Why I Will Never Forget Henry

A few weeks ago, I came across these painted rocks in Colchester, CT. I’d stopped at Starbucks, thinking a caramel latte would cure my blues over the national news. But the rocks are what lifted my spirits. Thank you, anonymous artist, for reaching out to strangers. 

I think of these rocks often now, particularly when I’m working at the toy store, where sometimes children, teens and adults need something beyond a toy recommendation. Whether they are searching for a genuine smile, for someone to listen to their story, or to know they are not alone, I embrace these opportunities to spread kindness. And sometimes in making personal connections, a person unknowingly sheds light on my own unresolved issues, as Henry did on a muggy day in August.

Henry shuffles into the toy store and up to our wooden front counter. “I’m looking for WWI die cast planes, for someone who’ll be dead in two years.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that someone isn’t well,” I say.

“It’s not that I’m not well, I’m 84 years old, so I could die next week, or next month, you never know.” Henry offers me a playful smile that shows he enjoys teasing people.

I lead Henry to the room where we keep the collectible toy soldiers.  Henry seems familiar but I don’t connect the dots until he shares more about his life. A former history teacher, with a passion for WWI, he visited Toy Soldier for the first time a year ago. “Some nice lady helped me, but it wasn’t you,” he insists, handing me a note from his wallet. The words in neat cursive say Planes that Henry Bought.

“That’s not my handwriting,” I say.

“Of course not. I wrote that. It’s the handwriting of a soon-to-be-dead old man.” He pulls out another paper with the store’s address and phone number, along with a name. My name.

“I’m Betsy.”

“You poor thing. It was you. If it wasn’t for that exhausting honey-do list I would have come sooner.”

“Honey-do list?”

“Yes. The wife’s. She’s sitting on your bench outside, probably adding to the darn list. Maybe it’s a good thing I might die next week.”

I excuse myself and step away to help other customers. Twenty minutes later, Henry is still in our soldier room, his eyes fixed on a limited edition Fokker plane.

“Sure is a beauty, but it’s expensive, and Miss Holds the Purse Strings won’t let me get it.”

I offer to take the plane out of the case to show his wife.

“Oh, god, no. I’ll just describe it to her.” Henry shuffles to the porch while I help a woman select a doll for her two-year-old daughter. After ringing up the sale, I look through the window behind me. Henry is still talking, using his arms to demonstrate the size of the plane to a wife who now seems primed for a nap.

I step out to say hi. “Would you like to see a picture of the plane?”

“No. I don’t need to see it. What I need is for him to stop talking about the darn plane.” She glances up at her husband. “Do you want the plane, Henry?”

Henry looks at me, like I’m supposed to answer for him.

“Do you want the plane?” I ask Henry.

He nods, then shuffles after me. Back into the store, back to the glass case. I slide the heavy metal Fokker of its shelf and hand it to Henry. His eyes glisten. “Can you imagine flying a plane like that, without a cockpit cover?” He continues to chat as we walk to the front counter where I then carefully secure the plane in its limited edition box.

What looks like a five-year-old smile erases from Henry’s lined face. “God forgive me for what I’m about to do.” He pulls out a charge card from his wallet.

“Forgive you for what?”

“Buying the plane.” Henry’s eyes water. “I don’t deserve it.”

Henry’s words, the image of him cradling the plane in his arms, bring me back to my mother, back to her favorite brown leather shoes.

It was the last week in April, and my mother had just been admitted to Hospice. Rather than discuss what that meant, she wanted to talk about her shoes. “They’re almost worn out, I need to replace them. But they’re too expensive.” Even though she could no longer walk, we ordered replacements with expedited shipping. Two days later, my mother smiled, cradling the new shoes in her lap. “Just what I wanted,” she’d said before shifting her legs over the side of the hospital bed and asking for the shoes to be put on her feet. 

 And then she insisted the shoes be removed from her feet and returned to their box. “I’ll wear them when my old pair is completely worn out.”

