Let’s Go to the Videotape!

Admittedly, some of my readers may not understand that reference or know who was famous for saying it (you can ask Google). But after friends joined me in celebrating at a Preview Poetry Party this week for my forthcoming chapbook, Undressing the Heart, I knew I’d want to share the replay far and wide.

Even if you don’t read poetry, even if you don’t know who I am, if you’re like many people I know–exhausted by the news cycle, tired of election updates, dismayed by COVID reports and just ready for this year to be over already–I suggest you check it out. It was a great escape for me and the attendees. I read some poems, answered questions about writing poetry, what I love about it, and what inspires me. We talked about humanity, universal emotions and what we all share. We connected, and we smiled. A lot.

It was an evening event full of love, community and support, something we could all use right now. For those who celebrated with me, THANK YOU for a wonderful evening. For those who couldn’t make it, be well, stay strong, and enjoy the replay.

Oh, and know that the Holiday Promotion mentioned in the recording will remain in effect until Friday, November 6.

Sending love, from my heart to yours.

Tell Me About It

When I was a child, I learned that adults had very little interest in what I had to say, even though I had A LOT to say. My brain was always working, and talking through my thoughts helped me make sense of them. The problem was, the random, rambling thoughts of a ten-year-old rarely warrant a response.

As I got older, I still processed things better by talking them through. But I learned that, since my brain is always working, doing so would mean my mouth would also be going nonstop. Few friends were tolerant enough to handle that. Eventually, I kept my thoughts to myself or put them down in a journal to avoid alienating others.

Now as an adult, I write. I try to hold my tongue when I’m with others until I have something worth sharing (it doesn’t always work). My point? I trained myself to listen instead of talk.

But now that I have a book of poetry coming out, I find myself hesitant to talk about it. Because it means talking about myself, and my writing, a habit I’ve spent years working to break. So some gracious and lovely friends have arranged an event where I will be encouraged to talk about poetry, my book and myself. This means an interview, readings and a Q&A session.

The bad news is that it’s going to take some practice for me to gear up to talk about myself and my work. The good news is that it means everything I’ll share at my Poetry Preview Party will be thought out and worthwhile for those who join us.

I hope you’ll be one of them!

Click the image for more details!

In the Spotlight


“Spotlight” by Tilemahos Efthimiadis is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

You know the dream. Everyone has it.

You’re back in high school, walking into a classroom full of your friends and peers, when you look down and realize you’re naked.

Your mind goes blank, and your face gets so hot that you feel as though there’s a spotlight on you.

While everyone is staring.

Analysts say this common dream can be an indication that, among other things, you’re trying to be something you’re not. All writers know this feeling. It’s called imposter syndrome.

It happens when whether we’ve published one book or twenty. That gnawing fear that, despite our years of labor, tears and sweat, this book we’re sending out into the world for others to read and judge is no good. Even though we love it, our agent loves it, our publisher loves it and our friends who’ve read it love it. Even though we’ve poured our hearts into it.

I’m lucky enough to say that today, my publisher is the one shining a spotlight. Finishing Line Press is bringing attention to my forthcoming book of poems, Undressing the Heart, by featuring it on all their social media sites.

Perhaps it’s been a while since you had the dream. But I’ll be you still remember how you felt.

This is exactly what I’ve tried to capture in my poems. A scene, a story, and details enough to evoke emotion in the reader.

Today, my dream is that you’ll consider reserving a copy of my book, and experience the feelings I’ve tried to capture inside it.

Here’s a sample, a poem that was first published at Literary Mama. Thanks for reading!

–For Sarah

As a girl, you used to paint,
low on the walls in corners of your room,
tiny trees and flowers, undetected.

Soon boarding school called;
I was left to rearrange
the furniture, unearth your garden. We spoke

later; you laughed at the standoffs
that sparked those small
rebellions. Such colorful pictures

defiantly raised your young
psyche. Yet you haven’t outgrown
the consolation of such things:

now eighteen, home from school,
I hear you slip nights
into the bathroom — the one I can’t bear

to enter for the mess — and crouch
on the floor in the corner. Now
instead of producing, you peel

the paper. Flowers fall off
in little strips, leaving beneath,
bare blue walls.

