Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore"

It's hard to believe that it has been an entire year since I wrote a new post for this blog.  It has been a busy year and unfortunately my extra curricular writing took a hit; thankfully not a terminal one.  From working on the development of a subdivision to the gutting and remodeling of a house, to having baby number 4, as well as a myriad of other things, it has been a whirlwind.  A whirlwind that sucked my writing into its funnel, tossed it around a bit, and spit it out a few blocks away, battered and bruised but not lost. So in honor of that time of writing that I cannot get back, for I feel that all our fallen hero's/ideals/aspirations should be honored, I give you "The Tornado".

Confession: I wanted to post this story earlier in the fall because... What?! Utah had its very own small tornado whip through the northern town of Ogden.  Completely crazy weather for Utah. I was able to write this story, not from my experience with a Utah tornado (which I have none since I'm 45 minutes away from where it happened) but due to my childhood growing up in Iowa, a state fortunate enough to be considered part of tornado alley... and maybe the movie Twister.

The Tornado
Jessie was out feeding the ducks at the pond when the weather turned.  One moment the wind was idly blowing her hair, tickling her cheek as the strands fluttered to and fro, and the next she felt like she had been horsewhipped in the face.  She captured her hair in her hands and brought it over her shoulder where she could maintain a grip on it while she took in the scene around her.  
The weather-vane on top of the barn was dancing wildly in circles.  Her father appeared at the shed doors waving his hands in the air.  It looked like he was shouting something but Jessie couldn’t hear him as the wind carried his voice away from where she was standing.  She looked back over her shoulder and just as she’d feared, the sky was slightly green and the clouds were funneling. Tornado!
She took off running toward the shed but didn’t get very far before she heard a strangled bark coming from the corn fields just up a head.  She hesitated for a moment as she looked at her dad, frantically waving her to safety, and then rushed over to the corn field.  It took her a few precious seconds to locate where the sound was coming from, with the wind snatching sounds and throwing them every which way, but there was Duke, tangled up in cornstalks and the rope Jessie had used to tie him up earlier.  He was so entangled that the rope had him pinned to the cornstalks and he was having a hard time breathing.  
“Duke, you crazy dog, what were you thinking? Don’t you know there’s a tornado comin?” Jessie said as she looked hopelessly at the mess of rope and chaff.  She chewed her bottom lip, on the verge of tears, as she struggled against the wind that was threatening to carry her away.  She couldn’t just leave him here but untangling him would take time she just didn’t have.  Suddenly she heard her name being called.
“Josh!” Jessie yelled as she ran out of the corn. “I’m over here.” She waved one of her arms to get his attention, while holding desperately to the stalks of corn.
“Jessie, come on, we don’t have much time.  The tornado’s touched down.”
“Duke’s tangled up in the corn and he can’t breath, we can’t leave him out here,” Jessie cried in response.  
Josh looked back to where he could see the funnel of the tornado.  It was still a half mile off but approaching quickly.  He looked at Jessie with a grim expression and then pulled out his pocket knife.
“Over here.” She sagged in relief.  
Josh quickly cut the rope that was binding Duke in place.  “Come on boy, we have to hurry,” Josh said as he grabbed his sister’s hand and hightailed it out of the corn with Duke on their heels.  
The wind had only gotten worse in the few minutes it took to get Duke out of the corn field, and running to the shed reminded Jessie of trying to run in mud.  It took so much energy and she just couldn’t go very fast, but Josh helped as he pulled her along.  She could see the tornado looming over the barn to her right.  They had to get inside the cellar and fast.  Her dad was struggling with the door to the shed, trying to have it ready to shut the moment Josh and Jessie made it inside, but the wind suddenly ripped it off its hinges and sent it flying towards Jessie and her brother.  Josh dove to the ground, yanking Jessie down with him just as the door skimmed over Jessie’s head. They looked at each other in a panic and then jumped back up, running with all their might to the shed, and Duke keeping right up with them.  They reached it just as the tornado picked up the roof of their barn and swallowed it in its giant funnel.  
“Into the cellar, NOW!” Her father shouted as they raced down the steps into the damp underground room.  They heard the boards that made up the shed start to rattle and shake, just as Jessie’s dad slammed the cellar doors closed and latched them in place.  
Jessie sank back against the dirt wall in the darkness, exhausted from the adrenaline rush of getting to the shed.  Duke found her in the darkness and laid his head in her lap.  They had made it, they were safe.  They were all safe.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Importance of Doing Things Wrong.