My mother believed she would walk again.

 My mother believed she had longer to live.

 My mother thought she didn’t deserve a new pair of shoes.

 The box sat in the corner of her room until I shoved it in the closet so I wouldn’t see it when I visited her each day. Four weeks later, the shoes were sent back, the day after her assisted living apartment was emptied.

 And then I tried to forget about the shoes.

 And I tried to forget that my mother died two days before the first anniversary of my husband’s death from ALS.

 I tried to forget the memories and images that accompany watching loved ones suffer through unthinkable and cruel diseases.

But Henry unknowingly triggers these memories, and how I’ve avoided facing the truth of all that has happened these past two years. 

“If you were me, what would you do?” Henry is wrestling over whether to buy the plane or not.

I push back tears, wishing I’d made my mother wear the new shoes, when Henry locks eyes with me.

I am at a loss for words. Breathe, I tell myself, picturing the yellow letters on the purple rock.

“Put the plane back on the shelf,” he says. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

“You deserve the plane, Henry.”

A minute later, Henry inches toward our front door, a large shopping bag in his right hand. He is almost out of sight when I call him back. “Henry, can you promise me something? Can you promise to take the plane out of the box when you get home? Can you promise me you’ll enjoy having the plane?”

Across the display of card games he extends a shaky hand. I take it. “I promise,” he says with a squeeze.

Henry shuffles down our front path, his wife following behind. He stops and reaches back for her. She takes his left hand with a smile.

I do not know if I will ever see Henry again, but I will never forget him. I will never forget holding my husband’s hand when we’d walk through Olde Mistick Village. I will never forget holding my mother’s hand when she took her last breath on May 30th this year.

And I, too, will keep the promise I made to both of them.

I begin today.

I begin with writing this post.

The Hippo Years

THE HIPPO YEARS by Diana Murray

We had no idea what a fateful day it was when my husband (long before we were married) went to a health insurance expo in Manhattan. He came home with some free swag, including a hippo puppet from HIP insurance. Of course we had to try it on and take turns doing voices–because we’re silly like that. After some impromptu puppet antics, we stuffed the hippo in a drawer and forgot about it. Many months later, I was cleaning up and wondered if I should put the hippo puppet in the “giveaway” pile. But then I thought, who knows, maybe we’ll have kids one day and they can play with it. I’ll take any excuse to save stuff!

Fast forward a few years and we got married and had our first child. As she got older, Hippo never failed to make her laugh. He was the audience for her living room ballet performances, he tucked her in at night, and he helped her get through potty training by telling hilarious jokes and doing slapstick routines. “Do hippo!” my daughter would say. “Doing hippo” was her ultimate reward–better than lollipops and ice cream. Hippo was the funniest, silliest, best-est member of the family. We never left home without him. Sometimes it was tiring. As an adult, it’s tough to tap into your imagination like that all the time. “We can’t say no,” I used to tell my husband. “Because you know…pretty soon she’ll stop asking.” *sad face*

When baby #2 came along, Hippo was quick to welcome her, too. To familiarize her with all our inside jokes. We used him so often we had to recolor his pupils with black marker and cut off loose threads.

Hippo’s days were numbered…but not because of wear and tear. As time passed, living room ballet routines became less frequent. The line between fantasy and reality became less fuzzy. And offers by Mom and Dad to “do Hippo” were increasingly met with eye rolls. Poor Hippo.

Still, we will always remember the magic of the “Hippo years”. He’s even been immortalized in this drawing by Salina Yoon (something I won when she was promoting her book, FOUND, about a lost lovey).

My daughters no longer play with Hippo, but I asked if they’d mind me getting rid of him, just to see what they would say. They were outraged. “Are you kidding?” they said, “It’s Hippo!”

