I met Luke December 22, 1988 on a blind date at the TGI Friday’s in Stuyvesant Plaza. I was 22, he was 26. As far as I was concerned, it was love at first sight.
He recently mentioned how he wondered what exactly kept us together for 30 years. We are quite different in personality, viewpoints, and personal beliefs.
I believe that showing our love to one another every day has helped us endure. We have never doubted what we have. Our life experiences have strengthened that love, and we appreciate it.
Never said it was easy, but I couldn’t imagine sharing my love with anyone else. Valentine’s Day is another day that reminds us to not take those you love for granted. It doesn’t have to be romantic love. It is anyone who lifts you up, makes you smile, and makes your world a brighter place. Today, that’s the perfect reminder to spend time with my man!
The best way to improve your writing, besides writing, is by reading what you want to write. Even better is listening to books. When I listen to an audiobook, I can hear an author’s repetition, flow, style, and voice. This is especially helpful when writing a series. What storyline do you complete in the first book and continue into the other? How does the author focus on the protagonist and include secondary characters? What is the teaser at the end of the book that will guarantee a reader won’t be satisfied until they read the next book?
My buddy Conge, who is a fabulous writer and one of my beta readers, suggested I read Gregor the Overlander in our last writing workshop. I had read The Hunger Games, which was the series Suzanne Collins became well-known for, but Gregor was written for ages 8-12 just my book, The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs.
Whenever I begin a new story or continue a series, I start with the characters. I immediately loved Gregor and his connection to his baby sister, Boots. Even at age 11, he was a protector and head of the family. Collins quickly throws them into a quest, similar to Luke and Peter with finding Shimmer’s eggs. I won’t spoil the book, but it’s a fun travel through time or a black hole would be more descriptive.
There are many storylines in this first book, but for Gregor to follow through on his quest, he has to be pushed beyond what he is willing to live with. He has to get back what he has been wanting for more than two years–his father. Collins describes how hard life is without Gregor’s father. Gregor is laden with responsibility, and his mother is struggling to keep food on the table. It’s a sad situation, and Gregor has the chance to change that.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a quest to find Shimmer’s eggs in order for Luke to be healthy again or Gregor having to fulfill a prophecy to get his father back. When what a character wants more than anything is jeopardized or who they love is thrown into danger, a plot is formed. It’s something we can all relate to. Who wouldn’t go above and beyond to save a family member if they had the chance? The characters become relatable and that is why we stay with the book.
I also loved Boots. Hearing her call, “Hey you!” was adorable. She stated the obvious and kept Gregor grounded. “Fly you high,” was how everyone wished each other luck, and they were lines that stayed with me. They made the book real, even though it was set in a fantasy genre.
As far as setting up book two, Gregor may think he’s finished, but we know he isn’t when this little thing called the Prophecy of Bane is mentioned before he returns home. He figures he’s never seeing any of them again, but we already know different.
I just started book two. New characters have been introduced, which is extremely helpful for me as many new characters have come into play in Saving Atlantis. Some revisiting of the previous storyline is necessary, but finding that balance will be key to keeping the story flowing.
I’m lucky to have great readers who can recommend books for me to enjoy and learn from. Give Gregor the Overlander a try, especially if you liked The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs! If anyone has other middle grade books to suggest, let me know!
It only makes sense that when you are writing a creatively fictional memoir, to look back at photos for ideas. I recently did this while writing Book Two of The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis. It’s told from Rose’s point of view–the darling in the pink hat, pictured below.
Hopefully I am forgiven for sharing this photo, but it’s special in so many ways and launched a couple chapters in my book. This was taken on my dad’s birthday. He had been gone for 12 years already, and only four months after my son, Nick, had passed. Family came over often. It reminded me of how supported we were and still are in our journey without a son, brother, best friend, cousin. There is this gap without Nick that can’t be filled, but the gatherings we had soothed it. Losing my dad at only 57 didn’t help either.
In Saving Atlantis, I actually change these scenes to Easter. It reminded me of this special holiday that has been at my house since we moved to Clifton Park 27 years ago. Everyone always came to the Cammarata house for food and a savvy Easter egg and scavenger hunt. The children had different colored eggs to find. In addition to candy in the eggs, there would be clues to the location of the basket of treasures. Or there would be a word puzzle they would have to be solved to find the treasure. It makes sense that I am writing books about quests and finding lost items.
