A day in the life of a writer

When asked what I do, I used to rip off a litany of roles I’ve served.

Wife, mom, founder of Claire’s Day, former council woman.

Now I simply respond; I write.

I write.

The next question is the obvious. What do you write?

And I say, children’s books.

Usually people are pretty stoked about that and assume I’ve written picture books of renown.

That is not the case, but most people are still impressed when I tell them about my books, all of which have been traditionally published.

Usually the conversation ends there, but every now and then someone asks me the same question I find so fascinating about other writers.

How do you write?

The simple answer is I write nearly every day, at my desk, in my home office.

But, to be very honest, a writer’s life, or at least this one, is so much more than that.

I’ll start by offering that I am blessed to have the emotional and financial support of my husband. I’m not yet at the stage that I could be self-supporting on my income. Many writers aren’t. I’m amazed by those who work full-time at another job, and just as much as a writer.

In my case, my goal is to get my derriere in chair by 10 a.m. every morning.

I take care of my non-writing responsibilities in the morning. I watch the sunrise while having a cup of coffee and hanging with my husband and 3-year-old Labrador Retriever, Luna.

Then I drink a magic potion consisting of kale, spinach, avocado, almond milk, and frozen fruit. It’s green, but it’s yummy, I promise.

Luna, known as Lunatic when she was a puppy, usually whines at the front door if I don’t have my tennis shoes on by 7:30. We high tail it around a golf course for 45 minutes, give or take a few if we visit with the golf professional or groundskeepers, then home.

Correspondence, social media, laundry, groceries, housecleaning all fall in the category of chores before 10 a.m. My local librarian and grocer are used to seeing me with a ball cap on.

Then, with the help of my magic potion and Pandora, I’m at my desk by the bewitching hour.

Then I stay there until 4:30, writing, creating, musing, meeting deadlines, both contracted and self-imposed.

But, and here’s the trick for me, I’m not glued to my chair.

Between my walks in the morning and breaks from my chair, I’m easily wracking up 10,000 steps daily.

If I get stuck, I get up.

I dance. (Although I can only listen to so much Michael Jackson, otherwise my response to the question as to what I do would be that. I dance.)

I daydream.

I sing.

I imagine.

I research.

I read.

I get back in chair.

I write.

I finish.

I query.

I submit.

I hope.

I wait.

I celebrate.

I repeat.

So, as simple as this all seems, it is.

And, I am so happy to be able to answer the question as to what I do, simply.

I write.





List of Happys

My daughter Kyle gave me an incredible gift this Christmas. It is a letter book, Treasured Passages, for mother and daughter. The concept is I fill out a card with a writing prompt, and send to her. She then fills out the card with her answers, and sends back to me to include within the book. I am so touched by her memories, loving responses and sharing of experiences both as a child and now as a young woman. One of the cards reads, “List of Happys” and is entirely too small to list all my reasons for being happy.

As she, her brother Ian and memories of her sister Claire are at the top of my list of Happys (along with my husband Brad, of course), I thought I would share with you, in honor of Mother’s Day.

Enjoy, and my your List of Happys be a long list too!

Any time with your dad. Seeing him first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Talking about our days, challenges and successes. Holding hands. Getting back rubs. Making him dinner. Cooking dinner together. Going out for dates. Both of us walking Luna. Playing any sport together, especially golf. Traveling and discovering the world as a team. Discovering fun things in our own back yard. Watching TV with him, even though I fall asleep a lot. Snuggling and reading. Snuggling some more.

Just being together.

Any time with you and Ian.

Visiting you and Ian, or having you visit us. I treasure every moment. When we can’t see each other, phone calls “just to chat” are the best. Sharing the world with you both!

Memories of our travels together. Memories of raising you, Ian and Claire. Precious moments spent discovering parks, zoo, museum. Memories of cuddling together with books when you were all three little. Playing board and card games. Kisses for boo-boos when you were little, a shoulder to cry on when you were older. Watching you both play sports. Offering guidance and support.

Just being your Mom.

Hanging with friends. Giggling over dinners and glasses of wine. Ladies annual golf trip, one of my most sacred times with close friends. Traveling with friends. Celebrating milestones.

Just being together.

Family. I feel so blessed with my relationships with my brothers and nieces and your dad’s family. My family. Our family.

Writing. Nothing gives me greater joy than creating story and then sharing it with the world. My words are little pieces of me that will live on forever. And, I am so honored for the recognition of my hard work and talent. May they both continue!

Reading. My favorite memories revolve around books. From being read to as a child by my mom, to reading to you, Ian and Claire every night. Discovering new authors of different genres. I love the feeling when you can’t put a book down, but all the same, don’t want it to ever end.

Claire’s Day. It warms my heart to see children enjoying and being impacted by our tribute! Her day provided me with something positive to focus on to move forward through my grief. The best part is, it helped me be a better mom to you and Ian, never taking either of you for granted.

Great music. It inspires me! Whether listening to my favorite artists while writing, (Fleetwood Mac, Idina Menzel, Beatles, etc.), dancing by myself at home or going to a concert, I love music.

