he Big Apple! Normally, I am a big fan of apples--I even have two apple trees.
I saw the email come across my computer in the fall and thought, "Maybe I'll do it. I'll hop on a train and head out to New York City to the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators winter conference taking place the second weekend of February. After all, it's February. Dark. Cold. A good time to shake things up.
Part of it felt like a good excuse to get some alone time and focus on my writing. Another part of me was wondering what it was like to attend a writing conference solely as a participant since for the last several years I have been a volunteer at the New England SCBWI Spring Conference either as a Manuscript Critique Coordinator or more recently as a Volunteer Coordinator since there were no Manuscript Critiques at last spring's conference. And then, there was the fact that there was no conference, altogether, planned for New England in 2024.
That left New York to seem like something worth trying!
Even if only for one year. And after this conference?
Yes, one year was all I need.
I have to admit that just sitting on a train for four hours, alone and in the designated Quiet Car sounded like a rare luxury that I looked forward to, and even though I may not be eager to attend another NY conference any time soon, I am glad I went even though it was admittedly a bit of a steep and pricey learning curve.
First lesson, when they say "coffee" from 7-8am on the first day of the conference before the welcome, they mean just coffee, and tea, and you're lucky if even just that holds out for the full hour. Luckily, I drink tea because they ran out of coffee that first day before 8am. Those of us used to the New England conference where there's fruit, bagels, muffins and pastries available had to rush down to buy an overpriced muffin three floors down at the hotel's grab'n'go store. Oh, right, conference participants got 15% off their purchases, though you couldn't make use of that if you arrived before Saturday because you needed your name badge to get the discount. The vendor assured me that there was actually something for free: the receipt. At least he had a sense of humor:) Luckily I do, too.
I was happy to run into Federico Erebia, an author I knew from back "home," who I had met because he was one of the volunteers at the New England conference. It was so nice to see a familiar face. Another unexpected face? A gal I graduated with from high school, Andrea Keyo, who happened to sit next to me at a workshop. What are the odds??!! It was so great to see her--she was one of the high school friends that I never saw outside of school but we had a lot of fun in our library study block. She had done a pivot from lawyering to writing and NY was her first conference.
One thing to know when you go to a conference is that there is a lot of stuff in a very little amount of time, so you will leave absolutely exhausted. Even an imagined "veteran" like me was ready for a one month hibernation after my trip to NY. I really enjoyed the speakers and the workshops. I feel like I took some great tips away, but honestly it was the personal stuff that helped me justify the cost and time. My two run-ins with familiar faces were highlights along with a planned run-in with a friend I had met while spending a semester in Ireland for college and that I had not seen in, I think we did the math, 18 years!
It ended up that she was only available at Saturday night, which was when the networking events were happening as part of the conference. But, honestly, I was so exhausted by Saturday night that I was really looking forward to easy conversation with an old friend more than having to put forth the brain power that would be required to network and make connections with strangers--even those I had the commonality of writing with. So, it was like a mental vacation to meet up with my old pal Lisa and catch each other up on the last almost-two-decades of our lives. We had a great burger and some beers and even--like the old Irish Catholic ladies we are--took time out to duck into St. Patrick's Cathedral to light a candle and say a prayer for a couple of sick people in our lives.
Seeing Lisa? "The" highlight!:)
As with so many things in life: it's the human connection that makes the difference.
So, I had some fun! Was it because of the conference?
Actually, I think the conference was exhausting and frustrating with how expensive it was, how cumbersome it felt at times, how little it offered for the price, and how it seemed they wasted opportunities, like when people flooded the ballroom to look at portfolios on Friday night. The ample space in the room was not well used. The portfolios were all crammed on a few tables so that everybody was looking over shoulders as someone else turned the pages of a portfolio. Only an hour and a half was allotted to that event, which was definitely not enough time to look at portfolios, let alone reconnect and try to network with people we hadn't seen in a year or wanted to get to know at the same time. It was practically over before it began. Perhaps scheduling the networking events for Friday night, when people were charged up and had energy, would have been better than sticking networking at the end of a long Saturday.
