Shut In but not Shut Out

Shut In but not Shut Out

Who does not love baseball? Muscles in uniform, the crack of the bat, even the overpriced dog and suds are all good reasons to hang out at the ball park.  But if your team has a goose egg on the scoreboard in the bottom of the ninth, the love affair with the game may lose its luster temporarily.

In my world there are more shut ins than shut outs.  My  husband has been on crutches for two weeks after suffering a nasty sprain on a job site.  He has been laid up and, in my infinite good fortune, I’ve been on duty as his ” beckon call girl.” He beckons, he calls, he rings a bell, anything to get my attention that his water needs freshening, his vitamin infusion is overdue,  his pillows need fluffing or the fifty shades of his purple toes are down to forty-nine and closer to mauve. (Since when is he a doctor?  I guess that sometime while I was raising the kids and teaching college and “not letting myself go to pot,” he must have snuck away to med school since he has become such an expert!  Either that or while he has been bedridden with his laptop, he has been carrying on an affair with my BFF, Google and myWebMD. ) You decide.  

There is a theme here – just trust me. Valentine’s Day falls this week and it is a tradition within our church fellowship to visit the shut ins  and gift them with a bag chock full of goodies.  What could I contribute? I scoured Pinterest boards and some mighty old craft magazines but nothing got my creativity flowing. I wanted a useful gift that would say “You are special, ”  I needed to stay within a budget,  and I needed 100 of these little gems.  So I resorted to old faithful, the dollar store. I traipsed up and down each aisle looking for that perfect something, all the while corralling the buggy with only three obedient wheels,  a trick even if you are not on a mission from God.  About to give up and accept the shut out, VOILA! there they were, adorable ankle socks in packs of three, perfect to honor the sweet elderly men and women whose bodies have done to them what my errant shopping cart was doing to me.

I barricaded the aisle with my wayward-wheeled cart and began to clean the pegs of the funkiest, the craziest, the most childish socks.

An hour later, exhausted and almost within budget, I rammed  that cart in timeout (headfirst in the helium balloon blower-upper section) and pranced to my car humming Donna Fargo’s “I am Woman Hear Me Roar” and feeling like Rocky Balboa on a good day. Plastic bags swinging from my elbow, I knew I’d hit a home run for the shut ins.

Later,  I sat beside my lame husband, oohing and aching over his self-proclaimed rapid recovery and rolled and tied each pair with ribbon and prayer.

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LA: My Souvenir Story

Last week I was asked to share a few conference takeaways at our monthly chapter meeting.  Easy enough. I’d tell the group about my personal highlights and why they made my “top ten” list. But I wanted to show, not tell, and magically, this scenario emerged:  If I were facing a rack of souvenirs, would I grab the kitschy Hollywood magnet for the fridge or the troll-sized Rodeo Drive street sign for my shelf? Or would I settle on a t-shirt from the SCBWI bookstore, knowing I never wear t-shirts?  I was now on a personal quest, fueled by a random trivia question, to distill the conference experience and weave it into a story, my story.

Frenzied,  I scavenged for my faithful conference tote (the fashionable faux-snake skin gold-toned one that I’d schlepped through metal detectors, stowed away under the seat in front of me, lugged in and out of every keynote and breakout session, and managed to drag safely home) and found it right where I dropped it.

No surprise there.  Did I really expect that a band of merry maids had come dancing in on feather dusters to straighten my Fibber McGee closet and become so overcome with curiosity that they could not resist rummaging through the contents of my conference bag?  Au contraire mon cheri. There it sat.  Untouched, propped up and spilling over, neglected for weeks.

I hefted the bulging bag from the floor, and gingerly, like an awestruck new father, spilled the contents onto my desk.  It held these mementos:

  • One nubby black scarf I stuffed in at the last minute, just in case it was cold.  Hello, I am always cold.  I draped it over my arms to cut the chilled air blowing in the rooms. A lifesaver, albeit a fashion atrocity.
  • Dozens of cards and bookmarks left by aspiring and new authors and illustrators to spread the word of their upcoming publications. Oodles of talent bubbling on the surface of  the publication world.
  • The lanyard and name tag. A behavioral truth about conference goers –  We will look at your  tag first, then your eyes, and greet you as if we have known one another for years, when in fact, we’ve never met.
  • My official two-pocket conference folder, pre-loaded with party invites, a guide to the Regional Advisors, a prized SCBWI Peace, Love, and Children’s Books bumper sticker, a calendar, etc.
  • A Starbucks napkin folded over a cupcake wrapper  with crumbs from a blueberry muffin, a reminder that my uber-expensive hotel served nothing under $20.00 in its “cafe,” so I walked to the venue and grabbed   this delicious treat between sessions.
  • My Gold Fibre canary legal pad with forty pages of notes scribbled during the sessions.

I was a new age Mary Poppins discovering a bottomless bagful of treasures.  Memory triggers.  Sensory images.  Mental snapshots. Writer’s wisdom.  It was all there to snatch and grab. As I unfolded and sorted through the mounds of ticket stubs and boarding passes and valet parking tags and restaurant receipts and the scary hotel bill, I was reminded not only of the financial investment and sacrifices I made to attend, but more importantly,  why I went and why I write.

And I knew that my conference story,  the takeaway I wanted to share with my fellow chapter members, was not set in the sidewalk shop full of gaudy souvenirs.  It could not be condensed into a bulleted list for perfecting our craft or a quotable quote from a writer emeritus.

