Happy birthday, Caravan of Composition!

Today has been a full day. Youngest graduated from elementary school, and both boys enjoyed the bell-ringing satisfaction indicating the start of summer break. Following the graduation ceremony/last exam, we celebrated at their favorite restaurant, then came home and brainstormed a summer chore chart and screen time limits. I shifted my focus toward Camp NaNoWriMo, which starts on Monday, and checked off a handful of items on my to-do list. I nearly let the milestone pass me by.

Caravan of Composition is officially two years old today. My blogging habits seem to go in waves, but I am pleased to say I’ve kept up with this blog and my previous one for over eleven years. That’s like a million in procrastinator years. It’s challenging sometimes to come up with things to write about as life isn’t always “blog-worthy”, and I struggle with insecurities regarding the merit of what I have to say. A good friend sent me a recent copy of Josh Radnor’s Museletter in which he mentions nearly the exact feeling. We might not always feel that what we have to say is worth saying. Are my words of value to my readers? Does what I say matter?

Let’s get one thing straight: I like to listen to myself talk. My family can attest to this. I love to tell stories, often the same ones over and over (more vigorous nods from the van clan), and the level of exaggeration often increases with each retelling. For dramatic effect, of course. A small stretching of the truth makes things more interesting. There is always a fair amount of accompanying hand gestures, because my heritage demands it and they, too, add to the drama of a good story.

Blogging is different. First of all, I can’t use my hands or facial expressions to drive a point home. Second, the delete button allows me to rethink things that may sound stupid or cause a foot in mouth moment. (I have a lot of those in real life.) But it also sometimes restricts the flow of words. I have several unpublished blog posts that sit in the drafts folder because either I got distracted by life or decided what I had to say wasn’t of any value.

We are our own worst critics, aren’t we? Some of us don’t care and live an unfiltered life – taking the good and the bad as they come. Some of us let our inner critic keep us from pursuing our dreams. Some, like me, fall in the middle. Moments of feeling brilliant coupled with moments of crippling self-doubt. And I can’t write this post telling you how to quiet your inner critic, because if I did, mine would be muzzled in the corner. But I can say this: we rarely give ourselves the credit we deserve. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small they seem.

Today, I celebrate my eleventh year of shouting into the void, and the second birthday of my current blog. I celebrate getting my kiddos through another school year. I celebrate the sun, and summer, and the start of another month of Camp NaNo.

And I celebrate you, dear reader, for allowing me to keep doing what I love.


Caravan of Composition turns ONE!

Happy Blogiversary to me! A little over ten years ago, on my oldest son’s second birthday, I started a blog. We had recently moved back to Buffalo after living all over the country, and I had that “new mom who wants to talk about her kid all the time” thing going on. Also, CAKE. My first blog lasted nine years, until I decided to let my child navigate preteendom without broadcasting it on the Internet. After brainstorming with my Pennwriters peeps, I went in a new direction.

And Caravan of Composition was born.

It’s been a wild twelve months. In October, my idea for a YA verse novel was accepted, and I spent the fall and early parts of winter writing it. I learned so much about the process and am now learning about branding and publicity. There is a lot more to writing that the writing part. But I love to learn and experience new things and look forward to the road ahead as my book actually enters the world. (SQUEE!)

Part of my focus now is figuring out how to market myself as a writer. How we see ourselves is not always how the world sees us (stay tuned for more on this next month following my high school reunion), and how we WANT the world to see us, well, that’s a whole other thing. During the Pennwriters Conference in May, I attended a special two hour session on branding called, “Who you are and why your readers care”. The instructor found my original blog and labeled me “PROCRASTINATOR” because my tagline was, “A journey of motherhood, procrastination, and cakes”. In case you are wondering about the cake part, I make themed cakes for my sons’ birthdays each year based on their current obsession. The procrastination is still there, for sure, but I am working on overcoming that little devil on my shoulder. (Thank goodness this is not a vlog because there is a huge pile of unsorted papers, post-it notes, loose change, and other crap on my desk right now. I’ll get to it when I get to it. Really.) And of course motherhood will always be a huge part of who I am. But what do I want my readers to know about me? What is my brand?

