Life consists mostly of waiting, punctuated with moments of excitement. It’s in the waiting that we prepare, learn, and change so we’re ready when opportunities emerge. I am thankful life isn’t an endless sequence of noisy excitement, how exhausting that would be! The waiting makes the positive moments worth it, and the negative moments easier to tolerate.
I like to write about the moments that exist in the between, because that’s where the really good stuff happens; that’s when the growth occurs. We meet people in all stages of waiting: waiting for a birthday, a graduation, the arrival of a baby, for a vacation, better job, a diagnosis, or a new horizon. What makes people fascinating is how they handle the anticipation.
Both of my 2023 releases find characters waiting. In the picture book When Mama Grows with Me, the parent and child move through all the steps of gardening from seed to flower, and in doing so, learn together to be more patient and grateful. Those times we do not see evidence of growth on the outside, are the times we are growing on the inside!
In the YA novel Whispering Through Water, characters wait for their futures to begin and for the truth to be discovered. (The family patriarch is even named for the playwright, Samuel Beckett, who wrote Waiting for Godot. A play in which two comedic characters wait around and wait around some more.) As the protagonist, Gwyn, finds herself in the between of high school and adulthood, she unearths fundamental truths to understanding herself and her relationships.
So what are you waiting for? How will you fill the time until the future arrives?
Keep looking up.
Despite that I’ve lost count how many drafts of Whispering Through Water exist, one thing has remained throughout every revision: the title. I grew up in a small town on a coastal peninsula, and practically every house was within three blocks of a river. Water imagery creeps into my writing, whether intended or not. Water has the power to both heal and destroy. I’ve experienced the beauty of the water on a spring day, and then the menacing beast during a hurricane. Water is the ultimate paradox.
I discovered the poet, Denise Levertov, when I took Feminist Poetry in graduate school. I often return to my well-worn copy Levertov's poetry collection Breathing the Water (1984). The title highlights the water paradox. The image of breathing water brings to mind either images of healing and cleansing or suffocating and drowning. (Personally, I lean toward healing imagery).
When my sister and I were kids, we would sink underwater in the pool and try to mouth words as the other would try to guess what we said. Of course, we rarely guessed correctly and just ended up spraying water at each other. Although in real life, sometimes our voice feels as if we are screaming through a filter of water. Our mouths go through the motions of movement but without sound. Despite her longingness, the protagonist in Whispering Through Water often feels stifled by her own reluctance to speak her truth, particularly to the family’s matriarch, her Aunt Delia.
“It’s like in my mind I feel as if I’m screaming for her to understand what I want, what I need, but then when the words leave my mouth I feel as if,” I paused to gather my thoughts, “as if I’m just whispering through water.” . . . My aunt was the one person who I was terrified to confront, and the one
I most wanted to hear me."
-excerpt from Whispering Through Water
One of my favorite poems in Breathing the Water is “I learned that her name was Proverb.” The poem explores the power of human relationships, no matter how brief, people we may only know for a moment, but that play a pivotal role in our lives. A person we may only have spoken to once, but years later would recognize without question. Or maybe it’s a person we have known for years, who has now grown and changed with time, but one word can take us back years to when we met them.
“one crucial moment, gaze to gaze, or for years know and don’t recognize
But of whom later a word
sings back to us”
-excerpt from “I learned that her name was Proverb” by Denise Levertov
My novel Whispering Through Water explores both types of relationships. The brief relationship that shapes a lifetime, and the lifelong relationship that must change to survive.
I’m excited to count down the days until I can share Whispering Through Water with you.
Keep looking up.
I’m excited to announce my first YA novel Whispering Through Water will be released January 4, 2023 from Monarch Press. Set in 1998, a time on the cusp of a technology explosion when youth, especially young women, were experiencing the benefits of the women’s movement fought for by their mothers and grandmothers.
The coming-of-age story follows our protagonist, Gwyn Madison, the summer after her high school graduation. While grappling with her fast-approaching future, Gwyn stumbles upon a long held family secret. She’ll have to face more than she bargained for with her Aunt Delia, the family matriarch, and in the meantime, she meets a young man that shows her that going after what she needs is worth everything. Whispering Through Water navigates family dynamics, young love, female empowerment, friendship, with a little 90s nostalgia.
I completed the initial “final” draft in 2013 (which had already seen three different versions), and in winter of 2021, circumstances prompted me to revisit this novel again, of which it went through another complete rewrite. There’s something to be said about letting work rest before approaching it again; albeit my book took an eight year nap! Now what actually inspired me to write the story would be a spoiler alert, so I’ll just say, my inspiration was prompted by an NPR interview I listened to in 2008.
I have always been interested in the concept of the “Generation Gap”. If you are a reader of history, historical fiction, or even just talked with your grandmother, there are qualities that transcend generational divide: the distinctly human drive for autonomy and agency to determine one’s own future. The lengths we will go to in order to maintain agency, and the despair we feel when we cannot. The ability to achieve autonomy is impacted by cultural norms and sometimes puts us at odds with those we love.
