Monday, October 28, 2013

Writer's Day

Last Saturday I went to a big writer’s day hosted by SCBWI. It was down in Thousand Oaks. My conference buddy Roni (who I carpooled with to the summer SCBWI conference), picked me up for the writer’s day as well. There were also two other writers and an illustrator who carpooled with us, making a total of five creative women in the car!

They picked me up at 5:45 am, which meant I had to be up at 4:45am. There are not too many things in life that will get me up and going that early in the morning…but a writer’s day is one of them.

There were several editors and authors who spoke, mainly on the theme of finding your voice as a writer. There was also a question/answer panel with the editors. The best part was the editor’s critique of my work. Two months ago I mailed in the first chapter of my current project to be critiqued by an editor. At the end of the conference I picked up my pages and the editor’s notes. They were very helpful and encouraging. She pointed out some things for me to think about and revise. She said my story is marketable. Best of all, she said she’d love to read more after I’ve revised/completed the book!

Who knows? Maybe this will be my “in”!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Another Dose of Autumn

We just can't get enough of this season. We spent the morning at Avila Barn with our besties. It was an especially lovely time because the weather was very chilly and fall-like!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chapter 2

Do you believe in miracles?
It was a simple question, but it did not have a simple answer. Or did it?
Miranda blinked at the question typed at the bottom of the paper she had found inside the toilet paper roll. The previous nine questions had been somewhat easy.
Question Two was simple: If you are looking at a rainbow where is the sun? Easy—behind you.
Question Four was odd: A butter knife has crumbs on the right side of the blade. Is the user right or left handed? She closed her eyes to visualize it—left-handed.
Question Seven was interesting: You are trapped in a room. The room has only two possible exits: two doors. Through the first door there is a room constructed from magnifying glass. The blazing hot sun instantly fries anything or anyone that enters. Through the second door there is a fire-breathing dragon. How do you escape? She took a few minutes to ponder this and came up with a solution—wait until night and exit through the door with the magnifying glasses.
Miranda was beginning to think she had a chance to score one hundred percent on the test. She wondered if there was a reward for doing so, and hoped it was greater than the window seat privilege.  
But Question Ten made her hesitate: Do you believe in miracles?
She had yet to witness a real miracle in her twelve years of life. And she had not met anyone who had. Sure, Tom Norton had claimed it was a miracle she had gotten the letter yesterday, but that was just an exaggeration. She was about to mark her answer.
She paused again. She had to answer the test truthfully, and truthfully she was not sure. She had no reason to believe in miracles, yet she found herself wanting to. A minute or so ticked by as she stared at the last question on the test.

Finally she marked her test.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Collecting Leaves

The other day West and I went to the park, and he decided to collect leaves. I was excited to see him do this because he's never taken much interest in nature before. He had a fun time rolling around on the grass and collecting fallen leaves. We've decided to use them for an art project. 

I sometimes wish coming up with idea for my writing was as easy as picking up leaves from the grass. There are times when it seems like the ideas are laying all around, waiting for me to pick them up. And there are other times when I have to go hunting. But it's not so much how I find them, it's how I use them once I've got them. Hopefully I turn them into art!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sick Sucks

There are countless joys of being a mom. I can't even list them all. But let's be real, there are some sucky parts about being a mom, too. One is when you have to cancel great plans because of illness. That was me.

Last weekend we had plans to go to Disneyland. Michael was taking off Monday, we would go down for a long weekend and enjoy the happiest place on earth. I was really careful about where West and I went during the week to keep from getting germs. But those germs found us anyway. I got sick. We were still going through with the plan because I could take Tylenol cold medicine and drink my weight in coffee to get through a day of fun. But then West got sick. And traveling with a sick kid is never worth it. Plus Disneyland is only fun when everyone's at their best health.

West has been so excited about going. I wanted him to feel his absolute best for the day. So we cancelled. And it was a sucky mom moment having to make the call.

We'll try again soon...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Continued from Monday....

