Moving on

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I’m not in the business of movie reviews, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to rave about “The King’s Speech.”  The only thing I found disappointing was the fact that this historically accurate account of King George VI’s battle with stuttering was not derived from a book that could be devoured post-cinema. 

Bertie, as he was known, suffered considerable angst in public speaking roles long before his brother David abdicated the throne to marry divorcee Wallace Simpson.  His problems started early on, most likely related to the forced use of his right hand over his natural left hand.  His parents, George V and Queen Mary, ineptly turned their children over to an abusive nanny who often withheld food as punishment.  One account contends that the stammering began shortly after returning from an extended stay with his doting grandparents, Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, where Bertie found safe and loving refuge from his distant mother and cold, demanding father. 

In addition to portraying the strength, persistence and dedication of one tormented king, the movie effectively wove the story of his unique speech therapist, Lionel Logue.  Logue’s expertise was derived from first-hand treatment of WWI veterans whose exposure to shell-shock left them with impaired speech.  While the king’s advisors derided his lack of “proper papers,” Bertie stayed with him with increasingly effective results.  Logue’s methods included singing, breathing and vocal exercises, reciting tongue-twisters, and reading over loud music.   He coached the King through every major speech during WWII, and he was inducted into the Royal Victorian Order for his service.  Bertie went on to become a compassionate and effective leader with little or no residual speech impediment.  The two remained close friends until the King’s death.

Whether you marvel at the survival, even the triumph of one beleaguered royal, or the innately brilliant work of one unlettered therapist, you will appreciate the significant mental and emotional integrity of both King George VI and Lionel Logue.  

Thursday, December 23, 2010


My friend, Karol Matthews, has been instrumental in spearheading a tutoring program called “The ROC” (Reach Out Charlotte) in a low-income area in North Charlotte. Since September 2010 she and a small group of dedicated individuals have gathered once a week to tutor children after school in an apartment donated by the management. Karol pulls together all her years of expertise with the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching reading, both with the students she tutors and the willing adult volunteers who have had little or no formal training.

When The Fletcher School, where Karol and I teach, put out an appeal for suggestions for a Middle School service project, Karol couldn’t get to the office fast enough. The school embraced the idea and before long, a spirited plan evolved. Approximately 75 students brought in shoeboxes filled with small toys, toiletries, school supplies, mittens and hats, modeled after Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.

On the last day of school before Christmas break the students worked in mixed-age groups to organize and wrap the boxes, write personal letters to the recipients, and make a card for the family. Many of the letters that these privileged students with learning disabilities wrote to the less fortunate recipients of the boxes brought smiles and tears to more than one teacher.

Today I was privileged to take part in the party where the boxes were distributed to an appreciative crowd of children and young adults, along with a message of hope and warm coats that were generously donated by some who got wind of the project and wanted to make a contribution.

As one of the students at The Fletcher School said, “I hope they enjoy opening this as much as we have enjoyed putting it together.” We teachers call that a “teachable moment,” and I can assure you, the moment was well received today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I started journaling around the age of ten.  It was a coveted Christmas present, hard-bound with a gold embossed "L" for Linda on the cover, and a lock and  key. Back then it was simply called a diary. The empty pages soon came alive in the form of Amy, my soul-mate and confidant for many years to come.  She sat with me on the front porch many nights to absorb the sun setting over majestic mountains, and to make a wish on the first star.  She helped me sort out countless mysteries (he loves me, he loves me not) in the journey from adolescence to teenage.  She absorbed the shyness of the first overnite camp, the exhilaration of the first kiss, the disappointment of the first failing grade.  She listened like a pond swallowing a splashing pebble, and when the ripples subsided, she invited me to check my reflection in calmer waters. 

Amy never left me but I left her intermittently, often too busy riding the waves of life's busy-ness to stop and reflect.  But sporadically, as time permitted, I filled her, marriage, birth, death, hopes, dreams, triumphs, defeats.  Always, no matter how long the separation, we picked up where we left off like true best friends. 