It's been awhile since I've written a blog post. To long really.  I've been meaning to write up a fun post regarding Stephen Fraser's 12 favorite middle grade novels.  He was a keynote speaker at the SCBWI Summer Conference and was fantastic to listen to (he's an agent at the top of my top ten list.) However, that is not what brings me here today.  I come bearing wisdom.  A wisdom that was not just passed along to me but that was EARNED, and therefore imprinted upon my mind forever. As most wisdom that is earned, it came with a price.

My story begins at a pivotal moment. A moment that has been a long time in the making.  After hours of courses, conferences, and webinars, hours of research and hard work, hours of editing and revising, I was finally ready to query agents.  I had read my finished manuscript hundreds of times.  I had other people read my manuscript to me.  I made it into a dummy book to make sure I made the most of page turns.  I had an English teacher edit my manuscript for typos, punctuation, tense changes, and grammar. I took courses on how to write a perfect query letter.  I researched agents, and had a list of my top ten, who would be my first round of queries. Yesterday, I sent out my first query.  It was to an agent on the top of my list.  One of the few who, if I had my pick of all picks, I would like to work with.  He only takes exclusive queries though, which means I could only send his query, and then patiently wait until he responds before sending out the rest of my first round list.  Before I sent it out however, I read through my manuscript yet again.  I looked at one line and decided to see if I liked something different, so I changed it.  I didn't like it as well, so I changed it back. This is a common practice for me, but not usually so late in my process. This is where I made my second mistake (yes I meant second), which I will get to in a moment.  Deciding that it was as ready as it was ever going to be, I copied and pasted my query letter and my manuscript into an email.  I first sent it to myself to make sure the formatting came through the email correctly.  It did.  So I recopied and pasted into a new email and then sat and stared at it.  Reading it through a few more times.  Okay, I just had to push send. That was all that was left to do.  So with a bundle of nerves in my stomach, I clicked.  Email sent.  I, of course, Bcc'd myself on the email.  I'm compulsive like that.  About five minutes later I opened my copy of the email and read it... again.  My jaw hit the floor.  I cursed Murphy and his stupid law.  As I read through the manuscript part of the email I found not one but TWO errors! I sat there, a pit in my stomach, in stunned silence. The first error was a small one.  The use of the word "it" when it should have been "in."  It was so blatant when I came across it, that I wondered where it had come from.  Surely it was not there before. How did it get in my manuscript? I had to look back at my dummy book to see if it was there all along. It was! How is it that I have read that manuscript HUNDREDS of times and had it edited, and it was missed EVERY TIME until, of course, the first time I read it AFTER it was already sent? Then as I continued reading I found my second error.  That blasted line that I had changed came back to haunt me.  I had written the word "something" twice in a row.  I had apparently failed to read that line carefully after I changed it and before I sent it.  But again, it was so apparently there, when I was reading it that I couldn't believe how I missed it the few times I had read it before sending it.

So here is the take away to this story.  While my chances for getting accepted by this agent have plummeted, I have learned a valuable lesson.  A lesson that I will NEVER make again.  That is why mistakes can be so important.  They make an impact. I skipped a step.  I did not print out a copy for myself to line edit.  To painstakingly go over my story word for word, line by line.  I had been advised to, but skipped it all the same, thinking that it couldn't be all that important.  After all I could do the same thing on my computer.  Well its not true.  That piece of advise was given by an expert for a reason.  So, I share this monumental piece of wisdom with you so that you can avoid this lesson in your future.  Don't skip steps.  Even if you think you don't need them, they are there for a reason.


Confession: While this post has multiple purposes, from writing therapy to advise sharing.  I would be lying if I didn't admit to having a small flame of hope that the aforementioned agent looked me up and saw this post.  For him to know that I know there were errors and how embarrassed I feel for skipping that one important step. I know how unprofessional that looks, and for that I am sorry.  I don't mind rejection, I expect it, as any writer should.  But if I am going to be rejected I want to be rejected on merit, not on technical mistakes.  I am better than that.  In the future, my writing will be, too.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thank you Anne of Green Gables for the perfect adjective

A quote from Anne of Green Gables has been running through my head repeatedly lately.  Anne is walking home with Diana after a failed attempt to walk the ridgepole of the Barry's house (on a dare of course). Anne sprained her ankle and Diana is helping to support her as she attempts to walk.  Of course in Anne fashion, she refuses to walk the regular way home so that she can make a point to Gilbert and Josie.  This results in taking a much longer way.  Due to the injury of Anne's ankle she decides that they should take a shortcut though the woods which are rumored to be haunted.  As they are walking through the dark, mist filled trees, with bare branches grabbing at their clothes and owls hooting in the background Diana tells Anne that she is scared.  Anne replies " So am I.  Deliciously scared."  

