#PimpMyBio : Pitch Wars Contestant Blog Hop

Hi Everyone!

I’m entering Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars competition for the first time– looking for a mentor to work with who will help make my MS shine. Bring on the critiques, really! I want it to sparkle.

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First, I hate talking about myself. It makes me oddly uncomfortable, but writing about myself is naturally easier. I am, as my blog is subtitled, a WRITER, TEACHER, MOM. Although, because my three kids are twenty-something, I’m doing much less mommying which gives me more time for my other two loves.

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I’ve been teaching for 25 years. First as an adult educator working with at-risk, inner-city youth and adults, I then taught as an adjunct at Southern CT. State University teaching English comp and comp & rhetoric. Most recently, I’ve been teaching high school English (Writer’s Workshop, British & American Lit, Speech, and Reading Lit/Reading Film) which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE (my students are the best!).

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Travel is essential to me (like writing and breathing!) I travel with my husband, my whole family (24 of us) and my students. Cape Cod and London are my happy places. If you’re interested in more on that, check out my travel blog Just Journey.

I read a lot (which every single writer should!) My interests are mostly women’s fiction, romance,  and/or historical. My favorite authors are too long to list, but here are a few: Tom Perrotta, Philippa Gregory, Anna Quindlen, Barbara Kingsolver & David Nicholls. Classic author faves include, but certainly not limited to, Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. I love memoir and poetry too. Connect with me on Goodreads.

Reading Currently:

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In the summer, you can find me boating, gardening, swimming in the pool or ocean, drinking coffee (cappuccino, lattes, frozen coffee anything) coconut martinis and mojitos, binge watching shows (Californication & Downton Abbey are among my faves) I didn’t have time for during the school year, reading a good book or on my laptop writing/revising/querying….  

I am also a quote collector. I have a highlighter nearby every time I read a book and if I can’t find one, I dog ear the pages. Fun fact: A whole wall in my office is dedicated to the quotes I love. Take a peak:

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Desperately Seeking Clarity, upmarket women’s fiction/romance, began four years ago as my first attempt (successful, which I’m very proud of) at NaNoWriMo. I took the writing challenge with my writing students. It began as a departure from what I’d previously written (2 other novels, a host of short stories, and much poetry). Claire, the main character, is everything I am not as a teacher (or perhaps she is what I might have been in another, much younger life). She is the amalgamation of what I’ve seen in twenty somethings who are just trying to figure out adult life. Teaching middle schoolers was certainly NOT her dream job. And feeling like such a failure at all things love, Claire encounters a bevy of disastrous attempts to find the man of her dreams only to discover she’s been looking in the wrong places. Essentially, it’s about Claire finding who she is and what’s important (and not) in her life. I love this book and I want an agent to love it too!

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Follow me on Twitter and I’ll follow back @PIXY727

Check out other Pitch Wars bios on Lana Pattinson’s blog by clicking here.

Best of luck with Pitch Wars!

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Donna Norman Carbone (WF/R)

Do Not Disturb: I’m an Alligator

When one passion needs to make room for another, one of my mantras is “something’s got to give.” This has been a very busy school year. More importantly, I’ve been working on the BUSINESS of writing — not my strong suit, something I’ve written about before if you’ve been following. I’ve been writing for so many years, feebly making attempts to publish. Like a turtle, I put myself out there then withdraw when I get shut down. This year I’ve decided to be more like an alligator by developing a thick skin. I’m focused and determined to take my writing to the next level. THIS is what’s next for me.

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I’ll be back soon. It’s almost summer!

NanoWrimo Revisited

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This is my fourth endeavor with NanoWrimo.

For the first, I took on the personal challenge and met the goal– hell, I exceeded the goal, and I turned out some pretty good material to work with. During April of that same year, I took on the task of editing for NanoCamp month while my first set of reluctantly, excited, creative writing students wrote and wrote and wrote. Of course, to my dismay, some of my group cheated which left me appallingly sad. They inserted essays they’d written or copied entries from their journals, or, I even had one boy copy and paste the same 500 words over and over to meet his goal. Needless to say, we had a long discussion about cheating and who really gets cheated when we do. There were a few gems in the bunch who walked away having felt a sense of accomplishment, unmatched by any other high school assignment, for actually writing original material and meeting their goals. I also received a few anonymous notes from students in this class sharing how worthwhile this task was and encouraging me not to give up. For my own personal camp experience, I worked on the book I had begun in my first nano challenge and became increasingly satisfied with the revision process (though grueling as it was at times– this is my least favorite part of writing). I learned a lot about my students, the process, and my own revision evolution.