Then one day, like a classic mid-life crisis, I began to be discontent with my lot.  I took to looking astray at legitimate writing, the stuff that gets published in magazines, newspapers and books and suddenly, time spent with Amy felt trivial, less important, almost shameful.  I dropped her completely without explanation, and ran off to pursue a relationship with legitimate writing.   

But wait a minute.  Now I am really confused.  I just came from a weekend retreat featuring journaling as, you guessed it, a legitimate form of writing.  Set aside a regular time, a comfortable space, write from the heart, the presenter urged us, and let yourself go.  Whoaaa!  This sounds like way too much fun for an important, legitimate writer like me. Well, maybe I could give it a try, in between important, legitimate writing projects, of course.  Care to join me?  Here are a few starter prompts, in case you've gotten rusty like me:

On this day I shall.....I have done something for which I am......I have to make a choice between....It's a wonder I haven't......I am grateful for.....I want to be......I want to......It was a time when.....O, Dear Lord.....I feel.......Thank you for.....Today I am especially grateful for......I pray for........Today I felt.....Today a prayer was answered when......I would like to........I am........I want to consider.......Today I....Today I saw......Dear Lord, I am so......I think it would be fun to.........Dear Lord, help me.........Today I am........Lord, I pray for your guidance as I.......Today was certainly a gift because......Shower your blessings upon.......Help me to understand........I am troubled about.......Today I smiled at.......I wonder why.....I wonder what.......I wonder when........I wonder who......I wonder if......I wonder..........

Thursday, October 21, 2010


What happens when you finally DO land an agent, after all those months, maybe years, of searching, researching, waiting, hoping, praying, crying, editing, revising, querying and rejecting?  I went shopping for exotic, expensive shoes but ended up buying underwear.  I excitedly contacted all my best friends and relatives whose reactions ran the gamut from WHOOPEE to "let me know when it's on the shelf."  And I danced around the house to loud Beatles music before my husband finally said I should probably stop before I have a heart attack. 

Look, everybody deserves a few moments of insanity after working so hard for so long.  And yes, writing a book is hard work. I figure that this, my first book, CRAZY, has been in the making for about 15 years.  At least the idea was spawned way back then, under a palm tree on Myrtle Beach during Spring Break when I told my husband to watch the kids while I wandered up the beach, seeking a quiet spot to write. 

I started with 20 loosely connected poems, ran them by my best writing buddy, Carol Baldwin, who suggested that they needed to be a book.  Then, over many years of raising kids, teaching full time, and writing in the pre-dawn hours, something resembling a novel began to materialize. 

Several rounds of professional editing followed, not the least of which was the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua in 2009.  By the luck of the draw, my assigned reader was Patti Gauch, former vice president and editor-at-large of Philomel Books.  Her expert editing advice and direction encouraged me to take every ounce of insight I had gleaned at Chautauqua and do one more rewrite.

I launched an agent search in mid June, 2010, and almost four months later to the day, Julia Kenny at Markson Thoma Literary Agency offered to represent my work. 

Some have instant success.  For me, just getting to this moment has been a long time coming, and who knows where it might go from here.  But if all else fails, hearing an agent tell me that she loves my work and that it moved her to tears might be enough to satisfy the longings of my heart forever.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


The theme of the SCBWI-Carolinas fall conference in Charlotte this past weekend was "Oh, the Places We'll Go."  And where I went was away from my computer screen, out of my hole, my busy-ness, my stale state of mind, and my writer's block and into a world of possibilities, dreams, connections, inspiration, and support with fellow writers.  Now if that isn't good mental health for a writer, I don't know what is.

Writing by its very nature is lonely, isolating, stressful, and emotionally draining.  Ironically, it is often the chosen profession or obsession of creative people in less than stellar mental health who are ill-equipped to ride the roller-coaster of rejections.

