Wearing My Editor’s Hat!

As many writers have found, just having more time to work during the pandemic doesn’t necessarily make one more productive. That’s the case for me. So, in efforts to stay busy and earn some money while I’m at it, I’ve taken on many editing projects. In fact, I’ve completed around 100 manuscript edits since March.

Many of my projects have been children’s picture book edits, while others have involved middle-grade fiction and short stories for adults. I found most of these opportunities through online platforms that match freelancers up with clients. The feedback I’ve received from my clients has been very positive, which I find to be quite rewarding. I’m also excited to say that several of the books I edited are now published, such as the following:

                                             

I haven’t given up on personal writing and still attend my critique groups online. I’ve also completed several writing projects through these freelance platforms, as well, such as non-fiction articles, blog posts, and children’s leveled readers. All of this has given me something to work toward each day, which you all know can be a struggle right now!

In addition to communication with family and friends, my balcony gardening (and the challenge of the intense Texas sun!) also keeps me grounded. I finally took the plunge and purchased a fountain for my small outdoor space, which I love dearly. It’s no replacement for the Great Lakes, Atlantic Ocean, or St. Mary’s River, but it’s my little piece of heaven.

Lovely Sounds of Water

Uncomfortable Truths in our Fiction (and the winner is!)

In my last post, I asked those interested in winning a copy of U.P Reader Volume 4, containing my memoir piece, “Much Different Animal,” to let me know in the comments. Out of a shoebox, I drew Maria Donovan at Facts and Fiction as the name of the lucky winner! Thanks to all who entered, and I’ll be sure to post the story as soon as the rights revert to me.

Meanwhile…here’s a fictional story that was published a few years back, which I first wrote about in my post, “Inspired by a Dream.” This tale was, in fact, motivated by a dream. It also contains some snippets of the truth from a much earlier lifetime. Hope you’ll enjoy it!

SLIP OF THE LIP

“You awake?” Soft breath tickled the woman’s ear.

“Wha?” Words failed to form in her mouth devoid of saliva. She spotted a glass of water on the nightstand and swallowed a gulp. Beyond the edges of the thick comforter, the room was frosty. She glanced over the bedside and saw a young, dark-haired girl gazing back at her. A somewhat older, fair-haired version joined them in the room wearing an expression of both joy and worry.

“We made you some toast,” the blonde girl said, raising a paper napkin holding more butter than bread.

“I don’t…” started the woman.

“The baby’s tryin’ to climb over the side of her bed,” the older girl continued. “Dad said he was goin’ to play basketball. I changed her diaper in the crib but didn’t know if I should take her out.”

“I better check,” suggested the woman, rising from the bed and noting she had slept in corduroy jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and thick white socks.

The woman brushed the walls with her fingertips to calm the swaying that assailed her, as they walked down a short hallway together. Upon entering a smaller bedroom decorated with bright wallpaper, the youngest child stood and shook the rail, light brown hair standing on end, as if electrified. “Mama-mama-mama,” she repeated with a wide, toothless grin.

The woman searched the oldest girl’s green eyes.

“Remember us?” the girl whispered.

“Don’t be silly,” the woman replied, lifting the youngest sister from a dark wooden crib.

“It seemed like you were gone for a long time,” said the middle girl, trailing the small group from the room.

“Just a little while can feel like forever,” the woman evaded.

Upon entering the kitchen, a snowy scene greeted her outside the large window. On a calendar hung low from the wall, dates leading to a Friday in December were each crossed out in a childish scrawl. A flyer for an arts-and-crafts show hung next to it on a corkboard. She placed the baby in a highchair, turned up a nearby thermostat, and walked over to inspect the refrigerator’s contents.

Breakfast was a confusion of canned fruit, toast, and cold cereal drenched in the remnants of a milk carton. They ate out of mismatched containers since most bowls and plates from the cupboards crustily decorated the countertops and one side of the sink.

The middle child chattered and regaled the woman with snippets about a series of babysitters, while the toddler banged with a spoon on the tray of her highchair. The oldest girl didn’t say a word and studied the familiar stranger at their table.

The awkward morning passed, even though complicated by details that remained beyond the woman’s reach. “Baba, baba,” the little one begged and placated herself by sucking on a bottle of watered-down apple juice retrieved from under a chair. After giving up her quest of navigating the living room, she plunked down on her diapered bottom with a wide yawn and soon fell asleep on the worn carpet.

baby-shoes-1814348_960_720

The oldest grabbed an afghan from a nest on the sofa, where someone must have slept the previous night, and with a motherly pat covered the dozing youngster. The woman agreed when the middle child asked if she could go down in the basement to ride her bike.

“I’m Tina, and that’s Linda, downstairs. The little kid’s Nora.” Seeing the slight nod of acknowledgment from the woman, the girl offered, “You told me, once, that you ended all our names with an ‘a’ because your mom’s name was like that.”

Seeing another flicker of recognition, Tina said, “Sometimes you liked lookin’ at our baby books and stuff from over there,” and pointed with a chewed thumbnail at a shelf. “I didn’t like it when daddy made you cry,” she added, before she headed down the stairs to join her sister.

Tears closed the mother’s throat and stole any possible reply.

The afternoon was a treasure hunt. She moved in slow motion, while sifting through folders in an organizer on the kitchen counter and drawers of a small desk, finding past-due utility bills and Tina’s school papers printed with care. When she came upon hospital invoices and insurance correspondence, she noted the designation, ‘Patient name:  Elizabeth.’

The woman opened a purse set on top of a free-standing kitchen cabinet, saw several dollars in the change compartment, and took a long look at a driver’s license resting alongside the money.

