#MothersDay and a #Top20 #Countdown with #DianaWynneJones’ #Fantasy #Writing to #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder!

To all Moms and Those Who Mother: A Blessed Mother’s Day to You!

So you may think that as a mother, I would spend this post gushing about my kids.

Erm…nah.

I talk about those little hoodlums enough. Besides, Blondie turns 10 in a few weeks, and I’m bound to get her on around then to talk about fantasy adventures she loves.

So let’s shove the kids into a room with trucks, dragons, and “cutelys” (Biff’s latest stuffie animal crew, of which he’s the zookeeper and it’s all undeniably adorable) so that you and I can take a moment to realize it’s the month of Wyrd and Wonder. Huzzah!

Once I discovered this amazing celebration of all fantasy reads, I just had to jump in. Before this month, my kids’ only knowledge of Diana Wynne Jones was the Ghibli adaptation of her beloved Howl’s Moving Castle. When I finished reading the lovely little mystery Basil of Baker Street, I asked them what they’d like me to read next for lunchtime. They gave answers involving puppies, robots, and spaceship schematics.

Nnnnope! Time to visit the Queen of the Fantastic. Not with Charmed Life–I don’t need the boys accusing Blondie of draining their life force (or vice versa). And no, I didn’t take them to Howl’s castle. I’ll share an analysis of the chosen story later this month. 🙂

In the meantime, I thought it’d be fun to celebrate Wyrd and Wonder with favorite snippets of Jones that highlight her craft and humor. I love love LOVE Reflections on the Magic of Writing and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, so I’ll be sharing highlights from these books every day over the next…hmmm…let’s say for twenty days or until I finish the chosen story with my kids, whichever comes first. Shall we start with a fitting entry for Mother’s Day? Indeed! Yes, one that instructs Tourists of Fantasyland to be wary of those mothers of fantastical nations, the Queens.

Queens ruling in their own right are rare, but they do occur. When they do they are:

  1. Totally useless because dominated by a male lover or COUNCILLORS, or both.
  2. GOOD, but incapacitated by MAGIC or scruples or both, in the most extreme cases, this Queen will sit on her throne perpetually in a state of blanched preservation. Tourists requiring favours of her will need only one look to know that here is something else they have to put right before they can get on with the real business of the Tour. When rescued such Queens can put things in order with commendable briskness.
  3. Good. This Queen will be a MAGIC USER and terribly conscientious. In her case the Tour will reveal something highly amiss with either her COUNTRY or the whole continent. The Queen will often have to join the Tour to put this right (see SAVING THE WORLD). You will have to spend the Tour worrying about the Queen’s safety.
  4. Old-fashioned bad. This kind of Queen is totally in control. She has everybody terrified of her, possibly through Magic. And, again possibly through Magic, she will be beautiful…Her Country will be the most abject and oppressed of any on the Tour. Since she is very cruel, this will not bother her at all.
  5. A bad mother. This Queen is really ruling for her young son (see CHILDREN), but she will be so anxious to go on ruling that she will be bringing the lad up to be wholly dependent on her. This Queen is a dangerous sentimental bitch, because she will claim that everything she does is for the sake of her Child. She will try to POISON anyone who gets in her way. Only a powerful AMULET will help you here. Naturally no Tourist will want to have anything to do with this Queen, but it will usually be necessary to release the young KING from her clutches before you can proceed on the Tour. The local God may well insist on it.

Oh, it is going to be sooooooo fun sharing these! I hope you find Jones’ words a source of fun and inspiration as you create your own story-worlds.

Speaking of story-worlds, I’ve thrown my own tales into the Wyrd and Wonder celebration!

My Historical Fantasy novella Night’s Tooth will be FREE May 15th-18th, and my YA Fantasy Novel Fallen Princeborn: Stolen will be just 99 cents over May 22nd-25th

Night’s Tooth is about as about as gritty a story as you can get and Jean Lee is just the woman to deliver it. Her world building and sense of timing deliver a heightened sense of tension and you’ll find yourself holding your breath page after page. For those with a low suspense threshold, I recommend reading Night’s Tooth with all the lights on!

Thanks for the awesome review, P.J. Lazos!
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I typically read any kind of genre if the writing flows. But my favorite tends to be the YA fantasy and YA paranormal. Because of what I do for a living (oncology nurse), it is refreshing to read something that takes me far from this reality and into an alternate, believable time and place.

The heroine, Charlotte Aegir, is perfectly flawed. So, while the storyline and the world-building is so creative and imaginative, and steeped in faerie, Charlotte’s flaws and rough edges are also so true and…well, real, giving this dark fantasy novel a genuine emotional core—a beating heart—that we humans can relate to.

Amazon Review

Thanks so much for reading this slapdash post written while Bo and the boys race along with Bandit down the highway with Smokey on their tails. I hope you’ll come back for the upcoming journey through craft and Fantasyland–be sure to share your own celebration of all things fantastic in the comments below, too. Let’s spread the word that spring’s the time for Wyrd and Wonder!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Another Escape From This #LifeatHome, Plus Other Updates On Goals for #SchoolatHome And #WriteatHome

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Yet another spring day of sunshine, robins, aaaaaaaaaaaand that s’mores cake just sitting in the fridge, callin’ my name…

How are you, Friends? I’m not quite as grumpy as I was last week, but honestly, I’m still feeling pretty downtrodden. The extension doesn’t allow for nonessential travel, and…gosh, can’t time outside’n’elsewhere be considered essential? Please?

I found this shot of Silver Lake, which is near one of Bo’s favorite places.

Escape through photography is one thing–there are plenty of amazing nature photographers out there capturing intimate moments in the wilderness.

Stunning find #1 from Wisconsin photographer E. Ebeling!
Stunning find #2 from Wisconsin photographer E. Ebeling!
Stunning find #3 from Wisconsin photographer E. Ebeling!

Unfortunately, we can’t just take my family on a walk through the park. Parks have playgrounds, and playgrounds are still off-limits. This led to Bo and I brainstorming our day-trip to the graveyards–four, to be exact. We visited the graves of grandparents and parents buried in dilapidated Catholic plots, forgotten farmland sites, suburban stone-less grids, and MANSIONS!

Doesn’t that look like a mansion? It’s got this huge church in it, and castle-like sitting room, and crypts, and statues, and a Hall of Presidents, and I’ll stop rambling so you can just see for yourself in the gallery on their page. The kids actually had quite a bit of fun on this graveyard run, looking for the really old graves, checking out all the unique names in the mausoleums, admiring the veteran statues, and simply loving the warm, windy day.

Brighter days have led to Biff’s pleas being answered at last: I got the bikes down. After a couple of weeks with training wheels, Biff’s soaring off on his two-wheeler…

Bash is so, so close to Biff as far as speed and balance, but once again anxiety has been rearing its ugly head, and Bash panics the moment I let go of him and falls. He’s made his feelings quite clear on the subject.

Bash’s teacher sent a phone book’s pile of worksheets to be completed this month, while Biff’s teacher simply emptied the boy’s desk into a plastic bag aaaand that’s it. So…is Biff done, but not his brother? Oh, Biff’s expected to keep doing stuff online. Soooo is Bash. Then do we both with these worksheets or not?!?!