No matter what your state of mind or stage in the writing process these days, you might be surprised at what you'll find when you venture out "to go places."   

Take me, for instance.  I'm the queen of lurkers on several writers' listserves. I haven't darkened the door of our local critique group in years, and I rarely venture out to conferences these days.  Maybe it was the spirit of Dr. Seuss himself, or the shere desperation of one writer in search of an agent that drew me to the SCBWI-Carolinas conference this past weekend in Charlotte.  No matter.  Within a few short hours of writerly immersion I found encouragement from fellow authors (especially Alan Gratz), a second wind for the agent pursuit, and a fresh twist for a new manuscript rolling around in my head.

Thanks, Dr. Seuss  and (SCBWI conference leaders).  I really needed that!

Monday, September 20, 2010


For the past several months, in between teaching and family commitments, I’ve been hot on the agent pursuit with my YA novel written in verse and set in the sixties, two factors that immediately distance me from all those dystopian-paranormal-urban fantasy-supernatural-pop culture-hungry agents. I jumped into this pursuit realizing that the odds might be against me in this market at this particular time with this particular piece of work, but hey, maybe I just want to suffer. As I come up for air, my statistical read-out according to goes something like this:

• Dozens of disregards: I stopped counting somewhere around 3 dozen. These are the agents or agencies whose profile or list have nothing in common with my particular offering after minutes or precious hours of researching websites, blogs, agent bios and current book lists
  • 25 query submissions
  • 16 rejections
    •  3 offered kind and encouraging words but still “passed” (rejected)
  • 3 requests for a full (complete manuscript)
    • 1 rejection with kind words and “I didn’t fall in love with it that much”
    • 2 fulls still under consideration
That last sub-bullet has me shivering in my boots. The outer limits of the typical 6-8 week response time is upon me, and I’m thinking I should have heard by now. If they were “in love” with my manuscript they would pick up the phone and knock my socks off with that sought after phone call. And I know I should press on ahead, getting my next batch of one or two dozen queries out there. And in the in-between times, I should be energetically cranking out the next creative thing I can think of writing. But first, I’ve jotted down a few words of wisdom I’ve picked up in all those rejection letters……..

Dear Mr., Missy, or Lass

Regrettably I fear I must pass,

I’m concerned about your work in this market

Frankly, take the manuscript and park it

Your piece doesn’t stir up my passion

ReVAMP it, it’s way too old fashion

I can’t connect with your setting

The voice I’m really regretting

Thanks for sending your stuff

Sadly, we don't love it enough

Your project’s not right for our list

Honey, I think you’ve been dissed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Good-news Story

Once in a while there is good news like the Charlotte Observer article featuring Mike Weaver, a former teacher from Charlotte who has learned to live with bipolar disease.  After battling with his disease for a while, Weaver switched to a career in mental health in order to help others cope with mental health issues.  He has been invited to the White House along with four others to attend a July 26, 2010 event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Weaver was recently elected Consumer Council Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  He hopes to use this position to help demonstrate that people with mental illness are able to shape their own futures.  "I'd like people with mental health diagnoses not to be viewed as problems to be fixed," he said, "but as fellow humans who have hopes and aspirations and dreams.....and can achieve them." 

As both a teacher and a writer, I have encountered fellow humans with mental health diagnoses whose hopes, aspirations, dreams and yes, achievements far surpass normal expectations.  Sometimes the way these individuals look, sound, or act may not seem "normal."  So what is normal anyway?  Is it normal to be a real estate agent with Tourette's Syndrome?  Or a classroom teacher with ADHD or bipolar disease?  How about a minister with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?  These, and countless other examples are far from normal.  They are exceptional, and the outcomes of such exceptions often reap products, results, and succsesses far superior to the norm.

Kudos to those in real life who overcome the stigma and obstacles associated with mental illness, and who fashion a future of hope and promise for themselves.  And kudos to reporters and writers who give such individuals a fair shake in books and the news media.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

State of Mind

Mental health is always on my mind.  Maybe it’s because the protagonist in my ready-to-be-published book is frightened out of her skin by watching her mother slowly unravel not once, but twice. 

