Archive for June, 2012

Here’s a thought…what would happen to your writing if you could have people read it, rip it apart, and make valuable suggestions for improvement? What if you could do all this right from home? It’s the age of the Internet…why not?

That’s what I’m proposing. A Writing Group for brave individuals looking for a means to improve their writing based on the suggestions of others. A writing commentary. A coffee shop/book store/corner bar environment for those who haven’t yet found the right group of people to help advance their storytelling skills.

Here are the guidelines:

1. All comments must be helpful. “That’s really a good story!” doesn’t help a writer at all. What about the story speaks positively to you? What areas seem weak – either in description, plot pacing or grammar? Can you sympathize with the main character? Is the story worth telling? Is the story worth reading? After reading the story, what remains with you? Does it remind you of any other story? (could be a red flag.)

2. Any suggestions in the comments should be written as though you are face-to-face with this person. Remember that everyone will see your comments. No crude or openly offensive remarks are welcome, and will immediately ban that commenter from further participation. It costs nothing to be nice, especially when giving suggestions for improvement.

3. Before submitting a piece to be reviewed, comment on at least two other pieces. Obviously I will need a few people to volunteer their work so we can get this rolling, but hopefully no one will take their coveted advise and run, but return to give the same helpful opportunities to others.

4. Keep each piece for critique less than 2,500 words. This will be a challenge for many – including me. Sticking to a specific word count encourages (ok, forces) the writer to maximize the punch in each word. Try it! You might like it!

5. Come to the table with thick skin. Every writer writes from the heart. (If you’re not, then start over.) Because a writer is so close to the story, it’s difficult to see what is lacking, where improvements are necessary, what’s just not right. Learning this is not easy and a good critique can be painful. So is micro-abrasion and going to the dentist. It’s all an effort to become more than we are now. So suit up, gear up and send a piece of writing in!

What types of stories can be critiqued here? We will stick to stories for children and young adults. If you are writing about vampires, werewolves or elicit teen love, this is not the place for you. Every story carries the weight of influence. What influence do you want your tale to have? Are you inspiring the young to seek out forbidden love or are you spinning a tale of adventure in which the characters must have virtuous qualities in order to survive? In this place, we prefer the latter.

What benefits will you gain? Hopefully a sense of community and a feel for how your writing appeals, or doesn’t appeal, to others. Ideally, this could be a safe place to try out a new idea or see if a current writing project is ready. If you are writing a novel, you obviously won’t be able to ask for a critique for the entire book, but this will give you a chance to try out chapter one or tweek a part of the story to be a stand-alone story, which can then be submitted for magazines or contests.

What does it cost? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Just a little time to share what your opinions on other’s writing. It’s a give-and-take relationship.

What if you disagree with the suggestions? Then disagree and move on. I don’t think men should wear capri pants, but that doesn’t stop them (sadly!).

If you are interested in participating in the Writer’s Critique Group, please email me: jessicaschb@yahoo.com  I will put you on the schedule and post one story every Monday, which will remain open to comments as long as the Internet survives.


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It’s that time of year for our family when we wrap up one school year, celebrate our accomplishments and prep for the new school year. Last weekend was our annual Homeschooling conference where I purchase all the school books for the upcoming grades. It starts with a rush of eager mothers on the used book tables and then persists all weekend as we peruse the glossy books that have never been opened; the pages that contain oodles of information and stories that call out to be read and loved.

Now that I’ve attended this conference a few years, I’m smart enough to come prepared with a crate on wheels to hold everything I buy. Other moms are still learning as they balance book in there arms and have to turn down coveted items simply because the don’t have the strength to hold another one.

It’s when I came home and unloaded my booty of bound written words that I realized how much my family loves books. We have eight bookshelves in the house and four of them are stacked with books two deep. The end table in the family room is stacked with my daughters favorite books so they can sit down and re-read their favorite parts. Library books are organized on the floor in our reading corner where they lean against the wall in their own little display. We have book bags near the door to grab on the way to the store to catch up on a few pages between here and there. We buy purses large enough to hold books.

But the best part of all of these books cluttering my home are the notebooks of stories my children are writing are sprinkled around house. They read and they write. They have friends who write and share their stories during play dates. I will be honest – the kids are great writers! They are imitating their favorite authors, using those books as guides, the authors becoming mentors to my children.

Friends and family often ask how I encourage my children to read so much. As I look at our lifestyle and our home, I can narrow my children’s reading success down to four things my husband and I have done:

1. Our TV is not an option except for Friday nights when we all watch a family-friendly movie together. We don’t watch the news, they aren’t exposed to commercials, and they don’t wear that dopey TV-face for hours a day as someone else determines what is entertaining for my children. Instead, we read, play, interact, cook, do art projects and work in the garden. TV is a huge deterent from everything creative.

2. We have loads of books and our children see us read and write often. Children will do what their parents do. If you want your children to be good readers, you need to be a good reader. We go to the library often, visit used books stores, share books with friends, and talk about what we are reading. If a movie is based on a book, we all read the book first. Books and gift cards to bookstores are rewards for good behavior.

3. We are blessed with a retired teacher who hosts a weekly Literature Club for several children. This is a huge part of my children’s desire to share their writing. For many, myself included, sharing what you’ve written is difficult. My daughters have found encouragement and new ideas in this group. For your family, find a parent or a teacher who is interested in leading a similar literature club. Children read a book a week (or one a month) and then talk about it and do an activity. My daughters have made acorn flour & pancakes after they read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and origami boxes for The Year of Jackie Robinson and the Boar by Betty Bao Lord.