Exercising. Walking. Riding bikes. Playing sports. Hot yoga. Dancing. Just moving!

Cooking and enjoying good food. I love being at home, making a great meal and enjoying with dad, family and friends. Favorite is pesto chicken, yummy salad, nice glass(es) of wine, something chocolate.

All the little things in life. Your dad’s smile. Seeing yours and Ian’s face anytime. Luna. The smell of stargazer lilies. Purple. Sunrises. Sunsets. Birds. Surprise phone calls. Giggling with my kindergarten readers. Kind words, both giving and receiving. Cards in the mail. Smell of coffee in the morning. Candles. My writing space. The sun on my face. Memories, sweet memories.

Every day is a gift.

Post Script

Post Script noun

an additional statement or action that provides further information on or a sequel to something.

Seven years ago, I served as the adult leader in a church youth group mission. The teenagers assigned to work with me were from across the country. They were amazing as we were thrust into a situation that none of us were prepared for. Our task for the week was to paint both the interior and exterior of the home of a man who was an alcoholic. A nasty, mean man.

I figured God must have known what he was doing, because I’ve had my share of experiences with alcoholics. Maybe I was meant to learn something from the experience, to be enlightened, and to guide the teenagers through the challenge.

A young woman confined to a wheelchair lived next door, and my crew gravitated toward her. In just a few hours the kids befriended her and learned a lot about her. Including the fact that the man she was living with was beating her.

They were afraid. For her, and for us.

We discussed whether to stay, or to work at a different site. The vote was unanimous. We left.

But, I’d always wondered if we stayed. What difference would we have made in the life of either the alcoholic or the young woman next door?

So of course, I wrote the story, imagining what was never to be in real life.

And I set that first draft aside for five years.

I’m now actively rewriting that story, thanks to a tremendous jump start through the magic of the Highlights Foundation. I participated in an on-line course led by the incredible Sarah Aronson. Eighteen of us involved in the workshop came to know each other and our stories from afar.

We gathered together last week at the home site of the Foundation, featuring cabins, a farmhouse (which I had the pleasure staying in along with a new friend, Elisa) and the Barn, where we heard lectures and ate amazing meals that Amanda the chef whipped up. (I want the gluten-free meat loaf recipe!)

Our stories were shared, listened to and critiqued by Sarah, her co-leaders, and by each other.

What a blessing it was to hear positive affirmations of my writing, my believable 17-year-old Joey’s voice. To hear words such as “crisp, visceral, strong” in describing my prose.

And to have the opportunity to offer the same to my fellow writers.

I’ve made a promise that the final draft of Joey’s story will be available to my group members to read by August 1. Every one of them offered their support and willingness to read again.

What I’m discovering through Joey is the post script. His story is mine. Mine is his.

Maybe writing this story is the lesson intended so long ago.

God works in mysterious ways, they say.

A tribute to my kids

As I begin to write this, my cell phone flashes 3:33.

I wake up constantly to this same time, almost to the point that I think my circadian rhythms are aligning to this number.

What it symbolizes to me is that I have 3 kids, always 3 kids.

I have one who is no longer physically present in my life.

And, I have two others who are. I thank God every day for them.

I’m grateful they are not only in my life, but they embrace me being in theirs.

I’ve got to admit that there were times when they were teenagers that I never thought I’d get to where we are now, but I’m so grateful for the journey.

I’d always say to them that it wasn’t easy being a good kid, any more than it was being a good parent. Especially under our circumstances.

It is hard to set limits, to offer structure and to offer guidance as a parent. As a bereaved parent, I often had to do the same for myself, to be the best version of myself when at times, all I wanted to do was to crawl back into bed.

Our daughter Kyle, 26, and our son Ian, 24, gave me reason not to.

And, to not only get my butt out of bed, but to be present in their lives.

To embrace the moments, all 525, 600 of them each year, because I knew all to well and tragically that there’s no guarantee for the next. For any of us.

Now having weathered the toughest times together, we all enjoy the results of our efforts.

And what a joy they are.

From the phone calls “just to chat” to concerts, museums, travels and visits all together as a family whenever we can tuck them in, each is such a blessing.

Kyle gave me a special Christmas gift this year, one where we exchange notes with each other, following writing prompts. Her words bring tears as she reflects on how I’ve inspired her, why she’s proud of me, and what she hopes for me.

Ian offered the same to me last Mother’s Day, in typing a letter on an old typewriter he has.

Just as their words have touched my heart, I hope mine touch theirs.

Love you Kyle and Ian!