Diana Murray grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two daughters, and a spiky bearded dragon who loves listening to stories–especially about dinosaurs. Some of Diana’s other picture books include GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH, NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, CITY SHAPES, and many more. Her poems have appeared in magazines including Highlights, High Five, and Spider. For more information or to download free activities and coloring pages, visit http://www.dianamurray.com

Here is a trailer for Diana’s most recent release (January, 2017), GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE, which was featured as a recommended title in the Washington Post.

Thank you, Diana, for sharing your lovey story! I’m so glad to know that Hippo has a loving forever home. Congratulations on all your wonderful picture books in the wild!

For anyone interested in contributing to the #WhosYourLovey blog series, inspired by my picture book LUCY’S LOVEY, please be in touch. Contact me here for detailed information on what is needed to be a guest blogger.

Robin Newman’s Perfect Little Doll

With my fiftieth birthday around the corner, not to mention the highly anticipated arrival of my AARP membership card, I must confess that my childhood lovey memories have faded a bit. I couldn’t tell you any of their names, but what I do remember is that my twin sister and I each had a little lamby and some very special Madame Alexander dolls that were a gift from my Aunt Peggy.

My sister and I happened to discover the Madame Alexander dolls right before the Christmas holiday (circa 1973) while we were on a top-secret mission to find our gifts. With the help of special agent Dickens, our English Bulldog, we found the dolls tucked away in boxes under a bed. (Note to adults: If your children are skilled detectives, the bed is a terrible hiding place.)

One of the dolls had a gorgeous burgundy skirt, white pinafore with matching bonnet, petticoat, bloomers, and black Mary Jane shoes. The doll also had beautiful long dark brown hair—well, not for long!

Like the rest of my cherished dolls, this doll went through a rigorous Newman care program. Hair styling and gown redesign were a must. Nothing short of black magic occurred than when I learned how to use scissors, markers and makeup. (My sister and I also had a gift for melting crayons on the radiators, but that’s a whole other story.) Needless to say, this doll was no longer that perfect little doll I found under the bed, but there was no doubt about it—she was my perfect little doll.

About Robin Newman
Raised in New York and Paris, Robin was a practicing attorney and legal editor, but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs and peacocks. She’s the author of The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery (Creston Books) and Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep (Creston Books). The second book in the Wilcox & Griswold mystery series, The Case of the Poached Egg (Creston Books), releases April 2017 (but is already available for pre-order at your favorite independent bookstore, Amazon and Barnes & Noble) and No Peacocks! (Sky Pony Press), flies onto bookshelves fall 2017. Robin lives in New York with her husband, son, goldfish, and two spoiled English Cocker Spaniels.

You can connect with Robin here:

Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com

Twitter: @robinnewmanbook and Facebook

Thank you, Robin, for sharing your childhood lovey story with us! I must add that I, too, had beloved Madame Alexander dolls as a child. My favorite was Little Bo Peep, which I was given the day I turned six. That year, for my birthday party, guests came dressed as famous nursery rhyme characters. I, of course, dressed as Little Bo Peep.

The Magical, Musical Baby Bear

A Magical Lovey by C. C. Payne An older lady in the church choir had given my mother the yellow teddy bear near the end of her pregnancy. So “Baby Bear,” as we came to call him, occupied my crib even before I did. Once I was placed in the crib too, Baby Bear and I were fast friends.

teddy bearBaby Bear’s appearance was unremarkable. He looked neither happy nor sad with his round, plastic black eyes. His fur wasn’t especially soft and he wasn’t especially huggable. BUT! Baby Bear held a magical secret: There was a music box in his belly, which played Brahms Lullaby! My mother wound the key on Baby Bear’s backside nightly, after placing me in the crib. As a result, I was never alone in the dark—or anywhere else—I dragged Baby Bear everywhere, I’m told.

