Life and times of a motorcycle, yoga, writing momma.
Janine De Tillio Cammarata is a graduate of the College of Saint Rose (’88, ’93) in English Literature with a concentration in Medieval Literature. She is the award winning author of What Makes Them Amazing: Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer, Warriors Within: Book One of the Fianna Cycle, and Eyes of the Goddess: Book Two of the Fianna Cycle, and The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer's Eggs. Her memoirs have been chosen to be read at BookMarks: The Memoir Project Reading Series at The Arts Center of the Capital Region. Cammarata is a member of the Hudson Valley Writer’s Guild and The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
Janine is president of Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation, Inc. and spends much of her time running this foundation that is very close to her heart. It was formed in memory of her son, Nick, who passed away from Leukemia in October 2008. Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation financially and emotionally supports local pediatric cancer patients, as well as the young adult cancer community. www.fighttobehealed.wordpress.com
Janine is a Baron Baptiste inspired 200 hour Registered Yoga Teacher. She teaches creative writing and journaling to all ages.
She and her family live in Clifton Park, NY with their two dogs, Zoey and Dakota.
Seventh Draft. The first draft was started in November of 2018. Anything worth while takes time, patience, dedication, and heart. It’s not always easy when we hit snags, dead ends, and roadblocks. The hardest part is to keep going. If you believe in what you are writing, the dream you are pursuing, the goal you are attaining, then the work has to be done.
I have said this to myself multiple times in writing all of my drafts. Writing and publishing a book a year, even for middle grade, takes a determined schedule and lots of support from my beta readers, editors, and family. I am happy to say that book three–The Puzzle Quests: Sketchy Dinosaurs–is almost done!
I am editing the seventh draft by looking at the smaller details. Chapter lengths, descriptions of characters, themes, punctuation, typos, consistency. This version is with my trusty librarians at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library to check reading level. Once this version is done, it will go to a professional proofreader. It’s very difficult to proofread and edit my own book. I know what words are coming next and no matter how much I slow down, my eyes hop over words.
The sketch of the book cover is done, so now the rough draft is in the works. I’ve connected with Troy Book Makers who will layout the book and print it, and my new website is in the works.
Even with how far I am in the book, the published version won’t be until December, so put it on your list for holiday shopping! Save the date for my book launch party at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library on December 8 from 1:30-3:00pm! Other events to follow as well!
The dreaded red pen has come out and the manuscript for The Puzzle Quests: Sketchy Dinosaurs has been printed. Not published, but printed and placed in a binder. There comes a point when I have to physically hold my work in progress and mark it up.
A few steps happen on the 6th edit. I’m looking at specifics, plot sequence, and clarity. For Sketchy Dinosaurs, this includes more interaction between Mark and Luke, including their comic that I have mentioned in the first two books. When writing a series, it’s important to make sure I bring the sub-plots to an end.
I’m looking at the themes I implemented. This may take a couple drafts. For this version, I’m focused on Mark’s love of food and his need to put ketchup on absolutely everything! Humor is a consistent theme in this book. How many times does Mark pass off his T-Rex as a lizard. Do I describe his dinosaur/lizard in enough detail so that the reader can picture it? I even tally the number of times I mention a theme just to make sure it’s developed enough.
Parts of the plot are still missing, like how will Mark rescue two more missing dinosaurs? I feel it needs more suspense on Mark’s part, which will help him grow. How is my main character growing and does he grow enough so that the reader will notice the change?
At this point, I also bring in the beta readers. These are students ranging from 4-7 grade who have either read the previous books or are new to the series. They read the manuscript, make their own suggestions directly on the pages, and answer some of the questions I had above. They make my book the best it can be, and their feedback is essential.
In addition, involving children in the process creates strong readers and writers. Maybe they will be inspired to write their own stories. We get together and have a discussion and the ideas that come out of these sessions are impressive. Learning to respect one another’s views and suggestions is a powerful life lesson. This is one of my favorite parts of editing.
So for anyone who is writing their own book, know that the process can be long and arduous, but these steps are vital to a fabulous story. Have someone outside of your circle of friends and family read it so you get an unbiased opinion. I don’t have to worry about that with my beta readers–they are honest to the core!
I’ve been looking forward to Spring as has everyone else. I just want to jump into the nice weather and forget about the cold.
