finished the rough draft for this post, I went to look for other posts I’ve
written on youth sports and realized I’ve already written three. Here, here, and here. I considered pivoting and writing
about one of the many painful plot points in a writer’s journey, but decided I
would feel better if I got this off my chest. So here’s the original rant for
your reading pleasure. I’ll save the agony of writing for the next post.
season is almost over and I couldn’t be happier. I need a break. Not from the
non-stop driving to practices, the lost uniforms, or the chronic misplacement
of water bottles. Nope. What I need a break from is some of the “fans.” Some of
the people who are hanging out on the sidelines with me – mostly parents and
grandparents – from both teams. It’s their constant shouting at children from
our camping chairs that has me wanting to bring a roll of duct tape to the
games and use it with reckless abandon. Here are the two things I heard coming
out of grown adults’ mouths most often this season:
“That was your ball, Joe!”
This is usually yelled after some poor kid made a mistake or just got
beat to the ball by an opponent. Um, Joe knows it was his ball. He’s quite
aware that the other kid beat him to it or kicked it away from him…but I’m sure
he’s sooooo happy to have his parent pointing it out to him in front of his
teammates and the people/strangers on the sidelines. In the middle of the
freaking game. Great thinking.
“You gotta get there faster, Tom!”
I love this one because it usually comes from a parent or grandparent who
couldn’t run up and down the field one time without having a cardiac event.
Tom’s well aware he got beat. Having an adult shout at him about it is
definitely going to make him faster next time. (Insert eye roll.)
What are we thinking?! Do we think this sort of public correcting or chastising in the middle of a game is going to motivate our kid? It’s not! They aren’t going to want to play anymore if we suck the fun out of the game…because this is supposed to be fun, right?
If you love to write, it’s natural that you want (and maybe
expect) your kids to love writing. Totally misguided, but natural. I think I’ve
raised all three of my boys the same way when it comes to reading and writing,
but there have been drastically different results. Because they are their own
persons with their own interests and gifts. The nerve, right? Anyway, I still
stand by some of the techniques below because they’ve helped each of the boys,
albeit in different ways. So, if you’re looking for some help with your
reluctant writer or you want to encourage your budding Stephen King, check
Yes, the same advice that was given to you
when you first expressed an interest in becoming a writer. Read. Everything. For
kids, that translates into reading aloud often and exploring different genres
with them. One of my kiddos didn’t read independently until age seven. As we
encouraged him to learn his stinking sight words, we continued reading aloud
every night. We took books on CD in the car and made sure he had a little CD
player so he could listen to them on his own, too. By fostering the love of
story, you can expose them to the parts of a story, dialogue, and characters.
All things that are good foundation for when they are writing themselves.
We recently started picking up PlayAways at our library and they love them! Check to see if your library carries them!
2. Take Dictation
I let all three kids dictate stories to me when they were too young to write. You can fold some paper in half and – to everyone’s delight – get out the stapler. The most exotic of all office supplies. Or you can buy some of these. Whatever works. As they told me their story, I would stop them now and then to ask a question with great interest. What happened next? Was anyone with the mechanical robot bunny? How did that make the monster feel? It becomes a bit of a conversation. You’re getting more details and helping to build their story. In our case, it helped if I didn’t censor much. They felt free to be as imaginative as they wanted. So, there were lots of farting, mechanical robot bunny defeating the three-headed monster stories.
I’m excited to share an interview with author Sarah Kapit. Her debut middle grade novel, GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!, releases February 25, 2020. From Sarah’s website:
Vivy Cohen yearns to throw her knuckleball in a real game. But her mother is convinced that an autistic girl won’t be able to handle the pressures of a full baseball season. When a Little League Coach spots Vivy practicing with her brother in the park, she gets her chance. She makes a deal with Mom: Vivy can give baseball a try.
But pitching for a real team isn’t exactly easy. During her first season, Vivy must deal with nerves and bullies. And after a line drive smacks Vivy straight in the forehead, keeping Mom on board with Vivy’s baseball dreams proves just as tough as keeping the ball in the strike zone.
Through all of her travails, Vivy writes letters to the one person she can be honest with: MLB pitcher VJ Capello. Then, VJ writes back.
