Merry Christmas...and Thank You to our Servicemen

Whether or not the following poem was written by a US Marine stationed in Okinawa Japan I can't tell for sure. I can, however, echo the sentiments expressed in the poem and wish one and all a Merry Christmas... and send a special thank you to our armed forces personnel. I owe them so much, personally... as a naturalized US citizen I know how precious it is to live in the USA... how precious the freedom we enjoy in this land. Thank you for your service and sacrifice...and Merry Christmas!

Twas the Night Before Christmas, He lived all alone,
In a One Bedroom House Made of Plaster and Stone

I had come down the Chimney with presents to Give,
And to see just who In this Home did live.
I looked All About, A strange Sign did I see,
No Tinsel. No Presents. Not even a Tree.

No stocking by the mantle, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung a picture of far distant lands.

With Medals and Badges, Awards of all kinds
A sober thought came through my mind.

For this house was different. It was dark and dreary
I found the home of a soldier once I could see clearly.

The soldier lay sleeping, silent, alone
Curled up on the floor of this one bedroom home.

The face was so gentle, the room in such disorder
Not how I pictured a United States soldier.

Was this the hero of whom I just read?
Curled up on a poncho, the floor for a bed?

I realized the families that I saw this night,
Owed their lives to these soldiers
Who were willing to fight.

Soon round the world, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate
A bright Christmas Day.

They all enjoyed Freedom each month of the year.
Because of the soldiers like the one lying here.

I couldn't help wonder how many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.

The very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees, and I started to cry.

The soldier awakened and I heard a rough voice,
Santa don't cry, this life is my choice.

I fight for Freedom. I don't ask for more,
My life is my God, my Country, my Corps.

The Soldier rolled over and drifted to sleep,
I couldn't control it. I continued to weep.

I kept watch for hours, so silent and still.
And we both shivered from the cold night's chill.

I didn't want to leave on that cold, dark night,
This Guardian of Honor so willing to fight.

Then the soldier rolled over, with a voice soft and pure,
Whispered "Carry on Santa,
It's Christmas Day. All is secure."

One look at my watch, and I knew he was right.
"Merry Christmas My Friend,
And To All A Good Night."


Visiting the UK this Christmas

My daughter and I both love myths and legends. We'll be in the UK end of December/beg of January (her Christmas break from university studies). I'd love to be able to visit the most magical places England/Scotland have to offer but with all my work, writing, etc it's hard for me to plan my itinerary (Dec 27th thru Jan 8th). I was wondering if anyone reading this blog, who's visited the UK, would send me suggested itineraries I could follow. I've ordered books and videos from my public library and they've begun to arrive but if I can see someone else's itinerary and what they liked and didn't like that would help me lots. We both love the Arthurian stories. Would love to experience Stonehenge. Maybe go to Scotland and visit sites related to William Wallace, to Nessie the Loch Ness monster. Make this a time for memory building, fun explorarion of a land rich in history and lore. Thanks, in advance, for any/all information you can send my way.


Rules of Engagement: How To Get (& Keep) A Reader Involved In Your Novel

At the RMC-SCBWI 2005 Fall Conference one of the speakers was Cheryl Klein, Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. Klein's talk on The Rules of Engagement: How to Get (and Keep!) A Reader Involved in Your Novel is a rare opportunity to understand, from an editor's point of view, what it is that makes a manuscript work and what keeps it from working.

Klein graciously allowed Children Come First to produce an eBook of her talk. It's divided into three parts.

  • The first part of the eBook talks about how to get and keep a reader involved in your novel. Klein lists the various things she sees in manuscripts that knock her out of the characters' brains or worldsâ€"little tiny things, pacing questions, word choices even, that distract and dislodge her from the story.
  • The second part, How to Disengage Your Reader in Ten Easy Steps, goes through ten different things writers need to avoid doing if they want to keep the readers engaged in the story.
  • The eBook wraps up its third part with a transcript of the question and answer session from the RMC-SCBWI conference.

  • Feel free to email this blog to friends. There's an "Email link" at the end of the blog you can use or you can just send them this page's URL. The eBook was produced by Children Come First and is graciously being offered free of charge by its author. Remember to click the "bookmarks" tab to navigate thru the document once you receive it.

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    On writing short stories

    Alright, I've asked all my friends to stop sending me those cute email attachments that seem to navigate through cyberspace with a life of their own. For once I'm glad this one friend ignored my request. You got to laugh at people's creativity. I did this morning when looking at this image. Enjoy!


