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Archive for March, 2012

In seeking the silence that feeds my imagination, I went to my favorite park, lovingly called “the trail park” by my children because that’s all that’s there – trails. No playground, no flushing toilets, just trails and nature.

As I perfected my speed walking and burned those pesky calories, I noticed clumps of daffodils in the woods; little communities of yellow, huddling together for warmth on this cool Spring day. I also noticed several daffodil petals on the trail, then a flower stalk, then a flower head. My writer’s mind immediately pictured the villain: a boney little girl with cold, white fingers, tearing apart the flowers and scattering them along the trail, leading my curious mind toward its doom. What was this evil child’s motivation? Was it an expression of frustration, a release of anger because of her over-bearing parents? Did she enjoy the feel of petal fibers shredding as she peeled them away and dropped them to the ground?

As I turned a corner, I saw the culprit. She was boney…and cute. “Mommy,” she called to a woman further down the trail, “look at the trail now! Doesn’t it look prettier?” She skipped away, tossing another petal onto the bland trail, decorating the asphalt with brilliant yellow.

Lesson learned: my trail of actions can easily be misinterpreted, both in my life and in the lives of my characters. Being a writer, I’ll delve into my own life later :) First, how can I use this incite to strengthen my characters?

Antagonists, the ‘bad guys’, are best despised by the reader when he or she isn’t one-dimensional. An evil intention with a purpose creates sympathy. Imagine the reader’s torment if, upon learning the antagonist’s reasons behind his actions, secretly hopes he wins while also cheering the protagonist, the one whose purpose is valiant and worthy.What a dilemma! This recreates the equivalent to two well-matched basketball teams competing during March Madness, the most exciting games to watch!

The background behind the master-mind plots: to take over the world, to win the girl, to get away with the crime – that all leads to a more credible story. Explore the antagonist’s story. Write it. If you take the time away from working on the main plot to have fun writing the story of your evil-minded character, you’ll find a treasure-trove of plot enhancers and personality quirks. I promise.

Why does this work for the reader? Why would a reader cheer for the antagonist? Because we all have a little darkness within us…as seen in my first interpretation of the flower-beheading little girl at the trail park.

Here’s a question to consider… What would happen to your story if the antagonist wins?

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Imagine that you are a writer with a brand-new book on the market. This is a first for you, and by far the scariest thing you’ve ever done. Now imagine handing your book to a New York Times Bestselling Author, who graciously accepts the gift, asks for a way to contact you, and is genuinely thrilled to meet a fellow author.

That happened to me tonight.

Brandon Mull came to our local bookstore. His books hooked my youngest daughter into the written word. Since finishing his Fablehaven series, she has read over fifteen books in the last month. Considering that she read three books last year, this is huge news in the Schaub house!

I returned to the line of adoring fans with a copy of my book, Gateways, faced the possibility of being “that author”; you know, the one who stalks famous people and slips books or screenplays into their bags in hopes that it will be read, liked, and endorsed. He made no promises as to what he would do and I completely respect that. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest hurdle for me was to dig up the courage to hand him a copy – and it took every ounce of my courage and some borrowed bravery from my twelve-year-old daughter.

This was my first experience meeting a successful author and thanks to his approachable ease with fans, he has encouraged me to keep on keeping on, to stay the course, and to fearlessly network.

Thank you, Brandon, for the time you spent with each reader, for making our first experience at a book signing so memorable. I am truly grateful for your kind response and acceptance of my book. My kids are still giddy from their evening with a star and I expect it to last for weeks!

If you haven’t read Brandon’s books, I highly recommend them. They are written for middle-grade children (and the middle-aged), filled with adventure,  fun sibling banter, fairies and monsters, appealing to boys and girls (men and women) alike.

The moral of the story: Believe in your writing and take chances.

Long live excellent literature for kids!

Note the incredible smile on the daughter in red :)

 

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I am into my third month of promoting my first book, Gateways (available at amazon.com), and I’ve had precious little time to write. This dilemma is stretching how I organize my time and forcing me to strengthen the purpose of my to-do list and still find time for my family.

Before Gateways was released, I spent about 15 minutes every Sunday evening scheduling my week: when I would work on home-schooling, when I would read, time to write, meal preparations, outing with kids, grocery shopping, and sleep. I still do that, but my writing time is now divided up into three categories:

Actual writing time

Time for marketing

Blogging

This week I added a fourth category: Public Speaking, which also includes the preparation for classroom & library visits as well as the actual visit.