We filled out questionnaires during the session, all about our personalities, interests, things that make us unique. Nothing really jumped out. Nothing except my name and the fun things I can do to play on it. For example, friends call us the “van clan” and I sometimes refer to my boys as “mini-vans”. Plus, I love traveling, being on the road, and experiencing new places. Figuring things out. I’d like to think my characters have that too — figuring out who they are and what is most important to them. And because the idea of a journey — of the adventure being more important than the destination — is how I like to look at writing. Yes, it’s about seeing my book on the shelf. But it’s also about meeting incredible people along the way, learning new things, and growing as a person and a writer. Ursula LeGuin said it best in her book, The Left Hand of Darkness: “It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it’s the journey that matters, in the end.”

Enjoy the ride.

Different kinds of smart

Oh, technology. I want to embrace you, but sometimes you frustrate me so.

Today’s mission: forward progress on the whole marketing thing. Let’s start with updating the blog. Link all of my accounts together. Easy-peasy.

Or not.

There may have been some yelling and shaking of fists. Possibly a curse word or two. I think the problem with all of this is I do not consider myself tech-savvy, despite the fact that I am often the go-to person at work for such things, and I am most definitely not a visual person. Which you may have guessed from the lack of photos and other visual elements on my blog.

Remember back in the day when Gardner’s multiple intelligences was a thing? His theory is that there are seven (and eventually nine when he added naturalistic and existential) types of learners, and we all fall in one or more categories. We are all different kinds of smart. He was at the height of educational popularity during my time as an undergrad, and I did a whole bulletin board lesson complete with student self-assessments and tips on how to maximize your learning style. So of course I took the self-assessment and -SHOCK- came out a logical/linguistic learner with musical undertones. Translation: I’m good at reading and math, and can parody just about any song. My lowest scores were in spatial and interpersonal. Translation: I can’t read a map or interact normally with others.

Here I am, faced with the challenge to create something visually appealing that will encourage people to support me as an author.

You can see why I feel a tad uncomfortable. Give me a book or a math problem and I will read/analyze/solve it. When I need to memorize information, I set it to music or create word-links. Ask me to navigate out of a parking lot downtown and successfully find my way back home? Not even with the lady in my phone telling me which way to go. (Side note, this is why I hate when my dad gives directions and asks me to “picture it”.) Put me in a party setting and expect me to make clever conversation? Maybe after a drink. Just one. Two drinks and I’m challenging my husband’s co-worker to a push-up contest. True story.

So how do we work through something that involves our weaker intelligences? You don’t need to subscribe to Gardner’s theory to know that there are things you do well, and things that make you want to shake your fist angrily. Focus on what you do well. Use that to the fullest, and then call in reinforcements. I have friends that are amazing at website development and making things visually appealing. These friends will be hearing from me. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And most importantly, don’t give up. I eventually figured out how to link my other sites and update the blog widgets. I even joined Instagram, despite my fear of its visual focus.

We can’t change our fundamental makeup–I frequently clam up and/or embarrass myself in public no matter how hard I try not to–but we can embrace who we are and figure out how to work through our challenges. That being said, I WILL have my website up and running by the end of the month. And I’d love feedback/suggestions on the new blog design (updated cover photo coming soon).


December book report and my faves of 2017

Reading dropped a bit as we prepared for the holidays last month. And okay, part of that was also me scrambling to finish watching LOST before Netflix took it away. I had started the series when it was on TV 10+ years ago, and even used a few episodes in my classroom alongside our reading of Lord of the Flies, but lost interest (haha, pun intended) until the final episode. Which I watched, slightly confused, but more or less able to piece together what was going on after grilling my husband who had binged on library DVDs. Anyway, I decided to give the whole thing a go, and while I appreciated the layers of storytelling and character development, the ending was more disappointing than when I had skipped over seasons 2-6.

