airborne again. They pawed, pranced, and rose to the roof. 

            BAM! BOOM! CRASH!  A soupy fog caused a great crash. Holly and Berry to the rescue once more fitted them with night vision goggles so they could explore.

            Gliding by moonlight, super squirrels at the lead, over trees the herd sped with Santa and sled. In the nick of time, to the four corners of Earth they spread Christmas cheer.

            Now reindeer all snuggle, safe in their beds while visions of super squirrels fly in their heads. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good flight!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Gratitude Attitude

Today's exercise from Julie Hedlund's 12 Days of Christmas Anti-Resolution Revolution centers on gratitude. We are to fill the page thinking back to our surprises and successes from 2017 and how gratitude infuses itself in our writing journey. I instinctively began thinking of gratitude with my success list, so look back to my last post, #22. (It's the last item on my list.)

1. As I begin my 5th year as a children's writer, I am happy in the confidence I've gained in my craft. 
2. My world has grown so much larger thanks to the connections I've made with other writers in kidlit land.
3. I finally feel I know "who I am" as a writer - my strengths, my weaknesses, my favorite themes and topics.
4. I am amazed at how many published authors take time to help us pre-pub folks. Generous authors have encouraged and even offered critiques out of friendship. I am humbled by their actions. (Jen Swanson, Jill Esbaum, Linda Skeers, Alayne Kay Christian, Andrea J. Loney, Miranda Paul, Carmella Van Vleet, Michelle Houts, Sherri Duskey Rinker have been so giving.)
5. My critique group helps me with all aspects of my writing. They are personal friends who mean so much to me. (Janie Reinart, Pam Courtney, Charlotte Dixon, Melissa Rutigliano, and Monique Morales Wakefield.)
6. Both SCBWI Ohio groups have accepted me with open arms after I moved here from AZ. They are active, meet regularly, and have great conferences and events. 
7. Columbus OH libraries are some of the best in the country! They are open even on Sundays and the children's librarians at the Gahanna branch have become colleagues. 
8. Writing for children has opened up my inner child. I am more alive and aware in daily life as I look through a child's eyes at this world. (My two grands, Rosie and Tobin, always give me inspiration.)
9. I learn and grow everyday. I am never bored. 
10. Writer friends I trust are plentiful. I am energized and happier after I talk  or share stories w/Lindsay Bonilla, Pam Vaughn, and Liana Lee.  
11. My soul mate and partner of almost 30 years, husband Bob, is patient with me, gives me space to work, offers ideas and suggestions, and has even written a story or two himself. I am so blessed to have him in my life. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Looking Back at Success to Move Forward: The Anti-Resolution Revolution

The future is mine to define.

This is my third year of participating in this challenge to honor the work I did as a writer in 2017 before moving into 2018. I gain deeper insight every year from this challenge. Another perk is the nourishment I receive from other writers involved in the challenge.

Children's author Julie Hedlund, challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post SUCCESSES (rather than resolutions) on our blogs this year. She believes the way New Year's resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity - what DIDN'T get done or achieved in the previous year.  Instead, she suggests we set goals for the New Year that BUILD on our achievements from the previous one. I decided to participate in this Anti-Resolution Revolution! Here is my list for 2017 in no particular order.