C. C. Payne as a child

When my parents divorced, however, Baby Bear was packed up, not to be seen again…for twenty years. My daughter, Laurel Grace, was two years old when my mother found Baby Bear and brought him to our house as a gift for Laurel. I bit my lip nervously as my mother presented her gift—by then, Baby Bear was missing one eye; his red felt tongue had come halfway unglued at the top and hung pitifully; his fur was faded, patchy and thread-bare in places. Even so, my mother wound the key on his bottom and Brahms Lullabye played as she handed the bear to Laurel.

Laurel Grace

I waited for Laurel to crinkle her nose at what had to be the ugliest stuffed animal she had ever laid eyes on. But instead, Laurel clutched Baby Bear to her chest as if he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. To my shock and amazement, Baby Bear was instantly Laurel Grace’s favorite lovey, too.

Perhaps J. K. Rowling sums it up best: “Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) Yes, music is magic. Music bypasses the brain and reaches straight into the heart. It overcomes ugliness with its beauty. Music fills darkness and silence with light and song. Music assures us that we aren’t alone—in the world, in the dark, in our feelings. And Baby Bear did all of that.

Author C. C. Payne

Years later, unfortunately, a hotel maid missed Baby Bear’s magic and threw him away as she straightened our room one morning. I understood—by then, he definitely looked like he belonged in the trash. There were a lot of tears over Baby Bear and, of course, I tried desperately to get him back. Even after our vacation, I was still trying. My letters ultimately reached the owner of the hotel, who responded with a handwritten two page letter about his own lost lovey, conveying empathy and compassion, and offering his sincerest apologies—yes, even hotel moguls have loveys!

Although we don’t have Baby Bear anymore, we’ll always have Brahms Lullabye, the song that remembers a plain yellow teddy bear who comforted and kept us in the dark.

C. C. Payneis the hopeful, humorous, distinctly Southern middle grade author ofThe Thing About Leftovers; Lula Bell on Geekdom, Freakdom & the Challenges of Bad Hair, and Something to Sing About. She says, “Problems and fears can grow to monstrous proportions when left alone in the dark–I know from experience. Writing is my attempt to bring problems and fears out into the light, cutting them down to size–and sometimes, even laying them to rest. So far, I’ve written about fear, faith, friendship, bullying, death, divorce and blended families.” To learn more, visit www.ccpayne.net

Thank you, C. C. Payne, for sharing your childhood lovey story, as well as your heartfelt novels with the world.

Loss and Living Life


I have been absent from blogging for well over a year, and so after many long, contemplative hikes with my rescue dog Buddy, I decided I needed to share where I’ve been before I move to the next phase of my life as a published author.

In May 2015, my husband lost his job again. Within weeks, he had a slight foot drop, his left foot. Minor, but it gave us both pause. At times his balance seemed off. If Buddy tugged too hard on his leash, he would sometimes pull John to the ground. I took John to our PCP, who sent us to an orthopedic specialist. John’s MRI showed a ruptured disk in his spine, as well as a narrowing of his neck. We were facing extensive spinal and neck surgery, with long recoveries. We had no clue something else was at play.

I insisted on a second opinion, because the first doctor wanted to operate immediately. My gut told me to hold off, and to push for more tests, more opinions, because John presented with another troubling symptom. Fasciculations, brief, spontaneous contractions that affect a small number of muscle fibers, causing flickers of movement under his skin. It was like watching microscopic worms burrow up and down his arms.


We sought out more specialists, prepared for our youngest daughter’s upcoming wedding. But when I watched John trip on a sideway in Boston, unable to catch himself to break his fall, I knew. My family knew, too. They quietly told me they suspected a neurological disease was at play. Beyond the first specialist, no one would operate on John’s neck and/or spine. And yet, John clung to this notion that an operation would cure all, telling me how happy he was going to be once his body was repaired. He would stay up late at night, applying for jobs.

He only fell again, and again, and again.

