musings in mayhem

writer, mom, tutor, superwoman

Archive for the tag “books”

the not fun part of being a writer

Dear Literary Agents,

You want to read and shop my middle grade novel to publishers. It is brilliant! Trust me.

Please contact me in the comment section below.

Thank you.



(I am not jaded at all, why do you ask?)

((I hope this reads as funny as it does in my head. Starting to feel a bit loopy in researching agents.))


Creativity is running rampant around here.

I got sick over the end of last week, and it laid me out pretty thoroughly on Saturday. My family was kind enough to cater to me in bed while I watched back episodes of Dr. Who on the Tablet.

But then, yesterday morning, I got down to business and cranked out

– composed over several hours with infinite interruptions because it was a day off from school and Captain Comic had to ask me a gazillion questions like, “Who do you think would win in a fight, Batman or Goku?” or tell me his next movie or comic idea, which was a new one about every minute and a half –

a query letter and sent the first ten pages to the first agent on my list. Today I plan to send it out to two more. Tomorrow and Thursday another each and that is where I will leave it for a little while.

I was invited to send this poem to a newsletter where a bunch of friends will see it.


Captain Comic drew this up for his coach (see #4 in this post) to approve before making a poster.

2013.1.17 chicken dance 021


Mr. Cynic has loaded his next professionally produced song.

This song was his productive response to his brother being bullied at school last year. Considering some of the lyrics, I am really glad he has music for a creative outlet. 🙂 I remember well his reaction when he found out what was going on before it was resolved. Mr. Cynic looks like a pretty cool cucumber most of the time, but he is extremely passionate about any kind of injustice, and this was brother.


I don’t talk much about Honey’s work, but he designs staging and a bunch of his designs are currently being built around New Orleans in preparation for events surrounding the Superbowl.


Toots is always bursting with creativity. She sings little ditties about everything. When asked if she made that up, or what’s that from? She responds, “I wrote it.”  She has worlds of imaginary characters she walks around the house acting out costumed scenarios with and she loves to draw and paint and dance around the house. She plays architect with anything she finds that she can put on top of something else in interesting ways, like Jenga blocks. Oh, to be four and a half years old again.

I couldn’t be happier about what my family is up to these days.


the next big thing

An old friend who is also a writer and small publisher asked me to answer some questions about what my Next Big Thing is.

Thanks, Cherie Noel of Tales from the Writing Cave (psa: adult content) for thinking of me and giving me another way hold myself accountable. I need a lot of accountability to keep me going.

Following is a little ten question self- interview re: my latest work in progress. She is doing the same on her blog and rounding up several other authors to do the same and link to the other blogs. Go check hers out!

10 questions about my WIP:

What is the working title of your book?

I started this project in Nanowrimo this year on a whim, and the working title is Nanowrimo 2012. Really clues a reader in, doesn’t it?

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I think I have spent a lot of my writing fiction striving to make stories that are incredibly realistic with an imaginative twist, rather than bursting at the seams with imagination like so many fantastical stories that I love to read, or the stuff that just goes on in my head, which is pretty out there. So for this project, I decided to have fun leaping around in fairy tale  land and bringing it into a modern context. What would happen if a couple of 7th graders came across the stuff of their imagination and fears in the real world?
What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy for middle readers to young adult target audience.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Twelve year old best friends, Clementine and George open a book one week before Halloween, coincidentally, Clementine’s thirteenth birthday, and strange things begin to happen.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

No idea as of yet.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Don’t know yet, still in the beginning stages…

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Something vaguely Neil Gaimanesque, like Coraline or Stardust, or The Neverending Story in reverse. Kind of. Many tales exist where kids go into a book for adventures, but this is the book coming out and wreaking havoc on their world, and constant changes according to who is ‘reading’ it.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

A lot of reading since I began to read. I’ve always loved otherworldly tales.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a coming of age story, where the kids in the town can ‘see’ the weird things happening, but the adults can’t, except for the destructive results. I am going to weave some kind of apocalyptic ending with children against the monsters of their imaginations in a huge battle of good against evil. It’s going to be terribly important that the imaginary world is returned to the magic book before midnight on Halloween, and before Clementine is completely thirteen, since she won’t be able to to see the imaginary beings, etc anymore when the clock strikes twelve.

Also, it explores a completely platonic best friendship between a boy and a girl. I always had friends who were boys and that seems to be a hard concept for a lot of people to grasp.

Who would you have play (what actor/actress) your characters in a movie?