1. I submitted more stories to agents and editors than in 2016. I counted 25 submissions total to agents and editors. I targeted my subs strategically looking for the best match for my personality and body of work. (I 'd had an agent before and jumped in too quickly, so now I am very judicious.) 
2. Twitter pitch parties became part of my submission repertoire and I garnered several requests to send work to agents/publishers. This is a first for me even though I didn't have any contract offers.
3. I've been blogging consistently with a group of likeminded writers for 3+ years. I'm now the go-to person for social media PR for this group. It takes time, but I'm building a great platform.
4. Published authors now ask me to interview them or review books for the GROG,  AKA group blog.  
5. Our group blog has been recognized by the influential KidLit411 curated blog many times in 2017.
6. My use of twitter has expanded and I have a stronger presence there than in 2016.
7. The online critique group I joined has really jelled and we are all subbing, helping each other with queries and pitches. The biggest bonus is these wonderful women are some of my closest friends.
8. At the Whispering Woods Retreat in Iowa, a WIP turned around with the help of 8 writers and author/leaders Linda Skeers and Jill Esbaum. I created a new ms there which is now getting some interest, too.
9. I attended NESCBWI Spring retreat for the second year and read at Open Mic night and entered the pitchapalooza.
10. I wrote for 5 contests this year which forced me to write in rhyme and for an adult audience. I received an honorable mention in Susanna Hill's Holiday Contest. 
11. I attempted NaNoWriMo for the second year and turned a PB into a chapter book, writing over 9,000 words. I have 3 chapters left to complete. This year I wrote 3,000 more words than last year during NaNo.
12. I completed Storystorm to generate ideas (more than 30 in 30 days) and participated in ReFoReMo for the 3rd year. I was asked to guest post for their blog, too. (Hats off to Tara Lazar, Carrie Charley Brown, and Kirsti Call.)
13. I began two new PB bios during WOW Week 2017.
14. One of my dearest crit partner's has a book coming out next year. She has graciously shared her journey every step of the way and I know so much more about the business side of our craft. (Thanks LB.)
15. I co-presented for our South-Central SCBWI during Social Media fair for the first time.
16. Again this year, I was a pullout presenter for both the Mazza Summer Institute and The Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature. (Both in Ohio, both stellar.) 
17. To round out my speaking engagements, I was asked to be the luncheon speaker at the Ohio PTA Reflections celebration. I had volunteered to judge middle grade student writing and pitched myself as a speaker. (I must have been crazy.) This was the first time I spoke to parents and students K-12. I actually had a few students ask for my autograph on their luncheon program. (I'm not published yet!)
18. I entered the Writing with the Stars mentorship program. Even though I was not chosen to receive a mentor, filling out such a detailed application was an excellent exercise.
19. I was asked to be a beta reader for a published author. The set of question the author gave me are so useful. Now I can use them when I need a beta readers in the future.
20.  Opening up a friend’s PB bio published this year and finding that I was in the acknowledgments section gave me chills. It made me cry to see my name in a printed book. (Amazing book, AL.)
21.  Having an editor in an intensive during an SCBWI conference tell me to send him an ms about an idea I pitched, gave me confidence.
Grateful to so many, especially my husband, Bob!

22. There are many more "successes" I could list, but I feel my confidence in my craft, my connections to so many in the kidlit world, and my sense of knowing who I am as a writer are the biggest successes of all. I am blessed to be a children's writer. I thank all who have helped me on this path. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Roger the Christmas Squirrel: 7th Annual Holiday Contest -by Kathy Halsey

Yes, readers, it's time for mistletoe, holly and Susanna Hill's contest. Snuggle up with some hot cocoa and sugar cookies. For this story I recommend munching on Christmas trees. (You'll see why soon!) 

The rules are deceptively simple...actually writing these teensy stories is more complicated than it looks. Squeezing a story into 250 words can be quite the task. (My entry is 249 words.) In a nutshell, rules indicate the word count and a holiday surprise story for kids up to age 12. (The nuts for my "nutshell' are acorns, also germane to my story.)

For this tale I mined memories of my mother and the special relationship she had with my niece. Mom created a tradition that stayed with Lauren her entire life. Now she's sharing this tradition with her first child, Eloise. I dedicate this story to Mary Hackman, Lauren, and Eloise. May Roger's legend continue.

Roger the Christmas Squirrel

by Kathy Halsey

             Lori longed for a large family so she befriended the backyard animals. Cardinals robed in red cheered winter skies. Whitetail deer peeked from the brush. She fed them acorns and blackberries.
            One frosty day, she heard chatter. A bright-eyed squirrel skittered in the old oak. Lori held out a handful of acorns. He scampered to her. She smiled. His eyes twinkled knowingly.
            “I’ll call you ‘Roger.’  Let’s celebrate Christmas.”
            He chitter-chattered his agreement.
            Lori searched for Roger everyday. He left little surprises in the oak hollow — a shiny coin, a berry crown, a heart-shaped rock. She gathered the gifts and shared them with mom.
            As the days grew shorter, Roger visited less. Lori missed him. Was he hunting for food before snowfall?
            She and Mom baked pine-shaped cookie treats for her friend and placed them in the special oak tree. They disappeared. Where was Roger? She watched the barren backyard for signs.
            In the crook of the oak, she spotted a note written on brown paper. Lori’s hands trembled as she read.   
            Merry Christmas Lori,
            I found your cookies — much better than acorns. I am the Christmas squirrel. I only       visit this time of the year. Remember me by the present under your tree.

            Lori darted inside, surprised by the pinecone doll. She cradled it gently.
            Years passed. Today Roger’s magic returned. Under Lori’s tree lay a pinecone doll with a note, “ For Roxie: Love, Roger.”
            “Momma, who’s Roger?” asked Roxie as Lori’s eyes twinkled knowingly.

Original illustration by Teresa Robeson
Bonus gift. My brother found a few notes from the real Roger. 
This is a section of one note. Mom has been gone 7 years, but her special traditions live on for my niece and grand niece now. (Roger always wrote in capital letters, too.)