March into Writing

So the year started off for me with some type of flu that took me down for almost four

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Rebecca shows how we felt at the end of the retreat: Ready to take on anything. (But she was the only one of us brave enough to climb up to the edge.)

weeks. There went January! Needless to say, I spent February trying to make up for lost time. So when March rolled in, I was ready for work, inspiration, and motivation. And I got it with three awesome writing related events scheduled back to back for the first three weekends of the month. There were many awesome takeaways from each one, but I’ve picked just a few to share that can be applied both writing and life.

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With nerdy chicks Rebecca Petruck, Jocelyn Rish and Kathleen Fox.

First Weekend in March: Writing Retreat in the NC Mountains with these brilliant ladies. We laughed, we talked, we wrote, and most importantly, we brainstormed a ton of ideas. I learned that one of mine wasn’t really worth pursuing. This is actually very valuable to a writer, and anyone else with more ideas than time to execute them all. Thankfully, I also learned which of my other ideas I should throw my time into. Takeaway: There’s nothing like the collective brain!

Second Weekend in March: SCBWI Southern Breeze Spring Mingle March marks the wonderful Spring Mingle Conference held yearly in Decatur, Georgia. It’s a great event with a great faculty and plenty of hospitality. One of the speakers was agent Tracey Adams, whose talk about the publishing business was insightful. She reminded us that writing requires both patience and the ability to shake off rejections. Takeaway: ONWARD!

MG mafia

Attempting to infiltrate the MG Mafia at the post-conference reception.

This year, in addition to the usual fantastic camaraderie, I was surprised with the honor of being asked to fill in for one of Sunday’s keynote speakers. When writing the speech, I spent some time thinking about the thing that has helped me most as an author, and how to express that to an audience of fellow writers. I challenged them to do what I do when I start a new project, so I gave them this takeaway: Keep Nudging Your Brain into New Territory.

GA book festival

Sharing our books with librarians!

Third Weekend in March: For the first time I headed to the Georgia Book Awards

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With college friend Lisa at The Grill.

Conference in Athens Georgia. Since I received my undergraduate degree from UGA, it was wonderful to be back in Athens for the first time in many years. The city is as gorgeous as ever, and still full of vibrant, interesting places. It gave me the rare chance to hang out with new friends I’ve made in the past year, AND to get together with a college roommate I haven’t seen in over a decade. Take Away: Life is good when you can laugh with new friends at dinner and old friends at lunch! 

Now, full of ideas and inspiration, I’m looking forward to a very productive April. Here’s hoping you all are too!

 

 

 

George R.R. Martin Helps Me With My Housework

20160129_154819If you’re familiar with this blog, or with me at all, you probably know that doing housework does not make my list of top two million things to do. There are SO many other interesting ways to spend time.  I count among them…

  • Filling out those 15 forms prior to a doctor’s visit because they’ve just “updated their system”
  • Arguing with my husband
  • Having a mammogram

At least all of the above offer something new and different with each experience. Unlike housework, which is the same old same old BORING experience every time.

For this reason, I love the B-52s. They wrote an amazing song called Housework (what else?) that has spoken to me since I first heard it in college.  Check out these lyrics:

Don’t need a man to treat me mean

I need a man to help me clean

Someone who’s heaven sent

Someone to help pay rent

Someone to share dreams and wishes

Someone to help me do the dishes.

(Thankfully, a few years post-college, I married a man who could iron his own shirts. But that still leaves a lot of housework to do though… ugg. )

Anyway, after years of singing this to myself as I dusted and dish washed, I’ve finally discovered something that is helping me get through the tedium of housework!  And it’s something that five years ago I would have never thought I’d enjoy:

listening to audiobooks.

(Yeah, I know a ton of you have probably beat me to this realization, but it was a big deal to me because I always swore I needed to actually READ a book to enjoy it.)

Luckily, I found this wasn’t always true when a friend introduced me to the audio versions of Harry Potter narrated by Jim Dale. So excellent.

This discovery, along with winning an iPod nano, revolutionized my housework experience.   I could walk around my house with the ipod in my pocket, earbuds in my ears,  and be entertained while doing mind-numbing work!

Soon I asked for a yearlong membership to Audible for my birthday. (This is the best deal out there, because you get to download 12 books for $120 no matter what the price tag per individual book is.) After that I started cleaning house while burning through the books. But when I went through six of my twelve books in the first two months I realized something had to change.

I needed to use my credits to purchase books that took a longer time to read. Tomes that would stretch out for days and days of doing laundry.