Miranda read the letter again. And again. A storm of emotions and questions berated her. She could not remember ever feeling so much at one time before.
First, she wondered if this was a real proposal or a cruel joke. It sounded straight from a gumshoe mystery, like the ones she had skimmed at the public library since the school’s library had no fascinating fiction. Library day came once a month and it was Miranda’s favorite outing, though she and the other pupils were never allowed to check out any books. But Miss Trindle was mandated by the town of Lesterville to take her students to the library once a month, so she did to keep from being audited.
Next, the letter was very vague. What was the special test and what special program? What were her special skills? How did this interested party know about her? Despite all these misgivings, Miranda felt…well, special.
She feared though there was no possible way Miss Trindle would ever grant her permission to go into town alone to the woman’s restroom in the bus station. The only people at the boarding school allowed to go into town alone were the staff, and even they could go only every other Sunday. Feeling slightly deflated, Miranda licked the envelope and did her best to reseal it. She emerged from her hiding spot behind the drape and sat back down at the writing desk. Opening the top drawer, she laid the envelope atop the mess of papers and closed the drawer.
Her thoughts stayed with her letter as she joined the other students and filed into the dining hall. She stood behind her seat, eyes cast down at her chipped plate bearing a single slice of bread, a wedge of pale cheddar cheese, and five green grapes.
“Don’t,” she muttered automatically as someone passing yanked her hair.
“Anderson, Grant!” called Miss Trindle from the head of the table. She held up a small envelope and set it on the table. “Laraby, Rebecca! And…Knight, Miranda!”
Everyone turned to look at her.
“She never gets mail,” uttered one of the nine year-old girls down the table.
“It’s a miracle!” piped up a ten year-old boy across from her.
Miranda rolled her eyes and rose to get her letter from Miss Trindle. Back at her seat, she opened the envelope again, unfolded the letter, and reread it.
She listened to the soft whispers of lunch time conversation. She tasted her dry bread and waxy cheese. She felt another tug on her hair. She dreaded reporting to the kitchen next to wash dishes; this week the twelve year-old girls were on kitchen duty.
But she felt something new: slight warmth and tingling of anticipation that spread through her.
Miranda shot her hand up.
“What is it?” Miss Trindle snapped as expected.
“I need you to read my letter please.”
For the second time that day the entire student body gaped at her in shock. She was starting to enjoy this.
“Bring it here then.”
Miranda scurried up to Miss Trindle and handed her the letter. She watched the old woman’s frowning face drop even farther. The headmistress crumpled up the letter.
Without looking at the girl, Miss Trindle growled, “No!”
Miranda finished the rest of the day in a kind of stupor. She washed dishes. She pricked her finger in needle-point class. She spent free time under her bed drawing more details on the map of the school she had been working on for the past month. She choked down the over-salted lentil soup at dinner. She waited in line for the communal bathroom and ignored Rebecca Laraby’s cruel remarks about all the girls: how Kate was gaining weight and Sarah’s nose looked like a vegetable and how Hailey was going to be transferred up north for making out with Collin.
Then as Miranda settled on her squeaky cot and tucked the ratty blanket around her thin frame, a second unexpected thing happened that day.
Miss Trindle appeared in the doorway of the girls’ dorm room.
“Miranda Knight! A word. Now!”
Miranda swallowed, and scrambled off her cot. She joined her headmistress in the narrow corridor.
“You will go into town tomorrow after classes by yourself and follow the directions precisely.” She smashed a crinkled paper into Miranda’s palm. “You are to return by dinner time and not a second later, do you understand?” She folded her arms over her sagging chest. “Mark my words, there is clearly some mistake. You have no special skills. You are just an orphan.” With a parting scowl, she spun around and marched off. “Get to bed!”
When Miranda entered the dorm room, she found Rebecca and her posse of girls standing with their arms crossed and their faces twisted. She ignored them and got into bed.
“How come you get to go into town tomorrow by yourself?” questioned Rebecca, her usual bruise color bleeding with a swampy green as her jealousy set in.
“Yeah, no one gets to go out,” Sophia, a girl with a blotchy red birthmark on her neck, jumped in.
“Not even the teachers,” chimed in Gracie as she scratched the eczema on her elbows.
“None of your business.” Miranda lay down, but instantly bolted up. “My pillow! It’s soaked!”
Rebecca snickered as she and the other girls scooted onto the creaky cots.
Miranda tossed her flat, wet pillow to the floor. Normally, a mean prank like that would have squeezed a tear from her after the lights were cut. But she had something to bolster her. She had no idea what lay ahead for her tomorrow, but it had to be better than etiquette class, hair-yanking, and soupy oatmeal. She hugged the letter close.

And she dared to feel special.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Continued from Friday...