Sounds amazing right?! (You can pre-order it here!) Read on to learn about her inspiration for the book and some of her thoughts on the craft of writing.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Sarah! Congratulations on your upcoming debut middle grade novel! Can you tell us where or how you got the idea for GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! ?
As a baseball fan, the idea of a woman pitcher in MLB is so exciting to me. When I first saw the previews for PITCH–an absolutely wonderful show that was tragically cancelled after one season–that was really the genesis of the story. I just had an intense emotional reaction to seeing a woman taking the pitcher’s mound.
So all of that was percolating around my brain. Plus, I’ve long believed it’s likely that the first woman to play in MLB will be a knuckleball pitcher because the pitch relies on finger movement. Knuckleballers don’t have to be capable of throwing the ball 95+ miles an hour. Since I write middle grade, a girl knuckleball pitcher with big dreams came to my mind. I’ve also long wanted to write an explicitly autistic character, in a book that explores themes of neurodiversity. When I realized that all of this could fit together, the book’s concept just fell into place.
You recently received a box of ARCs of your book. How did you feel finally seeing it in print?
Completely amazing! I keep one copy by my nightstand and it’s hard to stop liking it. Vivienne To did a great job with the cover art, and it looks even better in print. I also love the way the interior design team laid out the pages.
And here’s the awesome cover!
Your main character, Vivy, has autism and her mother is reluctant to let her pitch for the baseball team. Do you think this book will open up dialogue between kids who have autism and their parents?
I hope so! Mostly, I hope that autistic kids who read this book realize that their way of advocating for themselves is valid, and that what they say matters.
A long time ago, in a lifetime far away, before I was a
SAHHM (Stay at Home Hot Mess), I had the privilege of managing a very talented
writing staff. Part of my responsibility to that staff was providing “fill the
well” activities and opportunities. We wrote greeting cards and, as you can
imagine, we had to find exercises and activities to keep our brains fresh when charged
with finding new ways to say “Happy Birthday.” Today I thought I’d share a few
of the exercises we worked through.
I’ve adapted the first exercise a bit since you’re probably not working in a group environment.
Character Snapshots helps stretch your brain muscles for
character development. It’s intended to be like freewriting. You’ll write
quickly and without editing yourself.
With the writing staff, I gave them each a brown paper bag
and a photo of a person from a photography website. There were five random
objects in the bag. They had to write a character sketch explaining who the
character was and why those items were important to the character. Below is a
modification.Find a few photos of individual people on the internet. If you write middle grade or young adult, try finding photos of kids who might be characters in your book. Print those out. The bonus of printing out a photo is you won’t need to write about physical characteristics – which lets you get to the good stuff faster.
Print ten photos of random objects from online.
Do this quickly and don’t think too much about what you choose. You’re trying
to re-create the randomness of the paper bags here, so the less you think about
what you’re choosing, the better. You can paste the images into a Word
document, so you can shrink them and not use up all of your printer’s ink. Just
cut them into little squares once you’ve printed.
Turn the print-outs of the items upside down so
you can’t see the images. Pick five along with a people photo.
Now, clear your brain and do a character sketch.
Set a timer for 10 minutes. The point of this is to do some quick thinking and
not get too hung up on details. Think of it as a nice warm-up for your gray
Things you may include: character’s name, where they live, their job, if the items belong to them or if they were given to them, what they mean to the person. Here’s a quick example:
(Photo credits are at
the bottom of this post.)
Name: Penelope Tinker, age 30, lives in Nevada
Antique watch: was her grandmother’s, she gave it to Penelope in her will.
Ring: Penelope is married. Married very young. They seem to be drifting apart as they enter their 30’s.
Dice: Her gambling problem
Coffee mug: affair
Running shoes: She’s training for a marathon
After jotting down some quick ideas, I
started fleshing the sketch out below.
Penelope Tinker has a gambling problem she’s trying to hide from her husband. She’s in dangerous debt, as in owes some scary people a lot of money. She’s trying to figure a way out of debt without hocking her grandmother’s antique watch. She’s training for a marathon with her best friend. Her husband has seemed more distant since she started traveling for work so much. Last time she left town for her job, she came back to a mug with lipstick marks on it. Unfortunately red isn’t her color.