But with the aide of a walking stick, in mid-September 2015, John managed to walk our daughter down the path to be married. I saw in the eyes of my family that day, their fears that we were dealing with something much larger than what could be fixed on an operating table. And so we all, myself included, decided to not share our concerns with John. We let John have hope, for as long as we could. We let him believe that the next specialist might approve his spine and neck surgery. We hoped that our suspicions were wrong.

On Dec. 8th, 2015, my younger sister and I took John to MGH in Boston, where within hours he was diagnosed with ALS. At the time, I thought it was the worst day of my life, but I didn’t know what lay ahead.

John deteriorated at a rate that no one could predict. Less than 3 months after his diagnosis, he lost the full use of his legs. Shortly after that, he was dependent on others for all self-care, no longer able to slowly lift a spoon to his mouth to feed himself.

Many people know our story, through what I’ve shared on Facebook, etc. The medical community all projected that John would live for 3-5 years. Very quickly, I knew this would not be the case. And so in December 2015, I started a new role as a fierce and loving advocate. It seemed like every few days I was dealing with a new crisis in terms of John’s health. My goal, my daily focus, was to keep him safe, feeling loved, and see that he had quality of life. I checked off what was doable on his wish list. I took him to San Diego to say goodbye to his mother, got him a ride in his favorite car (Austin Healey), and I organized a celebration of John’s life, just in the nick of time.

DSCN0501 (2).JPG

Less than six months after his ALS diagnosis, my husband was at peace. No longer suffering from his daily muscle spasms that left him screaming in the night.

While I was strong throughout this journey of caring for and watching my husband suffer up to the end, it was the grandchildren that would break me down. Those were the moments where I had to fight to not crumble to the floor. Moments such as when 4 y.o. Landon was begging his dying PopPop to wake up so he could play trains with him.

And so, when it was my turn to speak at John’s memorial this past July, I focused on the children in his life, and on how John inspired us all.


Below is how I closed my tribute to John.

Our 4 y. o. grandson lost his best buddy and fellow train lover. After John died, Landon told everyone PopPop was happy. “He’s a zombie train engineer now, driving dead people around,” Landon insisted. A fan of zombie shows, John would have loved this image.

But then Landon asked about the box. The box with John’s ashes. Which is when Landon noticed that Buddy, our rescue dog, was sad too. In his own 4 y. o. way, Landon tried to soothe the dog’s grief. Lifting one of Buddy’s ears, he whispered, “It’s okay, Buddy. PopPop’s not coming home, Buddy. He lives in a box now.”

The box.

The box always comes up with Landon’s other questions: “Is PopPop just dust now?” “So he can never be PopPop again?”

When Landon’s mother asked him how this made him feel, he said, “I just really miss PopPop is all.”

But here’s the thing, we can all rant about how horrible ALS is or we can look to the good that grew from this experience. We had the opportunity to say goodbye. In addition, John had the opportunity to see how many people love him, how many lives he unknowingly touched. How many lives he is going to touch with his invaluable contribution to ALS research.  

John is gone. Yet we are given the chance to be thankful for what we have, that we may take for granted, day after day. We must be sure to use our voices to say what we want to before we lose the ability. And use our legs and arms and minds to accomplish good things and go places we might not otherwise go. We have the opportunity to live our lives to the fullest. What a gift that is.

Every day, I’d ask John what I could do for him. His answer was always the same. “I want to stand up and walk. I want to jump and skip and run.” In late May, he told me he was looking forward to the summer, to root beer floats, to seeing friends and family, to watching cool cars from the second floor balcony.

John wanted to live. He died six days later.

Despite his suffering, John was always grateful. It’s a lesson I don’t take lightly. He would always thank people for changing him, washing him, moving him, feeding him, even when he no longer recognized lifelong friends, his nurses and aides, and even his beloved dog, Buddy. 

Grateful. Humble. That was my husband.

So here’s to you, my Brave MacLeod, may you rest in peace.

And in the words of a four year old, I just really miss you is all.