I knew my body would
betray me as I aged, yet death
is not the mid-life crisis I’d expected.

But what I’m most sorry for
is what my illness does to us:
strips me by layers of physical strength,

peels you slowly in little
emotional strips until
all that’s left is bare and blue.

Yet you are the unlucky one:
soon my turn will come to go.
But you will remain and be forced

to rearrange, unable to speak
with me about things you may
happen to suddenly unearth.

Poetry’s Draw

“magnetic poetry” by surrealmuse is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Do you read poetry?

Many people don’t. Some feel poetry is pretentious. Or it makes no sense. Others admit that they don’t know what the poems are supposed to mean.

I’m the first to admit that, as a voracious reader in my youth, I tried reading poetry by those everyone knew: Dickinson, Whitman, Frost. But none of it grabbed me. If it rhymed, it felt trite. If it was about war and soldiers and death, I didn’t get it. And admittedly, as an anxious, ADD, suburban teen in the early 1980s, any poem I encountered with numbered stanzas that went on for several pages never stood a chance of being read to the end.

But then during my thirties, I entered a graduate writing program. Billy Collins was Poet Laureate of the U.S. at the time, and he gave a reading at my school. I was shocked to find the room packed. I sat in the back and thought wait, this is poetry? It was nothing like what I’d read before. It wasn’t sad and mournful. There was no death, pain or dark metaphor. It didn’t need to be deciphered. Some of it was actually funny. This, I decided, was my kind of poetry.

After that, I bought and read much of Collins’ work and was continually encouraged. A couple of years later, an insurance salesman from Nebraska named Ted Kooser was named Poet Laureate. At least, that’s what the bio said in the first book of his poetry I read. Today, several of his books sit on my shelf. My handwritten notes in the margins hint at the poems they’d eventually become.

What changed my mind about poetry, both reading and writing it? It’s a word I hate, but it fits: accessibility.

Collins’ poems held more meaning for me than any Dickinson poems ever did. The Lanyard, which Mr. Collins read that night at my school, made me laugh, tear up and even sigh. I related to it both as the child who’d once woven that lanyard, and the mother who, years later, received it. Collins taught me poems could tell stories and evoke emotion.

Ted Kooser’s poems, on the other hand, captured place, seasons and colorful imagery. His Late February paints a picture of early spring in Nebraska: the small town, its people and how they live.

Each of these poets inspired me. I like to joke that, before I began writing book-length women’s fiction, I was writing emotional truths in poems. An idea would would turn into a scene and I’d imagine what the speaker would see and feel. Those notes would become the poem, a story with an emotional nugget at its heart.

The poems collected in my chapbook, Undressing The Heart, span the years from elementary school’s first crush to teen betrayal, unrequited love, motherhood’s hopes and sacrifices, midlife challenges and regrets of old age. The collection is, like life, full of moments of truth, of realization, resignation and growth. But the poems are also, like life, infused with the hope of better days ahead.

If you do read poetry, what draws you in and holds you?

If you don’t, what do you think you might find in a poem or poet that would change your mind?

On Gratitude

gratitudeGratitude is a funny thing. It arises in response to a need being filled, sure. But have you ever had a need go unrecognized until it’s been filled?

Scene: You meet someone casually in the course of a day and answer a question. A comment is made afterward, and a conversation begins. The conversation blooms and continues for years with this new, dear friend who fills a void in your life and heart that you didn’t even know was there. You are grateful for the chance meeting.

Scene: You are asked to train someone for a position you’re leaving, a fact which saddens you because you love the position, but know it’s time to move on. You worry that you won’t train the person well or completely, and the people served by your successor will suffer. Then you meet your replacement and are struck by their curiosity, energy and creativity. Rather than fret, you are excited for the new life they will breathe into the position. You are able move on, not just relieved but inspired. You are grateful for their new perspective, and the potential they bring to the position.

