Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Wonder of Books

 Looking at the above image, I have to ask myself, "Why do I write for kids?" and "What do I really want to give them?"

I want my books to instill a passion for reading. Of course, I want them to learn, but mostly, I want them to enjoy every moment of it, because it is my belief that the two go hand in hand. Learning happens organically when a person is satisfied and passionate about something.

I want to impact their lives. But how? What are the best ways to do that? This is a loaded question; one that I could never answer in a few hundred words, but it does make me think about the changes that have taken place in children's literature over the years.

I remember reading stories like Secret Garden, National Velvet and The Little Princess. I adored stories that carried me outside of my own world and into new realities. While today's books are arguable much less literary in nature, they do the same thing - create new worlds. And, most importantly,  they get kids reading.

Changes in today's educational standards and the introduction of Common Core Standards (don't get me started) have given us pause. We now must question ourselves and where our careers in writing for kids are headed. It has forced me to revisit my intentions in this career choice. "Does it matter what I WANT to write? Or what I WANT to give kids through my book?" Well, if it doesn't matter, then I'm in the wrong business.

I am a firm believer in this statement: As a children's writer, I strive to instill wonder, passion and amazement. With that, answers will come. Answers that are "given" are all too easily forgotten. I wrote this recently without thinking how many questions it imparts. I want my readers to wonder why. I want their eyes to open to new possibilities. And, I want them to crave the written word.

Questions aside, I will continue to write for kids. And I will continue to create stories that will, I hope, beget joy and learning in its readers.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I AM a writer

My journey of writing for kids began long ago. Once upon a time, in my teens I thought about writing. I toyed with it a bit in my twenties, gave it a passing glance in my thirties, but there always seemed to be something in the way, not the least of which was my own self-doubt.

Throughout those years, I was busy with teaching, family, and other life stuff with barely a moment to myself. So, writing took a hit. I look back now, and realize that it was, in fact, all a part of the journey that would prepare for taking this job seriously. I was exploring and learning along the way, whether I knew it or not. Every stage of life allowed me valuable lessons, all leading me to this point. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" has new meaning.  

There were hints along the way that I should continue down this path.  Little whispers that made my mind drift, again to the possibilities of writing for kids; comments from parents at school who insisted that my ideas should be shared, ideas from my own children that would lend themselves to beautiful stories, my job as a writer/editor for a regional magazine in which people convinced me that I could, actually, write!

I know now, that I didn't start writing for kids seriously in my twenties or even my forties for a reason. I just wasn't ready. I now have the time, the life experience, and the confidence to take myself and this job seriously. For the first time, ever, I'm not shy about referring to myself as a writer and I don't care who hears, or who else believes it, for that matter.

I know that the self-doubt will creep in from time to time. And I know, now, why I let those feeling trip me up in the past; because I wanted it so badly. It's harder, sometimes, to try something you REALLY want, because.... well, if you don't try, you won't fail. That's not good enough for me anymore.

The difference, now, is that I believe this is what I was meant to do. And I believe in myself. So, watch out world. Here I come. I am a writer.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Dark Night Before Christmas

I am throwing my stocking cap into the ring and entering a writing contest sponsored by the great, Susanna Leonard Hill.

The  The 3rd Annual Holiday Contest!!! asks us to "write a children's story about a Holiday Mishap, mix-up, miscommunication, mistake, or potential disaster" - all in 350 words or less.

I hope that you will enjoy this quiet, sentimental story of a Christmas Eve that is a bit different than usual, inspired by my own family traditions and memories of this special night.

By Cindy Williams Schrauben            
Hannah's heart is flip-flopping.
She can hardly wait!

It's Christmas Eve... the best night of the whole year
and she doesn't want it to change... ever!

At 8:00 sharp, they will plug in the tree and oooh-aaaah at the beautiful colors.

Her sister, Sammy, is making cocoa,

Momma is baking cookies

and Daddy is starting a fire.

Hannah dreams about the grand finale when she will dance and spin in the twinkly lights.

When she thinks her heart might burst with joy, the party countdown begins.

But, everything goes dark before they get to zero.

No power!

Everyone is busy now, because nothing's the same.

Hannah curls up on the floor, because her heart hurts.

Then, she hear it...

"Merry Christmas," they all yell.

Just like every other year,

they open the Christmas Eve box, first.