    ZITS: Understanding Teenage Boys

    I love the cartoon strip ZITS. When I first discovered it years ago, I realized my son was absolutely normal. It helped me understand boys more than any other self-help book I'd read on the subject. Since then, every mom I talk to about ZITS is convinced that Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman are basing the character of Jeremy on their son. I know different. Scott & Borgman are basing Jeremy's character on MY son!

    Today's strip again made me laugh. It's on blogging, a topic we've been going over in my writing group.

    ZITS by Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman
    In the strip you have a father (an orthodontist), a stay-at-home mom (representing so much of the way I and other moms relate to our sons), and Jeremy, their son (representing my son...or is it yours?). The interaction between them, with Jeremy's teenage POV coming through every time, is hilarious! I love getting my daily dose of laughter through reading this cartoon strip. My kids are grown and gone now, but reading ZITS brings back memories and, along with the laughter, understanding.

    As a bookseller I keep waiting for the day these two brilliant writers of this amazing cartoon strip will put all their strips together and publish them in a book. I would immediately become their own private marketing machine!

    Until the time when ZITS comes out in book form you can read the daily strips in your local newspaper and, if they do not currently carry it, you can pester them until they do! It's really one of the best strips around. You may also consider paying $15 for an annual subscription to DAILY INK. The $15 is worth every penny for me. I picked several strips I enjoy reading and receive them all together in a daily email from them. Click to read more about membership to DAILY INK

    P.S.: After receiving a comment to this blog I was alerted to the fact that ZITS books are indeed available! I just posted another blog about it. Read Zits, Zits, and more Zits where I've linked to amazon.com where many of the books are now available. :-)



    I just finished watching the movie, SPEAK, based on author Laurie Halse Anderson's book by the same title. In the story, a young girl has just graduated from junior high, next year she'll be in high school, so she's quite young.
    *** SPOILER ALERT ***
    She goes to what appears to be an end of school year party. The party is wild and fun and full kids and there's dancing, partying, alcohol. And this really cute guy takes an interest in Melinda, the main character, and she's flatered that someone like him is paying attention to her. Next thing you know, he rapes her.

    You then watch Melinda walking around a mob scene, the party scene, in shock and disoriented. Not knowing what to do about what just happened to her, she dials 911. The cops come, some students get arrested, AND Melinda looses all her friends over that incident because she'd called the cops and stopped the party. Melinda doesn't tell anyone what happened to her, the reason she instinctively had dialed 911. It was her anguished call for help for what had happened. She ends up withdrawing into herself and when high school starts her old friends avoid her, call her names and she becomes the girl to stomp on so her freshman year is hell on wheels and the more kids abuse and insult her the less she speaks, ergo the title of the book.

    I can now see why SPEAKcreated such a buzz when it came out, has won awards and received great reviews. My heart broke watching the movie... to see the anguish a young girl goes through when hurting so badly on the inside and not able to speak about it to anyone. My heart went out to parents who see their daughters go silent on them or their sons go silent on them. My advice to parents... don't ignore it when your children go silent, i.e., don't leave them alone in their despair... even if they don't want to talk, or are not able to talk about their pain, let them know you're hearing their silent screams. Be there for them, praying as hard as you can, that eventually they'll be able to speak to you about it.

    This story has a good ending. I've not given away anything that you don't find out in the first chapter of the book. How Melinda works it out, and the things and people that help and empower her to work it out, is what the story is about. Great movie... must be an even greater book.

    I'd love to hear from anyone who's read the book or watched the movie. Did you like it? What are your thoughts?


    Self-Published Titles That Made It Big

    I'd love to compile a list of books that became best sellers but started out as self-published titles. Were "The Christmas Box" and "Time Stops For No Mouse" originally self-published titles? What's the story behind those two? I'd love to hear what others know about these and other such books.


    I can't afford my gasoline

    I received a link to the I can't afford my gasoline MP3 animation by TOCCI. I shook my head in dismay as I watched the animation play and replay over and over. Dismay because I could personally vouch for what TOCCI was so amusingly depicting as going on at the gas pumps. Whether I ignore or embrace the political barbs TOCCI includes in his animation, the truth is that my husband had just come from filling up our 1991 Dodge Caravan and the price of the fill-up was $50...that's $50 ... FIFTY DOLLARS!!!

    To add insult to injury the old car's transmission died the next day. The mechanic tells us it'll be around $2,500 to replace it. He tells me it's because you can't find rebuilt transmissions for Dodge Caravans because they break all the time, so they're not available used/rebuilt. So my 1991 Caravan is sitting at the mechanic's lot for now, with fifty of my dollars stashed away in its gas tank.