I will be very honest – it’s exhausting! If I don’t keep my mind and my house organized, I can feel my day slip away without accomplishing a single thing. This writing/marketing/home-schooling gig is also overwhelming if I allow it. There are sell sheets to prepare, a guest speaker flyer to design, bookstores to visit, lessons to teach, papers to grade, and schools to contact.

Here’s how I’m managing…

On Sunday night, I make a list of three to five things I can do for marketing my work. This week I will post three blogs, contact three schools to be considered as a guest speaker, and prepare several Twitter and Facebook posts for my writing profile pages. For writing, I will complete three chapters on my next book. After all, three is the magic number.

The same goes for the rest of my life – Monday through Friday, from 7:30 AM – Noon, I am a homeschooling mom. Throughout nap time – or Quiet Reading Time for my older children – I am a writer. In the evening after the family is asleep, I work on marketing. Every now and then, I have to use nap time to implement the marketing plans, but that now falls under the ‘writer’ category. When that happens, I write at night when the house is quiet.

The secret to the success in growing into a writer is the fact that I am treating my writing as a business. Imagine the job you have now…(allow dreamy music to settle in your brain)… You likely have a set start and end time. Your job description is specific. You know what to do, when to do it and what will happen if you don’t. Writing, or any big dream, is the same way. It only happens through dedication. By setting business hours, keeping appointments with writing groups and bookstores, and in maintaining a connection with my writing co-workers, I find that everything I need to make my writing dreams into publishing dreams a reality is present.

My time is up – the baby is awake! Happy Dreams-to-Reality-Planning to you!

Jessica

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Pop-Quiz!

I’d like to give a big shout of thanks to all the people who help me quiz my children on their academic standings. No, really, I mean it! It’s so helpful to bump into people in the middle of the day, who upon learning that we home-school, proceed to ask, “What’s the capital of New Jersey?” “What do you call an insect without a backbone?” and my personal favorite, “I can buy five cans of tomatoes for $4.00, plus I have a coupon for 20% off my entire order. How much will the tomatoes cost?”

Sarcasm aside, I’m both puzzled and thankful for this phenomenon. Academics are crucial to the success of anyone who wishes to have a decent career. But math doesn’t hold the same importance for a writer as it does for someone interested in becoming a doctor. Words are lovely when they are crafted into a well-written blog post or story, but they do little to organize finances. To think that one pop-quiz in the middle of the grocery store or at the park is going to determine the quality of home-education is ridiculous.

What matters in the overall education of a child is character development, faith formation, and perseverance in the face of adversity. I’m still waiting for someone to ask the girls, “What is the most valuable lesson you are learn from being home-schooled?” I’m quite certain “I know that Trenton is the capitol of New Jersey” will not be the answer.

This is a slice of what homeschooling looks like, but missing in this mini-slide show are the field trips, the science lessons, and vacations that are rooted in history lessons. And I have yet to capture a picture of the emotional bonds that homeschooling creates, but rest assured that when I do, I will post it here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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You may notice that I haven’t posted a new chapter of Unforgettable Roads recently. Unfortunately, I will not be posting any more of it for a time. I’m submitting the entire manuscript to agents in hope of finding a route to traditional publishing. My first book, Gateways, (now available at Amazon…shameless plug, I know) is doing well and receiving great comments and feedback. If you want to take a peek at the first few chapters, you can do that right on amazon’s website.

So what have I been doing with my time? Working on a new short story, which I will post as soon as it meets my standards and has been approved by my husband and kids (they are incredibly helpful in preparing stories!) and working on planning a Catholic Women’s Conference in the Diocese of Lansing – an event which found it’s roots in the power of a group of Deacon’s wives who went to Bishop Boyea and requested such an event. The Bishop was thrilled with the idea and has been extremely encouraging throughout our planning. Our website is still growing, but check it out @ http://www.LansingDioceseCWC.com and mark your calendars for Saturday, October 27th 2012, and join me and a thousand other women for a day of reflection, rejuvenation, worship and renewal.