P. S. – A heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported our family throughout this difficult journey.

P. S. S.  – I’m okay, John. I hope you are too. xo

Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp

CEaHyEsUsAA95AFIn March 2014, I had the pleasure of attending Jane Yolen’s first Picture Book Boot Camp. The retreat had been announced in the fall of 2013, right after my husband lost his job. Something told me this was a once in a lifetime experience, and when I approached my husband about the opportunity to spend four days at Jane Yolen’s house for a picture book master class, he encouraged me to apply. “We’ll make it work somehow,” he said. Two months later, as my husband found employment, I was accepted into PBBC. For a short PBBC slide show follow this link.

First, many thanks for joining me today, Jane, and congratulations! With dates in place for PBBC #3, you are now accepting applications from either traditionally published authors or authors under contract with a (traditional) publisher. Having attended your first-ever PBBC, I know what your future attendees can look forward to: four days of master classes, award-worthy meals, inspired presentations from respected people in our industry, a trip to the Eric Carle Museum, an owl excursion, and the opportunity to work at the famous desk where you wrote Owl Moon. In addition, you were always available to answer questions outside of your talks, and welcomed each of us into the fold.

When you first developed PBBC did you foresee it growing beyond the first camp?

There was always the hope, but one never knows about the extent of the participant pool, the cost factor, the travel factor, and the dozens of other possible workshops going on at approximately the same time.

What did you learn from the first PBBC and were any changes put forth as a result?

We learned a bit about pacing, about having bought too much wine (who knew!), and had a harsh reminder that sometimes there’s an owl, and sometimes there is not!

What are your long-term goals for PBBC?

Once or twice a year until the participants wear out or we do.

What do you hope your campers take away from the experience?

I want them to feel renewed in their joy of writing, in their commitment to publishing the best possible work, and to have found new work-arounds for things that have annoyed/bothered/frustrated them. Also I hope that at least some of the mss. workshopped get taken in this ever-increasingly difficult publishing world. I want them to realize that any manuscript can be improved, that a rejection merely means the wrong editor has seen it, and that publishing runs in cycles, troughs, and waves.

What is your personal favorite part of PBBC?

Heidi’s food and the manuscripts that I can salvage, save, or lift to the next level. And the friends/colleagues for life we have made.

The food is fabulous at PBBC, thanks to your talented daughter and author Heidi Stemple. How about a CBCWH (Cooking Boot Camp with Heidi)? I will be the first to sign up!

You will have to ask her that!

As a former boot camper, I love the supportive and encouraging community that grew out of our PBBC #1 experience. Did you foresee this happening?

Yes, because I have taught workshops before.

Many writers would love to be under your wings for a few days, absorbing your wealth of knowledge and experience, but are not eligible to apply. Is there any advice you might offer to these writers?

The minute you get a traditional publishing contract for a book, send us an email and ask for an application.

Have any of your former boot campers gone on to publish one of their PBBC manuscripts?

We already have a couple who are in the process of signing new mss. with top publishers. I am not totally clear whether these were ones we workshopped (I believe at least one is) or whether they are simply new mss. that were already in progress.

Moving forward, do you hope to maintain two PBBCs per year, and do you have ideas for any other kinds of writing retreats?

NOPE. I have my own writing to do as well.

Thank you again, Jane, for stopping by to answer questions. For those interested in receiving an application to PBBC#3 (September 10-13, 2015) or if you have additional questions about Jane’s boot camp, email Heidi at heidieys@gmail.com.

Jane Yolen is the beloved author of over 350 children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and the immensely popular How Do Dinosaurs . . . ? series. Jane is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century. Her books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award among many others.




Experience of a Lifetime

DSC09357I am a firm believer in once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, which is why I didn’t hesitate to apply for Emma Dryden’s weeklong workshop, held in July 2014. Yes, I adore Martha’s Vineyard, but add Emma Dryden to the experience? I was in.

