Saturday, April 28, 2007

What's the latest from the balcony, Waldorf?

For all my dear blogging buddies who read my post on the Waldorf school, here's an update. After a lengthy IST (Instructional Support Team) meeting on Wednesday, we left school with assurances that the public school would do their utmost to help our girl succeed in 1st grade next year. Then on Thursday morning, we took our daughter for a visit/assessment at the Waldorf school. She loved it and couldn't wait to go back. Of course, we have been aiming at sending her to the SWS in the fall, but after our conversation with her potential teacher on Thursday night, we threw all caution, deliberation, etc. to the wind. Long story short, we decided that, given the current level of tension our daughter suffers regarding school, why wait? At the suggestion of her Waldorf teacher, and after hair-pulling financial consideration and several previous sleepless nights over the whole issue, we have decided to go ahead and let dear daughter make the move now.

I have just composed a letter to her principal explaining that she will not be returning to the public school and will indeed finish the year elsewhere. There are many good, good people at the public school who have been more than patient with Maisie's outbursts and frustration over the year. But as it stands, the pressures of that little bastard known as NCLB are just too much for the current administration to battle. And until that changes, our dear daughter hasn't a chance.

So, our sweet girl is making the transition to a more holistic approach to learning. It remains to be seen whether she will progress to 1st grade or repeat kindergarten next year, but we know we are doing the right thing for her. Now...if I can just get that job... It's all still up in the air, but there are some promising developments on that front. If it all works out, we'll have two kids in the Waldorf system. Hurray! Stay tuned...

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Essential Truth

Nancy Mercado's session on Revisions at the SCBWI Retreat was excellent. She gave a list of questions to ask yourself as you go through your manuscript. All of them spot-on-point issues. But one that really struck me was the most basic question: What is the essential truth of your story? If you cannot answer that one, your manuscript is in trouble. But it is interesting, especially in the case of plot-driven stories, that we can sometimes forget to ask ourselves that.

I considered my own WIP. It wasn't that there was no essential truth or significant, overriding theme, but I do believe it wasn't coming through enough in the story. Your reader shouldn't have to look that hard for it, but at the same time, it shouldn't be some blaring "moral of the story" hammer to the head either. It should be there in the way your MC looks at his mother, or the way he cuts his steak, or the way he jumps into the conflict and tackles the problem, or in the price that he must pay for success, or in his failure to navigate his own obstacles.

So, I have already been going through my chapters and weaving that thread more clearly into my narrative, giving my story more depth and raising the stakes for my MC.

So what's your essential truth?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Poconos Retreat

So here I sit in, tucked into my little lodge at the Sterling Inn in the Poconos, surrounded by writers, illustrators, editors, and a host of other creative people. There has been a great sense of camaraderie and collaboration, unlike any I've experienced at past conferences, and it has really been inspiring. Paul Acampora and Nancy Mercado have shown us how nurturing a writer/editor relationship can be. Although it may not be the typical situation, it's nice to see that it is possible. They are both so funny and interesting and have such a strong sense of who they are, which comes across in their books.

Lisa Wheeler and Ponder Goembel showed us how an illustrator might imagine a story differently in her head than the writer did, but together they create magic. What has been nice about this year's retreat is the sense of inspiration and affirmation that good communication and continued growth are really the hallmark of a good relationship, no matter what you are doing. And many of us have met as strangers, but embraced each other's work and shared a little bit of ourselves with people who understand how creative minds work.