You can go as long or as short as you want.
You might start some freewriting and not want to stop. You don’t have to write
about the current situation the character is in…maybe you write about something
that’s happened to them in the past, incorporating those items.
You may never get a main character for your next book out of this exercise, but if you save the snapshots, you can go back through them to mine ideas on days your brain isn’t cooperating. Remember – your fictional characters are more than likes and dislikes or the color of their hair!
I was text-fishing for ideas for this week’s blog post, and one
friend texted back: “the pressure some parents put on kids to overachieve at
EVERYTHING”. I put that on the list of possible topics. Then, I had a parking
lot experience with another mom I’d never met, which I have found, can be some
of the most honest, desperate, thirty second conversations.
I was leaving swimming lessons with my youngest. He’s a little
overconfident in the water and I thought the lessons may keep us from drowning
this summer. Anyway, I’m about to get in my car, but there’s a mom with her car
door open next to mine. She’s telling a little person, “Please stop throwing
this.” She hands something back and shuts the door, noticing me.
“Sorry, we finished class half an hour ago and I’m just now getting into my car!” I can’t help but laugh. I say, “I’m laughing because I remember.”
From there, she starts to ask me questions about swim lessons.
My son is going every day for one week. She laments that they only have
once-a-week classes for her son. I ask, “How old is he?” as I finally peek into
“He’s almost one.”
Okay, so then I understood why she was freaking out. He’s her
first. She doesn’t want to screw up. She doesn’t want to miss out or have him
She went on to tell me that grandma was going to pay for extra
lessons if she wanted them. At this point I really just wanted to drive this
frantic woman home and bake her a giant batch of brownies. She was so stressed
about swimming lessons. For her one-year-old. And I get it. I remember.
I say, “Does he like the water?”
“Then you’re all set.”
And she was so relieved.
She seemed like a super-competent, smart lady, but she needed to
hear from me, a perfect stranger who could be an ax murderer and the worst mom
ever, that she wasn’t messing up. And who knows how long she was relieved. She
might have gone right back to worrying as she drove away.
My mind kept coming back to her and my friend’s text. What is it
that is driving so many parents to have this intense FOMU – Fear of Messing Up.
I know parents of all generations had fears and desires for their children’s
future, but I feel like it’s at a new level thanks to social media, stacks of
parenting books (I have them all), and the myriad of athletic and academic
opportunities our kids have.
I think the FOMU feeds the focus parents have on their kids
achieving in everything. For example:
If Joey don’t
make this team, he won’t be on the right path to make the next level club team
and he’ll miss out on skills, and he’ll never be able to make the high school
team, so there’s no way he’ll ever get a scholarship, and…and…and…he has to
make this team! We have to get Joey a few private lessons! We won’t be good
parents if we don’t do this for him.
Publishing and the writing industry can wear you down. Make you want to rock in the fetal position. It’s a constant test of patience and perseverance. So, whenever I can find a source of encouragement – anything that keeps me from setting my current manuscript on fire – I know I have to share it!
I stumbled upon Brené Brown’s Netflix special while folding some
never-ending piles of laundry and I loved it! (The special, not the laundry folding.) The
special is titled Brené Brown: The Call
to Courage and you can see some of the trailer here. A bit from her online bio…
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of
Houston where she holds the Huffington –Brown Endowed Chair. She’s spent the
past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She is
the author of five #1 New York Timesbestsellers:
The Gifts of
Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and Dare to Lead.
If you have not seen her
Netflix special or her TedTalk, please go
watch them now. We’ll wait…
Okay, maybe you don’t have time to watch now. I’ll fill you in a little. In her Netflix special, Brené explains where she got the inspiration and title for her book Daring Greatly. To her horror, her 2010 TedTalk had gone viral and, against her better judgement, she read the comments online, which, of course, were a dumpster fire of cruelty and criticism. She tells the story – and she’s hilarious – of how she was numbing her feelings with screen time and peanut butter when she stumbled upon this quote from a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910:T
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt, 1910
Brené Brown goes on to
encourage us to choose courage over comfort, knowing that criticism and failure
are inevitable. I thought about how that idea and this quote could be applied
to our creative pursuits, specifically writing.