In yoga class our instructor, Jeannine, talked about transitions, not only into the next season, but also into the next yoga pose. Each transition is just as important as the pose.
We moved slowly from downward facing dog rolling our bodies into plank, being present and conscious of each move. I noticed my foundation and sense of place.
I paid closer attention to each moment and moved slower easing into the transition.
When she asked us to ponder about how easing through the transition could translate into life, two aha moments occurred.
I am editing the third draft of my middle grade novel–The Puzzle Quests: Sketchy Dinosaurs. My editor, Karen Knowles, did a developmental edit and I’m updating the manuscript with those changes. I have definite lack of transitions in my book. The reader doesn’t want to be jolted from one scene to another. They need that transition to a sense of place, intention or action. They have to be grounded in the story to keep them reading.
This resonated with me after class. I want my reader to be excited about my book and not have to work too hard to transition to the next chapter or scene. Being aware of this will allow me to incorporate slower and more meaningful transitions.
Then I thought about my life. When I make changes, I tend to get so fed up or frustrated that I make a spontaneous decision which disrupts more than it improves. I am in the midst of a transition right now with increasing my writing and teaching while phasing out of my involvement in foundation fundraising.
In order for the transition to be smooth, I need the time to adjust and be OK with this change and also ease others into their new roles, so they have a strong foundation to stand on.
Just like in yoga if we rush into a balancing pose, we have a greater risk of falling out. While it’s OK to fall, the benefits of moving slower with a solid foundation makes easing into transitions worthwhile and beneficial to everyone involved.
Life forces us to change. Sometimes it’s a shove; sometimes it’s barely noticed. Easing in and making a conscious choice to change and grow allows us to enjoy every moment.
I had the pleasure to hear Louise Penny speak last night at Shenendehowa High School West in conjunction with the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library. The event was sponsored by the Friends of that library, and it was a packed audience. I enjoyed the evening with my mom, who is an avid fan, my sister, and other friends.
Louise Penny is the best-selling and award-winning author of the Inspector Gamache series based in her home town in Quebec. She was funny, authentic, sincere, and the type of person you’d love to visit and drink tea with at the local cafe.
She talked about her beginning days of being a published author and how for the first four years of her book tours, no one showed up. When one person did, she was horrified, because as she said, “You’re only humiliated if one person shows up!” She kept on with grace and humility and now fills schools and theaters from 800-2,000 people.
Penny understood the power of words. As a child she was filled with fear of everything, especially spiders. Halfway through reading Charlotte’s Web, she realized she loved Charlotte and that she was a spider. Her fear of spiders dissipated, and she knew she wanted to be a writer. She understood the power of words and how they can heal.
However, she then developed another fear–writing and the fear of failure. How horrible to be afraid to do what she knew she was put on this earth to do. She suffered five years of writer’s block.
She explained that as a journalist, she saw the best and worst of people. It informed much of what she wrote about in her books. She saw the rage that people were capable of. She remembered the horrible, but also witnessed what people are capable of–the good and the evil.
Everything changed when she and her husband moved to the town that inspired Three Pines in her series. She met amazingly creative people and they took her in. She realized that she got to define herself. She decided if she was a writer. Penny learned that writing is a process. You try and fail until you get better. The fact that you are still getting out of bed is magnificent. Her worry about other’s approval or disapproval and how it affected her decisions, prevented her from writing. According to Penny, “Failing wouldn’t kill her, but not doing it would.”
She didn’t want to regret not doing what she always wanted when she came to the end of her life. So she changed gears. She wrote a book that she would read. For her and no one else. If no one wanted to read it, then that would be OK.
The locations of Three Pines in her series is inspired by where she lives–the bakery, cafe, general store as well as the characters who are based on her friends.
Penny’s books were rejected many times until she found her agent at a party that she didn’t want to go to. When you write the book that the world needs to read, the universe lines up to get it out to readers. Now her books have been printed in 23 languages, and she’s an award-winning author.
Her books are about choices, duality, having such despair, but also that hint of hope. I had written a post about A Fatal Grace and how a character couldn’t support the loss any longer and how she changed her life. Penny has this ability to see deep into what makes people act the way they do. Her words make a difference.
She observes human nature and has the gift to put it into words.
A wonderful bit of advice she gave was from her therapist. Your critic can’t write that first draft. It has to be the courageous, confident, and grateful you that writes this draft. Have the freedom to write what matters to you. Don’t worry about pacing and structure yet. Write the broad strokes of the plot. The first draft is “soft, smelly, and vague.”