Hello Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

Ten dollars for 33 hours and 50 minutes of listening pleasure for Book One alone. That’s only about 30 cents an hour! I’m totally worth that.

Of course the Game of Thrones books are sometimes so brutal that they’re hard to listen to. If you want to see someone cringing while cleaning a lint filter come on over.

Is my house sparkling clean now? No! But has the time I’ve put into attempting to reach that goal been more entertaining? You bet.

I encourage you to try this! When listening to books instead of reading them, it’s important to pick books with great narrators. One of my favorites so far is Jesse Eisenberg, who reads Holly Black’s Curse Worker series. You can listen to a sample here. I always check out the narrator before downloading a title.

If Audible isn’t for you, see what your library has to offer. Many libraries offer free audiobook downloads. Audible just works best for me, for several reasons.

I love that I can meet great characters and explore new worlds while accomplishing the necessary evils of housework.

Well, I’ve gotta go. A pile of dishes is calling my name.

Come on George, we have work to do.

***

Pssst: Wanna hear the whole song by the B-52s? You can listen to it here:

Sad but True Ode to William Carlos Williams

Hello Nerdy Chicks! It has been a while since I posted … and I will eventually post about the past few months… because I’m sure many of you have been there and can relate. But for now, I hope you’ll enjoy this photo post. A poem I left for my husband. And yes, I know I’d be better off eating plums, but this is the honest truth. Because it isn’t a happy moment around here when someone consumes the last diet coke. (True confession: My husband didn’t get it… never studied William Carlos Williams! Do you?) Hope the rest of your weekend is great!

20150708_173153To read William Carlos Williams’ infinitely better original poem, click HERE.  Whatever you went to the icebox for today, I hope it was there waiting for you!

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Pssst. Registration is still going on for Kidlit Summer School. And we just released the new banner check it out by clicking HERE.

The Minimalist Challenge

The first item to go. I got these down to decorate for a party and never put them back in the attic, so do I really need them?

The first item to go. I got these down to decorate for a party and never put them back in the attic, so do I really need them?

The Minimalist Challenge. I’m doing it. I’m totally doing it. Who wants to meet my challenge? Wait. Did you hear that sound? That primal cry? Don’t be alarmed. It’s just  the sound of unadulterated joy escaping my husband’s surprised lips. He’s wanted to clear out the house for years. See, he knows I have a problem getting rid of the following:

1. Anything sentimental, which means anything that belonged to my grandparents, AND
2. Anything my children have ever made, worn, read or played with.
3. Anything that can be made into any other thing by way of crafting.
4. Anything  that used to work, and could possibly work again.
5. Clothes that I might fit back into some day.
6. Books.

Hey, that’s not such a long list. I mean, how much stuff can you really accumulate when your “to keep” list is only six items long?

Turns out a ton. Maybe a few tons. With stuff spilling out of every closet and across the floors, my home has reached its saturation point. Which is why when I heard about the Minimalist Challenge, I knew I needed to embrace it.

What is the Minimalist Challenge? Basically, you get rid of one thing on the first day of the challenge, two things on the second, three things on the third, etc.  So before I become a candidate for the next episode of Hoarders, I’ve decided to pick up the gauntlet.

The bloggers who originally issued the challenge (aptly named The Minimalists) designed it to begin on the first day of the month, but I say you can start it any time you get desperate enough to get rid of potentially useful or desirable stuff.  For me, that day is today.

The Minimalists explain on their blog that they were both making six figure salaries but found they were unhappy with their cluttered lives, so both gave up their butt loads of crap (sorry, I really did have to go there) to  become minimalists and seek happiness from living more, writing more, and accumulating less. You can read more about them HERE.

Unlike the self-proclaimed Minimalists, I am not leaving a six figure job to claim minimalism and thus happiness. Anyone who has ever met me knows I’m a pretty happy person already. (Hey, maybe that’s because I don’t have a six figure income! Maybe living on a dime is a GOOD thing. What a relief.) So while I don’t fear that my possessions are getting in the way of my happiness, they are getting in the way of my sanity.

Rather than go happily insane, I’m accepting the challenge. If you want to meet the challenge with me, (or offer encouragement) comment below or send me an email.

Ready. Set. Let’s minimize!

Day 5: Still on target and plowing through the stuff. I decided to count both big and small items... otherwise the clutter doesn't really get cleared.

Update -Day 5: Still on target and plowing through the stuff. I decided to count both big and small items… otherwise the clutter doesn’t really get cleared.

 

 

 

Speeches, School Visits, and Special People….plus cupcakes

Last week was a whirlwind in the best of ways. I gave a speech, visited three schools, attended two book signing parties, and wound up the weekend with the South Carolina Book Festival.  The best part of it all was that I ran into so many friends along the way!