The school crap’s getting old, people. I’m not going to just throw in the towel like a professor with just one first-grader, but the utter disconnect between expectations from the boys’ teachers is frustrating. I’ve tweaked the school schedule yet again to try and get through as much of their work in the morning as possible, with Bible History, Math, Reading, and Writing as our daily core and then ending on a special, like Science, Geography, Art, or History. I overlap whenever possible–drawing maps, for instance, or building something like people did in the olden days (they want to build a fort like a cathedral now–thanks, Nova!)

But because the boys each have such different things they’re supposed to do for each subject, even these few things take time with the play breaks they need throughout the morning. It’s all I can do to keep up with them while, yes, once again Blondie has to tend to herself. Thankfully, this doesn’t perturb her too much; she chats with her friends online via the school computer while completing assignments. Any connection to friends beats fighting with little brothers any day, yes? I’m also impressed with a theme in her writing over the spring involving these dog/dragon/ghost folk building their own planet for alien tourism.

Now I just need to get her back to her Alley Heroes, am I right? 🙂

Speaking of writing: yes, I’m doing my best. I’ve submitted a short story to my university’s literary journal, and I’m still writing another I hope to share with you. The idea came from a very vile looking park bench and a pair of towns I’ve passed through many times in my life; Ashippun, and Old Ashippun. Two communities, very near one another, and yet they have very different feels about them. The idea of a town starting in one place only to be abandoned for the sake of progress stuck with me, and I hope to put that sense of (dis)place into my WIP, “Hungry Mother.”

“What’s that?”

Nicole carefully places the Bella Café sticker over the tell-tale yellow arches. “My coffee,” she tells the child. “Want some?” Please don’t want some, Christ your teeth look like rocks.

The girl tucks a few greasy strands of hair behind her ear, revealing the rest of her lopsided face. No doctor could save that face. “Nah. I’m waiting for the water.” She points to the old water pump in the middle of the park.

Nicole looks past the water pump. Beyond the road and wall of arborvitaes is a trailer park full of people, poor and desperate people praying for easy answers. And Nicole’s bag is just full of easy answers, priced to catch and never release. All it takes is one yes, and that yes is due any minute.

“Don’t you have water at home?” Nicole can’t imagine allowing her own daughter to play in this rundown park, let alone drink water from some forsaken pump. Carl and his skank Sandra probably would. I bet they don’t even follow my rules for brushing her hair.

The child plucks a centipede off Nicole’s bench. With all the bird-crap and graffiti littering the park’s picnic shelter, Nicole had been forced to pick a bench out among the tired, mushroom-eaten pines, and even this bench has quite a few cuts and words scrawled on it. “It’s not the same,” the child says, watching the bug travel from one muddy hand to another.

Nicole brings her Serenity Cloth to her face as though to dab a drop of coffee, but really she just needs to breathe the lavender oil and think, Christ kid stop touching that thing and take a bath. Where is your mother? “Would anyone across the street be able to help?” Not that there’s much to look at across any street in Old Sanctuary. Crawling vines of small red flowers cover almost every building surrounding the central park—post office, gas station, all of it. Only the trailer park sign looks new:

THERE’S NEW LIFE AT OLD SANCTUARY ESTATES! JOIN US TODAY!

New life. What a joke.

Two people stand by the sign in casual conversation: an old man as grimy as the child, and a woman around Nicole’s age…clean, that’s all Nicole knows without seeing the woman’s face. The dress looks like some over-bleached 90s relic cut and sewn for a slightly better fit. A woman like that’ll value her dollars, will try to take care of things herself, won’t bother with big names telling her what to do, like stores or doctors. Perfect.

The child releases the centipede on the bench. It crawls over the words MY PRETTY GIRL IN RED AND CURLS and stops next to Nicole’s left thigh.

Nicole sweeps herself up, dress spinning as she grabs her ___ bag and laughs nervously. “Well you have fun with…” she almost points to the centipede, then spots CURLS. “Say, maybe your momma can put your hair in curls today. Won’t that be pretty?”

The child shakes her head. “It’s talking about you.” The child hobbles over to the broken swings and flops forward to lay her stomach on the seat, her legs and arms dangling like a spider from a thread.

Hopefully I can keep this piece under 1.5K so it fits more easily with magazine submission guidelines. In the meantime, I’ve pulled Middler’s Pride off of Channillo and hope to revamp it for an ebook later this year…or 2021. I should probably be realistic with my timeline here, as I, too, am going to be in school.

Yup.

I’m going back to school.

In order to make myself look more awesome for a full-time gig, I’m going back for another Masters degree, this time in instructional design. It’s an accelerated track, which means I’ll be in the crunch for eighteen months or thereabouts. I’m praying this won’t hinder my ability to blog too much, buuuuuuut I better be realistic with myself here.

Still. This academic journey doesn’t start until June, so we have some time to edit a novel. Write a story. Email a friend. Discover new music. Hug a child. Trade fart jokes. Wash a chalk-covered stuffie. Steal Easter candy. Read a book. Drink coffee. Savor tea.

Take one day at a time, and pray for things to change for the better.

~STAY TUNED!~

It’s high time I share something from something I’ve read, wouldn’t you say? ‘Tis the month of Wyrd and Wonder, after all!

Or perhaps we shall return to that Star Wars swamp. We’ll see what the kids allow me to do. x

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

The #parenting and #writing #lifeathome: #Music to #write by, #laugh by, and #hope by.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one sharing in this sentiment.

Under the original 30-day lockdown, restrictions would have been lifted enough for my kids to return to school today. With the governor’s edict extending the lockdown until late May, though, this hope was dashed. Yes, I get it’s for a good reason, but I hope you can forgive that in the midst of working at home while also teaching at home while also parenting at home while also writing at home while also EVERYTHING at home…sometimes, this whole “life at home” brings out the grumps in adults and kids alike.

We have to fight back those grumps and create reasons to smile, and there’s no weapon quite like music. Even maniacal little villains like Plankton can’t resist the lure of a good song!

The “F.U.N. Song” ends at 1:15–no pressure to hear whatever else they tagged on here. 🙂

Sometimes that smile comes from a return to the classics. Bo loves watching the Marx Brothers with the three Bs. Of course, all their favorite parts involve Harpo.

I dug through my old CDs and gave the kiddos my albums from the oddball 90s show Cartoon Planet, a mix of sketches and songs featuring characters out of the 60s Hanna Barbara cartoon Space Ghost. One of their songs would be pretty catchy in today’s environment, methinks…

But we don’t want to laugh so often we go, you know, nuts. It’s important to have music that inspires us to move even when the world has bolted its doors and shuttered its windows. We’ve got to revel in the rhythm of spring and remember that life must move forward, if not in the way we are used to.

Music takes us out of the Here and into a New-There far away from our walls and windows. Scores like Philip Glass’ latest can re-focus the mind’s eye on a land like or unlike our own, a place eerily familiar save for that one strange, fantastical, unearthly, supernatural, magical, unreal thing.