Back to books. I read two last month, so I decided in order to make this post longer (besides the above rambling), I’d highlight my faves from the year. I narrowed down the top four and then got stuck trying to pick a fifth from so many good reads. So top four it is. But first, my December reads:

Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell
This is not a book I would have normally picked up to read, but someone I recently met suggested it as a way of tapping into the male voice. (My current MC is a teenage boy and I worried he didn’t sound authentic.) There is definitely a strong male voice here, although too strong for what I was aiming toward. The story was good, but a bit of a rough read content wise – especially in the end. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with a delicate sensibility.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
I’m making my way through the books on my TBR list that dates back to 2015, and I believe I put this one on there for its bisexual main character (although upon reading would conclude he is gay and not bi) as comp research for my previous book. It’s about a  Also, I loved the book jacket comp: Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind – a fantastic movie about wiping out painful memories. The voice in More Happy Than Not is great, and I felt like I was right alongside his group of friends. But I wanted more speculative fiction, and less homophobia. (SPOILER: The MC wants to undergo a memory erasing procedure so he can “forget” being in a m/m relationship. I struggled with the ethics of that.) I will say, I’ve been really into watching Black Mirror, and the book had a very dangers-of-technology feel to it, which I enjoyed.

Because I think you should GO OUT AND READ THESE BOOKS! LIKE, NOW! I’m going to link to their amazon page. Feel free to also support local booksellers, and/or request that your local library carry a copy. Spread the love, people.

The Long Walk by Brian Castner
First, some background on how I came to read this book (in less than 48 hours). Brian Castner spoke at our local author book club in early 2017, and I was asked to facilitate the discussion. I gave myself plenty of time to read All the Ways We Kill and Die (also a great read and definitely in my top ten for the year), his novel that explores the nuances of modern warfare. I researched Brian, took notes while I read, and prepared questions for the discussion.

Two days before the meeting, my friend texted to ask how I enjoyed the books. Books. Plural. In a panic, I checked the club’s website, and sure enough, we were slated to also discuss Brian’s memoir, The Long Walk. Thankfully, our local library had an e-book available, and I stayed up late devouring the book. Honestly though? I would have devoured it even without the fear of being unprepared for book club. It is not the sort of book you put down, and not the sort of book you ever forget. You can read my full review here. Meeting Brian the next day, talking to him and hearing his story first-hand, was also something I’ll never forget. If you have the opportunity to meet an author you admire, do it. And please, read one (or all) of Brian’s books. website

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
I added this book based on a magazine recommendation, and normally things that everyone else likes I read and think, meh. I took The Death of Bees on vacation and basically stuck my head into the book and barely came up for air. It reminded me of one of my all time faves, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Loved, loved, loved the dark humor and satire.

Salt to the Sea by Rita Sepetys
A friend recommended this book to me, and I listened to it on my phone. It is an award winner, and for good reason. It’s a WWII young adult historical fiction novel, and you’ve probably never heard of the tragedy that takes place at the end – I certainly hadn’t. But that’s not why you should read it. The characters are richly developed, and the story woven beautifully. I look forward to reading more by this author.

No Place Like Home  by Dee Romito
I am lucky because Dee is one of my dear friends. And she is a wonderful writer. Her middle grade books are full of heart and a must read for children and adults alike. Trust me. I read No Place Like Home aloud to my oldest son (he’s 11), and we both loved it. Read my full review here. Especially the end, which I read during a soccer tournament and had to choke back tears.

Not only is Dee a great writer, she is also a fantastic resource for other writers. Her blog provides helpful links and advice, she teaches Scrivener workshops at writing conferences (and spreads the love of sponge candy), and she co-founded our local writer and illustrator group, BNCWI.

So check out her books. You won’t regret it.

What do you plan to read in 2018? I’m excited about my friend Alyssa Palombo’s new book coming out in the fall, and hoping to chip away at my now three year old TBR list. And like every year, I look forward to learning new things, interacting with authors, and losing myself in a good story.