The next stab at Nano came the following fall when I, yet again, tackled the fiction frenzy month with my class of writers. This time, I amended the guidelines for my students not only to make them more specific but also more doable. They embraced the challenge and I had not one cheater in the bunch. For me, I did not come away feeling as successful as I had the first and second time; in fact, I decided to abandon what I had written, altogether, as it was pretty much crap, but I did meet my word count goal. Moreover, the experience reaffirmed that crap happens; we have to write through the crap to get to the good stuff sometimes.

MOST of my students come away from Nano feeling quite accomplished, some even continue writing the novels they started working on. Not only do students learn about themselves as writers, more importantly they take lessons away that teach them about themselves.

For me, Nano writing month is a time to focus, get re-generated, start pumping the creative juices in a very scheduled and focused way.

While I write quite a bit in my spare time, I can go periods without feeling moved to write or completely blocked even though I try. Being in the habit of writing is a reminder of how important habitual, planned writing is.

This time, I’m writing a series of short, memoir pieces which, ultimately, I hope to organize into a book. I’ve been considering this for some time. In fact, so many people who know me well have suggested I do; I suppose I have a lot of interesting personal stories to tell. I just hope I can tell them well. What I’m most ambivalent about is writing true AND personal, entirely exposed. To me, the combination is frightening. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I’m guessing that’s one of the things I’m about to learn.

As for my writing group, I have high hopes. This year, I seem to have a lot of interested writers in my group who have come to this class as writers eager to learn about form. style and process.

1 week to go! Getting the creative juices flowing.

Listening to the MUSES

MUSES

 

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Greek mythology tells of nine muses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne: goddesses who inspire with their talents representing aspects of the arts and sciences.

The dictionary definition includes a brief etymology of the word, but also offers more modern day interpretations.

Muse definition

 

 

 

 

Often, artists (painters, writers, musicians…) tell of the muses whom have inspired them to create

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These are the muses and how I’ve been inspired by them:

Muse astronomy

 

There is nothing more majestic than the night sky. Symbols of it fill my pages of writing. In awe of the galaxy, the moon, the sun, the planets, I observe– me watching them, them watching me. As a student of astronomy and astrology, I study the constellations using aspects of signs in the characters I create. I believe their signs are part of the energy force that moves each character through a piece of writing, allowing him/her to take on a voice, action and thought that surprises even me, the creator.

Muse Love poetry

My first exposure to love poetry was probably during my freshman year of college in a Romantic Poets class studying Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge and Blake. This lead to the study of Victorian poetry– Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Bronte & Christina Rossetti. Later, I found Shakespeare’s sonnets and grew to appreciate brilliance of his work.

 

          “Love is not love which alters when its alteration finds

          or bends with the remover to move

          O no, it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on the tempests

          and is never shaken

          It is the star to every wandering bark

          whose worth’s unknown,

          although height be taken”

                                                          William Shakespeare

                                                          Sonnet 116

 

          “When I saw you, I fell in love

          and you smiled because you knew”

                                                          William Shakespeare

                                                          Romeo and Juliet

          “Be with me always

          take any form– drive me mad!

          Only do not leave me in the abyss

          where I cannot find you.

          I cannot live without my life.

              I cannot live without my soul.”

                                                          Emily Bronte

                                                          Wuthering Heights

 And, later still, I found other pieces that inspire. I write them all down– in a notebook, and on a wall in my study, so the words become a part of me.

 

“It’s only with the heart one could see rightly

          What is essential is invisible to the eye”

                                                          Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

                                                          The Little Prince

 

          “You know that place between sleep and awake

          that place where you can still remember dreaming?

          That’s where I’ll always love you.

          That’s where I’ll be waiting.”

J.M. Barrie

                                                The Adventures of Peter Pan

 

Love is the most powerful emotion. How could one write, after all, without love?

 

 

Muses history

If I didn’t pursue some vein (or many) of English in college or life, for that matter, I would have pursued history. It fascinates me. Everything about it. I’m drawn to antiquity. I’m drawn to stories of the past. I’m curious about how the past affects the future. I even get politically charged on occasion and relish a good political debate. History is about what makes people tick–  whole cultures, too.

When I was little, I grew up with two Italian grandparents whose parents immigrated to the U.S. before they were born. If I had to equate them to a modern(ish)-day example, it would be Cher’s character’s family  in Moonstruck.

 

My grandfather served in Guadalcanal during World War II, a great sense of pride for him until his dying day. My grandmother waited for him. Separately, they told me stories about the war and the Great Depression which, I believe, sparked my curiosity about history. Later, I would lose myself in research, digging to find more and more– the personal stories. I event went to Pearl Harbor and interviewed some of the vets there. THIS inspired my first novel– my first history muse.