The fun thing about my characters’ age is some of the actors I am thinking of are already too old, so it would have to be the next up and coming spunky girl to play Clementine, and George could possibly be played by Rico Rodriguez, or another newcomer. Rico may be getting a little old for the role, too.

Fellow Writers, please add a comment below posting a link your Next Big Thing and I will happily point the way to you blog in a future post. If you can point the way to some of your writer friends as well, that is part of the package deal here. Please link back to me when you post, so that we can promote each other. First handful to comment will be part of the my links post. Thanks for playing! Let’s keep it going.

not quite nanowrimo

This was the third time -or the fourth?- I attempted Nanowrimo and had similar results, but this year I did not stress about it.

I’m not a big fan of the win or lose aspect of it. I will take that the number of words I wrote earlier in the month was a darn good number of words, and an excellent and imaginative new story start with a lot of possibility.

My reality is: I have three kids going in three different directions, at three high needs stages of their childhoods. Well, Captain Comic is always high needs, a given, and my presence is needed daily at his wrestling practices to keep him focused.

Toots is in an afternoon session of preschool, which seriously cuts into my writing mojo, as she and I have the house to ourselves most mornings…a prime time writing time for me if i did not have divided focus on her- some writers are night writers, some are early morning writers. I find my most productive writing time falls after I take care of setting up the minutiae of the day and when a regular school day ends, approximately 9am-3pm. so when I drop her off at 12:25pm, and can run errands alone, I fill the rest of that time pretty easily without much writing.

Mr. Cynic’s senior year first semester is full of college application stress (though he has already been been accepted to one!) and finally taking care of getting his driver’s license. He has a job and a music studio mentorship that happens up the highway in Williamsburg. He is now officially licensed, but I do not feel he is ready to drive that jaunt alone just yet. I feel better about him driving within a two mile radius to the house. I know, that is inverse reasoning when most accidents occur within a five mile radius of driver residences. But I’m his mother: if he’s going to be involved in a wreck, I’d rather it be close to home. Give me a few weeks of riding up the highway with him, and I might change my mind.

And then there are my other writing projects. So, I started off Nano pretty well, taking it easy on myself, so that I wouldn’t cause writer’s block out of word count pressure. I was really excited about freeing up my imagination after spending the last few years in pretty solid edit mode for my longest term project. I am really happy about what came out and where I may go with it.

Then life happened, as it always does, between this time of year’s onset of colds and flu, and the usual doctor’s appointments, etc…then Thanksgiving, etc, then I really felt like moving back to edit the old project. Then I got another great idea, and wrote a first draft of a sermon to give at my UU Fellowship.

So, I may not have ‘won’ Nano – but I sure didn’t lose. I have edited a little further toward the end of my first children’s novel, I have a great new next novel to work on, which makes at least two viable projects that have arrived because of Nano. And I wrote in a completely new genre that has a deadline presentation in the spring.

I call that a win. Maybe an incomplete one, but the bottom line is I wrote more this month that I did in the prior few, and got some writing mojo back.

My writing group hasn’t been meeting as consistently on Tuesday mornings twice a month since this summer. One of the two meetings per month was moved to evening, a precious time for my family, a time where I am mentally and physically crashing, and up the road in Williamsburg, so I have thus far bowed out. I’ve missed seeing my group regularly, partly because it held me accountable to set aside at least a couple of days of several hours per month to focus strictly on writing and do so in good company.

The two of us in the group who are most local to each other have made a commitment to each other –and to our writing– to meet every Tuesday morning, barring appointments for her aged parent and the mayhem we both have with our teens and Toots.

And that is a win, indeed. I wrote for five hours straight yesterday and barely got out of my chair. Quite an accomplishment for yours truly,  Ms. Highly Distractible.


children’s book in the making?

The New Cat

We adopted a half grown black cat with a big fluffy tail.
He blinks his stunning green eyes so very pale –
A shadow with lights that beam out of his face,
He hovers in corners with hardly a trace.
Until he opens those eyes and blinks once or twice,
Then he swishes his puff tail at the sight of fake mice.

My girl is four and exclaims in high pitch, “He’s SO CUUUTE!”
And “He’s da cutest fing I’ve ever seen in my life! MEW!”
She slides right in and pulls him from the under the bed.
She hugs him and squeezes him, I’m surprised he’s not dead.
But he’s gentle, subtle, likely absolutely terrified –
Yet he behaves as a gentleman, distinguished and rarified.