    I'm back doing Weight Watchers 100%

    My friend dropped me an email with the above line and I replied, "Me too!" ...well, I'm not on WW myself, but me too as in I'm committed to losing weight by following a sound exercise program and nutritionally balanced eating plan.

    More and more I'm convinced that each of us must find our own way of losing weight and getting in shape. Generalized answers work up to a point. A good low cal recipe is helpful, general guidelines for healthy eating and exercise help. But a "one-size-fits-all" program does not work for me...believe me, I've tried most of them, one at a time!

    I found an online program that does for me what WW-online used to do when I belonged to it. It's called FitDay and it's $29.95 to buy and download. I didn't want to be at the mercy of my internet to access my online journal/calorie tracker with WW-online...so it was good finding this program. This is their site if you're interested in checking it out, http://www.fitday.com [note: neither CCF nor I make any money if you purchase the program. I mention it in this post because it's a program that's actually helping me figure out how to track my weight loss]. The program tracks not only what you eat but how much you exercise and the effect that various types of exercises have on your overall plan of getting healthy and losing weight.

    Other tracking programs I've joined in the past made me feel like I was being denied. I reached my daily points or calorie limit too early in the day and then felt like giving up. But FitDay is awesome because it clocks not just calories eaten but charts them compared to calories I planned to eat and also against calories I burn just by being, just by breathing, doing absolutely nothing, being a total couch potato, which I really am not, even though I list myself as sedentary on the program because I work in front of a computer 16 hours/day. So when I eat more than my allotted number of calories, with FitDay I can see that even with what I ate I actually burned more by breathing (background calories burned through digestion, sleeping, just being alive) than I ate. On those days I then know I will at least maintain for that day. This knowledge keeps me from giving up. The picture gets even better the days I exercise so I'm making an effort to walk every day and plan on introducing strength training to my weekly routine real soon. If you're lucky enough to belong to a gym then keeping an exercise routine will be easier for you than it is for me. After all, why would you pay monthly fees and not take advantage of everything the gym has to offer?

    I'm staying with the calorie intake that FitDay recommends for a healthy weight loss program, one where you do not lose more than 2 pounds a week. I have started walking 2 miles several times a week. The program tracks my water intake, fiber, fat, and it also tracks my moods so I can then generate reports that show what mood I'm in when eating. It tracks reason I eat and I'm discovering (duh!) that a good 50% of my eating is "triggered by food." I'd like to get to the point where most of my eating is triggered by hunger and not food or emotions, etc.

    By and large, the most encouraging thing about this program is its one-time price of $29.95, the fact that it's always available in my computer whether or not my internet access is working or not, AND the wonderful way it charts Calories Eaten vs Calories Burned on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Since I bought the program I've consistently eaten less than the number of calories my body normally burns. So it makes sense that I'm loosing weight, slowly but surely.

    FitDay's website is full of other good information on weight loss, nutrition, and diets. If you just want to use their program online, then it's totally free. I did find that having it in the computer allows for faster inputting of foods eaten, etc. But it's nice they offer it for free off of their website.

    I'm going to build a set of resources and make them a part of the "MyDiet4Life" program that's helping me get healthier. I'd love to hear what's working and not working for you. Blog your ideas alongside mine.


    When Dream Jobs Go Up in Smoke

    Looking for freelance work I came upon what I'd call "my dream job." This was a telecommute job where you do research for a gateway company and get paid for it. The pay seemed more than fair and, depending on your qualifications and speed at which you can complete projects, it promised to be a good part-time source of income.

    I applied online to the company and several days later received an email saying my application had been approved and I could go ahead and print, fill out, sign and return to them their contract. No problem here. I read the contract. Seemed to be on the up and up. The red flags came up when I read the type of material they wanted me to send along with the signed contract: copy of college transcript, copy of passport, social security number, bank account information (for direct deposit of money I'd earn while working with them).

    I've been a freelancer for over 20 years now. I've never had to give copy of passport nor bank information to anyone... ever. I'd never do that. The thought of passing that info along to someone who doesn't even list their phone number on their website gives me the ebbe jebbes.

    I tried searching for the company at the BBB from the state they list they're from...the company is not listed. I tried searching for them at the Dept of Revenue of that particular state...no listing for this company there either.

    Regretfully I have concluded that this particular "dream job" of mine has just gone up in smoke. Guess that's better than me going up in smoke were I to give out the type of info they wanted me to send them, huh?


    Meet the World

    A friend just sent me the URL for MEET THE WORLD.