That's my honest reflection. Between the train ride, the hotel cost, the cost of the actual conference (and that doesn't count if you paid extra for a critique, which I did not) and then food--it's really, really expensive if the only reason you're there is to attend the conference. But--luckily I connected with an old friend, I ran into another, and I got free tickets to sit in the studio audience of Stephen Colbert's The Late Show where I was fortunate enough to see Stephen Colbert, but also his two guests that night: Billy Joel and Ryan Gosling. Yes, Ken! My teenage daughters were very jealous!
Was there are robbery and a shooting where a Brazilian tourist got shot while I was watching Ryan Gosling present a mink fur coat to Stephan Colbert and then walk out unaware of the manhunt going on only blocks away? Sure.
I like to walk and so I made good use of my Friday covering miles of New York: Central Park, Madison Ave, 5th Ave, the Empire State Building and Times Square (where the prior night's shooting took place). I asked the door man at the Empire State Building for a good place for lunch. My hot tip: The Playwright's Tavern! Besides the receipt, it was the one thing I got "free" in NY. Any beverage with lunch was free and of course I maximized the value by ordering a beer--the house ale (or lager? I can't remember, but it was good--even if it wasn't free:).
There was something so exhilarating about walking as far as I wanted in whatever direction I wanted for as long as I wanted without any teenagers complaining about how long we'd been walking, getting hungry or wondering, "Why are we going this way?" What I needed more than a conference, was some freedom. You need that every now and then.
So, am I glad I went?
Will I go next year?
But, like carrot cake is sometimes just a way to get the cream cheese frosting, a little professional development can be a good way to get out into the world, connect with friends expected and unexpected, and to travel and see the world beyond your front yard. Also, it served as a good dry run for the DC trip my family was planning to take the following week--also on the same train.:)
One thing that can be a struggle for many of us--writers, artists or not--is making connections, building community and forcing ourselves to be social. Despite the unpredictable weather, Wakefield's Festival by the Lake on Saturday, June 10, 2023 provided a wonderfully casual way to do just that and connect the good old-fashioned way: face to face.
In my capacity as director of The Room to Write, I like to think of the festival as a big party that presents a wonderful opportunity to introduce our nonprofit to the public, answer questions, and a great way to find out what the community needs from our organization in terms of programming and support for writers of all ages and all levels.
This year we were fortunate to have four local authors as guests in our tent available to talk to, purchase books from and to have books signed. Each author sees book events as more than just an opportunity to sell books. It's a chance to be social, to connect with their audience and to meet author creative people looking for community.
Local author essayist and TRtW's Coordinator for Senior & Veterans Programming Linda Malcom joined us to start the day at 10am with her collection of essays, Cornfields to Codfish. To learn more about Linda and her book click here or watch her interview as part of our Journey of a Story series here.
Local writer Lisa Varchol Perron stopped by next at 11am with her nonfiction picture book, Patterns Everywhere, and her very sweet board book about unconditional and enduring nature of a mother's love, My Love for You. To learn more about Lisa and her books click here or watch her interview as part of a collaborative project with WCAT Studios here.
Next up, the wonderful Monica Acker came by with her picture book Brave Like Mom. She received a visit from a family who appreciated the beautiful message in her book. If you would like to learn more about Monica and her book, click here or watch her interview where she talks about the inspiration for her book as well as the process of bringing it to publication.
At 1pm Christine Ricci-McNamee was happy to talk about her children's picture books, Logan and the Lost Luggage and Louella and the Librarian. If you would like to follow Christine on Instagram click here or learn more about her writing journey by watching her interview here.
Last, but certainly not least, David Watts Jr joined us as representative of Boston Pen People. He was under our tent when the rain started to pour and the thunder roared and yet people still found their way to our table to talk to him about all things pens--fountain, dip and otherwise.
Big shout out to Tom Furrier at Cambridge Typewriter who made sure our typewriters were up to snuff and had all the ink they needed to be sure the steady stream of kids who stopped by would leave with their words printed onto their paper of choice. It's always so much fun to see how much fun writing can be for the youngest among us.
The Room to Write will be on hiatus for the summer months, except for our Writers and Illustrators Meet & Greet in July, but we look forward to seeing you on a more consistent basis in the fall.