He has not scratched her in attempts to escape,
Nor has he attacked her in defense against squishes so great.
He merely peers those green eyes around the room,
Seeks a good enough opportunity to zoom
From her arms, and the nape of her neck,
She squishes and squeezes him, loves him, aw heck.

Her goofy big brother is rough on him, too.
Ceiling thumps and bumps signal he’s doing it, too –
Diving under a bed, and grabbing the cat,
Dragging him, pulling him this way and that.
But when they get him out, pin him and hold him too close,
Scratch under his chin, he loves it, and purrs the most.

That cat just puts up with it, and acts very demure.
He gives up after a few wiggles, and begins to purr.
I’m not suggesting that you treat a cat in this way,
That anything is proper in the way that he stays
And just deals with the tough love that they give –
But my goodness, when they do, he lives!

The dog, hold on, is still kept across a barrier,
After all, Lucy is the Terrorizing Terrier.
We close ourselves in with cat, dog claws at the door.
Poor dog, she barks at us to love her some more.
She barks at the kitty, “Arf! Arf! I can smell you in there!
ARF! Sniff! Trailing down the hall is balls of your hair!”

Sasha the cat is regal, beautiful and sweet,
Don’t call him a girl though, or you just might get beat
By a four year old demon who cuddles to death,
And her brother, the hugger of furry adopted pets.
They love him so much, and frankly I do, too,
He’s the lovingest cat we ever had in this zoo.


Not a bad start, especially since I was supposed to be working on my novel manuscript today.


This past weekend, Honey and I started the stripping, power-washing, sanding and milk-painting of Toots’s new big girl bed, which will be her upcoming birthday present. A local friend had this project sitting in her garage long enough for her kids to grow up and then it sat in ours for a couple of years, too. Finally, we got to it. Toots was an excellent helper during the process. It took most of the weekend to get one set of head and footboards completed. On Saturday, St Patrick’s Day, Captain Comic made a brief appearance to ask what we were doing then disappeared. Mr. Cynic, the stealth teen, never appeared. I think a few grunts from the sofa and from the computer matched his vocal register over the course of the weekend. Guitar jangles and some singing were heard from on high, as well…from the deep recesses of The  Mess Which Doth Not Subside aka the boys’ room upstairs.

Toots even took a couple of photos above! Then she acted the Pin-up and wanted her pic taken. We’re in trouble later, aren’t we?


Yesterday, my writing group got down to business very quickly, and it was just what I needed! I finally FINISHED Draft Three of my manuscript!!!!

I will let it sit a couple of weeks or so, let my usual readers peruse it, and then assess whether it really is ready to be sent out. Then it is query letter time.

The best part about this stage of the writing is I think I will have more brain space and patience for my family, as I am so less frustrated with the writing process mingled with family and work, etc.

And then I will start something new! Because, I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t up to something.

kansas two-step

Long ago and far away…Okay, okay, I’ll stop.

But really, I think it was about 1991 and a Boston Poetry open mike night, though I can’t recall which one, because before I had kids, there I was three or four nights a week. Really. It seems most likely it was at the old Bookcellar Cafe in Cambridge or Stone Stone Poetry at TT the Bears in Central Square, Cambridge  when I met him.

Anyway this odd looking character, not unpleasant looking, just odd walked in. A lot of odd people hang out at poetry readings. But H. B. Berlow looked like Mephistopheles with his pointy goatee and waxed mustache. Comically sinister, and he did that thing with his hands, that gesture that he was thinking something mischievous, fingertips dancing against each other, as he raised his eyebrows in quick success, too – straight out of Groucho Marx’s repertoire.

Of course, I didn’t think, “RUN! RUN NOW Run fast!” NO, no, no, I thought, “wouldn’t he be fun to know?” And he was.

For a  few years, he and another dear friend, Joe, and I met for coffee and writing critique at Joe’s place, a little room on the fourth floor on Comm Ave where we watched the sun and clouds and volatile seasons with peaceful sunsets cross the surface of the Hancock Tower and  passionately tore each other’s work apart and built it back up again.  I trusted those guys with my writing, and I hope and think they trusted me with theirs. Critique groups since have had a hard time meeting the bar of what we did all those afternoons in the early nineties. H. B. with his reams of green paper was particular, exacting and always enthusiastic.  We also animatedly discussed everything from baseball to Kierkegaard, rock and roll to Berlioz.