When I’m frantically trying to brainstorm a blog topic, I usually think about the conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks. Sometimes there’s a theme. As I reflected on my conversations with parents in passing and while sitting on bleachers, I realized a lot of us are ultra-frustrated with our kids right now. Maybe it’s the prolonged cabin fever we’ve got going on here in the Midwest. (When will we ever have two days of sunshine in a row?!!) Whatever the cause, our kids seem to be on our…very…last…nerve.
bickering, the fighting, the teasing. The million little things that quickly add
up and make us want to pull out our hair. We can’t control their actions – we
can only control our own reactions. And sometimes those are less than stellar. How
are we supposed to change our reactions to make the situation better for
get to this point of ultra-frustration, I know we need a new system or fresh
approach. This time, I decided to try an
exercise I had heard about from another mom.
I’ve been meaning to try it for a few years and in March I finally did!
Yay for better-late-than-never me!
The point of the exercise is to create one helpful goal for your child. Grab a beverage of choice and a pen and paper…
Write down all of the behaviors that are making you nuts. If you have a spouse or partner, have them do the same, but no peeking at each other’s papers.
Read off your lists to each other.
It might look like this:
never asks to be excused from the table
hits little brother
“forgets” to make his bed.
(And if you’re like me, the list goes on a bit further.)
When Thea suggested I write a piece on planning for summer, similar to this one from last year, I was all for it until I sat down to write it and realized I had no idea what I was going to do with the kids this summer…
I want to write, I want them to have fun, and I still don’t
want them to experience “summer slump”: the backward slide in academic gains
from the previous school year. It’s important to me that they spend enough time
using their brains over the summer so August back-to-school isn’t too painful.
Things have changed, though. When they were younger, I had weekly themes and
math manipulatives and stacks of picture books…I was in my element! Now that
they are older, what does avoiding the summer slide look like? Here’s my first
attempt at figuring that out.
Yes, our library has an awesome summer reading program, but my youngest was the only one “into” it last year. The other guys read a lot, they just weren’t eager to sticker-chart their reading. I need a fresh take on reading this summer. I’m thinking I’ll have them give reviews for the books they read on video and then send the videos to their cousins or friends (just over my phone). They love making videos and it will be a way to .incorporate technology that doesn’t involve a game controller…because they can’t have screens until 4pm in the summer. Yes, there’s always initial resistance to this rule, but after a few days they get on board with it and they find other things to do during the day. We’ll probably have a weekly trip to the library to keep a fresh selection of books, too.
For previous summers they all had a spiral notebook “journal” that they had to write in before they were allowed to go cause trouble in the neighborhood. Just like with the technology rule, there was always an initial protest, but after a few days, it became part of the routine. I have to make a change this summer, though. Camps start at 8am or 9am and we’re busy grabbing sports equipment and yelling at each other…there’s not really time for journaling before we have to be on the road. I think I’m going to move writing time to right before they’re allowed to do tech. Yes, one last hurdle before brain rot! I’m sure there will be protests, and perhaps rioting, but I bet they’ll write in order to play their favorite video games.
Today we’re welcoming Diana Calvo to The Space Between! We have focused on mental health with a few of our previous guest bloggers, and we come back to this important topic today. Diana is a life transition coach and co-author of Amazon International Bestseller “Expect Miracles“. You can read her full bio here. In her article, she shares thoughts on healing ourselves and a technique parents can use to identify their own triggers. Diana also happens to be Julie’s friend since third grade. Yes, she has stories! We hope you enjoy her insights below…
The New York Times published an article about teaching mindfulness at school, as
one method for dealing with mental health issues in children. The article got
me thinking about children and mental health, and more specifically, my own
mental health as a child. I can’t help but wonder how having access to
mindfulness teachings might have changed the course of my life.
at school is one thing, but what excites me more for the future of children’s
mental health is the idea of a parent dealing with her own mental health
issues, and appropriately discussing her experience with her children. Breaking
the cycle, in other words. If a parent is also willing to explore his
spirituality – whatever that might look like – and share that experience with
his children, we’ve now identified the most impactful formula there is for
leaving our children a world that is better than the one we were born into.