This year, veteran children’s book editor and publishing consultant, Emma D. Dryden returns to the Noepe Center for Literary Arts to, once again, teach The Art and Craft of Children’s Book Writing. Emma, who is smart, funny, and so approachable, brings along her expertise and her undying passion for children’s literature. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and it set a tone for the unforgettable week. The balance between workshops in the morning, and free time in the afternoon, to write or explore the island’s beauty, was perfect. Our group of twelve attendees quickly fell into helping each other: Reading, critiquing, bonding over our love of children’s literature.

DSC09183There were magical, takes-your-breath-away sunsets, the ones people gather on the beach to watch (and applaud for) every evening. There was the lone blue heron that swept gracefully into the harbor as the sun lazily welcomed a new day. There was my daily experience of padding through a sleepy Edgartown as dawn approached, past the street sweepers, relishing in the smell of fresh muffins baking at a nearby bookstore bakery. There were Emma’s writing prompts that ignited new stories within. And the evenings, in which we’d gather together as a group, preparing dinner, those were some of the  best moments.

If you do anything this year to advance your craft, or feed your writing soul, attend Emma’s workshop. You can register here, plus read more detailed information on what topics Emma will address: http://noepecenter.org/emma-d-dryden-the-art-and-craft-of-childrens-book-writing-july-5-11-2015/

I left the experience with so much more than I’d hoped for. Renewed confidence, new and nurturing relationships, and lasting memories, that still feed my creative spirit today. For a brief slideshow of some highlights from our week on this beautiful island, follow this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60PFQsjqk0k



A Writer’s Distractions

DSC01067When I struggle with putting words

to the page,

I step outside,

breathe in fresh air,

then search

for tiny miracles.

In truth, distractions

of the extraordinary.



Yet, tiny miracles always bring me back

to the place I’m avoiding.


Bug in Daylily3I, too, want to silently dive deep,

explore a daylily (or an untold story)


except for the curious human

with her camera,

avoiding her writing.



But isn’t that where magic happens?

Where the best of stories

are born?

Even if fear both propels us forward

and holds us back?


DSC01261And then I find myself in awe of tadpoles,

having ventured for too long

and too far from the house,

on this path of distraction.

Tadpoles, which have never much interested me,

but now do.

Which invites a flood of questions,

questions about my characters,

and this story I am compelled to write.


DSC01328So I leave my critical self outside

so she can enjoy

what the world has to offer.

Perhaps, she will find solace

in the company of a frog.



DSC05657Or take the time to wonder

at how beautiful

a gorilla’s feet are,

while I slip away unnoticed

before she follows me.













The Importance of Being Present

SONY DSC“Red moon,” he said,

his two-year-old hand reaching for mine

in the dark.

As urgently as my granddaughter

grabbed my arm, earlier that day.


For her, it was the return

of the hummingbirds.



SONY DSCShe’d spotted a female

resting on a high branch,

a potential mate preening

his feathers nearby.

Our clothesline, his stage.



SONY DSCThen . . . a flash

of iridescent red,

high-pitched squeaks,

beating wings that

skirted our hair.


as abandoned homework




on a breeze.


SONY DSCWe chased it, laughing.


If not for children

reminding us to be present,

how many miracles of life

would be overlooked?


The insect in a daylily.


Shadows in the woods.



The beauty of a half-dead

Japanese maple tree

clinging to life.

Its unfurling apple-peel like leaves

shimmering in the sun.


Do our heads always need to be down?

Our brains wired and ready

for instant response

to Facebook notifications,

e-mails, texts, twitter updates?





Look. Up.

Find beauty.

Give a child your full,

undivided attention.





And so we set aside homework

to wonder at hummingbirds.

Delayed bedtime

to gaze at a brilliant full moon,



shrouded in a milky

red-and-blue veil.


“Look, Grandma!” he said,

his small hand swallowed

in mine.


Clouds shifted; the moon disappeared.


SONY DSCBut not the moment.

The moment of just



He ran down the driveway.