Like so many of us, I wear several hats. One of the hats I wear is Founder and Director of the non-profit: The Room to Write. In that capacity, I write blog entries for The Room to Write's website blog. Sometimes my two hats: non-profit director and creative writer, have commonalities. This is one of those instances where a blog post I wrote for TRtW also works really well as an author blog post. So, here is my posting in its entirety:
There's something about spring and, in particular, the month of May that makes everybody buzz about seeking new ways to grow, not only in the garden but in their spiritual life, family life, professional life, and--hopefully--their creative life.
Sometimes our creative lives take a back seat to all the other lives we maintain.
If you're hoping to grow in your creative life, a wonderful and free resource is available to you thanks to a collaboration and sponsorship from Wakefield Community Access Television (WCAT) studios titled The Journey of a Story interview series.
No matter what genre you write in and regardless of the age your target audience is, some things remain constant in writing, and we have uncovered some really helpful insights that can save you a lot of time and frustration when it comes to the publication process.
In The Room to Write's interview series, The Journey of a Story, we focus on the writing and publication process rather than the content of each book. We're not at all interested in an author's pedigree, but we are very curious about the obstacles in each author's journey that they had to overcome in order to persevere all the way to publication. We love to learn about time-and-sanity-saving hacks!
We're not so much interested in plot twists as we are curious how a writer battled writer's block, formatted a query letter, found an agent, and the nitty gritty details of the revision process. The Journey of a Story series is a high-quality series on a low budget because--let's face it--most writers are not making a living from their creative writing projects and publications. By day they are teachers, doctors, financial advisors, therapists, and successful entrepreneurs. Other writers have only found the time to write after they retired from their full-time jobs.
So, tune into 30 (currently) different interviews of authors who write everything from adult romance to children's picture books, poems to plays, kids non-fiction to adult essays. It's quite an eclectic group and they share generously from their experiences. The one commonality? They are all from New England, with the vast majority reside in Massachusetts.
So sit back, tuck it, top off and learn how real writers write and how they eventually publish!
Although we should instinctively know that when we build anything there will be work involved, we still sometimes expect (hope?) that the work won't be hard or even that we won't know that we're working at all.
A conference is one of those events that presents itself as something fun and simple, but that actually can be quite exhausting because usually a conference is part of an attempt on our part to build something: knowledge, a supportive network, a bridge to a place where we'd like to live or at least visit more often. Here I am at the NESCBWI Spring Conference and I have to say I'm pretty tired, but not so tired that I'm not sitting here and writing this. That's a win! I'm writing--something, anything: this:)
The tricky thing about things like conferences is that I need to remember they are like Thanksgiving: there is a lot of great stuff, you're going to see lots of people, you're going to eat lots of food (not all healthy), and you might need a nap at odd intervals. The smart people take naps. I am not a smart conference attendee. I did not nap. There's just too much going on and there are just too many amazing and creative people all in one spot to take a break from.
Which brings me to what I have found to be one of the most important, but often the most challenging, aspects of a conference: meeting new people and reconnecting with people I haven't seen in a long time--especially since this is the first in-person conference since before the pandemic. Building creative community is probably one of the things I enjoy most. I love learning about others and then finding a way to connect them with someone else. Rinse and repeat. It takes effort and sometimes my brain cells and memory don't cooperate, but that's what laughter is for. Laughter is the Modge Podge I brush generously over the top of everything to smooth things out. Or make things worse, but usually better . . . I think:)
So, get out there. Sign up. Pack your bag. Put that name tag on and shove yourself into awkward situations and then, when it gets really awkward, get over it and move on and laugh a little along the way.
Eventually you'll start to build a community and find yourself beyond your expiration date writing a semi-incoherent and possibly rambling blog entry on a random bench in a hotel hallway.
As part of The Room to Write's Senior and Veterans programming, we have writing days that are more casual and unstructured. We call those writing days: Gather & Write. It's a way to make time for writing during the week that is less structured. An instructor shows up and offers a writing prompt or two, or whatever, to the group--something to get the wheels turning and the pen writing.
Being the only "poet" in the group has propelled me to utilize the time I am at the writing prompt helm to offer up something poetic. Not everybody in the group that gathers is necessarily interested in writing poetry--per se--but, really, poems are simply words that sometimes appear in a flowing sundress, sometimes in a polo shirt, and other times squeezed into a tuxedo and bowtie.