    Icaro Doria is a 25 year old Brazilian and the author of the flags campaign Meet the World that has been circulating the earth in chain letters via e-mails. "There are eight flags that portray very current topics like the division of opinions about the war in Iraq in the United States, the violence against women in Africa, the social inequality in Brazil, the drug trafficking in Columbia, Aids and malaria in Angola, etc."

    Looking at the flags, and the interpretations that Doria has given the colors and symbols, the topics take a life of their own, don't they? They did for me.

    The Weight of Being Fat

    Talking with a young woman today through Yahoo's Instant Messaging I was once more reminded of the sadness that can envelop a person just for being overweight. While chatting I googled "weight does not define me" and the title of the second listing that came up jumped at me, The Weight of Being Fat. I clicked on the URL, read Ashley Michael's article, and sent the URL to the young woman through the chat window, encouraging her to read it and write her own essay. Does this story sound familiar to you? What has helped you with your self-esteem as it relates to weight when all other things have failed? If we know that fat does not define a person, why do we allow it to happen? How can we stop looking at ourselves through man-made mirrors and start seeing ourselves as the priceless, unique, beautiful, one-of-a-kind, individuals that we are? Each one of us has a unique gift inside, a gift that was meant to be given to the world at large. No one else can gift the world this way for no one has that unique gift. How can we release ourselves to be true to ourselves and not allow the world's perception of what is beautiful to rule us any longer? Tell me how you did it...or are doing it. Let's talk.


    "The Ethical Brain" by Michael Gazzaniga

    Have you ever wondered about how the study of ethics would enhance whatever field of work or study you're presently involved in? I think this is a timely field and The Ethical Brain, a book reviewed by Stephan L. Chorover in The Lancet, is thought provoking. This book review starts out by talking about another book, "The Astonishing Hypothesis....."
    In The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (1994), Francis Crick famously suggested You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules ... You're nothing but a pack of neurons. The idea that neurons and their associated molecules behave and that there is nothing more to it than that is, I would suggest, a flawed supposition.
    As Chorover reviews The Ethical Brain, in the last paragraph he argues that, "There is simply no escaping the fact that we are social organisms. As such it is not our brains in neurological isolation, but we, ourselves, individually and collectively in our relationships with each other and our surroundings who must be held responsible for our actions..." Chorover talks in his review how especially in the US and under President Bush's direction, "entrepreneurially inclined neuroscientists are increasingly able to claim 'ownership' of 'intellectual property' arguably belonging to the public. Unfettered by moral and ethical concerns for the greater public good, private, for-profit, biotechnology firms can thus easily and legally pursue new neurotechnologies, not because they are socially needed, but merely because they are technically possible and likely to generate lucrative financial returns."

    I found the book review thought provoking. This type of reading/field of study fascinates me. The more technical advances within our reach the more we need to understand their ramifications. I feel like I'm in kindergarten when it comes to understanding these things but I'm willing to "go back to school" and become conversant in the subject.


    Narrative nonfiction vs Historical Fiction

    I recently was asked the question, "Could you give us a definition of narrative non-fiction? How is it different from historical fiction?"

    I'm trying to nail this down because while attending this year's Pikes Peak Writers Conference I was told the middle grade novel I'm writing is narrative or creative nonfiction and not historical fiction as I'd thought all along. When I met with the Viking Books for Children editor she kept saying, "but why are you calling this historical fiction? Why fiction? This story runs on its own. Why fiction?" And I didn't have an answer for her.

    Next day I spoke with a publisher at the conference and he gave me the term "narrative nonfiction" and after listening to what my novel is about he said that's what my novel was. I've asked this question in other author lists I belong to and have receive some great URLs that talk about the difference between narrative nonfiction and historical fiction.

    The best definition of Creative Nonfiction I've come across is from the book The Art of Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind.

    Creative Nonfiction may include dramatized biography, compilations of articles and essays and book-length memoirs. CNF must go beyond an expression of the self. The personal experiences should connect with the rest of the world and include some kind of research (i.e. secondary research of primary research where the writer interviews other people about the experience) and thus connects the personal experience to the rest of the world. CNF includes such fiction techniques as dialogue, description, point of view and character development.

    Lee Gutkind's website is a veritable storehouse of information on creative nonfiction. His books are also worth looking into.Click this link to access Gutkind's books at amazon.com. You probably can get them from your public library as well.