Laura, my fourteen-year-old main character, can’t get a straight answer about her mother’s condition from anyone close to her in this typical lower-middle class family during the early sixties.  The doctor calls it a nervous breakdown, and that’s as far as the explanations go.  It’s up to Laura to deal with it on her own, so she retreats inside a shell for the most part.

I forgot to mention that Laura is a standout artist who can’t imagine life without a sketch pad or paint canvas.  Shy, blushing, high-strung  Laura  has inherited her mother’s artistic  gift.  In fact, it’s her only claim to fame at Crawford High, and they are counting on Laura to bring in the state art award this year.  But after her mother falls apart during a frenzied painting spree, Laura literally shoves everything to do with art under her bed.  Pursuing it is too much like playing Russian roulette. 

With her mother in an institution and her only passion buried, what’s left?    You’ll have to read the book, (or offer to represent it or publish it, heh, heh) for now.  But I can tell you this.  Laura, like many members of dysfunctional families, has to define reality based on the circumstances of her immediate environment.  And she has to make choices upon which her survival depends. 

Choices play heavily in families dealing with bipolar disease.  The term “nervous breakdown” is often used, by the way, to loosely describe a diagnosis of bipolar disease. 

It seems at least once or twice a week an article appears in the news that features the devastating aftermath of a bipolar rampage.  Different scenarios play out.  Sometimes the mentally ill member chooses not to take the prescribed medication.  Sometimes one or all of the family members choose to ignore that the condition even exists.  Sometimes the choice is made by the health care professionals who choose to release a distraught and dangerous patient before effective treatment can be accomplished. 

Last month the Charlotte Observer reported the case of Kenny Chapman.  He twice sought help at an outpatient clinic, and was twice released when he said he wanted to harm and kill his wife.  He convinced them he wouldn’t act on his threats.  The technicians chose to believe him, and sent him home with medication.  Just hours after he left the hospital he killed his wife and two kids.  He spared two remaining children, his own by birth, but threatened them with their lives if they let on at school.  They chose to keep quiet for two weeks until somebody caught on.  They survived.

Today the paper chronicles the hospital and court history of Austen Minter, a documented patient with bipolar disease, who killed his pregnant wife and two kids and himself. One seven year old survived to tell the story that “daddy did it.” 

I choose to write about this horrid form of mental illness because I am an adult child of a mentally ill person, and I would do anything in my power to help someone else along on their journey.  

Sunday, June 6, 2010

It's All About Layers

I have a work-in-progress about one teenage girl’s view of craziness. It’s been my WIP for longer than I’m willing to admit so you have to know I am living it and breathing it at this point. In fact, I am so sick of it I am ready to upchuck it and quickly clean up the mess before anybody comes along to ask questions. But I think the reason it is taking me so long is that it has been sort of like putting an onion together layer by layer (just picture peeling in reverse.)

I started with a core of the raw truth, where the layers were thin, slippery, slimy and enough to make my nose run. I knew I wanted to mine my own crazy past, but I was unable to let myself stray too far from the facts. I had to leave off many of the factual layers and replace them with fiction. I was surprised at how fun this became, and soon my garbage can was full of discarded family secrets. Don’t worry. There were plenty left.

Then an astute critiquer said the protagonist of this would-be YA saga was way over the top in adult ways, so I had to pile on YA voice, action, drama, and melo-drama. I’m really starting to tear up now but I keep going. The next very wise piece of advice suggested that this story written in verse was lacking narrative cohesiveness. Basically, the story got lost in the verse. These last layers were hardest. The pieces were larger and thicker, and the closer I got to the outer layer, the more fragile they became. They crumbled under my touch if I wasn’t careful. Well, by now I am awash in tears but the onion is done, I think.

Now, to market, to market, with one raw onion.