New year, new creations

Hello, and a belated ‘happy new year’ to you!

Life has been overflowing with extra craziness since I decided working full-time and going back to grad school was a perfectly normal thing to do. I have since learned that I am insane, and now find myself very tired with even less time to write (surprise, surprise).

But not every shred of time was ripped unceremoniously from my hands. In fact, I’m very excited about a certain WIP and hope to locate some beta readers/critique partners in the upcoming months.

At a glance:

My WIP is a middle grade anthropomorphic mystery-adventure including a few of my favorite things:

  • Cheese (really good cheese too)
  • Flying machines
  • Truffles (not the chocolate kind, but I like those too)
  • Pipes
  • Writers
  • Thieving ferrets
  • And a pig, named Basil, (I’ve always loved that name)

If your heart pounds faster after reading that list, screaming loudly for more, then shoot me an email at megansmitillustration@gmail.com or DM me on Twitter @TheSmitlyJotter so we can talk about working together either in a critique partner or beta reader context.

Happy 2016 to you. Take time to fill it with all that you love most. Savor each day like the last drop of whiskey in your highball glass. And lastly, keep writing.

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July 5, 2015 – Circus Mirandus – A Review.

circusmirandus

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley — A review by TheSmitlyJotter


Synopsis:  Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle.

Check it out on Goodreads

Thoughts:  Circus Mirandus has gathered quite a bit of hype, which combined with its inviting cover, resulted in my purchase of a copy. Before I proceed with further thoughts, I should also mention the spicy, black and white illustrations of Diana Sudyka are dispersed throughout–and they transport you. They are incredible.

I finished the 304 pages in less than 6 hours, partly because I couldn’t put it down and partly because Beasley writes with such skill that the words practically dance off the page and into your head–to the music of pipes and drums, no less. Truthfully, I was laughing one sentence and crying the next–all the while reading aloud portions of her character descriptions to my husband across the room. I found within the pages characters crafted with such depth, and yet, honesty, that after meeting them, I understand certain people in my own life better for it.

There are many a good book that I can curl up with and enjoy, but it has been a long time since I’ve read something so profoundly beautiful. And so, I have to confess, in its rarity and unexpected depths, this masterful book has changed me. Reminded me of the magic. It’s about magic, friendship and loss. It’s about the people we love and why we love them. Circus Mirandus can be read and re-read (which will certainly be the case in my house), only to find some new magic upon your next return. The only ticket you need is a copy of this book– so go out and buy or borrow it, but you truly must read it–even if there’s only one book you read this summer, Circus Mirandus is calling.

July 2, 2015 – Happy 90th and a sneak peek.

Today is my dear grandfather’s 90th birthday. My PopPop, as I have always called him, has seen so many changes in his lifetime, I can scarcely imagine it–which is saying a lot. He grew up during the Great Depression where an orange was a luxury he tasted only once in childhood, then promising himself one day he’d be rich enough to eat as many of them as he ever wanted. He served valiantly in World War II. And today, travels the world in efforts to aid developing nations during times of crisis. I’m so very proud of the remarkable person he is.


In honor of such a special day, I’ve also decided to post a tiny sneak peek of my current work-in-progress, a middle grade mystery.

Synopsis:  THE SECRETS OF ARBOR HOUSE begins without much fanfare where many of life’s mysteries are often overlooked–in the trash. Okay, not entirely. It actually starts in Brumby’s Old-to-New, the family secondhand store, when Madeline Brumby discovers a strange letter hidden in the belly of a donated piano. When the letter leads Maddie, and her best friend Holly “Holls” Little, to Arbor House, they find themselves surrounded by less-than-trustworthy characters linked in some way or another to the house itself, and with limited time to discover the answers hidden there.

Snippet:  Brumby’s Old-to-New overflowed with both trash and treasure, a place where old things discarded from one owner turned into new things to be discovered by another. The store opened because Mrs. Brumby couldn’t stand throwing perfectly good things away, but for her daughter, Madeline Brumby, the excitement had always been the hunt – the mystery behind the next drop-off or delivery. Would it be a box of old jewelry with forgotten family photos stuffed behind the lining? Would a wardrobe filled with fur coats from an old movie star get wheeled in? You never could tell, but if you paid attention, Maddie had found you could learn a lot about people from what they throw away.

June 8, 2015 – Back Again

Months have shamefully passed since my last post. And so it seemed appropriate to title this one Back Again. I am back, and never truly left.