I am heading to the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators big summer conference in LA tomorrow.  This will be my first big writing conference and I am going by myself, while knowing not a single person.  While I am not scared, I do feel nervous. Deliciously nervous.  I am so excited to listen and learn and soak in all that I can from esteemed authors, agents, editors, and other industry professionals.  I am having a professional critique done of my favorite piece, so far, called Under My Bed.  I am excited to see what is said about it and to figure out what my next step should be.  I have been researching the great agents who will be at the conference to see what they are like and what kind of work they represent.  I am thrilled by the prospect of meeting them personally so I can get a better sense of who I want to query for representation.  I feel like there is so much possibility and talent and inspiration to be had there that I have butterflies in my stomach in anticipation.  All this has been circling my brain over the last couple of weeks and as it has gotten closer and closer my mind keeps taking me back to that line; "Deliciously scared", I absolutely adore the use of the word as an adjective.  It describes my nervousness perfectly.  

Confession: Do I dare admit that as a writer and avid reader, I have never actually read the Anne of Green Gables series? Well, I confess, it's true.  I have only seen the movies.  I have a really hard time reading a book after I've seen the movie.  I'm not sure why this is, because I will read a good book many times, so it can't be that I know what will happen. Perhaps it is that I am no longer the creator of these characters in my mind.  Part of the greatness of reading is that you get to interpret the nuances of these written characters. The characters have already been cast in a movie.  I have no choice but to see them as the movie character. Which can make for all sorts of disappointment (in a reverse sense since it is usually the other way around) when the book character is so much more rich and fulfilling then the person in the movie.  

I do feel it is important to note that the line "Deliciously scared" was in fact a brilliant line only found on film. It was not in the book. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Inspiration is always just around the corner

It's true that inspiration is always just around the corner.  Sometimes you just have to walk around the block a few (dozen) times.  It's been a crazy busy month.  I've been traveling quite a bit.  Some fun, some not as much fun.  One great place I went was Mexico with my husband.  It was fantastically hot, and also just fantastic.  We had our own private shallow infinity pool on our deck. It was awesome.  My husband referred to it as the naked pool.  Yes, for the exact reason that you would think.  Okay, maybe not the exact reason. It was so humid and hot outside that anytime we left our suite my husband was instantly soaked and miserably hot.  Therefore every time we came back to our room he would strip down and take a dip in the naked pool to cool off.  That's the reason you were all thinking, right? Luckily I grew up in humidity so it didn't bother me quite so much and I was free to enjoy every moment of time I spent there.  I knew before we left that I was going to use the time to get away, relax and most importantly write without the distraction of kids.  So I wrote, and revised, and revised, and wrote.  I pondered and read, and researched and pondered some more. I finally shelved what I was working on out of frustration. I just couldn't get it right. Then as we were sitting at the airport waiting to board the plane home, ideas for this particular piece started coming to me.  I worked through a few different story lines until I finally felt that the direction of the piece was right.  The piece that I was working on was none other than The Little Giving Stream that I posted here for all to read a few posts ago.  I told you that it would get revised and that it would look nothing like the original piece, which is completely true, except it's still about a stream. Now, however, I am stuck on a name so it remains untitled for now.  Fill free to leave me a suggestion as to what you think the name should be.  If I pick someones suggestions you will definitely get credit when my story gets published.  Here is the rewritten version.

Confession:  This piece still needs to go through another round of critique and refinement, which it has not done.  Since, however, I am not submitting it to agents yet, I feel okay showing you the unpolished version. I wanted to show the process of starting with something and ending with something entirely different and not giving up along the way.