Music is also a powerful weapon in the endless war for mental health. Anxiety grinds, but music lifts. It hugs the heart. It revives our hope.

And then comes the rare moment, be it in the early morning or late evening, when peace settles upon the mind. Such is the time perfect for connecting with you, fellow kindred spirits. You are the tireless Calcifer to my exhausted Howl. You are the warm hearth in this cold dark world.

Be sure to watch for Howl’s arrival around the 35 minute mark!

We must not lose our music to the silence of uncertainty, Friends. Keep hunting for that inspiration to smile, hope, and create so you may help bring others one step closer to a brighter world.

Picture by Bash, April 2020

~STAY TUNED!~

Yes, I did take my kids to a bunch of cemeteries, and yes, I’ll share more about that next week. You can also see what my three little Bs are up to as I revise our schedule YET AGAIN to get through their final month of school…while I begin an academic journey all my own.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#writerproblems: #worldbuilding a #fantasy when the #writing #magic seems all but gone.

Magic.

We could all use some, I think.

But where to find it?

Ah, now that is the question. Some wander over the occasional ancient wall or two. Some play hide-and-seek in peculiar wardrobes. Some explore animal homes. Some play a forgotten boardgame. Some even purchase a kit from a store.

And let’s not even talk about the parents that spend the day graveyard-hopping with their kids (post forthcoming).

For those of us confined to a house of snits and snaps and other plastic mayhem, the hope for peace and quiet and magic feels all but gone, especially when lockdowns are extended, when schools are closed for the year, when jobs are furloughed until further notice.

Oh, I cried when Wisconsin’s governor extended the lockdown. Even though all the rational parts of me knew this was coming, I still cried. I had hoped my mother could finish her teaching tenure with her students. I had hoped my sons could continue their Occupational Therapy. I had hoped my daughter could return to her friends. I had hoped for a little time for myself, too.

But none of this is meant to be, dammit, so here we are, fearful of the outside world while driven mad by the inside one.

How do we counter this?

Magic.

Perhaps you find it in an old story, as I did. “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer” began with a photo spotted in the fall of 2018.

Something about the old woman reaching for that apple…it was like she was reaching for, for something else. For me? N-no, but something about the urgency in her manner, the aggressiveness. She needed that fruit. But why? I mean, it’s not like people’s lives depend on a single apple.

Uuuuunless they did.

And from here came the crack and thunder of magic gone wrong. People’s lives did depend on this apple, if that apple was needed in order to stop a Happening from, well, happening.

But what was Happening?

Why, a story, of course.

But sometimes even an inspiring photo isn’t enough. We need to look beyond the photo’s perimeters. What does the traffic sound like on the street? How high do the buildings tower over others? Are we in a world of electronics, or some sort of yesteryear? And smells, don’t forget smells.

(Yes, even towns can have a characteristic smell. For decades, Milwaukee was always blanketed with the smell of yeast from the Miller Brewery. Ever since they removed that level of operation from the downtown location, my nose no longer believes the rest of me when I drive to Milwaukee.)

In order to build upon that initial inspiration, we’ve got to put our sense-memory to use. After spotting the wee shop in the background named “Meatball Obsession,” I focused on my first date with Bo when he cooked me spaghetti. He loves making his own sauce, a day-long endeavor that fills the house with a rich, spicy, meatiness that makes you think the very air is edible. And suddenly I’m imagining people walking about nibbling on saucy meatballs since apples were for magic and not eating.

Hmmm. Sounds a bit silly.

Eh, why not? It’s my story, dammit. At the time I wasn’t looking for serious fare. To help me stay lighthearted, I even put on the soundtrack to Midsomer Murders while I wrote, Parker’s themes for mystery in rural life the perfect balance of spooky and delightful. The mix of smell, sounds, and sights helped me focus on building a story about a woman—no, not just a woman. Look at that hat and coat. Come on. Surely this is a Madame, one of status and prestige…even if no one else agrees. But Madame who? Hmmm…say, isn’t that my Midsomer CD over there?

(Yes, that is occasionally how things come into my stories. If something’s in my eyeline, then iiiiiiiiiiin it goes! So when in doubt, look around you.)

And one apple seems so paltry. Surely Madame Midsomer would insist on purchasing not just one apple but a dozen, certain she could stop the mayhem of her own doing from destroying the entire town. The seller, however, doesn’t like her, refuses to help, and the magical authorities take her away and everything’s fine and life is happy the end.

After posting the story on my free fiction page, I decided to send it off to an online magazine. They didn’t take it, citing the need for more developed worldbuilding and consistent tone.

Well, poop. I liked it, so the story stayed as is…until this past March.

Something Or Other Publishing reached out with information regarding their latest anthology project and inquiring whether or not I’d like to submit.

Um, sure? Except my current short fic WIP wasn’t close to being ready, and SOOP’s deadline was just a few days. What to send, what to send…

I passed “Tampering” off to another fantasy reader to get feedback. While he liked a lot of things, he just couldn’t wrap his head around the meatballs.

But. I. LIKE THEM!

And yet.

Maybe in this confinement, when we’re so ready for ANYthing to break us out of the rutted dread, I was hoping for those meatballs to just come a’ rainin’ down, blessed by the wind.

But in a short story, where the worldbuilding must be solid in only a few paragraphs, I couldn’t justify having something so oddball as obsessions with meatballs. Even one as out there as Neil Gaiman knows he has to tone things down sometimes for the sake of the readers.

A fresh challenge comes when we remove that presumed Thing from the worldbuilding. To us, that Thing embodied so much of the story, like the meatballs representing the out-there zaniness of my setting. In focusing on that zaniness, though, I forgot to give the setting any sort of history, or rules, or heck, even a name. When we over-prioritize the gimmicky Thing instead of characters or plot, is it any wonder readers question the story’s logic or tone?

This calls for serious inspiration.

I didn’t want this urban fantasy to feel too dated, but I did want it to feel different. It hit me I wanted magic to be a normal thing in this society; at first this was to be through the meatballs, but now, I wanted a calmer presence, something akin to Ingary in Howl’s Moving Castle. Witches and wizards were simply a part of life there. One went to a wizard for spells or potions to protect a voyage, help a crop, etc.

Why not let magic be as natural as a flower from the ground?

*gasp* Or the fruits of the trees?

So many possibilities opened in that moment. A quaint farming community, a town proud of its home-grown magic…because it was unique?

Or because it was dated because the rest of the world had moved on to more modern methods?

Imagine magic factory-made and shipped to big box stores, as pleasantly packaged as a box of cookies, consistently good. Not as good as home-made, mind you, but still, you know, good.

Now this story wasn’t just about a sorceress angrily fighting with a fruit seller. This story was about a community struggling under the weight of a pompous magic-wielder. A town proud of its natural magic and fed up with those who misuse it.

At last, I’d found the world built.

And its name was Pips Row.

“Hullo, Seller!” Madame clacked her way down the walk with the straightest of spines and the most pointed of chins. It made no difference to her that the Seller was addressing a small group of whiny school children and their frazzled teacher on the importance of fruit in Workings and other Spells. “So, just as there’s a fruit for every season, there’s a magic for every fruit. Why, if not for lemons, you’d never have fireworks. If not for holly berries, you’d never have snow for Christmas.”