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Muse TragedyWe all have a tragic story to tell. Some hide it deep within; others share with ease. I’m still grappling with my story. Bits and pieces of it thread through my work– poetry, novels, short works, even some ideas I have for film. But I’m not quite there yet. Sure, I can make sense of some of the pieces. Some of which I represent in my writing better than others. But I’m still trying… with every piece I write I try to discover the triumphs of my tragedies, big and small.

 

Some of the tragedies that have inspired me include, but are in no way limited to…

 

Hamlet, William Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest tragedy of them all. Hamlet explores the psyche– so many sides of it. It begs us to question ourselves, the choices we make, our own lives.

 

          “What a piece of work is a man!

`        How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties!

          In form and moving how express and admirable!

          In action how like an angel in apprehension.

          How like a God!

          The beauty of the world

          The paragon of animals!

          and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?

          Man delights not me”

                                             William Shakespeare,  Hamlet

 

Alex: The Life of  a Child, Frank Deford, a little non-fiction book I happened upon, then later saw a film adaptation of. It’s the story of a courageous little girl, struck with cystic fibrosis, and her loving family in the wake of her loss. Beyond sadness, it’s about the triumph of spirit, much like the fiction novel The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I am often struck by the strength of those in the face of tragedy, perhaps, because I’ve seen a lot of it, too much.

 

Yet, I hold onto the belief that life is about Yin and Yang– balance. One can’t know extreme joy without having experienced tragedy. One cannot know beauty without knowing the beast. One cannot know peace without fear and love without hate. It is through experiencing the depth of such extreme emotions that, as creative types, we create.

 

Muse dance

 

This is the weakest of my own muses, for I am a dreadful dancer. I try to avoid dancing except in the privacy of my alone time. I wish I were graceful. I wish I had the poise, stamina and talent to move my body to the rhythms of the day.

I do have two very vivid memories of dancing, however, which fill me with joy. One is standing atop of my grandfather’s feet as he taught me how to waltz; he was as good a dancer as he professed. His left hand held my right in a firm grasp, while his right elbow jutted out perpendicular to my ribs as he gently placed his right hand on my back. 1,2,3 and repeat. He told me it’s all about the timing. For the second there were no rules. Just me holding each of my babies, on separate occasions, in my arms, either swaying to the rhythm of soft lullabies or dancing wildly across the floor to upbeat children’s dance music. Their sweet eyes closing as they drifted off to sleep or opening wide, wide as their laughing mouths to mommy being silly.

I try to capture moments, just like these, little snapshots of perfection, in my writing.

 

Muse music

 

Now, music– that is one of my greatest muses. I listen to music of many genres: rock, soft rock, pop, indie, alternative, singer/songwriter, disco, classical, pop(ish) country, some rap. I like music for the melody AND the words. Often, when I find something that I love, I listen to it on repeat too many times for others but never enough for me. Music serves many purposes in my life. It is the basis of fond childhood memories– a time when my whole family saw plays and sung entire soundtracks in unison. I wished I were one of the Von Trapps or the Osmonds or Jacksons. I could sing The Age of Aquarius from the first word on the album to the very last, the same with the Carpenters albums and Jesus Christ Super Star. My mother taught me a love for music.

As I grew older, I learned to love music in different ways. Attending concerts is one of my favorite past times. I’ve seen too many (yet, still not enough) to count: Rod Stewart, Madonna, Carly Simon, Cher, James Taylor, Genesis, Dianna Ross, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Train, The Cars, Chicago, The Police, Third Eye Blind, John Mayer, Maroon 5 and Coldplay (I’m sure there are more…). There is still one band on my “to see” list that I’m dying to see: Aerosmith. Being at a concert, body moving to the music, crowd singing in unison, my blood feels as if it’s boiling, so much adrenaline running through it, and like it’s swaying on an ocean tide at the same time.

While I’m writing, I plug my ear buds in, choose a play list that either my character would be listening to or one that imitates the mood of the scene I’m writing. This is what gets me in the zone. I could write all day like this.

 

Muse Epic Poetry

When I was a T.A. in grad school, my mentor professor had this painting on the wall of her office. Earthy colors and placid. A girl, looking forlorn, dressed in a flowing white gown, halo band wrapped around her hair, sitting in a boat, tapestry draped over the side, floating down a river. She’s looking up, as if to something.

I wanted to know what she is thinking. Where is she going? Is she running to something or away from something? Is she sad or introspective?