    Besides Gutkind's website, these are other ones I've come across. Please send me other URLs you know of that explain the difference between these creative/narrative nonfiction and historical fiction. Also, check out my "Narrative Nonfiction Middle Grade Novels" blog and add your titles there. Thanks! Use the "Comments" link to add to this list other URLs that explain what narrative nonfiction is:

  • Creative Nonfiction -- Lee Gutkind
  • Lines in the Mud: Exploring Creative Non-Fiction -- Aaron Pope
  • Narrative Nonfiction: The Art of Being There -- Edward Humes
  • What is Literary Nonfiction? -- University of Oregon

    Creative non-fiction man holds flag that proclaims, "TRUTH!  (sort of)"
  • The Written Word

    Are you all familiar with "thewrittenword"? TheWrittenWordEZine is a daily source of inspiration for writers, editors and publishers. Jade Walker sends these nuggets of inspiration to writers and it's free to subscribe... A recent quote applies to both published and yet-to-be-published writers: persistence is the key, it really is... I am encouraged on a regular basis by these quotes and wanted to share this resource with others... along with how to subscribe to it if you want to (click the link at the beginning of this paragraph). --- Also, if you know of other good sources of encouragement for writers use the "comments" link to blog your suggestions! Thanks.

    5/27/05: Success
    "Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties." --Bonnie Friedman


    Paid Surveys: Bad Telecommuting Jobs

    I'm looking to canvass telecommuting jobs that actually pay. One that comes up frequently is how people can get paid for taking online surveys. Signing up for this was a huge mistake! I've taken several surveys but have received no payment. What I have received is a deluge of spam mail offering me the chance to sign up for even more things.

    The site we signed up under looked credible and had the right message: "Would you believe there are people who make thousands of dollars a month just for giving their opinions? It's quite possible... "The good news is that getting paid for your opinions doesn't involve skill or hard work ..." "You're here to make some money, so let's get...started ...one favor to ask - would you please tell at least two people about us?...We appreciate your help in letting people know about us and your friends will too."

    I very much doubt your friends will thank you if you actually refer them to any of the paid survey sites online. The offers that are pouring in promise free items, from computers to designer bags, to dating services to prescriptions, but to access them you have to sign up (read give credit card info) for "trial" memberships on various offers from known and unknown companies. And not just sign up with one but rather several offers.

    My advice, if you sign up for ANY "paid" survey taking opportunities online: Use a different email.Don't use your regular email to sign up. Use one you can easily delete when it begins receiving spam by the 100s. Do not give personal information out. If they ask for first name, give first initial. If they ask for your birthday, don't give out your real one. Make one up while keeping the year the same. Use January 1 and your birth year. That way you can remember what you used. Don't give your actual street address to the sites you sign up with. If you have a PO Box use that instead.

    My experience with "getting paid to take online surveys" has not been good. This is a thumbs down option as far as I'm concerned. I'd like to hear about other folks' experiences on earning money by taking surveys online. Is there any wheat out there? All I found were weeds.


    Narrative Nonfiction "must reads"

    I'm compiling a list of "must reads" in narrative nonfiction. Looking for additional titles to those Edward Humes lists on his site. Edward Humes - Narrative Nonfiction:

  • The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe

  • Among School Children, by Tracy Kidder

  • The Pine Barrens, by John McPhee

  • Executioner's Song, by Norman Mailer

  • Salvador, by Joan Didion

  • Dispatches, by Michael Herr

  • Hiroshima, by John Hersey

  • In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

  • Also looking for a list of narrative nonfiction titles for middle grade students:

  • ...add your suggested titles to list...
  • 5.28.2005

    The FBI and the High School Yearbooks

    COLORADO SPRINGS--On May 26th I read in our local paper that the FBI will be investigating Mesa Ridge High School's yearbooks. Why? Because under the photo of one student, under the common "The student most likely to..." section of yearbooks there is a "threatening" caption that reads, "the student most likely to assassinate President Bush." How could anyone think this is anything but a joke? Students knew it was a joke.And yet, school staff recalled the yearbooks and blacked out the caption. In the aftermath of 911 folks are throwing away the baby with the bathwater. We run a risk of loosing the most precious thing this country has to offer: freedom.

    I speak to middle grade students about what it was like living in Cuba after Castro took over. I compare that to what it's like living in the USA. I tell them I kiss the ground I walk on here in the States. My mind has yet to grasp the reality that I can stand in the middle of any street and scream at the top of my lungs that I hate President Bush or hate President Clinton or hate this or that political leader and nothing will happen to me. In Cuba one cannot even think about harming its supreme leader without getting in trouble with the law. It strikes me odd how paranoid American society is becoming... to the degree that a tried and true joke section of high school yearbooks now merits the involvement of the Secret Service.

    Americans take for granted the freedoms that surround them. Will they learn to appreciate them before they are gone, driven away by the paranoia that's pushing common sense right out the window? The jury's out on that one.