Twisty Path of Life

At the beginning of June, five decades will have passed since I graduated from high school. How in the heck did that happen? In some ways, this seems impossible, as if it was just yesterday. In other respects, this feels like lifetimes ago, and in a way, it was. I’ve experienced several different lives since then. I’m sure many of you have the same thoughts about the passage of time.

High School

After high school, I lived life in reverse order. Before attending college, I was married and started raising my two daughters. Together, the three of us “went away to school” after a divorce changed our lives. But the direction I began in my bachelor’s degree program wasn’t the same career I enjoyed until retirement!

Ready for our Big Move

My work life after college began in office administration. I was never crazy about my supervisory position, but years went by before I took the next leap. Becoming a teacher had always been my dream, but that hadn’t seemed like a solid choice when I first entered college.

Office Supervisor

The twisty path of life finally led to a career in teaching. I didn’t take a direct route and was certainly one of the older student teachers in my college class that semester. I’ve never regretted the decision to make that change and appreciated the support of my entire family. For me, teaching was a calling. Not without challenges, it was still the perfect career for my needs.

As ‘Mrs. Wishy-Washy’ at school one Halloween!

Now that I’m retired, my wide background is certainly an asset in my writing and pursuit of freelance projects. In fact, my non-fiction piece about career change appears in How I Switched Careers. This e-book is free for a few days, so I hope you’ll take a look!

In checking out the stories in this publication, it appears more common for people to switch FROM teaching to another career, instead of turning TO teaching, as in my case. To each their own…I loved it. Most of us enjoy a chance to tell parts of our life stories, and this type of project was a great opportunity for me to do that!

Three Ring Circus and Publishing News!

circus-tent-248193_960_720

World Circus Day falls in April. The concept of a circus appears to have begun in ancient Rome, in seated arenas where spectators viewed various types of sports and games. Traditional circuses of more modern times were often traveling shows that included performances with clowns, acrobats, and trained animals.

In my small town, a dilapidated circus caravan arrived each summer and set up tents in the ball fields near the local school. As a kid, a visit to the circus filled me with a mix of excitement and dread. I looked forward to the fruit-flavored snow cones Mom and Dad promised when the show ended. I always hoped that would be the year I could buy a too-expensive, feathered Kewpie doll from the vendors. The trapeze artists and tightrope walkers showed off amazing skills. But what if they fell? I wasn’t fearful of clowns, but the ones made up to look sad concerned me.

clown-400528_960_720

The worst part was the poor animals. Sometimes we saw them, pacing in their small cages, between shows. The view across a field often included elephants with legs chained to metal stakes in the ground.

I clearly remember the summer when I was about eight years old. I sat under the hot circus tent with my family, listening to the applause from the crowd directed at little dogs riding tricycles. A trio of huge elephants then lumbered into the ring. The trainers put them through their paces to the sound of music, but one of the giants didn’t comply. A circus worker wielded a hooked pole. He jabbed at the elephant with the stick that seemed as though it could tear the animal’s papery ears. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. Trainers finally led the elephants from the tent, and I was glad it was over.

Later that afternoon, a neighbor told us that circus workers had walked the elephants to the nearby creek for a drink. The animals escaped up the other side! A mix of fear and relief washed over me. The elephants were free! But what if they walked down our street and bumped into our house? I waited nervously, wondering what would happen. My parents assured me the circus workers would find the elephants. Was that what I wanted?

elephant bathing

In the evening, we learned the elephants had walked through my grandmother’s garden! She was away from the house, but neighbors spotted them. When Grandma returned, she found footprints and smashed vines in her garden as proof!

That same week, a little dog wandered the sidewalk of a house across the street. The family took it in as their own and discovered the animal was eager and willing to do a variety of tricks. They named her “Trixie” and always believed she was an escapee from that same circus.

Trixie

Thankfully, the use of animal acts for entertainment in circuses has now decreased, and that type of exploitation in many countries is now almost non-existent. In 2016, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival highlighted five major circus disciplines: acrobatics, aerial skills, equilibristics, object manipulation, and clowning. It also showcased the occupational culture of circus artists but didn’t involve exotic animals. That was a wonderful step in the right direction! In fact, numerous circuses that have been around for years are now closing. Other circuses have evolved or begun as animal-free entertainment.

I’m pleased to say that my children’s story, “Freedom,” based on that ‘great elephant escape,’ now appears online in Smarty Pants Magazine for Kids. My alter ego, Becca, is much braver than I remember being as a child. In the fictional ending of my tale, her feelings about the imprisoned animals empower her in a humorous fashion. Hope you will enjoy reading my story, which is linked above!                             ~Becky

elephant river

Happy Critique-iversary!

Three years ago this month, a small group of children’s writers and illustrators met at the Frisco, Texas, library to share and critique their works in progress. I’m happy to say we’re still meeting each month and have seen numerous successes along the way. Several of the same members attend regularly, many others have joined, and some float through when it fits their schedules. We’re an open group, and the only requirements are to be 18 years or over and to have an interest in children’s written and/or illustrated works, for babies to young adults.