Scene: You feel beaten down and world-weary. But you show up and offer, suggest, help. These efforts feel insignificant and pointless. Still, you smile and keep on, determined to silence the naysayer in your head. Then you receive an unexpected note of thanks, a hug from across the miles. You cry grateful tears to learn your efforts *have* mattered, that you’ve made a difference.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel grateful. Some days, it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. But getting up, doing good work, making art, reaching out (or just being there when someone reaches out to you), even on the hard days? That is *everything*. Your creativity, kindness and humanity fill absences in others, both known and unknown. And those efforts that feel small and pointless? They generate gratitude in the world. Your actions stir the souls of others, perpetuate goodness, and increase its momentum for when its sent back out into the universe.

The best part? When you least expect it, maybe when you most need it, that goodness will come back around in the best example of karma I know. You’ll learn someone is grateful for you, and it will feel like a gift.


Do You Hear Yourself?

speakerI recently participated in an online writing summit, with the opportunity to hear from multiple authors, agents and media speakers. One of the key pieces was a chance to have a query letter critiqued by an agent. As I’m not seeking an agent, I almost dismissed the opportunity, but decided to pull together a draft for my next book anyway. It was partly a writing exercise for myself and partly a way to gather my pitch and ideas for the book.

In the end, I was pretty happy with the letter. It covered genre, word count, main character, inciting incident, and stakes. It included historical details and a bio to show I’m the right person to write it. After a few tweaks, I sent it off for some feedback.

The live critique session took place while I was traveling, so I couldn’t listen in but, thankfully, it was recorded. When I tuned in yesterday, I was happy to hear that my query letter was the first to be read.

And read. And read.

The further the moderator got into my letter, the more I cringed. It was way too long. How did I not notice this before sending?

So many times I come back to this, a lesson I was taught (but clearly often forget) in my very first poetry class: always read your work out loud. Had I done that, I would have heard all the unnecessary details I could have removed before sending the query.

Am I disappointed to have subjected an agent to my long-winded letter? No. Because it served as a lesson to other participants, a reminder to myself, and it set up the letters that followed mine in the critique session to shine brighter. (Because really, who wants to have their work follow something perfect?)

I’m in the midst of revisions on my first book now, and have pasted a prominent post-it note to myself: Read Your Work Out Loud. It’s by far the easiest way to prevent cringe-worthy work from seeing the light of day.

A Champion In My Corner

tandemA funny thing happened on my way to publication: writing stopped being a solitary pursuit. Yes, getting the words down on paper every day is still entirely up to me, but I no longer fear I’m the only one who will ever care about them.

I should clarify. My critique partners care, too. Of course they do. They are always thoughtful in their reading and helpful in their edits. Their feedback on my words (which they read over and over again these past few years, by the way) is what helped me finally secure an agent, to reach this next plateau. They. ROCK. But they also have day jobs, families, laundry, plumbers to call, vacations to plan, and their own writing. You see where I’m going with this?

For the first time in my career, my writing is *someone else’s job* as well as mine. I know my agent has a lot of clients, and she works for all of them. That’s what’s so amazing. Even when I’m tending to other things, someone is still trying to get my book published. It’s not all on me anymore. We’re a team. She can focus on one book while I’m writing another. How many days (weeks?) did I spend writing, editing, cataloguing and updating the status of dozens of query letters? Or researching literary agencies? Or reading craft books and articles so I could make my book better and more likely to find a home?

How many times have I wished I could clone myself so that I could spend all that time writing instead?

That’s what I mean. Now I’ve got help. A partner. A champion. Someone who loves my story as much as I do.

No, the publishing industry doesn’t move nearly as fast as the cyclists in this picture. But my agent and I are moving through it together, and that fact alone has renewed my energy. Some days, just knowing she’s there makes a difference. And some days, that difference is everything.