Nothing clever or inspiring from me, today. Just reflecting on a nice weekend surrounded by clever, artistic people who love to tell stories.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Some writer friends recently blogged about the importance of persistence in a writer's life, and I felt the need to reflect a bit further. Persistence comes to us, or teases us, from more than one corner. our writing. Many friends have discovered spring fever lately and are having a hard time focusing on their writing. I have many things intruding upon my concentration these days, one of which was the subject of my last entry. As new life blooms outside, daily life inside begins to buzz at a fever pitch as well. Sports practices intensify, chores need more urgent attention, children need more urgent attention,... all very reasonable and tempting distractions from our writing. But if you're lucky, that story is still calling to you, twisting your stomach in knots of guilt everytime you pick up the dust rag instead of the keyboard. For some, the sight of their manuscript brings waves of dread and confusion. "I just don't know where to go next. I hate my MS!" But persistence gnaws at your conscience and drags your fingers into action once again, no matter how hard you try to leave it behind. our submissions. Everyone has heard, "I have enough rejection letters to wallpaper my house three times over!" We laugh and take heart for half a second and then send out two more queries, fully expecting two more rejection in return, but daring to let that flicker of hope keep burning. Some of us give up. My first article accepted for publication grew from a 4-year process...thankfully! I revised that story so many times, each time responding to criticism that accompanied yet another rejection. But it was constructive criticism and I constructed! I couldn't let it drop. I simply wasn't done yet. I knew there was a good story in there somewhere, and several editors were drawing clues all over my treasure map. Then I struck gold. Persistence!

And it continues. If I had given up 4 years ago, I wouldn't have 2 novels completed and in revision, one with a request from an editor. I wouldn't have earned 2 scholarships to wonderful workshops that changed my life. I wouldn't have an article accepted by a major children's magazine. And most important, I wouldn't be the writer I am now--exponentially better than the one I was 4 years ago.

Persistence is more than a path to publication. It's a journey to brilliance. To discovery. To satisfaction. To wisdom.

The next time you hear a presenter at a SCBWI conference tell you it's all about persistence, you can roll your eyes and heave a sigh...but don't forget to believe it, too.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Make Mine a Waldorf...(hold the Stadler)

Okay, for any of you Muppet Show fans, you'll get that joke. But the request is a serious one. I have been woefully absent from my writing of late because I have been researching the best educational route for my youngest child. She is a scathingly bright little girl with an imagination the size of the cosmos...which doesn't cut it in the traditional public school setting. She is only in kindergarten, but it is painfully clear that if we leave the nurturing of her tender mind to the current administration, she will die--well, at least her spirit and love of learning will.

Since when was kindergarten all about academics?! They are 5 and 6 years old! It's about self-discovery, learning how to learn, learning how to play, learning how to eat paste. All I hear is, "She refused to take her test today. They have another one tomorrow. No, they did not get recess today because they didn't finish their worksheets." What has happened?! Okay, I won't even get started on NCLB, and I swear I haven't given up on public education--yet. We have some truly gifted teachers out there, and my son has been lucky enough to have 2 in his 4-year career. But we have become so bent on fitting all our pegs into that flippin' round hole that we have lost sight of the wonder of those little square pegs and triangular pegs and oval pegs and hexagonal pegs and...

My daughter is a peg of a whole new shape, but they are hammering out all they beautiful corners and curves to cram her into their hole so they can claim success and get their accredidation and federal funding. My son will do well no matter where he is, but my daughter needs more. our investigations, we discovered the Waldorf school only 20 minutes from our house. If you are not familiar with the approach, check out these sites: The Susquehanna Waldorf School
and The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America

It's magnificent and exactly what our girl needs. Artistic and holistic and nurturing. But it is also a lovely fit for our son. The tuition, however, is not such a lovely fit for our budget. So, I have decided to go back to teaching full time, if they will have me, and I have applied at the school where my children would attend. It's very daunting and not a job for slackers or the faint of heart. Teaching is always hard work, but this will be a whole new world for me. But it means a whole new, and better, world for my kids, too. I'm both excited and terrified to do this, terrified that I won't be good enough. I've seen the kids at this school, and they are truly thriving. Strong, articulate, interesting, self-possessed young people.

So, for the last few weeks, I have been updating my resume, writing a biography of myself (blak!), tracking down references, and reading anything I can find on Steiner's philosophy and the structure of the Waldorf program. No writing, very little reading, struggling to keep up with the class I am teaching, not to mention a maddening lack of sleep, but hoping to lay a lifechanging path for my kids.

My writing may have to take a back-back seat again, but it will find its way to the surface eventually. Wish me luck!

Now...Stadler, tell us a good joke!