“Isn’t that fascinating, children?” the teacher said with as much enthusiasm as a slug in a salt shaker. “While most communities import their magic from the capital’s factories, little places like Pips Row carry on the old-fashioned way.”

Old-fashioned, indeed! Madame Midsomer had half a mind to show this frumpish excuse of human being just how “old-fashioned” a Regional Sorceress could be. “Excuse me, Seller?”

“Why don’t people here buy by their magic from Merlin’s Mart like everything else?” One gap-toothed girl asked while licking sprinkles from her fingers.

The teacher opened her mouth to speak, but Madame Midsomer brushed her aside. “Manufactured powders don’t hold a snuff to the real thing, child. Now out of my way. I have urgent business to discuss with Seller.”

Out of the corner of Seller’s eye, he could see the tower of Madame Midsomer’s residence shudder ever so slightly, sending a cloud of pollen from the flowers of her creeping vines into the air. The wind coughed—an unsettling sound to any native of Pips Row.

Seller gave a tight-lipped smile to the teacher behind the little mob. “If you’ll excuse me.”

But this school group was not of Pips Row, and had so far only learned they can throw sweets without consequence. “No! The hag can shut up so you can show us real magic!” the girl said, and the lot of them pitched fistfuls of sprinkles at Madame Midsomer.

This was unwise.

Dear writing friends, do not look upon this time of lockdown as a creative drought. Peruse old works for new potential. Tap the dust off favorite reads for new lessons. Lose yourself in the emotions of music. Look upon the world outside your window, and ask:

What’s hiding in the beyond?

Thanks so much for reading my little explore into this writing experience! If you like the sound of “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer,” then I hope you’ll help its chances for publication by voting on SOOP’s website. If you’ve already voted—

~STAY TUNED!~

Photos and music and stuff are a’comin’ after I figure out yet another school-at-home conundrum.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Indie #Author #Interview: Chris Hall discusses #reading, #blogging, #writinginspiration, and other delightful bits of the #writinglife. Thanks, @ChrissyH_07!

Greetings, one and all! After a rough week schooling the kiddos at home (stay tuned for THAT post), it’s high time we celebrate Indie April with an interview with an AMAZING writer and reader, Chris Hall.

Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourself, please!

Nice to be here, Jean!

I was born, grew up, lived and worked in the UK until 10 years ago, when childless, in our forties and fed up with our jobs, my husband, Cliff and I upped sticks and emigrated to South Africa. We’d already met people here through a school exchange programme which Cliff was involved in, visited numerous times, and finally decided to come to a new country and do something different.

We’ve settled in a town about 30 miles from Cape Town, where we can almost see the ocean from our house. Our cat, Luna (after whom my blog is named) emigrated with us and loves it here. We inherited some chickens along with the house, all of which have since gone to chicken heaven at a ripe old age, but now we have two large brown hens which usually means lots of lovely eggs, although it’s a bit hot for laying at the moment they tell me.

Chris is on Goodreads, too!

Since I moved out here I’ve done various voluntary work, been employed as an administrator in a guesthouse and an art gallery, and now I’ve turned freelance doing copywriting, ghost-blogging and social media stuff for other creative people who lack the time/patience to do for themselves. In my spare time I write a lot and read a lot (when I’m not chasing hens off the veg-patch or catering to Luna’s little whims). It’s all a far cry from the 24 years working in risk management which I left behind in the UK.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

Two of my favourite authors have written about the craft of writing. On Writing by Stephen King and Steering the Craft by Ursula K. le Guin, have both had a positive impact on the way I write. Their words are wise.

But also, when you read any book with the eye of a writer, your experience is a whole lot richer. Considering the way that other authors construct their books and frame their words makes me think that little bit harder about my own writing.

What is your favorite childhood book?

This is difficult! I’ve wrestled a bit with this, but having roamed my bookshelves, it has to be Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series – and if forced to choose one, it would be The Little House on the Prairie. For the whole of my first high school year (aged 11-12), I totally lost myself in Laura’s world. The daily chores, the struggles and adventures of pioneering life, within the context of this close-knit family, enthralled me. I always had one of her books in my school bag. I’d take it out at every opportunity before and between lessons and bury my head in the pages. The covers are little battered and the pages yellowed, but I still have them all.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

My ‘stand out’ visits were to the homes of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. I fell in love with his poetry when I was studying advanced level Spanish, prior to a series of visits to Spanish-speaking countries back in the early noughties (that’s another story).

Neruda has three houses in Chile: in Santiago, Valparaiso, and Isla Negra. I visited all three over the course of two trips to Chile, and I found all three utterly stunning: true reflections of the man and his poetry. The ultimate is the house at Isla Negra, located right on the beach in a tiny, remote town. Getting there on a local bus was an adventure in itself, but the sprawling, single storey property and its surroundings are jam-packed with mad collections of ships mastheads and bottles, shells and ship’s bells and all manner of things. I especially liked Neruda’s writing room which looks out onto the ocean. He made his desk from a piece of driftwood which he waded in and rescued from the waves.

On your website, you call yourself an “accidental blogger.” How would you say blogging’s benefited your writing life? Do you recommend it as a method of building an indie author’s platform? What’s one thing you do differently now with blogging that you wish you’d done from the beginning?

Blogging has been a very happy accident. When I began with my website, I really had no idea that there was this big, friendly and supportive world of writers (and others) out there. What a revelation!

The support and the feedback from the people in our little corner of blog-land has been a tremendous encouragement, which I hope I reciprocate adequately. Keeping up the blog has helped me with the discipline of writing something almost every day, although I don’t post all that I write. Some things are remaining under wraps.

A blog gives you a presence as an author (indie or otherwise). It gives you a chance to get out there, show off you books and share a little about yourself. My Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn accounts are all connected to my blog, and more recently I’ve added Instagram too. So now I can be found and so can my books, should anyone care to look. Whether this had as much impact on the sales of my books, I’m not so sure, but it forms a foundation.

Blogging has been, and still is, a journey for me. What I put out on my blog now is all my own work or about my work: stories, installments, reviews, a bit about my successes (and failures) in trying to promote my books and occasionally, a bit about my writing life.

And I don’t think there’s anything I wish I’d done differently at the start. As in many things, I’m still learning and growing. Change is good; development is better. I’m planning to set up a separate author website under my actual name; it’s something I’ll ‘get around to’.

You chose to publish your first book, The Silver Locket (2012), under a pen name. May I ask what your reasoning was for using a pen name then and not now?

I have to admit that it was out of a lack of confidence. I was a ‘secret’ writer then. I hardly told anyone about the book when I first published it on Amazon, much less publicized it. But little by little, as people I knew downloaded it – even bought paperback copies from me – then read it and told me that they enjoyed it, my mindset started to alter. I could actually bring myself to tell people that I was an author!

Then I had a couple of short pieces published in online magazines and I joined Medium and started publishing on there, all under my own name, so it seemed logical to continue. I now wish that I’d written under my own name from the start. Holly Atkins will remain a one book wonder.