For Valentine's Day, I decided to give the group a glimpse of a well-dressed poem. What form stood out to me as appropriate for the special day? The Sonnet, of course. When you think Sonnet, you often think Shakespeare. That might make you nervous, but it shouldn't. Shakespeare was in love with words. That's it. Sometimes passion can cause a person to get carried away, and so that is all that was--a man who got carried away with words. He was truly in love with words and so am I.
Now, do I sit at home crafting sonnets all day or even once a week?
I am more of a free-verse poet, but I do enjoy a challenge every now and then. Think of a sonnet as a word puzzle. Puzzles aren't always meant to be easy. They are meant to get your mind churning and working until: voila! You have solved it--or you come close to solving it. There is a satisfaction in that. Sonnets can be wonderful exercise for our brains!
I printed out some background, information and examples of the sonnet using a very helpful website, which you can access at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/sonnet
Keeping with the clothing theme, I told participants to think of a sonnet as a Corsette. Sonnets are a very tight poetic format. There are rules--strict ones. The sonnet forces you in place. It can be painful, but we persevered.
You know what? Some participants actually enjoyed it. Others scoffed and at least one or two outright refused to conform to the format, which is perfectly fine. Still many surprised themselves with what they produced.
I was one of them. Having been the person to force this poetic form upon the group, I was stumped when it came to sitting and writing until I simply decided to write about having to write a sonnet itself and the difficulty it posed for me.
Give it a try! Who knows--you may just find yourself despising it and then enjoying it:)
Here is the sonnet I produced that day using the ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme:
The Sonnet Structure
Thinking outside the box can be so hard
especially when the box is not square
but instead a stretching, boundless vast yard
where we normally wander anywhere.
And so, I sit and struggle with this form
a torment brought upon by my own hand.
My mind is like a literary storm.
My thoughts forced into sonnet cannot stand.
Sonnet poetry, why do you exist,
forcing me to count like a little kid?
Out from under your thumb I turn and twist.
I didn't think I'd like this, but--I did.
A glutton for puzzles and punishment,
for literary suffering--I'm meant!
I just did something for myself. Well--not counting the KitKat bar I just asked my second born for. She obliged willingly taking it out of her sibling's bag. I shouldn't have accepted or condoned or whatever crime it was to allow my second born to take a chocolate from one of the other born's bag for my own craving--but it's Friday, so I did.
Anyway, that was not what I did for myself. What I just did was participate in a poetry workshop. On Zoom, which I'm a bit sick of . . . but it was free, and I needed something. Like the KitKat, but for my creative spirit. I needed somebody to feed me creatively and force me to produce something creative. The workshop was sponsored by International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG) and facilitated by Warrior Poet Kai Coggin. She'll be offering a poetry intensive workshop if you are looking to get creative. Find out about that here.
Here is the poem the workshop helped me produce. It's a draft--as everything is:)
She sat there
in our ordinary kitchen.
My cup of tea, still hot,
perfectly sweet and splash of milk.
Ordinary black. Stringless bag. Sinking. Steeping.
She sat there
knowing she wouldn't stay.
She couldn't --
-- wear out her welcome
-- be taken for granted.
Sitting there--as if always.
In our kitchen
every ordinary, sleepy Saturday.
Tea and talk, dancing.
So simple until she slipped away
to another kitchen,
somebody else's unassuming moment.
Sometimes weekends away are relaxing. Some are more along the lines of work. Other times they are a hybrid of the two and you come away exhausted but content. But, definitely exhausted:)
Two weekends ago I went on a "retreat" that I had no business going on because life was rather ramped up at the moment with four kids back to school and sports exploding all over the calendar in addition to those not-so-savory things a person has to do--like clean the house, do the laundry, break into the fall wardrobe while still floating the summer shorts.
Don't even get me started on the socks!
Socks. On the floor. A basket of matchless singles growing and growing. Smelly socks stuffed in shoes. Inside out socks in the middle of the stairs. Even socks OUTSIDE! Enough about the socks. On this retreat there wasn't a sock in sight. :)
There I was, on a writer's retreat to Squam Lake. What a beautiful location! So beautiful that it was a challenge to not spend the whole time walking around exploring or jumping in the lake. I was there to focus on my writing, so I soaked all the nature in from a comfortable and semi-productive distance.
What was so exhausting about that?