Each year was something different, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it. My heart broke a little when they were done with the hunting, but when the youngest three were 15, I figured I kept it around long enough!
A scavenger hunt is the perfect way for Rose, Peter, and Mark to escape through their puzzle to help Luke and Natalia in Atlantis. In Book Two, cousins Quinn and Mackenzie get involved. Quinn distracts the older cousins, while Mackenzie protects the portal.
The plot is unwinding, twisting, and sometimes falling back on itself, but these photos give me inspiration and precious memories.
I received this postcard in the mail last fall about about a 7-month intensive for artists. It would focus on how to define myself as an artist and promote my art as a business. My latest book The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs was at the printer and expected any day. I had made a commitment to my journaling workshops and the goal to publish a book on journaling within the next two years. This was a sign I was on the right track.
I filled the detailed application and sent it in just in time. I didn’t have any expectations, but I knew I had started a ball rolling that was only going to get bigger.
It was with great joy and gratitude that I was accepted into this program that is sponsored by The Arts Center of the Capital Region. Every Tuesday for seven months, I would meet with 11 other artists from all different disciplines and various instructors who want us to be the best artists we can be.
I am now halfway through the program and I thought, “I need to share this amazing experience and people with the world.”
This course has opened my eyes to the many layers of art. As the only traditional writer, Danielle is a blooming writer and illustrator, I wasn’t sure where I fit in. There’s this whole visual world that has opened up to me. I used photos from families and Elizabeth Fox Photography in my book What Makes Them Amazing, but thinking of how they can be used in my journaling book or displayed in an art gallery in order to share my message is thrilling.
There are so many options open to me. Learning to draw. Taking photography classes. These are different tools I can utilize to share my message.
Of course when I get ideas, I’m like a cyclone wanting to take everything with me at once. This intensive has helped me embrace and hone my vision into achievable dreams. My purpose is to spread hope, create a sense of community, and share tools for healing for anyone who has suffered.
One workshop focused on building a vision board. What did we want to grow in the next year, the next five years? It was a daunting task, but we had to start somewhere. I loved the unique paths everyone is taking from painting, photography, sculpting, woodworking, weaving, illustration, and writing. I have learned how much I need to learn!
It’s a work in progress, but I have my vision and it keeps growing as I continue in this class. I know I can use different forms of expression to share my message. The use of photography, illustration, and writing are my trifecta for creation, and I can’t wait to share it and the incredible talent of my classmates with everyone.
I am currently teaching a middle grade writing workshop at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library. It’s a great group with very enthusiastic writers.
The focus is finding different topics in the world around us and observing for inspiration. A writer must also keep eyes and ears open for unique characters, settings, and plots.
I begin each session with a journal entry about their day. Learning to record details is essential. Then follows a photo prompt. Last week, I had two photos, each of a dog. Even with the same photo everyone will come up with a different description, idea, and possible plot.
If you’d like to write from either of these photos, stop reading and write what you see, what the characters are feeling, how and if they connect, and what you think might happen. Then read further and see what the teens came up with.
Zoey probably wouldn’t have liked me sharing this photo of her. She is often misunderstood, when she really is very happy to see people!
Dakota gets the free spirit award as he always wants to play!
Some of the descriptions were clear like Dakota wanting to run around all dayand Zoey growling at Dakota, because he stole Zoey’s toy.
Another scenario was that Zoey lives in an alley and has had a rough life. She is scared, but shows her teeth to hide her fear and look tough. Dakota is a happy dog who lives a good life. They might interact when Dakota gets lost or vice versa. How will their different experiences affect how they treat one another? Do they go on an adventure?
Photo prompts are a fantastic way to get unstuck or use actual events or descriptions in a story. Just make sure that they are changed enough, so that it is truly a work of fiction.
Of course if this is a memoir, then that’s a totally different story!
With The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs out to the public and going through its second printing, I have been diligently working on book two–The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis (working title, but so far feels right).