My story was best summed up in a moving poem written and read by Kate Messner in her Golden Kite acceptance speech.  She graciously allowed me to read it to our chapter members. Follow the link to the poem:


Diversionary Tactics: Writer’s League of Texas, Third Thursday Program

Diversionary Tactics: Writer’s League of Texas, Third Thursday Program

Most days I am a TCB’er and check off most of the pressing things of my list,  but there are moments that my inner rebel screams for release from captivity, at which time I must work extra hard to fight the urge to break free of the deadlines that tether me to my desk. If I’ve been plunking away on the keyboard and staring at a blinking cursor for more than a few obedient days, I lose the battle, which happened to me this week. Being sequestered is a hallmark of a  writer’s life, but desperate times call for desperate measures and I was desperate for a pinch of spice in my routine of isolated writing. I would call Molly and cook something up.

So, I scrolled through my contacts, shushing the voice of reason that was dishing up guilt like mother’s mashed potatoes.  I ignored it,  hit “dial number, and it began to ring.  But the messy pile of plot ends that begged to be untangled screamed a little louder.  I pressed “end call. ”

But the numbing prospect of another BIC (bottom in chair) day? Really? Must I sit here another long day and night?  I was primed for a debate before I conceded victory or defeat.  My very naughty right brain is a convincing cheerleader when she grabs her megaphone and “Rah,Rah, Rahs” for  rustling up a diversion.  Writer’s need material to work with, right?  You need a road trip, some found dialogue, some people contact.

So I dialed Molly again and  let it ring through.  She agreed to ride over with me for the Third Thursday program put on by the Writer’s League of Texas in Austin.

Front Row Seats in the penthouse of BookPeople


WLT panelists










Held at the kitschy indie bookstore BookPeople, the program, “Enough about Fiction: Poets, Playwrights, and Journalists Discuss Their  Craft” featured panelists Carrie Fountain, Guadalupe Flores, and Louie Bond who shared  insights into the process and craft of writing in their various genres.

Here are a couple of takeaways I scribbled in my little red notebook:

A writer’s blindside is not knowing what we don’t do well. – Lupe, playwright

Processing creative failure is a skill you should learn.  Writers should practice responding to rejection since it is bound to come. – Carrie, poet

Pithy pearls to spin around later. Check one for snagging some food for the soul and a couple of quotes for the vision board, but what’s a Girls’ Night Out, especially a road trip to weird Austin, without eating on Sixth Street?

Downtown Austin is pure energy after dark and, being the jaunty pre-grandmothers that we are, we braved jay-walkers, one-way streets, and No Parking signs to grab a fish taco at Wahoo’s, a quaint surfer-themed spot. Double check.

WooHoo for Wahoo’s Fish Tacos


It was a perfect combo of diversion and excursion, made more special by sharing it with a spirited writing sister.

Next up is the SCBWI Brazos Valley chapter’s Saturday Workshop: Finding the Story with Mary Wade and Jo Whittmore.

Saturday, August 18, 2012 from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM (PDT)

College Station, TX

Simply Salad, Downtown LA, Restaurant Review

Simply Salad, Downtown LA, Restaurant Review


Bless these young men for their conviction to healthy choices.

Link to This Review

LA SCBWI Conference Takeaways

Takeaways are the golden nuggets that land in our lap and beg for close inspection.  Like the spoonful of chocolate dessert that awakens the taste buds with the perfect balance of sweet pudding and savory toasted pecan crust that lingers on your tongue and causes the eye roll, we want more, we ask for the recipe, we remember it long after that last bite.

The Los Angeles summer conference of the SCBWI offered that perfect balance.  It was chock full of  bite-sized gems, scattered about by the marvelous panel of faculty who shared their words of wisdom on the craft of writing, surviving and thriving in the writer’s life, and the future of book world as viewed through the eyes of agents, publishers, and editors. Through tears in a keynote or scribbled notes in a session, I came away with something to consider, to mull over, to test, to discuss.  The after effects of LA will, for me, will be long lasting.

Over the next several posts I’ll share some of these crown jewels of the conference so you, too, can have something bright and shiny to reflect upon – you are on your own for supplying the chocolate.  I’m trying to cut calories.

First, a few stats:  There were 1,234 conference attendees. 171 were males, 941 females, and 122 were “undeclared.”  411 of us were published. Those not having a work yet in print are labeled “pre-pub.” For those Criminal Minds viewers, this is not to be confused with an “unsub.”

Lin Oliver was a warm and witty conference emcee who engaged us continually with her humor and sincerity.  She lit a match ( her version of the Olympic torch), then declared our literary games “open,” a thriller despite them being a low – budget version of the other opening ceremonies taking place in London.

To speak of low-budgets is to remind us that money and finances are an all-too-real fact of life.  But money isn’t everything, a truth those involved in writing are painfully aware. The truth is that not many of us are able to boast of having a television series based on our book series, not many of us have 100s of titles in publication, or  have a Newberry medal to our credit.  Many of us are regular Janes and Joes who eke out an existence doing what we love – creating  with words and pictures in hopes someone along the way will be helped or inspired. Of course, we aspire to get the royalty checks and the 7 figure advances, but, sadly, that does not happen often, but it does happen.

So, do we close up our laptop and give up? I think not.  We dust off the keyboard and keep hammering away at telling our story.  Hearing and seeing just one person to whom the accolades have been granted keeps us in the race. We run for our life,  into another day, through another chapter, into another revision.

So take a moment, in honor of the 2012 summer Olympics, both  sporting and literary, to light a little paper match torch, participate in the games offered by your local chapter of SCBWI, and do the hard work of which dreams are made.  I’m going to keep chasing after my gold medal by examining the golden nuggets that were my takeaways from the LA SCBWI conference.

To close this post, I’ll raise my torch of inspiration and challenge us all to  KEEP THE DREAM ALIVE, and one day we just might see that gold medal on the cover of our book, which is just as good as having one to hang around our neck.