How I Got My Agent

agentFirst off, I should state that this is not a how-to post. As you’ve likely heard in the publishing industry, everyone’s journey is different. Here’s how mine went down.

Four years and eleven months ago, I started a book of historical fiction. I researched it for a year and wrote it for another year and loved it. I began querying in early 2015. At first, I got form rejection letters, so I re-worked my query. Then I began getting requests, and subsequent rejections. I received an R&R (revise and resubmit) from an agent, did the revision, resubmitted and got a rejection. I put the book away for a while and started a new one. But I kept getting pulled back to the first one because I loved the story so much. I overhauled the whole thing on and off during 2016, and began querying again in the beginning of this year. I received many requests for the full manuscript, but still no offers.

A long-time critique partner suggested over the summer that I enter my manuscript in the #PitchWars contest that takes place every August. I had read about the contest last year and didn’t quite understand how it worked, so I didn’t enter. This year, I scanned the website, found a mentoring author who was only looking for historical fiction submissions, and I decided to give it a try. She received over 100 submissions.

She picked mine.

While I screamed and cartwheeled, my mentor read through my manuscript and then sent me a thirty-eight page, single-spaced editorial letter. That floored me for a couple of days. I fully acknowledge that I grumbled and cried over it. But once I let go of my ego and absorbed her input, I put my butt in the chair and, for the next three weeks, did little else but overhaul my manuscript with her notes and guidance. A week after that, when she’d given it a second read, she had more suggestions. I got back to work for another two weeks.

On November 1, the agent showcase opened on the #PitchWars website. When it closed a week later, I had nine requests from agents for the manuscript. NINE! I had asked for an extra week to finish my second round of edits, and worked diligently toward that home stretch.

At 3pm on November 15, I submitted my full manuscript to eight agents, the first 50 pages to the ninth (per request) and a cold query to another agent I’ve admired for years.  She immediately asked for the full, and I sent it. Figuring it would take them all several weeks to get back to me, I exhaled and thought, “thank goodness, I can finally clean my house and catch up on my laundry”.

At 9:30 that night, I got an email from Ann Leslie Tuttle at DG&B. She’d been excited to read since she saw my pitch, told me so when I submitted the materials, and now wrote, “I haven’t finished reading, but I’ve read enough to know I want to have a call with you.”

6.5 hours. That’s got to be some kind of record.

I gave the other agents until after Thanksgiving to read, and in the end, signed with Ann Leslie. Her enthusiasm for my book rivaled my own, her excitement over my other projects was palpable and I felt like I’d found a true partner with whom to embark on this often rocky and challenging journey toward publication. With luck, my book will be out on submission exactly five years after I sat down to start writing it. All told, I had racked up 100 rejections before signing with Ann Leslie.

Do I wish it hadn’t taken so long? Sure. If you’d told me that first day that it would be five years before I’d find an agent, would I have decided against writing it? No, because I believed in the story I had set out to tell. I can also say without reservation that both my story and my writing skills are stronger for having gone through the process they did.

As I said, everyone’s journey is different. The one thing that is true in this business is that it takes perseverance, passion for your story, a willingness to learn and a bit of luck to get an agent. I never stopped believing in my story, and I never gave up on my goal of securing an agent. I’ve learned more about the publishing industry and myself as a writer than I ever knew before, and I was lucky enough to have a critique partner nudge me in a direction she thought would help me succeed.

Don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. And godspeed on your journey.

Charting A Course

chartacourseAll summer long, my sights have been set on August. That was when my firstborn would be heading off to college, so getting him ready (and myself emotionally prepared) for the trip, the move, the change was a large part of my summer. After writing, that is. August arrived.

Week 1: Finished filling out required college forms, shopped like a madwoman for bins, gadgets and other last minute necessities for big bird about to fly the coop. Also entered #PitchWars for the first time with a manuscript I’ve loved since I first conceived of it. Promptly forgot about #PitchWars.