Everyone is excited, even though they know what's inside....

Christmas music and books,

a new ornament

and cozy new jammies.

Everyone puts them on, because it's the party's required attire.

They hang their stockings,

adorn the tree with special memories,

and place the angel, carefully, on the top.

This year, they drink cold cocoa with hard marshmallows
and eat gooey half-baked cookies.

The girls smile, because they taste pretty good that way.

But, the tree isn't sparkling and there's no music for dancing.

Just in time, Daddy shines a million flashlights on the tree and Momma starts to sing.

This performance will be different, because there are stage lights and live music.

Hannah and Sammy pliƩ and whirl, pirouette and twirl, until they collapse to the floor, because they can't move another inch.

The lights come back on, freezing everyone in their places.

Hannah turns the lights off quickly, because this dark night before Christmas is perfect.

As they snuggle up by the fire for a story, she says, "don't forget to call the power company and schedule a black-out for next year!"

And, every heart feels warm.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Keeping Up With The Jones'

Most of us following Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo Facebook site and blog, along with the numerous other bloggers tackling the subject, are finding the inspiration invigorating.  There are some folks, however, who would describe the challenge as overwhelming. I have read numerous posts from individuals who are feeling the pressure... pressure of keeping up with Jones', as they say.  To these folks I say... "hold up! Who are you doing this for?" Not me. Not Tara. Not even the members of your critique group. PiBoIdMo is an opportunity to challenge yourself - end of story. 

PiBoIdMo is not about competition, but about inspiring one another. Does it stress you out to read that Jane Author has logged 85 ideas in November when you only have 5? Then, don't read it! Instead, move on to the next post. PiBoIdMo is FULL of ideas for digging deep and pulling those ideas out. The strategies are amazing. I marvel at the diversity of this group - a group that aspires to the same end; further evidence of the fact that we are each a unique being. 

The real beauty lies in our ability to help one another through this process. I had a bit of a lull in my PiBoIdMo journey this weekend. The motivation just wasn't there. Did I panic? Nope... the only one who needs to know is me. Well, and you now, of course. 

Instead, I gave myself permission to lay low. I read - for fun! I watched some movies! Played with the dog (see my inspiration above)! And guess what? The ideas started to flow again... along with my energy and confidence. Knocking myself out because I wasn't kicking butt in PiBoIdMo world wasn't going to help anyone. Yesterday? I had several ideas, one of which turned in to a full-blown first draft and I'm back on track. 

So, remember who you are doing this for. Whether you end up with 30 ideas or 3 - you still have new ideas to roll with, right? And who knows, maybe one of those ideas will be your big break!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writer, Author.... Delusional Fraud? I Think Not!

I have, along with others like Michelle Benton Senters, been posting questions on the PiBoIdMo site over the past couple of days, picking the brains and souls of other writers. Some are published, some are not, but the responses have been enlightening to say the least. 

We have talked about inspiration and doubt, goal setting and believing in ourselves. One theme resonates throughout... we are a resilient bunch. What other group of individuals do you know who work tirelessly, only to be told by others that their dream is silly and fruitless? How many people do you know who set themselves up, willingly, for rejection over and over again? What strangers do you know who will, day after day, support you... encourage you.. and share their secrets to success with you - just because they can? The answer to all these questions is the same - writers, aspiring or otherwise. We are an amazing bunch. Because, at least, we believe in each other.

There are days, of course, when I question my fate in this business. I ask, "who am I to think that I can do this? There are so many people with fabulous books, just waiting to be published. Am I good enough?" After all, I only recently admitted to others, even my own family, how serious I am about this goal. I decided, finally, that putting myself out there... making it public... was all about accountability. It is much easier to step back from a goal if no one else knows about it. If you are trying to quit smoking and haven't told anyone, you won't get any strange looks when you light up - makes failure - and giving up - a lot easier. 

According to Merriam-Webster, a writer is: 1) someone whose work is to write books, poems, stories, etc. 2)someone who has written something. I have written something - so, therefore, I am a writer. They say an author is: 1) a person who has written something; especially 2) a person who has written a book or who writes many books. Done that too.

So... I'm shouting it from the rooftops. Call it a bucket list, or a life-long goal... whatever you like... I am, hereby announcing my intention to obtain a literary agent and get a children's book published before the next election. There. Done!