During the intervening years, members have queried and submitted to agents and publishers, had books traditionally published and self-published, signed with an agent, had stories published (both online and in print), and have won honors, such as those through the North Texas Book Festival. Many of us belong to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), other critique groups, 12 X 12 Challenge, and have been Storystorm participants and winners.

One of the best aspects of our group, Write 4 Kids, is the positive and helpful feedback atmosphere. This is a safe and accepting place for us to share our works, ideas, successes, disappointments, industry information, and valuable technology hints. Here’s to another year!!!                   ~Becky

Welcomed Rejection Letter!

elephant river

Rejection can be painful. Most of us don’t enjoy receiving a thumbs-down for writing we’ve submitted to potential publishers or agents. Yesterday’s email held a letter regarding a submission I’d made last July to a children’s magazine. Yes, they’re running behind, as the website says they’ll get back to those who submit in one month’s time. I’ve grown to expect those types of delays. With books and stories for kids, no response at all is often the norm, unless they want to publish your work. Even when responses are sent, they’re often generic and give no advice. Why was this a welcomed rejection?

Although an acceptance on this story would have been wonderful, I certainly appreciated the letter. It was personalized and contained insights from multiple readers as to how I could fashion this as a stronger piece of writing. The suggestions were sound and offered in a very positive manner. Because I’ve continued to tweak this story during the past year with the help of my critique groups, I’ve already resolved some of the issues. A few of the ideas remain to be addressed. Yesterday was a good day. This rejection meant that the effort taken to submit was worthwhile and that someone read my story.

You might be wondering if the Pixabay images signify rejection as “the elephant in the room.” In fact, the pictures are related to my story, which is based on a true childhood event. More about that in the future, I’m sure. Feel free to share your experiences with rejection or feedback from publishers and agents in the comments. Keep writing!          ~Becky

elephant bathing

 

Critique Speak

critique group 4

Another year, another critique group? I’m pleased to say that I’ve joined a third, forming a wonderful triad. How is this one different? In this case, writers gather twice a month, which doubles the motivation to produce. Situated in a smaller room, our number is capped at six. That means we all share something for feedback most times. Attendees don’t read their works aloud but do send pieces in advance through email. Instead of evenings, this half-dozen meets in the cool of the library while the Texas sun is still high in the sky.

Although several other members also belong to multiple groups, each combination develops its own personality. One gathering is specifically aimed at writers and illustrators of children’s literature, and the other two attract those who write for various levels. We critique novel chapters, stories, poetry, songs, memoir, and other types of non-fiction. Want to know more about queries, summaries, or elevator pitches? These are also presented and analyzed. Most importantly, not only do we assess possible improvements, but point out the positives of what’s working in each piece.

Beyond the share/feedback cycle, all three configurations circulate information about upcoming events of interest, in addition to facts about submissions for agents and publishers. We celebrate, praise, and console, since this calling involves both highs and lows. I find the camaraderie among people with different backgrounds who all share a love of writing to be so exhilarating, interesting AND comforting. When I first started my journey, I had no idea how important this activity would become. If you’re a writer or illustrator and haven’t yet found just the right spot, I hope that you’ll continue your quest!

Feel free to share in comments what you like best about your critique group or what you would look for in your search!       ~Becky

book fest
FRISCO BOOK FEST: Fergal O’Donnell and Gary Thornberry (current and former presidents of Write Club); Becky Michael (founding member of Write 4 Kids)

Heikki Lunta and Story Publication!

fantasy Heikki Lunta (2)

For many years, I lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I wasn’t a native “Yooper,” however, and never heard of “Heikki Lunta” while living in the Lower Peninsula. In the past, people had come to the U.P. from many different countries to work in the copper mines. There’s still an especially recognizable Finnish influence in many areas.

Finland
Finland

When I first heard of Heikki Lunta, I assumed that it was a mythological Finnish goddess or god. I was on the right track, but not quite right. Ukko is a god of weather, and Vellamo is a goddess of storms. There was no supreme being specifically for snow, which seems surprising, given that’s such a snowy part of the world.

Fast forward to 1970. As the story goes, U.P. promoters for an upcoming snowmobile race were concerned because not much snow had yet fallen that winter. A record was aired on a local radio station in which the singers pleaded with “Heikki Lunta,” a snow god of sorts, to send more of the white stuff. The whole idea took off, or “snowballed,” you might say.

Heikki Lunta sign (2)

These days, businesses like this one on the right often put up signs asking that deity for more snow. By spring, there are sometimes signs asking him to stop! At least one town in the Upper Peninsula has named its yearly winter festival after Heikki Lunta.

What does all of this have to do with my story being published, you might ask. Now living in Texas, I’m struck with the fact that many of the children here (and sometimes the adults) wish dearly that it would snow!