Mental health plus spirituality is a powerful force for healing.
not a parent, but I am a child of parents with mental health issues, and I know
from my own experience how devastating my mother’s narcissism and my father’s
personality were on my own emotional development and mental health. Before I
began my own journey of healing, I spent a lifetime – 40+ years – in a state of
suffering related to the subconscious choices I made, and beliefs I adopted,
while I was in their care. A combination of psychology and spirituality has
been my personal path to liberation from this trauma. Today I’m deeply
interested in the alleviation of suffering, and that’s why the mental health of
children, and their parents, is of interest to me.
One time, in the context of a healing circle, I had the privilege of witnessing the mother of a newborn baby girl expose some of her fears about parenting. A lot was happening with the baby that the mother didn’t understand. She believed she needed to have all the answers, and then felt inadequate when she didn’t. A discussion followed: What if the baby didn’t really need a mother who had all the answers? What if the baby would benefit more from having a mother who was willing to sit beside her own fear, rather than run from it? What kind of woman would this little girl grow up to be if she was exposed to an adult who was skilled at coping with uncertainty?
We’re excited to share this interview with Christina Tucker Wise! Julie met Christina through Pitch Wars in 2017 when they were both mentees. Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors are matched with writers to help prepare the writers for an agent showcase. Christina’s novel, EYE OF GODS, is coming out later this year! Christina is also a documentary writer, producer, and a mom of two. You can read her full bio here.
In our effort to spotlight people who are parenting and pursuing creative endeavors, we thought you’d enjoy reading some background on Christina’s projects and how she manages her time. She also shares a bit about a new card game, Blinders, that she and her husband created for anyone who loves wine. Win! They will also start their own streaming service this summer which will feature both educational and entertaining videos on food and wine. They’ll be starting their own streaming service this summer and will feature both educational and entertaining videos on food and wine. Thanks for taking time for an interview, Christina!
You have a broad range of experiences in creative fields. What’s your background and how did it lead to your creative projects?
I went to school for Broadcast Journalism with the intention to be
a reporter but found a passion for crafting the stories behind the camera. I
started out my career in live sports, then moved over to celebrity news and
covering red carpets for TV Guide Network. There I got to try many formats of
television from hour-long specials, to quick news hits, to live TV. I realized
I liked longer forms and really getting into the background of a subject.
That’s also where I gained the confidence to write. I had a wonderful mentor
who now writes for Ryan Seacrest. While that was my day job, in the evenings my
husband and I made “Somm”, a documentary that follows four guys trying to become
Master Sommeliers of wine.
The same year our documentary came out, 2013, another company
bought TV Guide and they let me go. At the time we had a 10-month-old baby. So
I decided if I was going to work and be away from her, I wanted to do things I
really loved, which was documentaries and writing.
You and your husband, Jason, have written and produced documentaries together including Wait for Your Laugh, SOMM, and SOMM 3 What does your creative collaboration look like?
First, Jason and I both work together to come up with our initial
concept for any film. Then he goes out and films with our subjects and half of
what we envisioned changes completely. We have two girls and really want to
keep some stability at home so he’s on set 100% of the time and I only make it
when it’s a really important shoot or it’s daytime hours in Los Angeles where
we live. Then I take whatever happened on set and write a script, then we both
hash through the material in the edit bay until we get a cut we like.
Wait for Your Laugh, a documentary of the life and entertainment career of Rose Marie, received numerous positive reviews and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Do you have a favorite memory of working with Rose Marie?
This project was one of my favorite stories to tell. I’m a sucker for a good love story and her and her husband Bobby had a really sweet one that ended too soon. So I gravitated toward that aspect while my husband liked all of her mob connections. During the three-year process, we became very close with her and often would go visit just to see her, not for any work reason. She gave great life advice and told us not to stress about the little things we often do stress about. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, we went over and told her and said the baby’s due in September. She shook her head and said, “Nope, that baby will come in August. She’ll be an August baby like me.” Sure enough, she came almost a month early in August. We named her Madeline Marie in honor or Rose Marie.
Rose Marie was able to share a lot of memorabilia with you. How did that help with your writing? Did anything surprise you?