Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SCBWI Conference: The Little Thing in My Wallet

I've been taking steps towards becoming a writer.  A real-life, make-no-bones-about-it children's book writer.  Someone who wakes up early, gets her thoughts out, toils over manuscripts, thinks good and neat thoughts and then works on trying to put them into the minds of children.  It's what I always knew I wanted to be; it is what I always knew I was on the inside.

It was just time to let it out.

I've done a lot of things from my own home: read hundreds of children's books, maintained a children's book blog, written a half dozen manuscripts, kept a running list of book ideas.  But those were all done mostly in private and, I confess, largely in pajamas.  Late last year I wanted to go public with my dream.  I aimed to (enter drumroll here) attend a conference!  Yup, you know you're big time when you attend a conference.  I was already a (low-profile, hardly contributing) member of the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators, so I stepped it up and signed up for their annual winter conference in New York City.  As I signed my writer self up for the conference, I made realistic goals for myself: meet people, learn a lot about the industry, look for publishing opportunities, pick up writing tools, get inspired and motivated.

About a month before the conference, I realized that I needed to have something in my wallet: a business card!  My very own business card!  Yes--that was going to be my Valentine gift to myself.  I was full of daydreams: I envisioned writer Kate confidently introducing herself to another writer or publisher or illustrator, having a charming and witty and intelligent conversation, and them wanting to get in touch with me.  In my daydream, I reached into my purse and pulled out a business card and said something clever and confident and funny while exchanging contact information.

And then, overnight, my manuscripts would be in the right hands.  TA-DAA!

So I ordered up some business cards.  And I was as giddy as my kids on Christmas day when they arrived.  Here's what was suddenly in my wallet, much to my own excitement:

I felt so cool!  I was suddenly and magically legit.  The real thing.  A real, honest-to-goodness writer.  It was like having Willy Wonka's golden ticket tucked away in my own little wallet.  I had the key IN.

So I attended said conference and had a great time achieving my goals of, basically, being an observant bump on a log.  Meeting people was a little more difficult even for extravert me.  But, on the second and final morning, before a bunch of awards were given out by a super successful author (Jane Yolen!) and wildly successful illustrator (Tomie dePaola!), I sat next to an illustrator who lives near me.  After chatting for about ten minutes, I worked up the urge to say, casually: "Want to exchange information?" as if this was the normal thing to do.  Really, I just didn't want to get back on my southbound train with all 60 of my brand new business cards.  59 would be so much lighter, easier to carry...

She said, "Oh yes!"  And as she fumbled through her purse to her wallet, where she grabbed her business card, we exchanged a hearty laugh at the fact that we had BOTH gotten these business cards for ourselves for this conference, and this was the very first time we had pulled one out.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dancing in the Kitchen

On Valentine's Day, there was a dance party in my kitchen.

It wasn't the first, and I sure hope it won't be the last.

I've got three kids who love to rock out in the silliest ways.  A few times a week--often when one of us is in what we call a "poopy mood" (and that one of us is sometimes me) and needs to be pushed in the direction of a better attitude--I put some dance tunes on and we all move our bodies in whatever way our bodies want to move.

My oldest son Ben probably has the best moves.  He points his fingers and extends his legs and makes faces like those crazy bands in the '80s used to.  He taps his knee, incorporates ninja-like moves, and often falls to the floor in what he calls breakdancing moves but really look like spasms of joyful movements with kicks and twists and twirls, all on our shabby kitchen floor that has seen way too many spills (which are now incorporated in his outfit).
Ben (in the back)...gettin' down with his little bro.

My youngest son Kiefer looks to Ben, as all younger siblings look to their older cohorts.  He does a miniature version of whatever Ben does, with his lips puckered and eyes narrowed in concentration.  Since he's not yet three, he doesn't have as much control over his body, so his movements are a little fatter and a little cuter; they involve a lot of high-knee marching and pausing with his legs in a wide straddle.  It is inexplicable and adorable!

Kiefer of the Orange Socks dances with his big brother Ben
Lorelei is older than both boys but she gets into it just as much.  She likes to be a little more graceful, but, happily for this tomboy-turned-mom, she can also get down on her back and pick up last nights' crumbs while "breakdancing" with the boys.  She steps in and out with her feet and doesn't feel awkward at all making up her own pattern as she feels her own rhythm.  The only one with long hair, I've taught her how to get her ponytail involved in the dance (some might call it head-banging; what can I say?  I spent time in Seattle in the '90s!).