Fi2014-05-13 09.02.52rst stop: Speaking at the Georgia Young Authors Awards in Clarkesville Georgia!  Georgia Young Authors is a wonderful program that recognizes young authors from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  I was able to stay with my University of Georgia college roommate, Joy Purcell, while visiting — a fabulous perk.

2014-05-13 11.43.02Next stop: Level Grove Elementary where I talked about the ideas behind my books and answered questions for a select group of girls who had read and enjoyed THE BOY PROJECT. One of those girls recommended that we visit her mom’s cupcake shop, Sugartopia, since THE BOY PROBLEM has a cupcake theme. (We couldn’t resist, and I’m glad! We had the best key lime cupcakes ever there.)

An hour later I was speaking to kindergarten through fifth graders at Hazel Grove Elementary. With the younger students, we discussed how authors use details to create character. Luckily, I had some willing models for my discussion. (Could this little girl be any cuter? I let her keep the clown nose, not thinking it a good idea to have different kids putting something on their noses. Then noticed immediately after the 2014-05-13 13.21.55presentation that kids were lining up to try on the nose from her. Oh well!)

The next morning it was off to Greenville, SC, where my family and I lived for four happy years, and to Stone Academy where my own children used to go to school! It isn’t uncommon for students to ask about author pay. I usually answer with an example using tens, without, of course, speaking to the actual dollar amount I have earned with my books. So I said something like “If an a book costs ten dollars, and the author gets ten percent of that amount, how much money does he or she earn after 10,000 books are sold?” To which someone shouted “A hundred thousand dollars!” All I could think to say was, “How I wish your calculations were correct.”  🙂 This entrepreneurial group also wanted to know how big my house was, if I am famous enough to be recognized in stores by strangers (no!),  and if, since I wouldn’t tell them the actual amount I have earned, if I could at least share the amount of my BIGGEST check.

I got other great questions from them too, but they aren’t as entertaining to share!

IMG_20140514_181100_711From there I headed to my former neighbor and Nerdy Chick Nancy Kennedy’s house to ice red velvet cupcakes for the book signing parties. I must be getting pretty good at icing cupcakes because someone at the first event, held at the best-titled bookstore around (Fiction Addiction) asked me if the cupcakes were real.

He blends in, but yes, there is a dog there.

He blends in, but yes, there is a dog there.

I remember once hearing New York Times Best Selling author Bret Lott say that he didn’t like book signings. He told a story about a time his publisher flew him around the country, and even then sometimes no one came to the signings, and once he was even asked to hold someone’s dog. So when our former pediatrician came in with her dog, I had to pose with it in the hopes that holding a dog in a bookstore at a book signing event might bring me one step closer to Bret Lott’s success.

At this point both my camera and phone batteries were dead, so I go NO pics of the wine and cheese party hosted by Nancy later that night that many of my good friends from my Greenville days attended. But it was so much fun! Nancy even found Red Velvet (Cupcake brand) wine to go with the red velvet cupcakes.

When I woke up the next morning it was Thursday. Where had the time gone? So I packed up, stopped to visit a few more friends, and headed to Camden SC where, after dinner with my brother and his family, I prepared for The South Carolina Book Festival. But it looks like that will have to be a separate blog post! Too much information to share at once.

Takeaway from last week: Visiting schools always introduces me to new perspectives that make me happy! Visiting with long-time friends makes me happy! So being an author makes me happy! Great week!

 

Learning from Launches

Last week I celebrated the book birthday of THE BOY PROBLEM: NOTES AND PREDICTIONS OF TABITHA REDDY with a Virtual Launch Party. You can still check out the links which include an interview, a trailer, an essay written by me, and a podcast! Then the launch parties hit the road as I took those instant images I talked about in THIS POST to several SC bookstores. So today I thought I’d share a little of my travels with you and tell you how it went, and what I learned about book launch parties.

cupcakes

First, have a cupcake! My friend Lisa made these to go along with the cupcake theme in the book!

chocolate mustache cookiesSo, with the cupcake theme in place, the refreshment decision was easy! But still… I just couldn’t resist buying mustache shaped cookie cutters, so of course we had to stay up late the night before the first party making chocolate mustache cookies. ‘Cause who needs sleep the night before a book launch? (Hint:You!)

fortune telling statSince Tabbi, the main character of THE BOY PROBLEM tries to predict who the right guy for her will be, I had a great time stocking up on kid-friendly prediction objects for party attenders to play around with. Of course there were fortune cookies, those red fortune telling fish, and even fortune telling bacon!