Your next publication, A Sextet of Shorts (2018), takes reader through a variety of quick adventures both personal and fantastical. Can you take us through the process of how you choose to craft a story as short fiction and other stories as novels?

The six short stories I published in that slim volume were ones I’d written way before I started working on The Silver Locket. They were the stories which I’d written for the creative writing classes which I attended for a couple years before we left the UK. I’d had good feedback from the writing tutors and members of the associated writing groups, and I was pleased with them.

Two years ago, I decided to dust them off and publish them to use for a bit of local publicity. With my bio and blog details on the back cover, there are copies in waiting rooms, doctors’ surgeries and hair salons around my home town. A couple of them are quite well-thumbed now!

Since writing them, and although I continue to enjoy writing the many, many micro- and flash-fiction pieces I’ve put on my blog and flung out around social media, I’ve discovered how satisfying working on a novel is. There’s so much more time and space to get to know the characters, immerse myself in their lives and watch what they get up to. And that comes back to finding my Happy Place.

You’ve published TWO novels in 2019! The first, You’ll Never Walk Alone, takes readers back to the 1980s in a location quite different from your own! What inspired you to set the story in Liverpool, and in that particular decade?

My former life in Liverpool has been an enormously important part of my personal history. I moved there in 1981 to attend University, and You’ll Never Walk Alone is set in that city at that time. I was in my early twenties and those were truly my formative years, when away from where I grew up, I started to make my own way in the world. Very little of any of that is in the book, but Gina and Lucy would have been my contemporaries, and the house in which they live is based on one of the large, converted old buildings where I had a flat, even down to the Chinese landlord. The locations in which the novel is set would be very recognizable to anyone who knew the city then, but everything else is pure fantasy!

The novel was a long time in the making. Gina, Lucy and Cynthia were born out of a short story I’d written more than 10 years earlier. That’s a long time for a character to be hanging about in The Well of Lost Plots (Jasper Fforde, 2003), but now they have a book of their own, and they’ve told the world they want another. One day, ladies!


Considering your experience writing fiction set in the past, how would you describe your research process in taking care the historical context is accurate? What would you consider to be the ethics of writing about historical figures?

Can I say how scary it is to think that the eighties are historical now?! But I do always check my facts so far as I can, mostly via our friend, Mr Google. Even though I lived through the times and events which form the backdrop to You’ll Never Walk Alone and The Silver Locket, (circa 1983 and 1989 respectively), I covered the research ground as wanted to make sure there were no glaring errors.

When writing Following the Green Rabbit, I was even more conscious of the two time periods in which the narrative is set. I researched what people would have worn, what they would have eaten and drank, what herbs would have grown in England in the early 17th century and so on. I deliberately left the earlier date vague and avoided mentioning any identifiable historical figures for the very reason of avoiding any dilemma about portraying real people.


Your latest, Following the Green Rabbit, features some heroic children in an Alice in Wonderland-esque adventure. What would you consider to be the biggest challenge in writing a Middle-Grade adventure, and how did you see yourself through that challenge?

First if all, let me correct any misconception that despite the tropish title, the story has anything in common with the Lewis Carroll fantasy story. It may be sub-titled a ‘fantastical adventure’, but that’s to do with the girls’ inexplicable transition to ‘past-times’. There are no mythical creatures or size-changing potions; the children find themselves in a place and time where the dangers are very human and very real.

As for the challenge of writing for a MG audience, I hope I made the story page-turning enough, I hope there were sufficient cliff-hangers and there was adequate suspense and enough alarm. But I suppose I fell back on telling a story which I would have wanted to have read, with characters with whom the much-younger me would have identified.

Time and feedback will tell me to whether I pulled it off as a MG adventure, but I’ve described it as a ‘novel for adventurers everywhere, from 9 to 90 years’, partly based on the fact that my 90 year old mother said she ‘really enjoyed it and didn’t want it to end’. My mother is not one to hand out compliments lightly, so I consider that to be praise indeed!

Out of aaaaaall the fiction you’ve written through the decades, what would you consider to be the most difficult scene you ever had to write? What made it so hard, and how did you overcome it!

Ah, this is where sex rears its ugly head!!

Both of my adult novels required sex scenes. None is gratuitous; each is an integral part of the story. The ways in which each of the scenes play out tell the reader something more about the characters involved, and after all, people in their 20s who are attracted to each other will inevitably end up in bed.

There is no doubt that sex scenes are difficult. You don’t want to be too cheesy and you don’t want to be too anatomical, and I believe that cutting to ‘waves washing over a beach’ is a cop out. The scenes must feel real.

Basically, they all involved a large number of rewrites to hit the right tone. I haven’t written anything especially graphic, although I did end up toning down the one at the start of Chapter 10 in You’ll Never Walk Alone during my final, final edit.

Hooray to new projects! I know that, like me, you worked on something new during 2019’s NaNoWriMo—and you got way further in your project than me, too. Will we be seeing another Chris Hall tale hit bookshelves in 2020?

Well, yes, I was indeed busy with a new book during NaNo. I guess I’m almost half way through the first draft now. It has been semi-parked through December, but now we’re in the final days of the holidays, I’m ready to get stuck in again.

I decided to write a novel firmly rooted in South Africa this time. The story is set in the present day, in a fictional small town on our West Coast and the overarching theme is the lack of water which is a serious and on-going concern for us here. The narrative combines a slightly romanticized tale of everyday folk with a large dollop of magical realism and myth thrown into the mix. I have assembled an eclectic cast, some of whom people might recognise from some of my stories last year. All but one of them is contributing nicely to the story, but I can’t quite get under this one’s skin yet.

It’s a more ambitious project than any I’ve worked on before, but for the moment I’m just going with the flow. I’m not sure how I’m going to pull all the strands together, but that’s all part of the fun. I’m hoping to complete the first draft by mid-2020, so who knows, maybe it’ll be ready for release towards the end of this year. No promises though!

Last question, I promise! (Hee hee!) Does writing energize or exhaust you?

When I’m deep inside a story, crafting that story energizes and excites me; there’s a little shot of adrenaline too. That’s when it’s going well.

Ah, but when it isn’t! It’s frustrating, it’s unnerving, it’s heart-thumping for all the wrong reasons. I question what I’ve written. Is this a story? Is it going anywhere? I guess some of that might not happen if I planned properly. But that’s not how I write.

I go through a whole gamut of emotions. Not every day, not all the time, but enough.

Many, many thanks, Chris! I can’t wait to see how your writing blossoms in the months to come.

I do hope you’ll check Chris out! Be sure to also swing by and vote on my own short story for an anthology produced by Wisconsin’s own Something or Other Publishing. Every vote matters!

Inspired by street photography and fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones, “The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer” takes readers to the town of Pips Row, where magic grows as sweet as the fruit of the trees. In the wrong hands, however, magic becomes as rotten as the sorceress who wields it, and no one is more rotten than the fearsome Madame Midsomer. Today, the people of Pips Row have had enough.