I’d learn that the painting, rendered by John William Waterhouse, was of his adaptation of an epic poem entitled “The Lady of Shalott,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It’s about an embowered woman, locked in a tower by a curse, who sees a reflection of a man she instantly falls in love with living in what seems to be a utopia. She can only look upon this man and his surroundings in a mirror, for if she looks directly upon it, the curse will break.

Muses The lady of shalott

Upon reading the poem, my questions became more complex. My understanding altered and intensified. Is living life a reality or a reflection of it? Isn’t everything about our perception, no matter from what the approaching stance? Is it better to live safe and protected or risk everything to venture out into the unknown? Is the unknown always utopian-like? Will it never quite measure up to the way we had imagined it?

Questions like these, prompted from epic works such as “The Lady of Shalott” or “The Canterbury Tales,” “Beowulf,” “Paradise Lost,” “The Divine Comedy,” “The Odyssey,” “The Illiad”… aren’t they just questions of life, the basis of philosophy, psychology & sociology? This is what makes us think. Thinking. Taking action. Interacting. These are what make us human.

All of life is an epic poem. Each of us with a different story to tell. Conflicts to overcome. Tapestries to weave. Unique journeys to take.

Questions. Observations. Experience. These are where the ideas come from.

 

Muse comedy

 

 

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I try to find that line in my writing, the in between, the thing that we all feel but have difficulty encapsulating in words.

We need comedy to deal with life, for without it, we’d buckle under.

 

Comedians that inspire me: Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, Howie Mandel, Jim Carrey, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Adam Sandler, Jimmy Fallon, Dana Carvey, Gilda Radner, Tina Fey, Dane Cook, Melissa McCarthy… and the one who makes me laugh the most: my son, Tyler.

 

The Yes Man

 

Muse Hymns

 

Listening to hymns, for me is like reading a good ending, one that satisfies all my expectations, to a book I can’t put down.

In all their majesty, hymns fill me with joy, faith, hope, perseverance. They remind me that beyond the struggle there is always something better. We need to live through the struggle to see that, for without it there couldn’t be clarity. Not only do hymns like these, my favorites, inspire me to be a better person, they inspire me to write more authentically.

 

Hallelujah: Jeff Buckley

 

Amazing Grace: Judy Collins

 

The Prayer: Celine Dion & Andrea Bocelli

 

You Raise Me Up: Josh Groban

 

 

muses what inspires

 

Images:

http://www.firstcovers.com/user/1007044/lady+of+shalott.html

 

 

what writing is like…

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playing with words

walking in someone else’s shoes

trying to figure stuff out

traveling somewhere you’ve never been

making it up as you go along

figuring out the puzzle, even with missing pieces

dreaming with your eyes open

fixing what went wrong

sifting through details

using your right brain and left brain at the same time

taking nuggets of nothing and turning them into something beautiful

observing your life in words

expressing feelings you didn’t know you had

tumbling into the unknown

lassoing the words that jump into your head

taking baby steps through a story

reliving your memories over and again

taking the what ifs and making them what is

documenting a feeling or experience, so it becomes fixed

inventing and reinventing

learning to say what you didn’t think you could

sculpting a world

capturing the story board in your mind in words

erasing what is real in search of something better

purging yourself into tangible proof of your existence

filling your soul with all that ever was and could be so

 

 

The Art of a Woman

In honor of INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’s DAY, March 8th, I’ve reflected on women whose words and deeds have inspired me. They’ve filled me with goals and dreams. They’ve altered my thinking and changed me, somehow.

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Their words have affected my words. This is my homage to them.

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Their WORDS…

a Alcott a angelou a Blume a Bronte a Dickinson a dineson a Gregory a Hoffman a Quindlen a Sexton copy a Wells a woolf

Images:

Alcott, Louisa May. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisa_May_Alcott

Angelou, Maya. http://robtshepherd.tripod.com/maya-angelou.html

Blume, Judy. http://www.bobedwardsradio.com/blog/2013/8/19/the-imcomparable-judy-blume.html

Bronte, Emily. http://www.rugusavay.com/emily-bronte-quotes/

Dickinson, Emily. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/feb/13/emily-dickinson-lyndall-gordon

Dinesen, Isak. http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/likefire/isak-dinesen-her-own-heroine-at-the-millions

Gregory, Philippa. http://mppl.org/check-it-out/category/historical-fiction/page/10/

Hoffman, Alice. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2009/06/did-alice-hoffman-strike-back-or-strike-out.html

Mitchell, Margaret. http://www.npr.org/2011/06/30/137476187/margaret-mitchells-gone-with-the-wind-turns-75

Quindlen, Anna. http://hot-dogma.com/2013/03/06/anna-quindlen/

Sexton, Anne. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/anne-sexton

Wells, Rebecca. http://www.bainbridgepubliclibrary.org/rebecca-wells.aspx

Woolf, Virginia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vita_Sackville-West

Looking for More: Hearts, Love and other Valentine Crap

valentine cardI admit it; I’m a sucker for Valentine’s day. A hopeless romantic, I believe in the ideal. If we stop reaching for what is possible, then there isn’t a point, right?