The girls stretched to their feet with muffled groans and rubbed their aching backs and numb legs. Miranda hopped off the window seat and followed behind as her class exited the library.
In the entry hall they passed a class of twelve year-old boys leaving the parlor and heading upstairs.
“Miranda got a special letter,” announced Rebecca Laraby, a girl with stringy black hair. She tended to be a bruise-color most of the time, which Miranda could not quite peg; basically, it was a yucky, mean color.
“From who?” asked Grant, whose dark hair grew like an ornery weed. 
That’s what we’d all like to know.” Rebecca spun around and got right in Miranda’s face. “You said you were an orphan. You don’t know anybody. Did you make it all up?”
“I am not a liar,” Miranda said, meeting Rebecca’s muddy brown eyes.
“Well, then it must be a mistake.” Rebecca crossed her arms. “Orphans don’t get mail and no one outside this school even knows you exist.”
“Ow!” Miranda moaned as someone behind her yanked her hair. “Cut it out!”
 “Go to class immediately!” Miss Trindle bellowed “Or I’ll banish the whole lot of you to the barn for manure mucking.”
The pack of boys stampeded upstairs, and the flock of girls scuttled into the parlor across the hall. Miss Trindle bustled away down the hallway to the kitchen, no doubt for a cup of tea and a biscuit that the hungry children craved.
Miranda stepped out from the shadows beneath the staircase. She tiptoed back to the library and softly closed the door behind her. The mantel clocked chimed dully—only eleven o’clock. Lunch was not for another hour. A whole sixty minutes. Three thousand six hundred seconds—too long to wait. Miranda could not wait that long for her letter, the only letter she had ever received.
She sat down at Miss Trindle’s writing desk. From her faded black skirt pocket she whipped out a small tin box with a peeling label: Wintergreen Mints. She had salvaged the tin box out of the garbage when she had been assigned trash duty for requesting a new toothbrush. She lifted the lid off the tin box and found three tiny tools. Well, she called them tools, but they were in fact a bobby pin discovered in the crack between her dorm room floorboards, a metal wire straightened from a paper clip, and a small seam ripper snatched from Miss Klein’s sewing basket. Miranda chose the wire and the seam ripper and poked them into the little keyhole in the desk’s top drawer.
She glanced at the mantel clock. She had only a few minutes before Miss Trindle returned to teach etiquette to the eight year-old girls, poor things.
Carefully, she picked the lock.
Miranda placed her tools back in the tin box, and stuffed the box into her skirt pocket. She pulled open the drawer. Her brown eyes lit upon a single long white envelope. The envelope bore no name or address, but she knew it was hers.
“Tardiness is one of the deadly sins!” Miss Trindle’s gravelly voice echoed from the hall.
Miranda snatched up the letter and stuffed it under her gray blouse. She closed the desk drawer and leaped up.
The door knob turned.
Miranda hid behind the heavy drape drawn away from the window seat.
Miss Trindle, followed by a troop of little girls, entered the parlor. Miranda stood very still and took shallow breaths. And for the rest of the hour, she listened to the exact same lecture on posture, which was mind-numbingly worse the second time around. Her muscles ached from standing so still for so long. Finally, the mantel clock announced lunch time. The girls, followed by Miss Trindle, rushed out of the room (in as lady-like manner as possible to please their headmistress). Miranda felt both relieved and upset that Miss Trindle had forgotten to grab her letter out of the desk drawer. When the library was clear, Miranda sank to the floor behind the drape. She sat atop a stack of books she had hidden there the night before.
Sometimes at night when she could not fall asleep because of the hunger, she would sneak into the kitchen, grab a slice of crusty bread, and hide out in the library. While she ate her snack, she would read. The boarding school’s library was a poor one, its shelves half-filled with outdated encyclopedias missing a few volumes and dusty classics missing their endings. But she didn’t care. Not only was she starving for food, she was starving for knowledge. When her eyes would grow weary, she would hide a few books behind the drape for the next night.
Miranda sat on the encyclopedia volumes L, T, and D, and carefully opened the envelope, trying her best not to tear it. She slipped out a single sheet of paper with neat black type.
This letter is to inform you that you have qualified to take a special test for a special program due to your special skills. Obtain permission from your headmistress to go to Lesterville tomorrow afternoon alone. Find the woman’s restroom in the bus station and occupy the third stall. Your test will be hidden inside the toilet paper roll. More instructions to follow. Good luck!
An Interested Party

Miranda read the letter again. And again. A storm of emotions and questions berated her. She could not remember ever feeling so much at one time before. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Continued from Wednesday...