Well, it was a bit like a mini-conference and anybody who has ever been to a conference knows there's a lot of talking, meeting people, introducing yourself, figuring out what it is you might tell them, wondering more about them, and sharing a room with a stranger. Sure, she'll feel like a friend by the end of the weekend, but there's a process and so sharing a room can add to the lethargy. Throw in a wonderful old cabin that doesn't muffle anything and only amplifies every footstep and shift of weight. A toilet flushing? Sounds like Niagra Falls has just dumped down the walls and onto the floor.
It's all part of the charm, but also the process of allowing yourself to be uncomfortable, a little awkward, and eventually feel a bit like family when it's all said and done. It was a great experience and it felt so good to meet so many wonderful, creative, nerdy minds like myself. People who wrote, researched, animated, edited, agented, revised, read, made dolls and were all interested in each other. It's a great feeling to be surrounded by people committed to creativity!
The weather was perfect. Everything was photogenic, as you'll see below, and the whole experience helped me to grow a little bit more as a writer, a reader, and a member of the big wide creative community I love being a part of.
Delete. It's magic and it's a curse that's available at the touch of a finger.
No wand required.
This (here) text block had previously waxed poetic about Due Dates.
Yes, I went on about it for about the same length I will consequently go on about Dew Points, but with one important difference: I deleted the block about Due Dates.
Did I mean to? No. I had inserted an image and then something went kaflooey, as things tend to do in the tech world, and as I thought, "Maybe I should copy the text in case something goes wrong." Another thought pushed that first thought out of the way insisting, "Just keep going--fast. Do it. Press that little 'x' and only the image will disappear, not all of the text too."
So, I went with option number two and "Delete" happened. And, worse? I did not see an "Undo" for the life of me.
Come on! No "undo" to hit?
I'm not rewriting it. I'm writing this rant instead and since this is a blog and not a term paper, or a novel, I can do that.
Thank the good Lord for blogs and journals.
Now, onto Dew Points . . .
Wow--how did I go most of my life without caring or even knowing what these were?
It's not the heat, it's the humidity. No--it's the dew point! Dang that number that either means I'm going to have a refreshing breeze dance by or that I'm going to feel beads of sweat gather and drip down my back or from the inside crease of my elbow at some point. Ugh and ew!
Does that change anything? No. But today started out with a dew point in the 70s, which is nasty, and it ends somewhere in the 50s, which is Shangri-La.
After a summer that has been moist in all the worst ways and yet somehow extremely dry also in all the worst ways, I am running towards September and its promise of low dew points and long sweaters with absolute adoration in my eyes.
I have a few wonderful events coming up that will mark the transition from summer--when I let my brain go into detox and veg mode--to fall--when I fire up my pens and all things start to buzz and bubble with energy. Next weekend (not to be confused with this weekend:) I am off to a Writers' Retreat at Squam Lake. Boy, could I use anything with the word "retreat" in the title just about now. Then the following week is the Commonwealth Pen Show in Somerville, MA where I can go and luxuriate in all things pen and ink and paper. If there is a better two-weekend lineup that inspires the written word, I can't imagine it right now.
So, go. Retreat. Write. Then, pen. Write some more.
I'll put the pen show flier below for those who would like to attend and need more concrete details than my general gushing above offers.
Here's to extended deadlines and falling dew points!
The world is opening up slowly but surely. Hopefully it follows spring's lead and petal by petal it stretches into a bloom so that we can enjoy life more fully. Imagine if flowers stayed buds forever?
What a tease.
The Massachusetts State Poetry Society had a meeting this past weekend. It was in-person at the Beverly Public Library, and it has been a while since I have attended any workshop or gathering in-person for the sake of being creative--even if only in bite-sized pieces. Poetry is sort of famous for being bite-sized, so this was a good start.
Poetry also has a habit of being famously impenetrable or snobbish. But, like so many things in life, if you can push past your own preconceived notions about poetry you'll see it's just words like everything else.
It's a magnifying glass for emotion and feeling.
It tries to get right to the point.
Its love for the heart of the matter can be seen as obstinate at times.