I am excited for you all to read this decade+ labor of love. If you are interested in joining Monarch’s ARC (advanced reader copy) review team visit: ttps://forms.gle/VGHuxmr8T9Jy3m269
Keep looking up.
Writing takes perseverance, and writing in hopes of getting published takes perseverance and an unbounded (maybe even irrational) level of hope. I’m sure when people ask me “What motivates you?” they are expecting something more complicated than simply hope, but really that’s all I’ve got. Hope that I can leave the world a better place than when I found it. Hope that I can be better. Hope that I can write something worth reading.
My Grandma Helen passed away 10 years ago at the age of 100. I’m not sure how you live to 100 without an unbounded level of hope. As a young adult, she taught in a one room schoolhouse in Western Maryland. She supplied me with poetry books, novels, and blank journals. When Grandma was in her late seventies, she went to Europe for the first time, and when she was in her early eighties, she went back. This made such an impression on me as a young teenager; she never gave up on her dream to travel no matter how long it took to come true.
Grandma had a love for Emily Dickinson, which she shared with me. Honestly I cannot remember when I started using Dickinson’s Hope 1 as a mantra, but over the years I find myself repeating these words, both during times where I feel little hope and when I feel it in abundance.
Hope is the thing with feathers That perches on the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all
I love Dickinson’s explanation of hope, because it’s not really an explanation at all. It's a metaphor, a feeling, a movement, a song with no words. You know when you have it, and you know when you’ve lost it. Hope is relentless. Hope doesn’t let go easily, and thank God it doesn’t.
Here’s to hope in 2022.
Keep looking up.
Relationship has become the center of writing. Over time, I discovered within my stories of relationship, the human connection with nature had also become a constant. In a way our relationship with nature mirrors our relationship with other people. My granddaddy always said, “You can tell a man’s character by how he treats children and animals.” That statement has stuck with me over with the years. How a person engages with animals is a mirror to how they engage with other humans. How I treat those with less power reflects my value system.
I don’t have to be a climate scientist or an environmental researcher to make an impact. As a mom, school counselor, and writer of children’s books, who wants to foster an appreciation for nature in young people, I have learned small teaching moments can make a big impact. It can be as simple as going outside at night and looking up. Watch for bats and talk about they help balance our ecosystem. Take a walk with your kids and count how many different trees you see. Talk about how trees work as the lungs for our planet. Research plants native to your area, and plant those in your yards, community centers, or schools. And it can be as simple as not shrieking when you see a bee, but instead talking about how thankful you are the bee chose your yard! Talk about how bees help keep plants healthy and growing. Sharing nature with our kids at a young age helps them grow up to appreciate the natural world around them. We protect what we appreciate. And our planet is worth protecting like our lives depend on it.
Keep looking up.
To the stars through difficulties.
When I toured my future college 25 years ago, I thought Ad Astra per Aspera was the least inspirational motto for a college. Shouldn’t a motto end on a high note by reaching the goal? Like one of those cheesy dorm room posters that reads: Shoot for the stars, and even if you miss you’ll land among the clouds. But, alas, the journey to the stars isn’t glossy like the dorm room poster.
Truthfully at 18 years old, I couldn’t even have conceived the difficulties that I would have to dodge, and some I would have to ride out, in order to reach my star. And when you reach one star, another will appear in the distance, you’ll just have to avoid a few more meteors to get there.
Ad Astra per Aspera. The difficulties make the journey meaningful. It's the difficulties that teach you the substance of the star, and it’s the difficulties that teach you how to navigate to the next star.
Over my birthday this summer I saw my dear college friend, Shahgol. I shared with her ideas for the When Daddy Shows Me the Sky book launch. She’s a person that finds universal connections in all things, and one of the most joyful people I know. She said, “Of course, Ad Astra per Aspera,” like somehow she knew my book would get published all along.
This summer was the first time I had thought of the Latin phrase in years.
It is pretty perfect.
Keep looking up.
During my childhood, the library was my safe space (later I would add bookstores and museums to that list). I have vivid memories of my elementary school library which was situated in the heart of the school. One set of glass doors led to the lower elementary wing and another set led to the upper elementary wing. The hallways would be filled with chatter and laughter, that I often wasn’t a part of, but once I stepped through those glass doors the sound was sucked away. In that space, I could imagine anyone I wanted to be. I remember being drawn to the biographies of famous women like Amelia Earhart and Jane Goodall, and the fantasy of Greek mythology. Athena was my favorite.
And it was in the library that I discovered poetry. I was in 5th grade, and I checked out a poetry compilation for a class project. I distinctly remember reading “The Term” by William Carlos Williams. That poem amazed me. How could he paint such a clear image with so few words? The poem was both so quietly beautiful and hauntingly disturbing. Was it about the resiliency of the human spirit or coming grips with our human mortality, as our man made objects outlive us? Questions from my ten year old brain that I’m still working to answer.
