December 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo: The Creative Exchange
Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer                                                                                                                                                                                                

Man, oh man, do I ever hate household chores.  I don't mind vacuuming.  There's something satisfying about seeing lint and footprints disappear.  However, when it comes to dusting, I will put it off for as long as possible.  This is probably due to the fact that as a child, I was required to clean my room every day.  Okay, so it was necessary to earn my allowance, but let's get real.  Every day?  Dust does not accumulate that much every day.  In a week, maybe. 

Dusting is done when it gets to me or when we have company.  Since we don't have company often, I can put it off for quite a while.  It's only when dust settles on top of table tops and dressers so thickly I can write my name in it that I'll pull out the Pledge.

By now, you get the idea about my thoughts on dusting.  Perhaps Oscar Wilde said it best, "Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt."

On the other hand, I love to declutter.  Unlike dusting, which feels so futile and self-defeating, there's a sense of accomplishment with decluttering, a satisfying feeling that there is less junk in the house.  It imparts a sense of order.  And with decluttering, there is always the chance of finding a treasure.

Earlier this year while I was tidying up the kitchen, I did in fact find a treasure.  While cleaning out a drawer, I found a little book my daughter had made when she about the age of six.  Abby loved to tell jokes, so one day she wrote down her favorites and made a joke book.  She used to read them out loud to my husband and me and we would be thoroughly entertained.

After straightening up the drawer and throwing away pens that no longer worked, scraps of paper, and bent paper clips, I read what she had written.  The jokes were corny.  I remembered most of them and they still had me giggling.

Here are some of my favorites.  I hope they make you laugh out loud or bring a smile to your face.

And a few more:

I love these jokes...
and to think the little joke book would never have been found IF I HAD BEEN DUSTING!

It's been said that dusting is supposed to improve air quality.  So, the air quality in our house is probably not what it should be.  In my defense, I vacuum the house weekly and judging by the amount of dust that's sucked up, I'd say my house stays rather clean.

Given the choice between dusting and decluttering, you know which one I'd choose.  Decluttering has way more advantages.  It can improve concentration and lower stress levels.  It can boost your mood.  Decluttering can help you with your decision-making and problem-solving skills because you have so much stuff and you only have so much space to make everything fit, therefore you have to decide what to keep (and where to put it) and what to discard.  And best of can lead you to treasures that you've forgotten that you have.

À la prochaine! 

November 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Photo: Gus Ruballo

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Many years ago when I was an aspiring writer, I made a mistake.  A huge mistake.  A costly mistake.  But first, the backstory:

Ever since I was a teen, I wanted to write, but my career path took a different direction and I became a medical technologist.  After graduating, I landed a good-paying job at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.  However, as the years rolled on, the work environment grew stressful due to downsizing and poor management.  Luckily, I was able to retire early. 

At that time, I decided to take a writing class.  My desire to write for kids had been simmering for quite some time as my husband read picture books to our young daughter.  But it wasn't because of the delightful stories that drew me to writing.  It was because of an unimaginative story he had read to her.  I wondered how it ever got published.  This sad little picture book pushed me to learn how to write for children.  If something like this could be published, then surely I could write a picture book.

So, I enrolled in a class at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning to discover how to write for kids.  Towards the end of the course, all of the participants had written a picture book manuscript.  Many of us hoped to get our work published.  As it was, I had already begun sending out my manuscript to publishing houses...and it was getting rejected time after time.

On the last day of class, our instructor had a surprise for us.  She invited a literary agent to speak to us.  This was an amazing opportunity.  The agent gave a brief lecture and then after a question and answer period, she handed out her business cards.

I wasted no time in contacting her and we arranged a time to get together.  A few weeks later, I drove about 30 miles from Lexington to her farmhouse in central Kentucky.  She served a light snack and then she discussed which agents she would contact and how she would present my book to them.  I was so ready to work with an agent and this was the ticket to getting published.  The timing seemed perfect to me.

But I was so naive.  This situation was all wrong because:

Just pretend this was me, shelling out beaucoup de money to an agent. 
Photo: Sharon McCutcheon
1.  I had given her my manuscript, actually the first draft, which was ridiculous 'cause the first draft of anything is pure sh*t.  The manuscript had not been revised nor had it been critiqued by a second reader.  As you can you imagine, this piece cried for help with character development, plot, word choice, voice, and page turns.

2.  I paid her a fee—a whopping three hundred dollars to be represented.  Ouch!  I took for it for granted that this was the way agents worked and that writers paid them upfront.

