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Little Sparkles

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. The subtitle to this work by the author of Eat, Pray, Love is Creative Living Beyond Fear.

I really wanted to enjoy the book for several reasons. One, it was recommended by my friend and editor, Michelle Houts, and two, anything that suggests Big Things will happen just by setting aside our reservations has my name all over it.

But, other than an occasional twinge of inspiration, the book fell short. Allow me to explain.

Big Magic, according to Ms. Gilbert, happens when we let go of thoughts of incompetency or lack of confidence and just dig into our creative souls. By doing so, we let the universe in and karma take over.

I get that. I’ve experienced the incredible burst of writing energy where conscious thought goes out the window and the spirit moves me. And, I have to say, it’s pretty darn awesome.

However, there seems to have been too much focus on those fleeting Big happenstances and barely mention of those many smaller moments that make a Big difference in our creative lives.

Let’s call them Little Sparkles.

This year has been filled with them for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly had my share of Big Joyful moments and Big Sad moments in 2017.

The ones that stick with me the most though are those tiny nuggets that really encourage me to move forward on my creative journey.

Like when I met a mom and her daughter at the Cincinnati book festival. The young girl had written a report about Virginia Hamilton this past year. I’ll never forget her shy smile as I personally signed a copy of my biography of this amazing author to her.

Or when I spoke on Virginia, and friends showed up just in support of me.

I swear magic dust lines the paths on the property of the Highlights Foundation. It was there that my picture book biography of a little known, historical sports figure took root and grew. I can still recall sitting across from my mentor, Rich Wallace, the former senior editor of Highlights magazine, as he offered his words of encouragement for my project.

Kirkus reviews are anonymous, so I will never have the chance to thank personally whomever gave my book the coveted starred review. His or her incredible praise of my work lit up my world for weeks.

I saw Little Sparkles in the eyes of one of my little kindergartners I read to weekly when, after asking what I did other than read to him, told him I write children’s books. I feel like his newest heroine.

Little Sparkles happen with every kind word about my writing, every nudge from my husband to revisit stories that sit half-finished on my hard drive, every bit of pride expressed by my two children. And, always, I feel the energy from my late daughter, my little reader gone too soon.

The greatest lessons these Little Sparkles have taught me is that I have the power to reflect all this kindness back to others exploring their creative lives. Just think if we all waved our wands filled with sparkles on to each other, how much brighter the universe would be.  That’s where the magic lies.

Here’s hoping your holidays and New Year are filled with tons of Little Sparkles.

I can’t wait to see what you do with all of them. And I can’t wait to see what happens with mine!

Throwing it out into the universe

I had the chance this past weekend to hang with my friends and fellow children’s book authors, Michelle Houts and Nancy Roe Pimm. We bunked together to share on expenses the night prior to the Cincinnati Book Festival. The evening was a writer’s pajama party dream.

After an evening filled with stories about our latest writing projects, joys and frustrations, we settled in for a decent night’s sleep. Dreams of children and families rushing up to our tables at the book festival, just waiting to purchase our books, filled our semi-conscious.

Until one of us kept tossing and turning over a difficult, and eminent decision. This turned into a great discussion, and then ultimately, giggles reminiscent of sleepovers from the past. Our sincere apologies to whomever was in the Westin Hotel room 933 last Friday night.

Ultimately, the conclusion was to make the decision, and then to let it go. Which prompted me to start singing the theme song from Frozen, with more giggles to follow.

The alarm went off way too early several hours later. After brewing some coffee and tea, we picked up right where we left off, chatting and giggling.

And, we agreed that, as Nancy offered, there is something to be said for wishing for something, then throwing it out into the universe. I shared that I was a firm believer in karma, and that for all the bad things that have happened in my life, so much good has come my way. Almost as if Claire, my late daughter, is hovering over my shoulder, sending her energy my way. This philosophy was about to play out in an encounter in the hotel lobby and on the way to the book festival at the Duke Energy Center.

Kate DiCamillo, the author of one of my favorite children’s books, Because of Winn-Dixie, Newbery Medal award winner twice over, and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emerita, was going to be at the book festival.

The Kate DiCamillo was going to be literally kiddie-corner from me in the exhibit hall.

I secretly wished I could meet her. I hoped to see her speak. I also figured I had slim chance to none of either of these happening, simply because I was, well, there to sell my books. Not ogle over hers. Or her.

So, I threw the wish out into the universe.

We made our way down to the hotel lobby, checked our luggage for the day, and went to the area where volunteers from the festival were to escort us over to the convention center.

I saw several people gathered. Then I saw her.

Kate. The Kate.

She graciously greeted us all. “Hi, I’m Kate,” she said as she extended a hand. I almost forgot my name.

I shook her hand, and commented on how tiny she was, and how amazed that such great big works came from someone so small. I was mentally kicking myself for my blubbering. She laughed, and offered my words were a great compliment.

“Well, should we go?” the volunteer asked.

I assumed he meant just Kate and her marketing manager from Candlewick, her publisher.

“Yes, let’s all go,” Kate replied.

With that, we all walked to the convention center. Well, some walked. I floated.

We began conversations with one another. I was blessed to have a few moments alone with Kate.

She asked how I became a writer.  I responded with a rapid-fire, elevator speech. I shared the story of our loss of Claire, establishing Claire’s Day, and literally being drawn into the world of children’s literature by my friends in the industry.

Kate had tears in her eyes as I spoke. So did I.

I seriously wanted to pinch myself, but at that stage I risked falling on my derriere if attempting to do so while walking and talking to Kate.

Before we headed into the center, Nancy, that brave, native New Yorker, suggested we get a picture.

As if it couldn’t get any better, Kate and her manager accepted my business card, and offered that they’d love to try and join us for Claire’s Day, someday.

I did get the chance to see Kate again much later, as I purchased several of her books to sign, one for my great-niece, and one for me.

She signed it, “To Julie, in memory of Claire.”

I thanked Kate, and said meeting and talking with her was a highlight of my day. She smiled, and said, “As it was for me.”

So, here’s throwing one more wish out into the universe.

Hopefully, we’ll see Kate at Claire’s Day.

Someday.