Then the critic can edit the third or fourth draft. Her latest book was 145,000 and she reduced it down to about 100,000 and an average novel is 90,000 words. Take away what doesn’t fit. She is taking notes for the next book when she is about halfway through the current.
She knows how the book will start, who died, who killed them and why, but then the rest is a vague idea. Penny doesn’t know where the characters are going, but she has an idea of how they will change. They have structure, but not so much that there isn’t room for inspiration.
Louise Penny is a natural writer and speaker. She stood at the podium and spoke with such confidence. She met you like an old friend. I think we might take a road trip for some croissants!
For more writing tips, her newsletter, and a list of her books, visit her website at www.louisepenny.com
I have always been drawn to books for their deeper meaning and their ability to speak to a reader however they need at that moment.
Currently I’m reading Louise Penny’s book, Fatal Grace, which is the second book in her Chief Inspector Gamache series.
I love the depth of her characters and how she manages to bring out the ugliest and most terrorizing in people so that we can feel and know when we see the good in them as well.
One character lost her son and husband in a car accident. It destroyed her until as she said, “I couldn’t support the loss any longer.” She understood that she would always have the grief, but through her dark journey she had found hope.
Tears come to my eyes, because those words called to me. That is where I am. There have been times when I have placed my grief on the ground because the weight is so unbearable. I carry it because I have limitless love for my son. When that grief threatened to separate that love I had to put it down.
But then I had this void that was almost as bad as the grief. When I finally realized I couldn’t support this loss and the pain it drowns me in, I put it aside with the help of others.
But instead of that blank void, there was hope. I was able to see what joy and love I have in my life. My son, Stephen, is an incredible spirit. My husband, who has held me up even when I’m sure I was too heavy and my tribe of family, friends, and community.
No one could ever replace Nick. And I would never want them to. I know I will always grieve his loss, but I don’t have to carry it. I want to carry his love, not the loss.
Penny says she writes so we see that there is goodness. That’s so very true. In the darkest moment there is good.
I write because there also is hope. And I wish that those who are hurting, grieving, and carrying their loss know that when they are ready to place it down, they will find hope, light, and joy.
Having a character or a plot twist thrust itself into your story is possibly the best part of being a writer. I love when I’m right in the middle of the scene about dragons and a baby T-Rex who has escaped from home and then bam! a WWII fighter plane shoots across the sky.
Sometimes it takes me a minute to wonder what is going on? Then I ask the question–why? Why is there a fighter plane in the midst of Dragonia? The dinosaurs may be thinking that their world is once again coming to an end, but perhaps it’s that insufferable evil Lord Tam who has managed to bring a fighter plane through a portal. And if he did, how did he learn how to fly one? Which side was he on in the war? Just how old is Tam?
In his character description, he’s early to mid 30’s, so what’s the deal? That’s when imagination overdrive kicks in. Perhaps Tam and his equally evil twin, Tim, are able to time hop across time and dimensions. So not only can he travel back to current time, but he has lived in multiple previous times. Hence his ability to handle a pirate ship, fly a plane, and zip across the sky on a dragon!
It has a bit of the movie Timeline feel to it, when the archeologists manage to go back in time and send messages to the future. They learn the skills of their medieval world, but have modern technology that keeps them alive.
It’s not to say that the final draft will have this scene or the plane in it, but that’s the point. The first through almost final drafts are meant to play and see the possibilities of what could happen. If we don’t submerge ourselves in the what if’s, then the story may miss an exciting swerve.
In addition to dinosaurs and fighter planes, I have a feeling the Quetzalcoatlus may show up. If you read book one of The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs, you might remember how this prehistoric bird is Luke’s favorite. Sometimes the reasons are logical.
Other times it’s because the character is just too cute! In Book Two of The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis, Quinn and Mckenzie’s dog, Cinnamon, comes into the story. I just happened to pick that name, but then I googled cinnamon colored Great Danes and this cutie showed up!
Now Cinnamon is full grown, so this is what he’ll look like:
Glorious isn’t he? Right now, baby T-Rex has just met Cinnamon. So far they are getting along, but we shall see what each chapter brings.
Exploring, imagining, testing, and taking chances. That’s what writing is all about. Sometimes you have to dive bomb toward the possibilities!