Perhaps it’s because I have a Valentine that I feel this way. In fact, I’ve had a Valentine since I was sixteen years old. Even though I have a special someone, doesn’t mean THE actual day is all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, a lot of life is like that.

Birthdays, prom, first love, wedding, babies… you visualize these things in your head and they are perfectly dreamy… sunshine and kisses, fluid dances and wishes.

I would argue that the anticipation is always better than the event. It’s the planning period where possibilities are endless, the place where imagination and dreams collide. Valentine’s day is one such event. After almost twenty-five years of marriage, I’m still looking to be romanced, hoping to re-kindle the magic, imagining being swept off my feet. When the reality is that it’s just another day.

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There is a quote in the novel The Hours, by Michael Cunningham, in which the main character Clarissa states, “There is still that singular perfection, and it’s perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more.”

Isn’t Valentine’s Day just another day that we seek for the “more.” And for those who don’t have Valentines, the absence of the possibility of “more” can seem even more daunting than the inability to realize “more” when the potential is there. Yet, we move forward, those with and without Valentines, never losing hope for the promise of possibility in the future.

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Oftentimes, in these periodic moments, the more doesn’t exist simply because we’re looking for it and it doesn’t ever quite live up to the potential, the ideal.

But in the other quiet, unsuspecting moments is where our more really lives. The moments when something unexpected happens to make our hearts swell and truly appreciate where love resides.

Happy 2nd Anniversary to ME (Mirror Muses)

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I’m officially entering my 3rd year of blogging and so eager to see what’s ahead of me. Last year, I ended the year by establishing some goals for myself; it’s neat to look back to see which of them I’ve achieved (& surpassed) and which of them I’m still working on. Not surprisingly, I have abandoned a single one!

HA 2013 goals copy

 

These goals remind me that everyday, we truly are a work in progress. I’d like to thank all of my trusty followers, especially those who take the time to comment and LIKE my work. It truly means a lot to me.

CHEERS! And looking forward to another exciting year of blogging with WordPress.

Sincerely,

Donna a.k.a. Mirror Muses

NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

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I stumbled upon NaNoWriMo last year when a colleague asked if I’d ever heard of it. “No,” I had replied, I hadn’t. She couldn’t believe it because I write all the time; everyone in my life knows this. Experimenting with her class using the Young Writers’ Program, this colleague introduced the competition to her Writers’ Workshop class, a course I wasn’t teaching until the following semester, and she invited all her students (in other classes, too) to join her in the challenge. I decided to, also. While I’ve been writing since I was about seven years old, I’d never written such quantity in such a short amount of time. I didn’t know how well I’d do. Preparing for almost all of October helped, most certainly, in making my first go at this competition run smooth. In fact, I surpassed my goal by the deadline.

Now, I’ve completed my third NaNoWriMo challenge, also participating in CampNaNoWriMo in April of last year. In both April and this November, I’ve invited students to join me. Maybe the best part of each of these competitions is passing on the bug: the love for writing that is as necessary as breathing for some of us. The importance of a community of writers has become a paramount lesson in all of this for me. Writers understand one another, they fuel one another, and they inspire, too!

I’m a planner by nature, and, now, after round three, I can securely say there’s something to be said about writing every single day and writing abundantly. The connections I’ve made with other writers and the lessons I’ve learned about myself, as both person and writer, are inestimable.

Nano 2013 Winner stats

Nano 2013 Done

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

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Dear Blog,

I’ve been neglecting you. See, I’ve been working on a NaNoWriMo project that isn’t going as well as I was hoping. Sure, word-wise, I’m on target, but my book is still just not where I want it to be. Last year at this time, momentum was at an all time high. Obsessed with my story, I wrote and wrote and wrote; I dreamed and breathed it. For this book, I’m coaxing myself.

Lev Grossman in his pep talk to NaNo-ers wrote that we all have doubts as writers… that rough drafts are just that. I’m putting my faith in his words. While the ideas soared with my last project, this one may need more Tender Loving Care.

I’m committed to the contest. I’m committed to winning. Most importantly, I’m committed to the process and what I can learn about my story, its characters and myself along the way.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Yours Truly,

A frustrated, but committed writer