Since then, I've grown as a writer.  I took more classes, read books on the craft of writing for kids, and joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  And through SCBWI, I learned about the Association of Authors' Representatives.  Founded in 1991, the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) is a nonprofit membership organization which has more than 400 professional literary and dramatic agents as members.  Members must meet the AAR's minimum experience requirements and agree to adhere to its bylaws and the canon of ethics.  Agents do not charge a writer a flat fee for signing a contract—they are paid for their work through the commission they make when they sell a book.

Looking back to the time when I began seriously writing for children, I see a starry-eyed dreamer who made lots of mistakes because she desperately wanted to publish beautifully illustrated books for kids.  I'm still this starry-eyed dreamer, but a tad smarter.  Now, I do things differently.  Before querying an agent, I revise my manuscript countless times and I have a second reader critique the piece.  In addition, I shop around for reputable agents that represent picture books.   

I have no regrets about the blunders I made in regards to writing.  And no doubt I'll make more mistakes.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Mistakes can be great teachers.  We must recognize that as painful they may be, mistakes are part of any journey, part of anything we wish to excel at, and part of anything we wish achieve.  Mistakes have the power to turn us into something even better than we were before.  

"The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing." Henry Ford

À la prochaine! 
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Great article! But shame on your instructor for not checking out the agent she invited to class.
Why wouldn't a student trust someone who their teacher had invited? Harold U. 

October 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                       Photo: Matt Collamer

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


One day in French class, a classmate changed the way I looked at the homeless.  She told me about her brother who works for a Christian ministry in Oregon and that he keeps bags of comfort items for the homeless in his car.  Whenever he spots someone in need, he hands out one of the bags.

This gesture touched me and got me thinking.  I could do this.  I should do this.

So, I put a few things in a paper bag:
toothbrush and toothpaste
bars soap
granola bars
a package of socks

A week later on the day of French class, I put the bag in my car.  Since our class is held in a section of downtown Lexington, Kentucky close to where many homeless people live, there was a good possibility I'd be able to give the bag away.

But on this particular day, the drive home after class had to be rerouted due to construction.  So, I drove through another part of town closer to the campus of the University of Kentucky.

I wondered if this new route would lead me to someone who could use the comfort items.  I wondered what the interaction would be like.  This was scary for me because I didn't know what to expect.

Before hashing it over too much, I spotted a middle-aged man standing on the sidewalk. Disheveled.  Holding a sign.

Being too nervous, I didn't read the sign.  I just opened my car window and held out the bag. 

He jogged up to my car.

He gently took it and said, "Thank you, sweetheart."

After peering inside, he made the universal hand sign for love.

                                                                                     Photo: Steve Knutson 
Then the unexpected happened.  He gave me a little piece of his heart.  He told me he loved me.  It was genuine and sincere.  It caught me off guard.  Our eyes met briefly and the words flowed off my tongue.  I told him I loved him, too.

This encounter with a homeless person would not be my last.

Just a few weeks later while on vacation in Montreal with my family, I noticed a homeless man sitting on the pavement a block away from our hotel.  He stared blankly, holding out a cup for money.  On the last day of vacation, the weather was rainy and cold with temperatures in the mid-40s.  And there sat the homeless man again, as if he had never moved.  When we passed in front of him my daughter suggested we give him our umbrella.  I was amazed and so proud of her.  I turned back and offered him the umbrella.  He hesitated, seeming unsure if this was for real.  Then I said, "pour vous."  He reached out, took the handle and smiled. 

Not long after we returned to the States, I spotted a man standing in a median at our local shopping center.  I slowed down, not knowing if the drivers behind me would get impatient and honk (thankfully they didn't), lowered my window, and said to the man, "I hope you can use these." Again, I was greeted with a heartfelt thank you.

And recently again near the grocery store, I noticed a woman on crutches who had an amputated leg.  She held a sign and hoped drivers would stop.  I circled around, drove up to her, and handed her a bag that I had in the car.  She said, "Oh, thank you.  What's in the bag?"  I said, "Here are some toiletries."  She replied, "You read my sign.  That's what I needed."  But the funny thing was, I had not read her sign.  My comfort bag had already been stuffed with toiletries.

Having that conversation in French class about supporting the needy made a big impact on me.  In the past, I never gave much thought to the homeless.  Now, I want to be more helpful, so whenever I go grocery shopping, I pick up a few snacks and toiletries for the homeless.  Putting together canned food and some necessities costs very little.  And for me, it's the right thing to do.