And then H. B. followed a woman to the land of Great Plains and strip malls, and a decade or more later I followed a man to Virginia, and at some point, Joe moved out of that little room all the way to Cambridge and is still among my dearest friends. I hate to stay it, but H. B and I lost touch for a long time, but Joe filled me in on his doings from time to time. About a year or so ago, H. B. and I got back in touch around a Nanowrimo, I think, with a little reconnecting thread from Joe’s needle.

In the time since, H. B. Berlow has published the above book, Kansas Two-Step. It has arrived at my door via a little contest he announced on his blog, The Tikiman Says. I got lucky in the random drawing. But at least I gave him a good laugh in the process. He asked for entrants to comment on his webpage re: what their favorite dance is. Here is my guestbook comment:

i do a rather cockeyed shuffle ball change in my kitchen often enough to embarrass my kids. that is my favorite dance, esp when the teen’s friends are here.

This is not a review. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book yet, it just arrived, but if the H. B. I knew and read with relish in my twenties is anything like the one I know now, and I can assure you he is – funny, irreverent, thoughtful, imaginative and full of pop culture and high art references – then you will love this book. And I can guarantee his writing has only improved through passion and diligence in the past twenty or so years. That is the H. B. Berlow I knew, who wrote fiction, poetry and plays, often at the same time.

Click on the book image to purchase Kansas Two-Step!

writing, editing

I have said it before, I am on my last few pages of my middle reader novel’s third major draft. Last time my schedule allowed me to even open the document was on January 31st. On that day, I think I worked over one paragraph.

Today, I have had the document opened for about three hours so far. I am halfway through another paragraph. Of course, I went back and edited a bit to get to the point of what I planned to edit today, to get me in the groove, so to speak, but really? Why does it take me so long to rewrite this darned paragraph yet again?

It finally occurred to me that it takes me so long, because every word and where I put them really counts this time. It matters so much, because I am in the final stretch and I really want to get it right. I don’t want it to be sloppy, I want it to convey exactly what I am going for.

The closer I get to the final page, the more it matters – the more every word counts. The more I don’t want to lean on phrasing I’ve written how many times before. The more I want my main character to see, the less I need to say he looked. You get my drift?

It matters so much.


Long ago and far away, I attended a tiny precocious college in the Berkshire Hills with a now cult followed musician named Mike Doughty. The place was small enough that everyone really did know everyone. He and I ran in a variety of Venn Diagram multiple cross-sectioning circles of creative people.

Everyone did. It couldn’t be helped. The place has a magical sense of anything is possible – you could be the next Great American Writer, Rock Star, Actor, World Changer, Scientific Nobel Winner, etc. Many came out of that school and are doing exactly that.

Many of us aspired to be all of the above. The sheer weight of that amazing sense of possibility and responsibility could be crushing at times, and many souls were lost, if not forever, for a while.

One great tale of that road of possibility has recently been published. Mike Doughty wrote it. It’s a necessary tale of what it takes some of us to go through to reach the possibility and make it real, prices we pay along the way to reach it, and to find out what that goal really means, and did we reach for the right one?

(Click book cover for amazon link)

Yes, it is a sordid tale, exactingly laid out. But the drugs and what became of him on them is not what this is really about. It’s where he is now, how he can see where he was and how it informs who he is now, much happier, even while the voices of self-loathing and doubt accompany him today. His relationship to those voices has changed.

This is a story of a man whose heart is in his hand, bloody and pumping, offered to you. It’s a story of possibility gone utterly wrong in the band in which he achieved his (first run) cult following, that ultimately became his personal demise. There were rumors among those of us who knew him ten years earlier, that he had died. Thank whatever you want that he didn’t. It is a story of redemption and self-compassion.

I read it in under twenty-four hours, even in the midst of my usual mayhem, because it is incredibly conversational, like one of those old all night conversations in dorm rooms way back when.

I think you would agree, even if you don’t know him the shimmer that I did once upon a time. It’s a good read. As with many of my recommendations, in reading it, you may see a few things about yourself in his words.

This is not your usual glorified seedy side rock star memoir. Though much of that is found inside.

Go on, give it a try. You know you want to.

PS: The music he is putting out now reminds me a lot of what he was doing back at that little enclave school. His sense of pure creativity has returned. Click on his name in the first paragraph to see his website or purchase  his latest CD, Yes, and Also Yes by clicking the title here.

Addendum! Latest CD, The Question Jar Show comes out Tuesday!

Post Navigation