Week 2: Toted big bird to various appointment to get all necessary teeth, eye and medical checkups in before school year began. Also tended to little bird, home with a cold and fever.

Week 3: Hauled big bird and all his stuff to school, got him settled, drove home and promptly caught little bird’s cold and fever. Lost my voice. Also got notified that I was picked by my number one mentor choice in #PitchWars. Was certain it was sickness-fueled delusion.

Here we are in Week 4. I was in fact picked by the wonderful Jenni L. Walsh to be mentored, and I’ve already got some notes from her about my manuscript. Unfortunately, I’ve also got half a brain (thanks, congestion) and no revision plan to speak of. I’m dead on my feet, and when I do have any energy, it vacillates between exhilaration at being picked, and panic at having no idea how to proceed.

I’ve learned that this is where the beauty of the #PitchWars community really shines through. There’s a special Facebook group, supportive Tweets and blog posts to help me and all the other mentees in addition to the help we’re getting from our mentors. 


The panic is starting to ebb.

When I come out of this germ-induced fog, I’m probably going to fully come to grips with the fact that my baby is gone to college. I’ll have a good cry about it and send him a bunch of mushy texts. I’ll take the rest of that journey a day at a time.

Then I’m gonna pour myself some Prosecco, do a little happy dance about Pitch Wars and get down to work. I might not have a plan yet, but in addition to  my mentor, I’ve now got a whole tribe of folks rooting me on and offering assistance. And I know that with their help, I’ve got this.

Back to Basics


The past few weeks I’ve been struggling with one of my sons to manage his schoolwork. It’s the end of the year, so I get the whole spring fever thing. But he’s taken these classes all year and knows what’s expected of him. Why, then, was I suddenly getting emails from teachers about missing assignments, tests not corrected and signed and returned, slipping grades? In the past, I’ve seen a big leap in maturity growth in my younger son around this time of year. But lately, he seemed to be sticking his head in the sand and avoiding responsibility at all costs. He’s been having trouble getting to sleep at night too, and has been cranky and snippy with me. What the heck was going on?

Admittedly, I’ve been much more hands-off with my high school senior. Helping to plan the college-prep aspects of his life have been the focus of my time with him: looking for a roommate, planning for course selection and orientation, shopping for a computer. He loves his classes this year, is managing the work fine and getting great grades. It’s likely why the stark difference in his brother’s efforts has been so much more frustrating.

Then I realized that maybe all the planning with the Heir is part of the problem I’m having with the Spare. The boys have become very close this year, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s starting to sink in that our little nest will soon have one less bird in it. The idea of such a change must be overwhelming for my younger one.

This week at bedtime, I decided to try an experiment. I pulled out some old children’s stories and asked my youngest if I could read to him. He agreed, and as I started the first Dr. Seuss story, he said, “I feel like I’m six.” I asked if he wanted me to stop and he adamantly said “NO”. We’ve now gone through all of his old favorites, with only a couple left on the shelf, and I’m planning to go to the library this weekend to find a few more. My son’s been falling asleep earlier and staying asleep all night since we started this experiment, and I’m hoping to soon see a change in temperament and efforts elsewhere.

When I started writing my current book, I was determined to find a leaner, more efficient way to write it. My last book took as long to research as it did to write and revise, so I set out to start writing without doing all of the research up front. But the story wasn’t going anywhere. I’d written a few nonlinear scenes, and then got stuck. It turns out I can’t write without researching first. I need to get to know my characters before I can begin to bring them to life on the page. And if they’re not alive on the page, the story doesn’t move. By returning to my original process of researching before drafting, I’ve met with much more progress than I did when trying to get around it.

I spend so much time looking ahead and focusing on helping my kids prepare for the future that sometimes I forget they are just that: kids. Their progress isn’t always linear. I’ve found the same to be true with my writing. Sometimes we need to take a step or two back, return to basics and re-ground ourselves so we can keep moving forward. We can all benefit from occasional reminders of the things that work, those tools we can always rely on.