I fell in love with poetry. And I suppose I’m still in love with poetry, because I can read the poem again thirty years later and still be awed by the words.
The first poem I received recognition for was one that I wrote in the spirit of my old friend WCW. The poem placed 3rd in my college’s literary magazine contest, validating my 5th grade poet’s heart.
Nothing is as splendid
as a homegrown,
That sweet, sticky juice
onto your shirt,
Libraries, bookstores, and museums will always be my safe spaces. When I travel, I duck into a bookstore or a museum to breathe in the ideas, and to be around people who need the space like I do. Ideas, questions, and possibilities that turn
With the wind over
And over to be as
It was before.*
Keep looking up,
*excerpt from “The Term” by William Carlos Williams
When my niece and nephew came into my life over a decade ago, I searched to find picture books with children of color as main characters. Representation is important. In particular, I was looking for stories with kids being kids in everyday situations, stories which were a challenge to find. I gave my nephew a collection of Ezra Jack Keats, and how thankful I was to find Not Norman by Kelly Bennett which was a contemporary book at the time. But it was even harder to find books with multiracial families. According to Diverse Book Finder, between the years of 2009-2014 there were 7-14 books published per year portraying multiracial families (yes, that’s 7-14 total books). No wonder I had a hard time finding the books I was looking for! In 2019 that number had increased to 44+, making progress.
About the time my nephew arrived, I got serious about writing. I knew if I ever wrote a picture book, I wanted him to see his family on the page. Representation is important. My niece served as the model for the main character illustration for When Daddy Shows Me the Sky. When my editor sent me samples from illustrators, I took one look at Kate’s illustration and said, that’s her.
At the heart, When Daddy Shows Me the Sky is about a daddy and a daughter learning from each other.
For my young readers: whether your family matches or you’re beautifully different, whether you were raised by two parents, a single parent, two moms, or two dads, whether you were raised in a blended family, by grandparents, or aunts and uncles, with lots of siblings or as an only child, your family has VALUE. A family is defined by love.
Keep looking up.
I have taught children’s yoga for many years, and I like to incorporate books into my classes, especially those that integrate themes of science and nature. I find that many children’s yoga books lack fluidity and use lofty, abstract language that is inaccessible to young readers. Relationship is another key element I look for in a children’s book, and in typical yoga picture books, the child often is alone. What I love about my own yoga practice is the connection it facilitates with other living beings and the universe as a whole. In teaching children, I want to foster the skills needed to form and maintain healthy relationships. Primarily in our Western culture, we relate yoga with the postures (asanas); however, postures are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Yoga is also imbedded with ethical guidelines, which fundamentally involve not just how we relate to ourselves but to the world around us. According to Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtra, there are five virtues: nonharming (ahimsâ), truthfulness (satya), nonstealing (asteya), moderation (brahmacarya), and greedlessness (aparigraha). (To learn more visit: https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/philosophy/yoga-sutras/path-happiness/). So why not create a children’s book that incorporates not just the postures but a respect for other humans the natural world around us? I wanted a children’s book to feel like the practice: connected, fluid, and relational, so I wrote the books I was looking for.
When Daddy Shows Me the Sky provides the reader a glimpse of the simple moments that bond Daddy and daughter. The young girl marvels as her daddy points out the wonders of the night sky and channels that excitement through movement. The story teaches readers the seasonal constellations and unique characteristics of the night sky by pairing those elements with yoga poses. Pairing lessons with movement allows young readers to make connections between the natural world and their own emotional experience.
When Daddy Shows Me the Sky may be my first, but it won’t be the last. There’s always more to explore.
Keep looking up,
Every book has an origin story. To say When My Daddy Shows Me the Sky has been in my mind a long time is an understatement. Try twenty years. In graduate school, I first sketched a picture book storyboard about a Daddy showing his daughter the constellations. This was my first attempt at penning a picture book; I had been more of a poet up until then. After graduating, I closed the page to my sketchbook and moved on to new projects and work, but in the back of my head I always knew it would be the first.
Summer 2019 followed a five year creative writing dry spell for me, as my writing time mainly consisted of non-fiction articles for work. Statistics had hidden the stories. When I returned to my roots and began working in a school again, the stories started to re-emerge. I realized the hole I felt was due to being so far from my creativity. Since originally outlining When My Daddy Shows Me the Sky, I had become a yoga teacher, a counselor, and a mom, all of which became intertwined in the story. And suddenly it became a book I couldn’t have written 20 years ago.
At the end of March 2020, when time seemed to both stop and slip through our fingers, I decided to send my book out to publishers. After I hit send, I purposely pushed the submission out of my mind, nothing to do but wait. Six months later, I opened my email to see a message from Brandylane Publishers. I closed the door to my small office, so my coworkers and my students couldn’t see me dancing. It had finally happened. I experienced the *real* moment that I rehearsed in my mind since I was a girl, and it was everything I had imagined it to be.
Keep looking up,