My plan is to write all four books in the series to keep the flow going, and I have been challenged by an avid fan (my husband!) to have a working draft by the end of the month! Yes! This month, January, which only has 15 days left. I am almost at the halfway point. I don’t worry about what I’m writing so much as going by the feel of it. It is a very rough draft, which is where I should be for the first one.
A couple days ago, I was stumped. I reviewed my notes, but felt stagnant in the current chapter. At lunch, that avid fan suggested bringing in Dakota, one of our rescue dogs. To be honest, I was thinking about including Zoey, but she is more my dog and Dakota is more Peter’s. However Zoey’s personality and the signature white patch on her gray chest does remind me of a certain koalephant in Shimmer’s Eggs.
It was like an earthquake broke a dam and everything poured out. What if Peter found Dakota and brought him home? How would Dakota help Peter in his healing process? How did Dakota just happen to be in the dumpster that Rose and Peter just happened to be riding by at that particular moment? With many questions, come many answers, and great writing most likely ensues!
With all that activity, Dakota made his debut into The Puzzle Quests series. Wait until Zoey hears about this. She does have her own blog, but this will launch Dakota into permanent stardom!
Writing what moves me at that moment is the key to writing continuity. Where I placed this chapter right now may not be where it will stay, but the essence and power of that chapter is strong, and I know it will be a part of this book.
If you are stuck in your story and another thread pops into your mind, go with it. Writing is not linear. It’s like water, so let it pour out.
All I will say about Dakota’s story is he was rescued from a dumpster in Tennessee. He was starving and scared. How this plays into Saving Atlantis and Peter’s growth as a character will remain to be seen.
As NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) comes to an end today, the habits we formed from daily writing shouldn’t end. Getting support and advice from our fellow writers is key to keeping us motivated, but in the end it’s up to you to do the work and write your story.
SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) is a fabulous organization that I encourage any children’s writer or illustrator to join. The networking and knowledge shared is vital to getting your work finished and published.
Each author spoke about the path they took to become a writer, which only proves that anyone can be a successful writer if you have the dedication to write what you are passionate about and practice, practice, practice. Nancy was the moderator, but her love of science and learning led to her writing. Rose was in the Navy, raised a family, became a freelance writer, was published in magazines, and then wrote her novels pictured above. Eric wasn’t much of a reader as a kid, but he enjoyed stories. It wasn’t until he was in a college writing class, that he became interested in writing. Even though he earns his living as a chiropractor, his first novel came out in 2002 and he has published many for Scholastic and Cartoon Network. Dan began his career as an illustrator and sent samples to publishers. He was published immediately by Clarion Publishers, who asked him to write the story to his illustrations. Dan also works as an x-ray technician. The path to publishing is different for every writer and it’s not easy, but it’s the love of what you are doing that has to keep you going.
When dealing with challenges, Dan recommended to keep writing and put your heart into it. Even though he was published by Clarion, when the company downsized, they didn’t want his type of books any longer. He kept writing and illustrating and seven years later was published again. Rose explained that giving birth to a story is messy and takes a long time. It’s an internal process and she also has felt the joy of publishing and the rejection. Eric’s first book was rejected 100 times. He still gets rejections after 20 books and looks for other paths.
Harry Potter was rejected 12 times.
A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 28 times.
Jane Yolen who has published 365 books is still getting rejections!
Learn from the process. Eric’s second book was in a different genre and was better because of his previous rejections.
All four authors absolutely love going into the schools and connecting with the children they write for. As Rose says, “It’s about hope. We don’t have answers to all the problems, but it goes back to hope.”
Their advice to writers:
Nancy–read, read, read and analyze like a writer. Keep a journal! Plot doesn’t always come when you want. You can refer to your journal later.
Rose–read and find the quiet space. Focus on the writing without the distractions. Write the story and make a mess.
Eric–try to write the book you wish you had in your hands at that age. Write what you are passionate about. The most interesting things happen when he doesn’t know what will happen. Let it show up.
Dan–write about what happened to you or what you are familiar with. Push yourself to to work on your story every day.
It was a pleasure meeting the authors and listening to their stories and advice. Do the work. Sit and write. Network and learn from others. Grow your writing family by attending meetings such as this one. To find out more about SCBWI, visit their website at www.scbwi.org