Untitled (for now)
M.J. Thompson

Once there was a little stream that flowed through a grassy meadow.  
It shared its water with the grasses.  It watered the flowers and trees.  It played with fishes and watched the animals.
Still, something was missing.
One day it felt rumbling.  
It saw a tractor.  
The tractor moved dirt from here to there.
A house was built.  
A family moved in.
The family had three children who wandered down to the bank of the stream one sunny day.
“I’m bored,” said the oldest child, who was a girl.
“I miss my friends,” said the middle child, who was a boy.
“Water!” said the littlest child and he jumped right it.  
Tromp. Stomp. Slip….SPLASH.
The boy and girl laughed in delight and jumped in the water too.  
The stream smiled, the way streams do.
The next day the children found their way to the bank of the stream once again.
“There’s nothing to do,” said the girl.
“We don’t know anybody around here,” said the boy.
“Diamonds!” said the little one as he scooped up sand from the bank and watched it sparkle in the sunshine.
The older children looked at each other and grinned.
The rest of the day was spent sifting sand looking for hidden treasure.  
The stream sighed, the way streams do.
A few days went by before the children visited the stream again.  The stream had missed them terribly.  
This time something was different.  The girl said, “Hello friend.”
The boy said, “What fun do you have for us today?”
The littlest one looked out over the water at some twigs and leaves swirling in an eddy.  He looked up, a twinkle in his eye, “Boats!”  
And the stream gurgled happily, the way streams do.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Little Giving Stream

I've decided that I want to share a story that I have been working on.  Before I do, there are a few things you need to know.  First, this piece was inspired by my amazing grandfather who passed away some years ago.  I miss him. He was such an incredible and giving man.  He was the one I looked up to as a child and gave me a solid example to compare all other men to. His favorite song that I would hear him singing at the most random of times, was a primary song called Give Said the Little Stream. I find myself singing it to my children as I rock them to sleep. It makes me think of him every time.   Did I mention that I miss him?  As I was singing my baby boy to sleep one night, with this song, this story came to me and I had to write it down.

So first, I want you to remember that it is a sentimental piece, at least for me.  Second, you need to know, that it will most likely never see the presses of a publishing house.  It is longer than what publishers are wanting right now by about 46 words.  You may not think that 46 words are that big of deal, but let me assure you that they are. I've had this piece in for critique with a group I participate in and was told that it lacks a hook, which publishers want.  I actually agree, it does not have a strong hook, but it is a sweet story. I will actually revise it (I've already started) and it will resemble nothing of the original story except that it will be about a stream.  Such is the world of writing.  So, before my grandfather is lost from this story completely I thought I would share it here with you.

Confession: I feel this story is special, but the truth of the matter is, I'm probably the only one.  Trust me when I say that I am completely okay with that.  Some stories are just meant for the heart.  If however you like it, love it, find it to be sweet, or would ever see yourself buying a book like this, then please feel free to share it.


The Little Giving Stream


M.J. Thompson

Once there was a small stream that flowed through a grassy meadow.
It was a happy little stream.  It would sing the day away as it ran down the sloping hillside.
The stream was also a giving stream.  Nothing made it happier than sharing its water with the grasses that grew along its banks and the trees and flowers that bloomed nearby.
The stream loved to laugh and play with the little fish that swam in its currents and tickled its waters with the swishing of their fins.  
Its favorite time was when the sun's rays were shining down upon it, making it sparkle as if it had diamonds hiding in its banks.  
It loved the rain too though, for when it would rain the stream could stretch out its waters up over the banks and it could run just a little bit faster.  
One sunny day the stream heard an unusual sound.  It was laughter.  Children's laughter.
It was a sound the stream had always longed to hear.  It was a beautiful, happy noise.
Pretty soon a little family with three children walked over a knoll and laid a blanket along its edge.
There was a lovely mother, a tall father, a delightful girl, a rambunctious boy, and a timid little boy.
The stream was thrilled when the children came to splash around, tromping, stomping, and wiggling their toes against the slippery rocks hidden under its surface.
All of a sudden, the little boy slipped on a jagged rock and fell into the cold water, cutting his foot and letting out a loud cry.
The stream knew the boy must be hurt, for he saw the red swirls in the water that followed him as he hobbled out onto the bank.  
The stream watched the boy sob into his mother's arms.  She cuddled him to her, swaying back and forth, kissing his forehead until his sobs quieted down to whimpers.
The stream wished it could help.  It felt sad that the rocks within its waters had caused such pain, especially to the timid little boy.
It watched as the delightful girl, picked some flowers and brought them to the little boy.  The boy gave a shy smile and whimpered a little less.  
The stream watched as the rambunctious boy caught a grasshopper and brought it over to the little boy, who squealed in delight as it jumped onto his leg and then off again into the field.
With the timid little boy happy once again, the mother bandaged his foot, packed up their blanket and the little family wandered back over the knoll.  The sound of their laughter drifting away on the breeze.  
The stream was sad to see them go.  It felt disappointed that it had been unable to help the little boy feel happy again.
Then, it had an idea.  It may not have been able to help the little boy today, but it could speed up its currents around jagged rocks; it could make sharp edges smooth.  No one would ever get hurt on the rocks in its waters again.  
So that is what it did, and from that time on, the little stream made sure that all the rocks within its waters were the smoothest nicest rocks that could be found.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