Full Circle

As I began to reflect on an amazing series of coincidences which lead up to a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us involved, a classic Seals and Crofts song came to mind;

Life, so they say, is but a game
And they let it slip away
Love, like the autumn sun
Should be dyin’, but it’s only just begun

Like the twilight in the road up ahead
They don’t see just where we’re goin’
And all the secrets in the universe

Whisper in our ears
And all the years
Will come and go
Take us up, always up

We may never pass this way again, we may never pass this way again, we may never pass this way again…

Back in October, I was invited to participate on a panel of middle-grade authors at the Ohio Educational Library Media Association conference in Columbus. The panel discussion was scheduled bright and early, 8 a.m. Instead of getting up at zero-dark thirty to drive down that morning, I had dinner with our son Ian the evening before and stayed over with my friend Barbara Sears, former State House representative. After dinner we joined up with neighbors, and I met Laura Battocletti, the director of the Statehouse. Yes, the Statehouse in Columbus, the one with the big cupola, and the beautiful rotunda with its dazzling skylight, restored through a penny-collecting campaign with schoolchildren from Ohio.

Barbara, taking on her new role as my publicity agent, shared my latest book, a biography of children’s literature icon, Virginia Hamilton, with Laura. Virginia is the most honored children’s book author ever. Yet, there was one award she had not received. Laura asked if I was aware of the Great Ohioan award. The award has been in existence since 2003, and given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to World, American or Ohio history by the Capitol Square Advisory Board.

As we talked about Virginia’s accomplishments, including being the first African American woman to receive the Newbery Award, we agreed Virginia was an ideal candidate.

Fast forward to several weeks later. While participating in the Cincinnati Book Festival, I met a young mother, Angie, and her daughter, fourth-grader, Annie. They were thrilled to learn that I had written a biography of Virginia. Annie wrote a report on Virginia several years before, based on her love for her stories. Angie knew Jaime Adoff, Virginia’s son, and Annie reached out to him as a resource for her paper.

So, there I was at the book festival, looking at little Annie with her big brown eyes, filled with excitement as I personally signed my biography of Virginia to her. Angie and I exchanged contact info, promising to keep in touch.

Several weeks later, I received an email from Laura, with a link to the Great Ohioan Award nomination form. I reviewed, submitted, and sent in my nomination of Virginia.

And then I reached out to Angie, to see if perhaps she, or Annie, might want to send a letter to support my nomination. Of course, they would, Angie replied.

Time passed, and I didn’t think much more about it. Until I received a note from Laura, advising me that Virginia was to be confirmed formally as a recipient of a Great Ohioan Award. And, the board was so impressed by little ten-year-old Annie’s letter, that Annie and her class were to be bused to Columbus from Cincinnati for the confirmation, and given a private tour of the statehouse. How cool is that?

I was sworn to secrecy until yesterday’s ceremonies, but I could not wait to tell Arnold Adoff, Virginia’s husband, and Jaime. Arnold could not attend the ceremonies for health reasons, but Jaime took a personal day from his teaching position at McKinney Middle School in Yellow Springs to join the momentous occasion.

Annie, her parents and grandmother, her teacher, Jaime, and yours truly were ushered into the Capitol Square Foundation Board meeting. Annie was invited to sit beside Chair Charles Moses. Cool as a cucumber, Annie read a synopsis of her nomination, and in a glimpse of her future as a politician, finished with a joke. Yes, in front of the stoic, now smiling board members, since Virginia loved frogs, little Annie told a joke.

“What do frogs order at McDonald’s?”

And, with perfect comedic timing, Annie offered, “Burgers and flies!”

I looked over at Angie, who was laughing and crying at the same time. We all were.

Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger introduced Jaime, who offered that of all the awards his mother had received, that she would be so honored by this recognition, as she was so proud of her home state, and much of her writings featured Ohio’s landscape.

After the nomination was formally unanimously approved, the member’s eyes filled with appreciation, the meeting was adjourned.

As if the process was not enough for Annie and all of us, her entourage, we were escorted to the House floor, where typically no one, outside of representatives, are allowed.

Much less the Speaker’s chair.

Yep, that’s Annie, with the Speaker, who lent his pin to her for the honor of overseeing official photos of the occasion.

From there we were escorted through the Statehouse, Jaime, Angie and I sharing our amazement over the coincidences leading to the day.

I shared over lunch that it was not lost on me that it was my forever fourth-grader, Claire, who as my guardian angel, may have had a hand in all of this.

Claire’s assigned number, based on alphabetical order throughout her class years was #17. Ohio was the 17th state admitted to the Union.

Claire loved books and sharing stories, and we’ve chosen to honor her through Claire’s Day. It was through Claire’s Day that my first book, a picture book about the state, Hidden Ohio, came to be.

I loved writing for children, and hoped to have more books published. To accomplish this goal, I started attending Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conferences. It was at one of these conferences that I learned my friend, Michelle Houts, was writing and editing for a new series being published by Ohio University Press. Biographies for Young Readers features primarily Ohioans who have made their mark in the world.

It was through Claire’s Day that I became aware of the Virginia Hamilton conference and came to know Jaime and Arnold, ultimately leading to writing Virginia’s biography for the series, and nominating her for the award.

And then, reaching out to another little fourth grader to help honor Virginia.

Coincidences or secrets of the universe whispering in our ears?

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep listening.

In honor of the late Virginia Hamilton, a GREAT OHIOAN.

Photos courtesy of Ohio Statehouse