The Final Tampering of Madame Midsomer

Stay tuned! Gah, I gotta vent a little about teachers NOT used to distance learning having out-of-whack expectations of little kids. I’d also some lesson ideas for you to use with your children, and then some music to escape the home and discover writing inspiration.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: more excellent #online and #handsonactivities for #reading, #geography, #science, and #art courtesy of @anneclarewriter

Good day, my friends! Thanks so much for sticking with me through this week of re-calibration and preparation for the coming spell of homeschooling. I do promise to get back into the writing soon; the plan is to go quiet on Jean Lee’s World for a few days so I can work on some flash and short fiction for my university’s journal (sharing here for feedback, of course), and then also write up a few lesson plan samples (ibid).

(Yup, I do actually write when life allows! You can see some short WIPS of mine on my Free Fiction page. I’ve also got a novel, novella, and some serialized fantasy, if you’re so inclined, and most of it’s free on Kindle Unlimited. Click here to check’em out!)

For those visiting my site for all the homeschooling stuff–welcome! Please don’t forget to take care of your own creative sparks to stay sane. I’ve been writing on this site for 5 years now, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to create and communicate in order to maintain one’s mental health. Please also check out some of those wonderful folks who follow my blog or have been interviewed here. You’re going to meet beautiful songwriters, poets, authors, and photographers on both sides of the globe. xxxxx

So, let’s finish the week strong with more resources dear friend and fellow indie author Anne Clare called to my attention. As a teacher and mother of three kids under the age of ten, Anne knows all too well how tough it is to keep kids engaged while also getting her own work done. After I shared my post yesterday of online and hands on activities, Anne emailed me a whole bunch of stuff she’s found in her own hunt for things to do with her kids. Her hunt was super successful, as you’ll soon see!

Extra Science Stuff

  • Mystery Science: Oodles of lessons and materials! A portion of it’s for free; if you help spread the word about the site, you level up on your access level.
  • Real Wild: A Youtube channel featuring some killer wildlife videos, including the late great Steve Irwin.
  • Steve Spangler Science: tons of experiments perfect for the home setting, especially for sensory kiddos!

Extra Reading Stuff

Scholastic has created a Learn at Home site with an amazing mix of reading, video, and hands-on activity all organized by theme, time frame, and age group. HUZZAH!

Extra Geography Stuff

Anybody else remember the PBS ’90s gem known as Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? What had started as an ancient PC game with a pile of floppy disks transformed into books, more games, cartoons, and of course this game show focused on history and geography. I learned a lot from this show as a kid, and there are a bunch of episodes on YouTube.

More recently Google Earth has created a free online game to let your homebound gumshoes chase Carmen Sandiego all over the globe. Click here for more info!

More Art Stuff

  • Create Art with Me: This site is jam-packed with age-appropriate projects. Drawing, watercolor, painting, pastels, foils, charcoal–if you can create with it, it’s on here!
  • Crafts by Courtney: A really cool mix of projects for grown-ups and kids alike.
  • Fun-A-Day: Cool Crafts for the little Jedi–and Sith–in your household.
  • Pinterested Parent: More fun artsy ideas, such as this salt watercolor project, to keep kids occupied without busting your wallet.
  • Picklebums: When it comes to projects for multiple ages, simple is always best, such as this squish painting activity.
  • Easy Peasy and Fun: This one requires a membership if you want the printables, but browsing its crafts may give you ideas for adapting with your own materials.
  • Artful Parent: Creativity abounds on this site! I particularly love the focus on sensory kiddos.

What a treasure trove of ideas! I’m excited to show these to my three little Bs and see what strikes their fancy before we head off to the craft store after lunch. So long as we avoid the cart races down the aisles, we should be okay. Enjoy your own explore here, and remember–we’re in this together! xxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: balancing #screentime and #handsonactivities

“Do you need anything else?” Biff’s teacher gestures to the table behind her. Bins of crayons, markers, chalk, and scrap paper abound.

I clutch the two black totes she gave me like they were my own kids, who are…well, damn, one’s screaming. In comes Bash from the playground. “I broke my kneeeeeeee!” Blondie follows him, waving her arms and sound way too much like me for her own good. “Calm down, you just skinned it!”

I blow a lock of hair out of my eyes, take one box of chalk from Biff, and tell him to empty his arms of markers back into the bin. “I just gotta plan with the mindset that this is how it’s going to be until June,” I say to the teacher.

She laughs. “Oh, it won’t be that bad!”

Won’t be that bad, MY ASS.

Ahem. Anyway.

Today I went through the boys’ packets–mainly math sheets and some reading activities. A few writing prompts with notebooks to write in. A yoga pamphlet. Some ideas for physical activities. A links to a dozen or so websites/databases for the kids to read and play games on. Aaaaaaand that’s about it.

Uffdah.

See, here’s the big challenge with this homeschooling thing for parents like me: we’re told to be careful with how much screen time kids get, but now with this self-quarantine and online schooling, it seems that kids need to be online a LOT. Plus this is working on the assumption that there’s enough screens to go around. I sure don’t have that amount of tech in my house, and I’m assuming other folks are in the same situation. I’m also going to assume that other folks don’t want to dump their kids in front of screens for hours at a time.

Balance. We have got to find the balance, people. But how?

To me, the key is switching up between screen time and hands-on time as we work through our day.

As you can see, I’ve got note cards for every part of the day, including a few Biff and Bash additions like “Social Skills” and “Free Choice.” I was surprised to see how excited they were by a board to organize our school day schedule, as well as work binders I made for them featuring dragons, Wall-E, and the Enterprise. My goal for the binders is to hold their work in reading, writing, math, Bible study, geography, and science. Other projects like art and music (Bash insists we have music–fine by me!) will go…elsewhere? We’ll see. 🙂

The key, as far as I see, is having a few online resources as well as a few hands-on activities for all the major subjects. To stave off the cabin fever–

–we can also take a daily virtual field trip. It won’t be quite like Miss Frizzle’s Magic School Bus, but it’s a start!

Bible Study

Faith if very important to my family, so I want to make sure we take time every day studying a few Bible stories and remembering how there is no darkness that can douse God’s love for us. This is an excellent edition to use with kids, as it’s got oodles of illustrations and some questions for discussion to get kiddos talking.

Since I was raised on flannelgraphs and puppets, I didn’t really think there was much need for online Bible Study stuff; when in doubt, go with Veggie Tales, I guess?

Reading

Thank heaven the kids like getting books as presents! We’ve oodles of books all around the house; the key is to get the kids reading things they’ve not tried before. For Biff and Bash, this includes series like The Magic Tree House or Stick Cat. Blondie has some required reading to do for school, but I’ve also gotten her to try new things from the library before it shut down, such as The Menagerie.

When it comes to reading aloud, I know I mentioned Diana Wynne Jones (Eight Days of Luke feels veeeery promising with this lot), but I may start with something a tad shorter that’s still fun–Bunnicula, perhaps, or Basil of Baker Street. I might let them vote to see which they’ll pick!

Writing

Storytelling is NOT an issue with any of the three Bs. Penmanship, however, is another matter. It’s vital I get all three kids to work on their handwriting every day. Copying seems like easiest strategy, but what to make them copy?