Kids make their own paper fortune tellers and check out a variety of 8 balls Including the one from Glee that occasionally sings, "You cant t always get what you want."

Kids make their own paper fortune tellers and check out a variety of Magic 8 balls Including the one from Glee that occasionally sings, “You cant t always get what you want.”

My daughter sports her Johnny Cupcake shirt like the ones from the book.

My daughter sports her Johnny Cupcake shirt like the ones from the book.

The first party was at Artworks in Beaufort. It was great to see friends, meet people, and sign books! And I haven’t even gotten to the fake mustaches, finger mustache tattoos, and the book bling…. tattoos, bookmarks, and bracelets. But I was so exhausted after the happy event, and we had so much going on, that I decided to streamline the next event, a book signing party at Books on Broad in Camden SC: I decided not to make another batch of mustache cookies. Luckily, we didn’t need them. My first grade teacher made brownies and brought peanuts, a dear family friend, my sister-in-law and my mother made a fresh batch of cupcakes, and Books on Broad set up the cutest lemonade stand. Love the mustache cups!

Love the mustache cups and the cute table cloth.

Love the mustache cups and the cute table cloth.

If you ever want to visit a GORGEOUS independent bookstore, you need to check out Books on Broad.

If you ever want to visit a GORGEOUS independent bookstore, you need to check out Books on Broad.

 

signing lineThis event was made even more special when my friend of ten years, author Kathryn Erskine arrived about half-way through. When I planned the party, I didn’t know Kathy would be in town, but vacation brought her to SC, and I was so excited to be able to sign books with her! I put Kathy’s National Book Award winning skills to work, by making her haul all of that junk I’ve been talking about out to the car while I joked around taking pictures with the giant mustaches Books on Broad used to decorate.

Kathy Erskine and my mom make trips back and forth to the car with my book party junk.

Kathy Erskine and my mom make trips back and forth to the car with my book party junk.

 

 

Clearly there were better things to do than to pack up.

Clearly there were better things to do than to pack up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop, Hartsville SC and Burry Bookstore where Kathy and I signed books together for an hour and a half. I consolidated even more this time. Kathy appreciated having to make fewer trips to the car while I was setting up.

Signing at Burry Bookstore

Signing at Burry Bookstore

Last week was a whirlwind! But in the best ways. So what I learned about book launch parties…

1.It doesn’t matter how many great, creative, ideas you have to help celebrate the arrival of a new book… just act on a few. You only want to make so many trips back and forth hauling all those good ideas from the car. My next book launch party will be a little more simple, but just as much fun!

2. Friends and family make hosting the parties easier, and better in every way!

3. Independent bookstore owners are the best.

4. I loved signing every book. But the absolute best ones to sign were those of students who read my first book and were excited about getting the second one!

 

The best of the best. Signing for Megan who read The Boy Project.

The best of the best. Signing for Megan who read The Boy Project.

THE BOY PROBLEM is officially launched! Hooray!

 

 

Mother Nature: The Ultimate Nerdy Chick?

Mother Nature is a Nerdy Chick. She’s strong, talented, and assertive. Okay, she can be cranky too, but we try to stay out of her way.

 

winter

This past winter, Mother Nature bombarded many of us with unreasonable amounts of snow and pitched us into frigid polar vortexes (which we had never heard of before). But while we hunkered down in our homes (thanks MN for four days of writing while the office was closed), she was out there creating beauty: putting diamonds on tree branches, etching intricate frosty patterns on glass, and sculpting ice into glossy reaching fingers.

 

ocean

me_oceanWhen April arrived and the last snow melted away, I attended a writers’ retreat at the Jersey Shore. Mother Nature spent the weekend churning the sea with heavy wind and rain, but I didn’t let her chase me away. Doing my best Jim Cantore imitation, I bundled up in storm gear and walked alone on the beach. I inhaled the salty, fishy air and watched Mother Nature paint patterns on the sand with foaming water, leaving collages of shells, stones, and claws.

 

spring_sign

Today my perennial garden is covered with last fall’s leaves, hiding treasures like clutter hides a teenager’s messy bedroom floor. Mother Nature is sending small signs of spring, hinting at the summer to come. She grows a quilt of glossy leaves and her small gifts of early flowers pop up. She soaks her gardens with more rain, and paints abstract patterns of lichen on trees.

Mother Nature is a creative and clever Nerdy Chick. She has endless imagination when using color, form, and texture. She shares all of it with us—whether we want it or not. If we accept her many moods, we can see her beauty all around us.

 

All photographs © Mary Zisk 2014