It's easy to put together a bag for the homeless.  Here are more items that they can use:
warm gloves
hair brush
hand lotion
fruit cups
bottles of juice
cans of tuna with pull tabs
plastic forks
nail clippers
hand wipes
body wash

"Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” –  Harold S. Kushner

And here's an article about making eye contact with the homeless:
À la prochaine! 
If you like, please leave a comment at:

September 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: Amel Hasanovic

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Don't get me wrong—I like to take trips, but the minute the flight schedule is finalized, I freak out and begin to pack.  That can be as early as six months in advance.  The guest room is no longer a welcoming place for visitors.  Suitcases are pushed up against the wall.  Outfits hang on door knobs and dresser pulls.  Shoes, t-shirts, and snacks have been tossed to the foot of the bed and folded clothing is piled on top of the dresser.  

Packing is not only disorderly, it's worrisome.  

I worry about taking the wrong outfits.

I worry about forgetting something.

I worry the airport might lose my luggage—wait...that really has nothing to do with packing.  Or does it?  It does.  I pull out extra outfits to fit into my carry-on, just in case.

One of the stressful parts about packing is cramming toiletries into a quart-size baggie for the carry-on because I need to take:  
  • facial moisturizer
  • body moisturizer
  • lip gloss
  • shampoo
  • hairspray
  • hair color touch up
  • hair volumizer
  • Bumble and bumble hair gel 
  • Aveda smoothing hair lotion
  • cuticle oil
  • mascara 
  • eyelid foundation
  • under-eye concealer
and hope that the baggie remains closed as it makes its merry way through the security scanner.   

To hell with the mega-dollar fine, it would bring me to my knees if the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) deemed any of my carefully packed liquids prohibitive.  Why?  The TSA states, "Federal law and operational considerations RESTRICT THE RETURN of prohibited items that are left at the security checkpoint."  

So, prompted by fear, I check the website to see what toiletry items are allowed in the quart-size baggie and find that my items meet the requirements.  Then, I read on about the restrictions for a carry on.  You can't take axes, hatchets, ammunition, dynamite, firecrackers, sparklers, hand grenades, or tear gas.  You must leave the cattle prod at home.  But you can bring antlers, a blender, a bread machine, a Harry Potter wand, and a hookah.

You can't bring more than 3.4 oz. of peanut butter—it counts as a fluid.  I wonder if Jif thinks of their creamy product as a fluid.

You can take wine, but not a corkscrew. You can bring a bowling ball, but not bowling pins.  You can bring a balloon, but not inflated.  

The TSA unnerves me, but I'm relieved all of my beauty products are legal.  Now, it’s time to move on to the luggage. 

You'd think that having a 26" suitcase would be sufficient for a 10-day trip, but it has to hold clothes plus:
  • a hairdryer (you've used the hotel hair dryers, right?)
  • snacks
  • three hairbrushes
  • three pairs of shoes
  • an umbrella
  • a raincoat
  • denim jacket
  • leather jacket
  • earmuffs (yep) 
  • scarves
  • a water bottle
  • a tote for toothpaste, toothbrush, shower gel, and razor 
Getting all of these items in is like working a sliding puzzle—you know the combination puzzle that challenges a player to slide pieces along certain routes to establish a certain end-configuration.  It may take me hours, but I will achieve that certain end-configuration.  

My husband and I plan to travel next year, so I'm already packing...and freaking out.  
The guest room will never be orderly for months.  

But on the bright side, I won't have to pack antlers.

Or a bread machine.

It pays to pack ahead to eliminate some of the stress.  And knowing I can successfully squeeze all of my essential liquids in a quart-size, clear plastic, zip-top bag will make this writer one happy traveler.

À la prochaine! 

August 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                               Photo: Julian Scagliola 

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Throughout Lexington and Louisville, places remind me of the people I've lost.

Lakewood Drive:
Kathleen taught my daughter how to play the piano.  She gave lessons in a ranch-style house decorated in 60s fashion on Lakewood Drive, a classy neighborhood in central Lexington.  While Abby had a lesson, I'd read in the back room next to a glass-enclosed patio where uncaged cockatiels freely winged.  Kathleen was quirky and kooky in a loveable way.  A talented pianist.  A lover of birds and dogs.  She moved away from Lakewood Drive to live on a farm.  She found some land in central Kentucky and settled there with her boyfriend who eventually became her husband.  Not long after, Kathleen's life was cut short by a brain tumor.