Until next time,

Jessica

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Mothers are not only blessed with the care of little souls, but are gifted with a plethora of story fodder. Here’s just a few of my own:

  • Writing Therapy: to the man at the grocery store: Your rudeness will live on forever in a new story. And yes, you will be the bad guy. And don’t ever forget, the bad guy ALWAYS loses
  • Story sources: Fire department rushes to home with black, noxious fumes pouring out of the kitchen and successfully put out fire and help parents scrape melted plastic toys out of inside of oven.
  • Tales of Love and Loss: Mom’s wedding ring is flushed down the toilet.
  • Comedy: Just match up a potty-training toddler and a PMS mother. The stories practically write themselves.
  • Romance: Mom finishes all the household chores, puts the kids to bed, cleans the kitchen, locks all the doors, pulls all the shades down, lets the dog out one more time, picks up legos and dresses all the dolls (I feel bad for naked dolls), and crawls into bed to see that twinkle in her husband’s eye. Oh wait, this could be a tragedy!
  • Comedy: Barf-a-rama! being vomited on at the grocery store, at the shoe store, and at the zoo.
  • Mystery: Where are the scissors? Who stole my lipstick? What is that? What happened to the last twenty years?!
  • Sci-Fi: The strange things kids ooze…or would that be more of a horror story?
  • Non-fiction: the strange phenomenon that occurs when kids behave for other adults and misbehave for parents.
  • Self-help: a hundred come-backs for that terrible question, “Are all these kids yours?” Or the stupid statement, “Wow, you must be busy!”

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Feminine Genius. I like that term. Blessed John Paul II used it in several encyclicals, but it has only recently come to my attention. The concept of Feminine Genuis first appeared at the closing message of the Second Vatican Council. No matter what your view of the Catholic Church or your standing on women’s rights, this is a golden statement about the necessity and influence of women:

“The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling” (Second Vatican Council).

Think about it: Being a woman is a trip! Our vocation is absolutely unique. We are given amazing bodies that can bring new life into the world, we can do everything a man can do (and do it better sometimes) but still can’t open a jar of pickles without straining and looking rather unseemly as that vein on our temple nearly bursts. Our spouses, boyfriends, brothers and fathers, as manly and strong as they are, are dumbfounded at our complexities and unsure how to proceed when we give them “the look”. You know what I’m talking about!

We are tall or short, thin or plump, endowed or ready to run without a bra. We can laugh until tears blind us and our breath comes in gasping catches when our girlfriends tell a story, and we can cry at the death of a baby bird – a creature we didn’t even realize had been born under the eaves of our back porch until its little body is found floating in the wading pool (actual experience).

I was born after the feminine revolution of the 60’s, raised by a stay-at-home mom and now I am a stay-at-home mom. Motherhood is a 24-7 gig. It is the vocation I choose although sometimes I feel like it choose me. I love it, but I will also admit that there are days (usually laundry days or when the baby is teething) that I crave a 9-5 job with nice clothes and a pay check. Instead of swanky office chatter and big business presentations, I endure piano and violin practices, diapers and four little mouths that are always ready for the next meal. My job has no start time and no clock to punch. Vacations are included in the motherhood package, but they are taken in snippets during naps and the infrequent outings with girlfriends or my husband.

I do feel the burden of being a woman and a mother. It wears me thin to think that the mess I just cleaned up will return the next day. I have yet to walk into the kitchen without spying a dirty dish. And the only time that my house is clean is when…well, that hasn’t happened yet and I don’t expect it will any time soon.

Since I refuse to sell the kids and hire an interior designer, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing I can change is how I view my life.

So I will practice Feminine Genius; the art of taking what I have and filtering it through the gifts I have to empower the people in my life. The Catholic Church says that the influence women have on this world has never before been achieved. What do I have? Imagination, baby! I will no longer look at the laundry as a chore, but a mining expedition in search of stray gems hidden deep in pockets and after they are washed, I will be thankful for all the beautiful clothing we have. Mopping will now give me the satisfaction of being able to look back at a job well done, even if it lasts from now until the next muddy boot. Cooking is an endeavor I enjoy with my children, teaching them the art of chopping, smelling new herbs, taste-testing and following a recipe; all time well spent making memories. (It also helps that whoever helps the least in making dinner does the dishes.)

I can practice my feminine genius in many small ways, too. I will read that book for the fiftieth time, dig under the couch for the run-a-way legos, wipe a nose, kiss a cheek and dry those tears. I will do all things with immense gratitude in my heart because God gave me children to love, not spoil or ignore, but love. The genius of a mother finds its source of power in the love that God feeds us. I want to do this motherhood thing well and tomorrow will bring another opportunity to do it even better!

When a woman, no matter what her life situation, gracefully accepts her role as a wife, a single woman, mother, daughter, aunt, employee or manager, the beauty of the feminine genius fills her thoughts with empowering inspiration. And our actions follow our most powerful thoughts.

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