This is where this weekend's workshop on Acrostic Poetry comes in. Acrostic Poetry is quite possibly the perfect ambassador between people and poetry. It provides the suggestion of structure but does not slap you across the knuckles with its rules as some forms have a habit of doing. It simply provides a very entry-level chain link fence where you can see outside, but you are asked to play within its boundaries. What you play is up to you.
Some may see the fence and find it, well--offensive (pardon the wordplay:). It seems too elementary. In fact, you may remember writing an acrostic poem in elementary school. What an insult to your intelligence, because while you may not be up for the snobbery of a Shakespearean Sonnet, you will not be subjected to the ABCs of an Acrostic! Pfft!!
Well, I must admit to you, my attitude was quite the same. It had been years--decades--since I'd laid eyes, let alone my own pen, onto an acrostic poem. And yet, I played along.
I was brought over to the fenced in area.
The rules were simple and clear--refreshingly so.
So, I played.
And . . .
I absolutely loved it. Simple enough for my overwhelmed mind to participate and yet once I allowed myself to forget about the world beyond the fence, I felt safe and had some fun with words. I didn't drone on as I tend to do with prose. I picked and plucked and tried to put together a bouquet. Rearranging, crossing out, rewriting. It has been so long since I'd allowed myself to work at a poem that wasn't simply "freestyle." The "rules" offered just enough challenge without making the exercise daunting or frustrating.
So, I encourage you. I implore you: write an Acrostic Poem. Here's a link to get you started: Acrostic Poem
Many thanks to Jeanette Maes, President of the Massachusetts State Poetry Society, who facilitated the workshop this past weekend. The poem I wrote is titled "Gardening" and it could do with some reworking, but I'll include it as it stands currently.
It felt good to take a snapshot of thought and force it onto paper. There is a satisfaction in creating that we cannot, as humans, dismiss or constantly defer. I'm glad I shook myself from default to get my hot mess of a self into the car and to that meeting so I could start to remember why I love poetry and words as a medium, so very much.
As many of you know, the other hat I wear is Founder and Director of The Room to Write, which is a nonprofit that supports writers of all ages, abilities and means. So, it makes sense to share things that I think will benefit other writers and readers on my author site as well. This event definitely falls into that category. Here are the details:
TRtW thought it would be fun to coordinate a Writers and Illustrators Meet & Greets--with a twist.
In addition to the actual meeting "event" with writers and illustrators of all genres and levels, The Room to Write wants to do a little extra to celebrate the books created and published by local authors and illustrators during two very challenging years as well as those being released in the year ahead. (2020, 2021, & 2022)
BEFORE: Wed, January 26th: Receive the meeting link by emailing: email@example.com Published authors and illustrators can send a video where they show us and tell us about their book. Sending the video ahead is our preference so we can show them during the event. Please send your 30-60 second Video through We Transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video Instructions: LIGHTS: Be sure lighting is taken into consideration. You don't want to be sitting in the dark with big shadows. CAMERA: For those recording on a cell phone, please be sure the camera is held horizontally. (Hamburger no Hotdog) This will give the audience the best view of each author. ACTION: Please be sure to record in a spot that has minimal sound. Speak slowly and clearly.
Ideas: Hold the book up, show your smile (or scowl:) and be sure to tell us your name, the book title, where you live (town/city is fun, but county, region or state will do). Tell us about your book. It's great practice to see what you can fit into 60 seconds or less. The genre? Age of intended audience? Is it a debut novel or your fifth? Date of publication?
ON: Wed, January 26th at 7:00pm: Join us for a virtual Meet & Greet where we will highlight recently published books by local authors and illustrators and enjoy creative community.
Didn’t publish, but would like to learn about recently released books by fellow artists or gather some motivation to continue with or finish your current work in progress? Gathering among other creative minds helps-- even if you're shy and just want to listen and absorb some positive energy.
Published? Published authors can show up and share a book during the meeting. Sharing will be limited to 60 seconds maximum whether live or pre-recorded. You'll have more time to share and answer questions during the Meet & Greet. We will add any additional Show & Tell spots to the existing video to be shared after the event.
AFTER: Wed, January 26th: If you don't get your video to us prior to the meeting and are not able to join the event, please follow the instructions above to be added afterwards. This video will be a helpful resource that can be added to for up to two weeks after the meeting, so by Wed, February 9th. We'll send out an updated version on Valentine's Day with all the local authors we love and support!