“Moon is gone! GONE!”



I raced after him,

swept him into my arms,

guided his tiny arm toward the sky.

“Watch and wait,” I whispered.


Together, we silently anticipated–

not a ding or a chirp or a tweet

but the reappearance

of an unreachable golden ball

nestled in the night sky.

A ball my grandson called “Red Moon.”


Yes, we need to be brave

in our writing,

but we must also seek the courage

to be present.

My Writing Process

ImageToday I join the blog tour where writers and authors answer questions about their writing process. Author Rebecca Colby preceded me. Please check out her writing process here: www.rebeccacolbybooks.com/2014/04/writing-process-blog-tour/

What am I working on now?

My present focus is on eight-year-old E. B. Louise, who is determined to save her shredding and too-small elephant slippers given to her by her recently deceased Grandma Hubble. E. B. Louise is precocious and always getting into trouble, which makes her utterly delicious and intoxicating to be around. Especially when you add her bestie, Melvin Fitch, who returns from his summer vacation at Alien World greener than E. B. Louise’s lawn. I work with second graders on a weekly basis and absolutely adore their age group. Oh, that E. B. Louise and her antics! Revising this lower middle grade lets me spend my mornings laughing out loud before I return to my second young adult in free verse, which has a darker and more serious tone, with a plot that gives me chills.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Paying no attention to market trends, I write what I am called to write, what speaks to my heart. If a voice leads to less-explored topics like early-onset Alzheimer’s, stealing, and secrets that turn families upside down, I’m not afraid to go there. I’m also not afraid to push the limits if I wholeheartedly believe that a certain plot point or a particular dialogue exchange is honest to what truly happens in children’s lives.

Why do I write what I do?

As for picture books, I adore them, I always have. And I love the challenge of writing a heartfelt and funny story in under 700 words. In terms of novels, once a voice comes to me—whether in a whisper, a single line of dialogue, or sometimes a scene in which I see the unfamiliar character doing something and wonder why—I have to follow them. For the most part, I write character-driven contemporary fiction.

How does your writing process work?

Because I live a full life—I work at an old-fashioned toy store part-time, regularly watch my two grandkids, volunteer weekly in my granddaughter’s second-grade classroom, and I am an avid photographer—I’ve learned to set aside time in each day to write. As writers, we must do this. Nearly three years ago, right after my father died, I made a vow to become an early riser for the sake of my writing. And now, on most days, I welcome the sun from my writing room where I am head down, butt in chair, giving free rein to Sleepy Mind. This is when my creative juices flow best. Overall, I write up to four hours per day, some days more than that.

A first draft of a novel can take up to three months, while I write picture books fairly quickly. Though I play with the story’s concept and characters for weeks in my mind. I see pictures, like screen shots, and jot those down. The real writing follows after I’ve let the fresh manuscript simmer for a while and then hunker down for revision. Revising is, hands down, my favorite part of writing.

Thank you so much for stopping by! Please visit my author friends who will share their writing process in the next week or so.

SONY DSCDebbie LaCroix is the author of “It’s Almost Time.” We met at Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp in March. Debbie is a book addict. She loves to read, write and even sells children’s books for Usborne Books and More. She is a Mom to 2 boys, and loves jumping into her imagination. She is currently searching for an agent. Please visit Debbie at: www.littledebbiewrites.wordpress.com



A_Denise_Author_PhotoAnika Denise is the author of PIGS LOVE POTATOES and BELLA AND STELLA COME HOME, both of which were illustrated by her husband, Christopher Denise. Her forthcoming titles include BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S (Philomel, August, 2014/ also illustrated by Chris) and MONSTER TRUCKS! (Harper Children’s, 2016/ illustrated by Nate Wragg.) She lives with her husband and three daughters in Barrington, Rhode Island. Learn more about Anika’s books at her author website www.anikadenise.com, and blog http://thelittlecrookedcottage.blogspot.com.