Sweet Lorelei sashaying by herself.
I join in. I feel like they need an example of how to commit to dancing, so I have a great time shimmying and shaking my hips with them.  I dust off my show choir moves from high school and spin and dance and do my version all the latest hip-hop moves.  I twirl my kids around and around and around--until they are a dizzy heap of giggle.  I exercise my ham gene and grab whatever kitchen tool isn't put away (usually I have many to choose from) and use it as a microphone to lip synch the song.

I want them to dance!  I want them to move!  I want them to laugh!

And they do.  For right now, they sure do.

In my kitchen, the safest and most comforting of all the rooms in their secure little home, they know they can dance however they want to dance.  Anything is allowed, and everything is fun.  And, like Pete the Cat says, it's all good.

There are no snarky classmates pointing out that boys shouldn't dance with other boys.  And so Ben and Kiefer dance wildly together, arm in arm, spinning each other around.

There are no frenemies looking on, casting a judgement-filled gaze that says it all: dancing should have official, known, recognizable dance moves.  And so, my kids continue to make up their own dance moves, and they dance them in unfettered, joyful spurts.

There are no crushes on the side of the dance floor to tone down their enthusiasm and make them self-conscious and make them worried that they look stupid.  And so they embrace their inner dancer with wild enthusiasm and simply have fun.

There are no cool kids rolling their eyes at the fact that they are dancing with their mom. Their mom!  How utterly uncool!  And so they grab my hands and ask me to twirl them again, or ask me to pick them up and duck them under my legs, or just put their head on my shoulder and let me do all the work.  (Which I gladly do.)

I know, at some point, their awesome dance moves will wilt a little under the harsh glint of peer pressure and their human desire to fit in.  It will break my heart a little to see them stop themselves, rein themselves in, critique their own dance moves until they blend in with the crowd.

This sort of wilting is inevitable, I guess, but I hope for two things: First, that my kitchen can always be a place of insane, crazy, judgement-free dancing; second, that they unlearn the silliness of toning themselves down in their adulthood and dance like crazy with their kids.  I have a hand in these two things, so I keep the dance music playing and dance my mom-self away with wild enthusiasm.

One has to set an example, after all...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Coming Out. And Believing.

Last year I came out of the closet.  As a writer.  Nothing more dangerous than that.

Since I was in grade school, my hobbies remain the same: reading, writing, and running.  Clearly, I'm borderline boring, but fairly content with that.

Four years ago, when my daughter, Lorelei, was nearly three, and my oldest son Ben was 18 months, I started a blog to chronicle the books we read together.  It was a journal-like review of the book, telling the faithful reader of my blog (note the single tense: the lone faithful reader was my mom, my die-hard fan for life) what Lorelei and I got out of the book.  (Should that readership want to grow to two, the blog, Kate's Bookery can be located by clicking here.)  It was a fun exercise in looking at the big picture while looking at picture books with my daughter and infant son.  If nothing else, it was a cool momento of stories from their toddler/preschool years that they would have forever.

But, a few years later, I wanted more.  Funny how that works.  My youngest son, Kiefer, will be in preschool in the fall, and I would like to take my writing more seriously.  I want to actualize this dream that's been inside me for decades.  This dream is as impatient as Kiefer, stomping his feet and calling out stubbornly, "NOW!  NOW!" in the rudest way.

So, what's a mom to do?  I started to invest in myself a little more each month.  I set aside an hour each morning before the kids wake up to write (something!  anything!  just get some words down!), I joined a writer's group, I read from my work (live!  not just posted something online and walked away as who-knows-who read it!), I joined this Slice of Life gang.  I started doing little things to help myself, and I started talking about it with others.

And people are listening.  My friends and a handful of strangers have been kind and encouraging.  My husband provided space in our toy-stuffed house for a new-old (antique!) writing table.  My best friend introduced me not as a stay-at-home-mom but as a writer.  A writer.  I got all choked up then, and still get all choked up now thinking about it.

The coolest thing, though? My kids listen.  I've told them I want to write children's books so they pepper me with story ideas all day, every day, thinking it takes a mere day to create a storyline, find an illustrator, and publish the actual book.  But they tell their teachers, which is sweet and neat.

On New Year's Eve, we sat together as a family and wrote down our memories of 2013 and our hopes and dreams of 2014.  We're a lucky bunch, so both lists were long, and the kids have no idea what feasibility is so the stuff they wanted to accomplish in 2014 is funny--either huge like "go to Peru" or simple "learn to ride a bike."

A few days later, I looked at the list, still posted in our dining room.  And I saw that Lorelei had added something:

When nagging self-doubt bubbles up in me, I think of this.  And I think, well Lorelei believes.

And I start to believe again, too.  In myself.