After removing several prescription bottles from another zippered section, she examined the labels and scanned her recent memories. She hesitated for a few seconds, dumped their contents into the kitchen sink, and watched the rainbow of capsules swirl and dissolve in a torrent of hot water. The medicinal odor reached her nostrils, and memories of a stark and lonely room surfaced. Bile rose in the woman’s throat, and she vomited into the basin watching the last of the pills circle the drain.

She then sat cross-legged on the floor and leafed through baby books filled with hope and family picture albums telling the story of another lifetime. Her brimming eyes stared into the smiling faces.

Returning to the room where her journey had begun that morning, the unmade bed offered temptation of surrender. She ached to lie down, close her eyes, and stop trying to remember. Instead, her eyes focused on the surface of a dresser. She lifted a rectangular wooden box that smelled of cedar and hunted for a tool to open the lock. After resorting to a paperclip, she opened the box and peered through small plastic envelopes at tiny, pearl-like baby teeth and glanced at greeting cards saved from long-forgotten occasions.

At the bottom, a slip of paper lay folded. ‘If you go to the game tonight, is Beth coming, too?’ It was signed, ‘Natalie.’ Natalie? More questions than answers.

Car tires sounded outside the house on a snow-packed driveway. She snapped the lock into place and returned to lengthening shadows in the living room. The tempo of her heart accelerated.

Upon entering the room, the man’s eyes slid away from hers. “Sorry about the dishes and laundry, Beth. I meant to do all that before you got home last night…”

“I need to get something from the store,” she interrupted. “It won’t take me long. Tina and Linda are playing with Nora in her room.”

“I’m not even sure you’re supposed to drive, yet, Beth, and it’s getting a little slippery out. I’ll do it instead,” he insisted.

“It’s okay. I’ll just go to the nearest place.”

“Let me at least make sure the driveway’s clear enough for you to get out,” he said and headed back outside.

With a flash of irritation, she scooped keys from the desk, retrieved her purse, and grabbed a hooded jacket and gloves from hooks on the wall. The moment he returned, she hurried out the door.

Beth held her breath, and the light car balked in the deepening snow when she tried to back from the driveway toward the street. She wasn’t surprised he hadn’t cleared the way, after all, and a shadow that appeared in a window of the house next door caught her attention for a moment. Rocking the vehicle between reverse and drive, she finally was free.

As Beth drove, her headlights cut through the escalating snowstorm, and she recognized passing streets and buildings as if awakening from a hazy dream. At a sharp curve in the road, she visualized the dark river beckoning from beyond a tall stand of pines. Driving past the first little shop with a flickering entrance light, she slid to a stop at the second.

Beth wore no boots and picked her way through slush in the small parking lot before entering the market. She soon returned and moved to place the container of milk on the front seat. Without knowing why, she stepped back into the swirling flakes and opened the trunk of the car.

There she discovered two handcrafted ceramic pots under an old woolen blanket. Beth removed her gloves to caress the pottery’s rough lines and noticed the vessels were room temperature. Considering her options, she decided to leave them in place and slammed the trunk closed. Mentally arranging the pieces to fit, Beth followed tire tracks through the snow, in return to someone’s life, if not her own.

“June’s on the phone,” Tina announced, pressing the device Beth had left behind into her hands when she entered the warmed kitchen. The woman placed the milk in the refrigerator with a pounding heart and took a deep breath.

Words from the other end could have cut, but instead sounded reassuring through the stress roaring in her ears. “Several people saw him with Natalie buying pottery at the arts-and-crafts show, of all places, today. You’re much stronger than you know, Beth.”

Her friend’s voice was familiar and treasured, like a song recalled from childhood. She envisioned many hours spent next door with June, sharing endless cups of coffee and personal revelations, with the children dancing around them.

“Thanks so much,” she replied into the phone. After ending the call, Beth glanced at her three daughters, who played amid a sea of building blocks in the soft, yellow circle of lamplight. Tina’s solemn eyes met her own. The man looked up from the television and blushed over what he guessed was a new disclosure.

The volume from a blaring sports event faded into the background. Beth’s field of vision narrowed, and she peered down a long, dark passageway. Accepting the truth, her view then brightened, as vague uncertainties rearranged into recognizable order.

She descended the basement stairs and picked her way between bicycles, roller skates, and piles of laundry on the cement floor. Beth found what she wanted high on a dusty shelf. He met her at the top step when she returned and followed her along the hallway to the room they had shared. She opened the large suitcase on top of the bed and then hesitated.

“At least you can take the kids with you, this time,” he said.

“I’m not the one who’s leaving,” she answered.

A memory spread before her with the same clarity as the moment it occurred. She had sat, folding laundry in a beam of sunlight that slanted through the blinds, while inhaling the warm sweetness of just-washed baby clothes. Her husband had come home from work in the middle of the day and claimed they needed to talk.

“I love you, Natalie,” he had mistakenly begun.

Leaders of the Pack

Lake Superior in Upper Michigan

While living in Upper Michigan, I had the opportunity to observe some rather unusual wildlife, including foxes and black bears. At times, the experiences felt a little too close for comfort!

An early spring walk near a Lake Superior beach offered one such encounter. A face-to-face meeting with an indeterminate species brought about a rather humorous situation, which I recently chronicled in my short story, “Much Different Animal.” I’m happy to say that my tale now appears in the U.P. Reader Volume 4!

The book has stories and poetry by authors who live in the Upper Peninsula or who, like me, have ties to that beautiful area. I asked those interested in winning a copy of this book to let me know in the comments. Out of a shoebox, I drew Maria Donovan at Facts and Fiction as the slip for the lucky winner! Thanks to all who entered, and I’ll be sure to post the story as soon as the rights revert to me.

Finally, with the title of this post, I just couldn’t resist the following video:)

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