Books like 5,000 Awesome Facts or Weird but True are PACKED with a wide variety of information that’s bound to strike any kid’s fancy. The key is to look at pages with tinier print, as those’ll be the pages impatient little eyes may skip. Our book, for instance has 75 facts about cats listed in 11-point font on two pages. I know I can pull some facts from that Blondie and the others likely glossed over.

When it comes to writing stories…well, I think I can let them cover that. 🙂 I may even spur Blondie into signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo for Young Writers this April. Hmmm, maybe I could join her…

Art

Oh boy. Gotta be honest–art’s never really been my thing. I’d be cool if they just played with Legos every day at this time using this BINGO sheet of challenges.

That’s not fair, though, not when Bash loves to draw pictures and Blondie loves to draw comics. It’s Biff that needs a little push.

“Can we get paint?” he asks. Hmmm. Well, I suppose we could try a few basic painting projects from the craft store. We could also use paper here at home to try making animals with this Origami site. Plus websites like We Are Teachers are full of creative activities that can help art cross into multiple subjects. I know I’ll be digging into this more over the weekend!

Math

This one doesn’t worry me too much, even though I loathe math. Biff and Bash’s teachers sent home lots of worksheets for the boys, and Blondie’s got her own math textbook to use over the coming weeks. When it comes to age-appropriate math games, ABCya has oodles of math as well as reading games for the kiddos to choose from. Blondie always loves a chance to play Prodigy, too! It’s a pretty neat role-playing game that challenges kids with math problems as they venture off on magical quests. Sure, they want you to buy in, but the free version’s great, too!

I shouldn’t forget friend Anne Clare‘s recommendation of games, too. Many card and board games utilize mathematical thinking, and they force kiddos to work on some social skills, too, which is ALWAYS a plus with my hoodlums. If you have any favorite games, be sure to share them in the comments below!

Geography

The boys have always loved studying atlases, so for Christmas I gave them 50 Cities of the U.S.A. It shares all sorts of neato trivia about major cities across the country. I hope to give the kids turns in picking cities for us to talk about. I may even put Blondie to work on her computer and have her make slideshows sharing even more information about the cities. (Heck, I may have her do that for ALL the subjects. Co-Teacher Blondie to the rescue!) National Geographic also has an amazing database of educational resources I’m sure to dig into as well so we can learn more about the habitats we experience on our virtual field trips.

SCIENCE?!

I DIDN’T HAVE SCIENCE ON MY PREVIOUS SCHEDULE!!! Well, bullocks. At least I managed to get it on the card schedule. 🙂 Thank goodness We Are Teachers comes to my aid again with podcasts the kids can listen to (no screen required!). Milwaukee with Kids has a great article on science experiments one can do at home with items you actually have in your house as opposed to, you know, oodles of plaster or skin-melting chemicals. Some of you have recommended utilizing the outdoors, and I agree! Gardening can be a lovely way to learn some important science lessons, as can activities like riding a bike, playing ball, or blowing bubbles. The birds and other critters are returning to our neighborhood, too, so hopefully we can do some sketches and discussions on Wisconsin flora and fauna. When all else fails, there’s always Bill Nye the Science Guy or Weird but True‘s website of shorty shorts!

Virtual Field Trips

Okay, so, I sort of went down the Rabbit Hole with this one. Initially I wanted to do all the virtual tours I found in these articles–

Stuck at Home? These 12 Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch

–but then I realized that the self-exploring in this 360 degree style wasn’t a great fit for Biff and Bash. Blondie might like it, sure, and if you have older kids I bet they’d love exploring the Louvre or Smithsonian this way. But with our house of limited screens and quick-tempered kids, I don’t want to risk losing a computer I need for teaching to their arguments over who gets to push buttons.

So.

Time to find a more video-style field trip.

The Smithsonian has a YouTube channel–that’s a start!

There are awesome videos put together by The Nature Conservancy, too. I know I’ll be using some of these to send my kids off exploring new habitats across the globe!

We can’t forget outer space, of course, not with my boys. Why not take the kiddos to Mars with Access Mars? Or swing by Discovery Education to check out their virtual field trips on engineering?

WHEW! I think we’ve covered a lot today! Now I must be off to prep tonight’s online class for the university. Stay healthy and safe wherever you are, and take heart–we’re all in this together. xxxxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: #Inspiring #Children by tailoring the #learningexperience with #favorite #characters

Greetings, one and all! Feeling the cabin fever yet?

I know, I know…this self-quarantine’s only just begun, yet here I am, so itchy to get out that I willingly went to Walmart with the boys and promised them time in the toy department.

Bo, my introvert husband, is taking this all in stride, of course. So long as the local coffee shop is still open for take-out, he’s content. He and our three little Bs worked hard cleaning the house while I graded papers; at last, I can walk through the house without stepping on cars!

Thank you to those who provided me with ideas for activities with the kids to keep our time homeschooling interesting and varied. I’m going to share what I’ve gathered over the next couple of days because believe you me, there’s a lot to share! Before we dive into that, though, I just wanted to touch on an important strategy to help keep kids engaged.

“I don’t wanna do school stuff at home!” Biff has said since the announcement. I can’t blame him. He’s got all his toys here, all his Lego and favorite books’n’movies. Distractions. Are. EVERYWHERE. How do we get kids into a learning mindset when they’re in the home environment?

To me, it starts with what they love and building from there. Take Biff, my little fan of all things cosmic, especially Star Trek.

Give this kid a book about space, and he’ll devour it. Why not make math problems about spaceships, too? Why not learn about different stars in science? Tailoring the subject matter to fit his passion promises a more engaged Biff during our learning periods as well as stronger motivation for him to share what he learns in a way he enjoys.

This is my biggest hope for Bash, too. Of all the robots in the cosmos, none hold his heart quite like Wall-E.

Bash has often gotten into trouble at school for doodling robots when he was supposed to complete a math sheet. Well, this time, his math sheet will be about robots. This time, he can write his stories about Optimus Prime and Wall-E having a birthday party. This time, he can read Transformer stories to his toy Wall-E. He can draw Wall-E and Eve flying through space. If he’s still learning, let him have all the robots his imagination can hold.

Blondie’s imagination is often filled with animals both real and fantastic. It can be soft as a puppy or as firey as a dragon–Blondie loves’em all.

Her love of learning is already very deep; it helps she’s a smidge older than the twins and is used to a heavier homework load from school. Plus, Blondie was old enough to be allowed to take her Chrome Book home (a smaller laptop issued to many American students these days for school work). She is THRILLED to have her own computer at home, and has already taken many opportunities to play Prodigy or simply explore topics that strike her fancy, like ghosts. My challenge with Blondie won’t be motivation-related so much as focus-related, as she is very prone to tumbling down the Virtual Rabbit Hole. Keeping her tasks dragon-themed is sure to keep her creative fire burning so she can show her little brothers what it means to get homework done at home.

Let’s face it–for many of us, homeschooling is an uncharted land. I’m excited to explore all the amazing resources out there, but I know that if the material doesn’t connect to something the kids care about, I’ll already be in a fog with them, waving my hands about, desperate for clarity.