4. My children don’t own any electronic games. There is no Game Boy, Kindle Fire, or whatever the lastest hand-held distraction is in this house. We don’t have a Wii, although I would like one because they are active and many of the games do encourage group participation. While many families spend money on video games that draw kids away from interacting with people and consumes their mind with battles and violent images. Even the mild games draw children away from people. Books can do the same thing – my daughters don’t hear or see anything in the house when they are reading. The difference is that the images in their minds are their own creation, not a digital vision injected into their mind.

It’s true that some kids just aren’t going to be readers, but if their home environment directs them to a book or magazine instead of the TV, the potential to become a good reader increases. The next post will be how to encourage active children to pick up a book. Until then, take the kids to the library and find a used book store. Happy reading!


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There’s no place like the beach. Something about the constant wind, sand between my toes and (if I’m lucky) the sun bronzing my skin…ok, usually burning me J “Going to the beach” is the statement that screams vacation, hooky, and mental-health days. My son sleeps well when the sound spa is set to the ‘waves’ setting.

As I rocked Nate last night, we listened to the waves from his sound spa and I realized that many things in my life that ebb and flow. I have really good days and not so great moments. For stretches of time I can eat healthy and exercise often until I am distracted by the demands of parenthood. There are weeks when prayer is constantly in my heart and on my lips and weeks when I try to drive my world and end upside down in the gutter. There are times when my stories seem to write themselves, but lately I’ve been unable to even scratch down a shopping list.

I could blame the change of seasons. The slowly emerging summer awakens the gardener in me and I spend more time outside toiling in the dirt than I do crafting a story. Lame excuse when the weather is rainy, when the kids are in bed and the stars are on guard duty and I still am not writing.

Perhaps it’s more to do with that spring cleaning need to get into corners and organize closets…yeah, right. I don’t even dust. That’s not it.

I tried to settle my mind by giving in to the block, telling myself that taking some time off from writing is OK…not just OK, but necessary. I read a book. I read another book. That helped.

And then it all came together in the quite moment I shared with my son, during a ten-minute escape from all duty when my only job was to cuddle and love my sweet boy…I’m ebbing. The flow will come when I seek solitude, find comfort, give a little of myself and focus on what I’m really meant to do. I remembered all the beaches I had visited in my past, realizing that even within the boundaries of that forever vacation state of sand, in that place where land and water meet, there are rules to follow:

  • Stay out of the water if the undertow is too strong.
  • Wear sunscreen or you’ll develop skin cancer.
  • Drink water or you’ll dehydrate.
  • Wait an hour after eating before you swim to avoid debilitating cramps.
  • Stick together in the water and know that if you don’t pay attention, the waves will carry you away from the ‘home’ blanket.

I can stay away from temptation when it is strong by relying on prayer and friends who want me to succeed.

My sunscreen of choice is Scripture – blocking all the burning negativity with SPF (Son-Provided Forgiveness!) of 100%!

I will drink deeply the Living Waters. I will wait calmly for God to answer my prayers so I don’t dive in too quickly and drown.

I will stick close to my Faith, my Family and Friends who share my faith and I will reach out to those seeking something more, sharing my ‘home’ blanket and being ready to feed those who are hungry and listen to those who are lost.

courtesy MS Publisher

Well, look at that! I wrote something – the first something in over a week! And it all came from a sound spa, holding a sleepy toddler and keeping my ears open for inspiration.

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A Fine Line

Monday was Memorial Day – and will certainly be a day of sad memory for my family. While the country celebrated its Veterans with parades, barbeques and hot dogs, my family was spending the weekend at our new farm…so new there is only a garden and a camper. Our project that weekend was to build a playset for the kids. Mission accomplished.

As it turned out, our second project for that weekend was to bury our dog, Tucker. We brought him to our new property for the first, and the last time. He loved the open space and wandered freely, exploring the tall grass and enjoying the cool soil of the freshly tilled garden. In his 13 1/2 years, he has gone from frolicy puppy who chewed my dining room table, to a gentle giant who loved our four children who came after him. Being part German Shepherd and part Great Dane, he towered over toddlers, frequently knocked over my plants, and scared every meter-reader silly. Late Monday morning, we knew he wasn’t feeling well. Shortly after lunch, he found a shady spot near the camper and there he stayed.

Now, a few days later, we have a Tucker garden; I don’t think I will ever call it his grave, the word is too full of death, while ‘garden’ carries colorful hints of life.

Tucker was the first dog my husband and I brought home together. While he was just an animal, there was no ‘just a dog’ about him. His eyes expressed love better than most people can. His tail was fluent in sign language: quick, short wags for joy, slow wags to let me know that he loved the way I rubbed his head, and a lowered tail when he realized that eating the dining room table was probably a bad idea. So much expression came through Tucker’s face and body language, that I named a character in my book after him.

It’s taken me this long to be able to write about losing my sweet dog. There is a fine line between living a life and writing about it. Much like parents who watch their children through the lens of a camera, I saw Tucker’s last day through my pen. I knew the emotions I was feeling would help me capture a future scene, but I was sickened by that thought. I felt like I was pimping the emotion – selling something so precious to me that I would lay out my bare emotions for others to see. While we all feel sadness, I didn’t want to abuse the beauty of saying farewell to a family companion so to heighten the reading experience.

I realize now that I can’t sell my emotions – not in writing. When I write, I embrace the heart and mind of a fictional character. Any emotion this character experiences will be a result of a situation I create and that character will be bound by the human experience, but it won’t be my experience. That fine line between me and any character I write remains. My life will be reflected in my stories like a fuzzy mirror, casting slices of reality through the haze of fiction.

I don’t know if the way I see the world is a gift or a burden. Being a writer, I see adjectives and verbs the way others might see a happy child or a dazzling fire. And as a writer, I take seriously my gift to capture experience in words. Photographers can capture a moment, imprinting an image forever on the minds of viewers. Writers capture images of the heart. A fine line indeed.

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