A few winters back, we did get a pretty healthy dusting, here in the North Dallas suburbs. My two youngest granddaughters were thrilled, and my daughter let them stay home from school to play in the snow. That’s the day my idea for a meeting of reality and myth, in “Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta” was conceived. I’m thrilled to report that my fictional story for kids and families, alike, now appears in U.P. Reader #3.UP Reader #3

Texas snowman
Texas Snowman

cowgirl boots b&w

Don Freeman: the Winding Path to Children’s Bookshelves

Come One Come All Don Freeman cropped copty

I recently wrote about my “fantastic find” at a bookstore of a signed copy of Hattie the Backstage Bat by children’s author, Don Freeman, which also sports an original illustration! This made me curious to find out more about the person, himself. I learned that he had written an autobiography as a young man before he and his wife had become published in the world of children’s literature.

The book, Come One, Come All, tells about his somewhat unusual childhood in California and his very early dreams about moving to New York and becoming an artist. It recounts his later struggles in New York, during the Depression, first supporting himself by playing the cornet in dance bands. We follow Mr. Freeman as he finally squirrels away enough savings to take painting classes with the inspirational artist, John Sloan.

Eventually, Don Freeman seems to find his artistic niche behind the scenes in the world of the theater. Some of his articles and illustrations were published in newspapers such as the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Times, and PM, in addition to making appearances in publications such as Stage and Theater Magazine.

Readers interested in the heady atmosphere of New York leading into the early 1950’s will find this to be a very interesting window into that period. The book ends happily with Don and Lydia, a young woman he had met earlier in California, getting married. We say goodbye to them as they are both experiencing their first tastes of professional success. What really grabs me about this well-written and charmingly illustrated book is that they had no inkling at the time how successful and admired they would later become in the realm of children’s literature.

This 244-page book was not a simple one to find! A few copies were available through Amazon or eBay for hundreds of dollars, each. That wasn’t going to happen, as much as I wanted to read it. Hurrah for WorldCat, the inter-library option, and I did find the book listed there!

The copy that I borrowed was through a university’s library and has been rebound, so no longer wears the interesting, illustrated cover shown above. No matter, since this copy DOES have something else that I find to be so intriguing. Tucked into the back is what I imagine to be the original card! This chronicles check-out dates in the 50’s through 60’s and being “mended” in the early 70’s. The borrowers’ names have been blacked-out, as shown, below. I love those old library cards and treasure a few used books in my personal collection that contain these. Digital means of book management are efficient, but sometimes I feel sad that we’ve lost a certain sense of history in the transition.

library card 2 001

I’m a Guest at the Smorgasbord End of Summer Party…Join us!

 

Welcome to the first of the end of summer posts this weekend. There are three meals today, Brunch, Afternoon Tea and Dinner this evening… and tomorrow Sunday Lunch. I hope that you will be able to visit at least one during your day. […]

via Smorgasbord End of Summer Party – Brunch Meet Robert Goldstein, Victoria Zigler, John W. Howell, Becky Ross Michael, Jemima Pett, Marcia Meara, Luna Saint Claire and Anita Dawes — Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

Critique Group: what we bring to the table

 

The first Wednesday evening of each month finds me at the local library rearranging the tables for critique group. This gathering of writers and illustrators for children’s works has taken place for about 18 months, now, and has evolved a great deal during that time. Attendees come and go with their own particular needs, which is to be anticipated with this type of group, and a usual core of ‘regulars’ shows up on a dependable basis.

Members include those who are traditionally and self-published, in addition to those who are seeking their first publication, or who might just enjoy the process of writing. We share our works in progress, give voice to our successes and disappointments, offer praise and helpful advice, in addition to discussing common concerns related to our craft and industry.

I think that the biggest change I have seen during this time is the wide variety of creations that those attending bring in to read, show, and discuss. Yes, writers still share complete and partial picture books or chapter book texts. In addition, we’ve mulled over many a query letter and just had our first taste of a press release, as well. Illustrations now run the gamut from sketches to full-color renderings and include those to be used in picture books, magazine/newspaper stories, social media banners, and for pure inspiration!

Bottom line, there’s a great deal of “work” and communication that needs attention, beyond the specific written and/or illustrated products that we hope to publish. Within our ranks, we’re finding a supportive environment for ALL of those needs, and we’re each adding to or reinforcing our personal knowledge with every new encounter.

I can hardly wait to see what the second half of this year brings!

If YOU belong to a critique group, I would love to read comments about the types of works that are shared.

~Becky~

 

Inspired by a Dream

winter scene from Pixabay.jpg no attrib. req.It began as one of those dreams where the setting and events that were unfolding seemed simultaneously familiar yet unfamiliar. Instead of watching the vision like a movie, I was taking part and looking out through the woman’s own eyes toward three children gathered around a kitchen table. A snowy scene beyond the window was as well-known to me as the back of my hand.

The mood was both comforting and uncomfortable. I started to waken, but willed myself to remain in that place. Every inch of the room was recognizable to me, as were some of the occupants. As I held onto the dream, I knew without a word being uttered what had happened to these people and what their futures held.

Next, I just needed to wake up and write the story!

Several years after that writing, the resulting short fiction, “Slip of the Lip,” now appears in the 2018 edition of the UPPAA’s anthology, the U.P. Reader. That publication is an intriguing mix of fiction, non-fiction, prose, poetry, and photography, with its roots planted firmly in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’m proud to have my writing once again included, along with so many talented contributors.

UP Reader 2nd Edition