As I recently wrote to a potential critique partner (fingers crossed), I love book beginnings. This is why I have forty plus manuscripts vividly detailing the critical first chapter and then…nothingness. Another captivating book idea bunyhops through my head and off I dutifully follow. It drives my husband insane. But maybe I’m not alone in this, maybe there are others like me. Every day or so, another idea comes along. It’s like literary ADD, and if they medicate for it, please refer me.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered why I’m this way. It’s all due to my being a reader (and a pantster). It’s caught up in the moment when by page 3 you’ve realized the book will not be put down until you’ve uncovered who killed Miss Fancypants before she had a chance to eat cake on her fortieth birthday…and why. The excitement has gripped us all before. The delicious start of the hunt. The expectation of meeting new friends and despising new enemies. This is exactly why I have forty manuscripts with only beginnings.

As of late, (meaning in between my last post and this one), I’ve consciously trying to convert myself from pantstering my book ideas to some version of plotting them. Efforts have included largely overgrown mind maps and so many index cards it will take a month or more to sort through them. But it wasn’t without some reward. I’ve got a good outline. And instead of one chapter, I’ve got two. It’s a mind trick I’m playing with myself, you see. I chose a ‘there and back again’ story structure in the hopes that the ‘back again’ part will actually get me back to where I started by stoking my love of beginnings. Some way. Somehow. And so here I am, back again.

September 22, 2014 – Subsequently.

Two weeks ago, I intended to write a post on a previous experience at an SCBWI conference in 2010, a post describing how terrifying and demoralizing it was for me, and therefore how nervous I was growing about the impending SCBWI Carolinas Conference. Instead, I chose to be more positive and did not write the blog post, keeping my apprehensions to myself.


I attended the SCBWI Carolinas 2014 Conference over the weekend, and subsequently, have a very different blog post to write. And yes, “subsequently” is one of my favorite words, not only because of the nice qu in it, but because it cues the reader that something is happening or changing.

The conference was filled with remarkable faculty and members. I don’t know which I learned more from, and so it’s safest to just say that I learned a great deal. Not only did I learn about the trade and business of writing, but (because I was brave enough to sign up for a critique) I learned more about myself too! I was challenged to add new angles to my illustrations, stronger voice to my writing and laughter in my work. I was transfixed by simplicity and truth in Carrie Ryan’s keynote address, calling writers to write. The conference came and went quickly, and I grew.

In 2010, I ended the conference in tears. I slid between the soda machine and the wall, the most private place I could quickly find to cry my eyes out. I sobbed with my head against the gentle rumble of the Coca-Cola machine, telling myself I would never be good enough. Weeping with self-pity that my little dreams couldn’t come true, and that I would always be mediocre.

In 2014, I drove away from the conference in tears. My vision was blurred as I merged onto I-77, heading for home. I quickly put on my sunglasses to shed my tears privately, away from the eyes of passing drivers. The voices of the conference speakers resonated within me, my heart surged with the rush of revived determination. I will write, I will write something worth reading, and someday I will be published.

In earlier years, I simply wasn’t prepared to receive and implement the input and challenges of others. Instead they bore down on me, a rolling boulder, squashing my hopes because I simply wasn’t ready to embrace the required changes to my life. The challenges to rewrite, rework, revisit, revise; to improve one’s self in this way takes no small measure of bravery and commitment.

Fortunately, time does change people. I changed. I grew. I had a “subsequently” in my life and it propelled me forward to greet the writer I hope to become. As I drove from the conference yesterday, I saw a glimmer of that writer far in the distance and promised to run towards her everyday.

August 22, 2014 – Kneading.

Live hungry. Not only do I enjoy reading, writing and illustrating – I fall under the “foodie” category as well.


Since December, I’ve been hand-making pasta. I enjoy the ritual and really enjoy the results!
The process begins with a hard, crumbly lump of dough. I knead it a little to start with, but it’s always muscle-building tough at that point. So I wrap the dough. It sits aside for a while. I run off to walk the dog or do the dishes and return to it later.

After a surprisingly short amount of time, the tough dough has changed into something more pliable, more yielding. This time I can really knead the dough.

My creative work is often much like the dough. It starts out quite rough around the edges. I might even decide to hate it. But so many times, if I sit the work aside for a while, it’s more yielding to my touch and ready for changes and improvements when I return to it later.

As I mentioned earlier, kneading can be hard work, requiring persistence and a certain amount of strength. But thoroughly kneading the dough makes a drastic difference on the end result, providing softer, lovelier noodles. Yes, I consider a plateful of noodles a lovely thing.

Thoroughly reviewing, revising, editing and reworking creative work takes a lot of stick-to-it-ness. I’m tempted to whip it out quickly so I can feel accomplished and move on to something new. But the mark left by attention and the thorough kneading of your creative work is unmistakable. So muscle-up with me and let’s knead through it.