All the girls jumped except Miranda. Miss Trindle frowned, which was no new expression, for her face wore a permanent scowl and was always, always ashy gray. She shook her head of silver hair in disapproval and would have punished the doorbell to an afternoon of scrubbing toilets if she could. It was a quarter to eleven and the doorbell never rang before lunch.
Except today.
 “Stay where you are and practice your curtsies,” said Miss Trindle. She buttoned her thread-bare gray sweater, and noticed for the first time that she was missing a button. She glowered and marched out into the entry hall.
All the girls craned their necks to see who was at the front door. Miranda already knew.
“I have a special delivery letter,” the courier said as the door opened.
“How impertinent!” huffed Miss Trindle. “Why was it not delivered in the daily mail?”
“Because,” the courier stammered. “It’s a special letter. It’s for a Miranda Knight.”
The whole room of girls gasped in one accord and whipped their heads around to gape at Miranda. Their shocked expressions soon gave way to narrowed eyes and pursed lips. Miranda swallowed.
Miss Trindle closed the door with a bang, and marched back into the library. She sat down behind her writing desk.
“Did you practice your curtsies?” she asked, adjusting her spectacles on the bridge of her lumpy nose.
“Yes, marm,” the girls lied in unison.
Miranda eyed Miss Trindle, her stomach fluttering. Very slowly she raised her hand.
“What is it?” Miss Trindle snapped.
“I heard my name,” she said softly.
Miss Trindle raised her bushy gray eyebrows. “Oh, yes, the door. It seems you have received a letter, but you will wait until lunch as usual. Now not another word or you will spend lunch time baiting mouse traps again.” She slipped the long white envelope into her top desk drawer and locked it with a key she wore around her neck.
Miranda took deep breaths to control her excitement. Her mind festered with questions. Who was the letter from? What was it about? Why would—

“Dismissed!” Miss Trindle barked. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Page One

Here's what I'm working on....

Miranda never got any mail. Never.
In the five years she had lived at Trindle’s Boarding School, not once had she ever received a single letter or postcard. Each day during lunch time, she listened to the other students’ names being called, and watched them rip open envelopes and excitedly read their letters from friends and family. But Miranda had no friends or family. She knew her name would never be called, but she still felt a twinge of hope when Miss Trindle stood at the head of the long lunch table and thumbed through the mail. She hoped for a teeny miracle.
Then one day it happened.
Miranda sat in the library’s window seat, a special privilege she had earned that week by scoring one hundred percent on her poetry exercise titled The Virtues of Miss Trindle. The other twelve year-old girls sat cross-legged on the dusty floor, backs erect, looking uncomfortable and slightly green—an envious shade of green, to be more precise. They were most likely scheming on how to make Miranda wish she had never earned the window seat. Miss Trindle droned on about proper female etiquette. Miranda tuned her out.
Instead she stole glances out the large window. She counted the number of automobiles that puttered past the school. She studied the pedestrians that loitered at the bus stop across the street. Her brown eyes focused on one burly woman toting a large canvas bag, the green leafy frills of lettuce peeking up.
Middle-aged woman wearing black scuffed shoes of a practical nature, buttoned up wool coat, bandaged fingers—probably a professional cook who walks to work.
Miranda imagined a selection of groceries in the bag and the delicious meals they could render. Chicken pot pie, Caesar salad, broccoli-cheese soup—no, clam chowder, and oh! Beef wellington!  She had never tasted beef wellington, but had read about it in a neglected cook book in the school kitchen. She imagined living in a nice home with a real bed and all the meals she could desire. Her hollow stomach rumbled as always.

Miranda focused intently on the woman, who she deemed a cook, trying to see her color. It didn’t always work. If a person felt a strong emotion or had been festering in a mood long enough, Miranda could see his or her color. Through some deductive reasoning and years of practice, she had come to assign colors to mean emotions or moods, and could tell people’s moods by the colors shading them. She was almost always right these days. She used to think this was normal, that everyone could see each other’s colors, until she mentioned it to a few classmates. They reported her to Miss Trindle, who referred her to a psychologist, who dismissed Miranda from treatment after she convinced him it had been make-believe. From that day on, she kept her mouth shut about her ability, partly to avoid anymore therapists, and partly because she agreed with her peers when they called her “Freaky Miranda”.