How Writing Helped Me Overcome My Addiction

I find it interesting that as I become more and more immersed in the world of writing books, or rather the process of turning my stories into what I hope will become books, my experience as a reader has changed. It has totally ruined me as a reader!  Or maybe it's improved me as a reader.  I guess it depends on your perspective.   I can no longer sit down and just loose myself in a good book.  I am looking at the art on the cover.  If it's a picture book, I am analyzing the style of the illustrator.  I am paying attention to who the author is, what their background is, what, if any, books they have previously written.  Who the publisher is.  How many pages the book contains.  And that is all before I even start to read it.

Confession: If you had asked me last year who wrote a particular book, you probably would have had to wait while I looked it up in my kindle library. 

Now when I read, I am looking at the way the author develops the character. How soon they introduced conflict. What style and tense they are writing in. Is the first line a great one?  Do they start with a prologue or just jump right into the story? How much dialogue is there? And on and on and on.  

Of course this new book reality does come with a few benefits. There is the benefit of refining my craft.  Studying the work of those who have already accomplished such an amazing goal. It's an obvious one but it can't be over looked because by and large it is the most useful as well as the most used. Then there is the benefit of addiction recovery.  Not quite as obvious.  My husband has told me on more than one occasion that I have a problem.  I thought he was crazy the first time he said it. They say denial is a real problem in addiction cases.  The more he pointed it out though, the more I realized he might be right.  Reading a good book? Forget the laundry.  Got to finish just one more chapter, or two, or three, or ten.  Having a hard time getting up with the kids in the morning? Maybe I shouldn't have stayed up with that book until 3:00 AM. Running out of space on the bookshelves? Kindle's got me covered, my electronic bookshelf doesn't have that problem.  While I did put some rules in place to help me manage my book addiction, I find that they aren't necessary anymore.  I can't devour a book in a day while critically analyzing everything in it. I hope to one day find a happy balance. Maybe after I add my name to the lucky few.  In the mean time I will sacrifice my all encompassing enjoyment of reading.  Settling instead for the lesser, mere enjoyment of reading while simultaneously paying my dues in the homework department.  


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Picture Book Recommendation

Lately we have been reading A LOT of picture books.  It's what you do when you are an aspiring author in that genre.  I will be posting a top ten of our favorite picture books in the near future, but in the mean time I wanted to highlight one of my new favorites. I loved it so much that I was willing to spend $18 at our local bookstore to put it in our library. EIGHTEEN DOLLARS! That's pretty steep for a picture book in my opinion, even if it is a hard copy.

Confession: I can't guarantee that my position on this won't change if the royalties are ever going into my pocket. You've been warned, I don't want to hear any of you calling me a flip flopper.

The book that I am taking about is My New Teacher and Me by none other than Al Yankovic (as in Weird Al Yankovic), and illustrated by the fantastic Wes Hargis.  I have another confession: I was not in any way shape or form a fan of Weird Al as a singer/song writer when I was growing up and his music was somewhat popular. Sorry Al.  I do however adore him as a children's book author.  His wordplay is fantastic, and the story is so fun.  If you haven't read it or are searching for a book to add to your library or simply to check out from a library, you won't be disappointed with this one!


Disclaimer: I just want it known that I am not affiliated or set up to make money on anything that I recommend or link to on my blog. If that ever changes in the future I will make note of it. Anything that I highlight I do because of the enjoyment that it brings to me and my kids.