No resource out there is going to know your kids as well as you. So, as you’re preparing your own teaching strategies, ask yourself: what are my kiddos’ favorite movies? Characters? Games? How can I make this math problem use those characters? Can I find a story tied to that movie? What if I had my kiddo write a story featuring his game’s favorite battle? The better we connect our children’s passions with what they need to learn, the stronger our chances of a successful academic journey.

Tomorrow I’ll begin sharing some kickin’ activities and resources to help you through your reading, science, math, and writing sessions. We can do this!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: #creating a #Homeschool #Routine

Good evening, my friends! It’s been a day. Not a good day, not a bad day, just…a day.

I made off with several volumes of this series from the library before it was shuttered. The series has a good balance of text and illustration–a little easy for Blondie, a little challenging for the boys. If you have kids in single digits, give Dragonbreath a go!

“Mo-om, Biff whined at me!”

“Mo-om, Bash pulled my hair!”

“Mo-om, Blondie won’t let me watch her play Sonic!”

Insert a few quiet moments here and there thanks to The Lego Movie and books, and that was my day.

As I promised yesterday, I sat down with the kids at breakfast and built a schedule based on their typical school days. Since Blondie’s the most flexible of the three, I primarily used the boys’ order of the day: Reading and Writing in the morning, Math in the afternoon. Because churches are also closed because gatherings cannot exceed ten people, we’ll also have time reading Bible stories every day. Considering Blondie’s love for science–and how often schools ax science for weeks at a time–we’re going to make sure there’s some science/nature time every day, too.

But what about art? Bash loves to draw. I gotta have that.

But what about geography? Biff loves to study maps. I gotta have that.

But what about fun stories? I finally have a captive audience here. Now they’ll have no choice but to experience Diana Wynne Jones! Mwa ha ha ha!

Well who wouldn’t want to imagine life in a moving castle?

And don’t they have to have playtime somewhere in there?

Once again: Uffdah.

On the one hand, I hate overwhelming the kiddos. HOWEVER, there are certain skills we have got to maintain, like math, and others that need to stay stimulated, like writing. And I don’t want these three laying around like sloths just waiting for a movie to come on. No. There is so, so much out there to discover in our yards and on our bookshelves. We just need to be inspired to look!

So I haggled and scribbled and arrowed and switcherooed things until finally, I think, I may have a schedule for us to follow.

6:30-7:00am: Wake up

7:00-8:00am: Breakfast, get dressed

8:00-8:10am: Morning meeting–a review of what the day will hold

8:10-8:30am: Bible study

8:30-9:00am: Quiet reading time

9:00am-9:20am: Reading reflection–draw a picture, write about a favorite scene/character, etc.

9:20-9:50am: Play time

9:50-10:30am: Writing time–use prompts from school and/or encourage them to write about their favorite things. Make sure to practice some penmanship by copying neato things like Weird but True Facts

10:30-11:00am: Art–drawing, coloring, building. Gotta be creative!

11:00am-12:00pm: Lunch & Read Aloud–I’ll read aloud to the kids while we eat together

12:00-12:30pm: Playtime

12:30-1:10pm: Math–work on worksheets from school & math games online

1:10-2:00pm: CLEANING–tackle one part of the house every day

2:00-3:00pm: Outside time–park, drawing on the sidewalk, hiking, something!

3:00-3:30pm: Geography–learn a little about Wisconsin, or a part of the world that sparks their curiosity!

3:30-4:00pm: Odds’n’ends, like piano practice

4:00-5:00pm: Let’em have some screen time while I cook dinner

Bo’s usually home by this point, so all will likely turn chaotic until bedtime at 8:30. 🙂

Basically, it’s like living with a bunch of Curlys every night.

You are more than welcome to make a face at how minute-by-minute this is, but believe me, when it comes to Sensory kids who thrive on routine, having a breakdown like this can make a big difference! A time limit also helps them stay on track, a crucial skill for surviving a school day. Time limits also help me plan out enough activities to realistically fill the periods, whether it’s making a slide show of wolves, drawing Transformers planting flowers, or building spaceships to visit IO. I can’t afford to let the school structure crumble just because the kids are home, especially because there is no certainty as to whether or not schools will re-open.

In other words, we American parents have inadvertently been drafted into homeschooling.

Those who already homeschool, if you have any tips to share, PLEASE share! In the meantime, I’m going to work on compiling creative activities, books, and videos that can/will appeal to kiddos…and then maybe figure out when I’m going to get my own teaching’n’writing done…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: #parenting and #schooling while the #Coronavirus is in #Wisconsin (Day 1)

Schoooooooool’s out, for, summer….schoooool’s out for-ever…..

Well, not quite. To stem the spread of COVID-19, many states are shutting down schools for the next three weeks. That leaves me with Blondie, Biff, and Bash every day while Bo goes to work (until they close that). I’ll need to teach online. They’ll need to do homework online. Everything will have to be done at home, period. No zoos, no museums, no libraries. Just us and our computers so long as the Internet holds. Maybe a park, too, if the day’s nice, which ain’t lookin’ too good this week.

In a word:

As a Wisconsinite who studied in Minnesota, I have no problem utilizing this phrase.

At least we managed to get a visit in at the library on Saturday before they closed today. Blondie’s got some novels on wolves, Bash gathered books on building robots with Legos, and Biff stuffed his arms with as many truck books as possible.

Don’t forget all my comic books downstairs, Bo texts me. We’ll make this work.

Not gonna lie–it’s hard to feel that all that positive right now. I’m sitting on my bed, staring out the window like I so often did during those bloody months of post-partum depression. All those people out there, the birds, the flowers. All right out there, yet another world away from what I feel in the moment. Sitting in this spot again, knowing I can’t take the kids anywhere…damn, but I can feel that depression lurking beneath my bed like a monster out of Calvin and Hobbes.

We’ll make this work.

Okay. We’ll make this work.

I know you’re out there, fellow parents, wondering how the hell you’re going to make this work, but you will because you must. We all must.

It won’t gel right away. I’ve already written today off with its lousy trips to the grocery store and dentist (“Where’s the pizza? We can’t make muffins without eggs! I want a toy EVERY DAY! I’m going to race through all the dentist chairs and spin them like crazy!”). But we can’t write off the next three weeks. Tomorrow morning I’m going to get the kids up a little while after their normal wake-up time, and at breakfast, we’re going to make a plan for reading time, creating time, play time, cleaning time, screen time, the lot. Schedules are vital for sanity around here, especially with twins who suffer from Sensory Processing Disorder. Biff especially thrives on the order he expects in his classroom, and now EVERYthing is in disarray. Bash doesn’t necessarily fear failure right now, but how will he react to online school work? And Blondie bummed because as of right now, her piano recital, her choir stuff, her play dates…all cancelled.

And then there’s me, who was so determined to finish her short fiction and share it this week, continue her Star Wars analysis.

We’ll make this work.

That starts with chucking the pessimism.

Let’em have their bears powered by fart rockets today with commercial breaks featuring poop pizzas. Tomorrow, we build the plan for a new normal. Tomorrow, we will make this better.

And tomorrow, I’ll share that plan with you.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!