Lexington Ice Skating Rink:
Kathryn and I met twenty years ago.  Her daughter and my daughter were pals at daycare and when the girls got older, they both took ice skating lessons.  Kathryn was told that her chances of getting pregnant again were slim, but she was determined to find a way to have another child.  She gave herself fertility injections to increase the chances of having a baby.  Kathryn succeeded in conceiving and had a healthy son.  Just a few years later, she made a bad choice and faced the possibility of prison time.  Kathryn committed suicide.

Macy's Women's Department:
Ann was a sales associate at Macy's.  She was an opinionated, a no-nonsense kind of woman, maybe in her early 60s.  She was direct and to the point.  Go upstairs to the women's department to the cash register and you'd always find her there.  She was a fixture of Macy's.  She never knew my name, but I always called her by hers.  Now, the women's department feels empty.  Ann died in her sleep.

Providence Montessori:
Sister Marsha was a director and one of the co-founders of Providence Montessori, the amazing school my daughter Abby attended for nine years.  I didn't interact with Sister Marsha much, but one time I needed her advice.  At that time, Abby was four-years old and she was having trouble falling to sleep.  I casually dropped by the office to see what Sister Marsha would say.  She immediately asked me what kinds of movies Abby watched at home.  Of course, they were all the Disney films plus Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz.  She told me the last movie was probably scaring Abby.  After our meeting, my husband and I decided to shelf Dorothy and Toto.  Instead, we choose funny, light-hearted movies for Abby and bingo—problem solved.  Sister Marsha loved children and Providence Montessori.  She died peacefully at the age of 75.

School for the Creative and Performing Arts theatre:
Merilee was a beautiful, classy, feisty, outspoken woman whom I adored.  A woman my father dated.  A second mom to me.  She loved to cook.  For dessert, she would make her famous honey bun cake recipe.  Merilee was a cancer survivor.  Because she had lost a kidney, Merilee needed to stay hydrated.  No matter where she went, she always carried a water bottle.  If the topic came up about her health, Merilee made it clear that she would never want a colostomy.  But those ominous words became a haunting reality.  Cancer returned and a colostomy was needed.  Merilee had made plans to attend Abby's ballet performance, but she passed away shortly after the operation or perhaps even willed herself to die.  On the day of the recital, I sat in the front row thinking about Merilee when a water bottle rolled from the row behind me and tapped my foot.  I didn't think anything of it until another water bottle rolled the entire length of theatre from the right side to the left side where I was sitting.  It spun and came to a stop right before my feet.  How could this not be a message from Merilee?

The bakery at Kroger's grocery store:
Penny worked in the bakery department.  Once a week as I pushed my cart through the aisles of baked goods, Penny would stop to chat.  About her family.  About her nephew.  And about her love of books.  She was genuinely interested in my book and gave me ideas on how to market it.  In fact, she came to my book signing and brought her nephew.  I never got the chance to tell her how much I enjoyed talking with her.  Penny died from a ruptured hernia.

Four houses down:
Natalie served on the neighborhood association board with me.  She shared her dreams and hopes.  Her love of family.  The difficulty of holding down a job.  Natalie lived four houses down from us.  She lost the battle with depression and took her own life.  Her husband sold the house and for years, it remained unoccupied.  Ghost like.

Hartland Hills retirement community:
Millie was my mother-in-law.  A sweet lady.   A listener.  A heart of gold.  An outstanding cook.  OMG, the desserts—chocolate eclairs, Texas sheet cake, nut rolls.  Amazing Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with turkey, stuffing, cranberry salad, and pumpkin pie.  In the last year and a half of her life, she lived in a comfortable apartment at Hartland Hills not far from our home.  My husband visited her EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Imagine that.  Some residents rarely saw their family at all.  Millie passed away due to complications of Alzheimer's.

Rosemont Baptist Church:
Bob was my art teacher.  In the basement of the church, he taught me and others how to paint with watercolors.  Bob couldn't really tell you how to paint.  If you had trouble with part of your painting, he would take snatch your brush and show you.  Watercolor is a difficult medium to work with because it dries fast, unlike oil painting that takes at least three days to dry and can be touched up.  Bob always said there was no such thing as a mistake.  He insisted that we call them "happy" mistakes and allow them to become part of the painting.  When I took a break from painting, I lost contact with Bob.  Though I'm not sure of the details of his passing, Bob suffered from dementia.

Hunsinger Lane bus stop in Louisville:
Alberta was our maid or as the French would say une domestique.  Back in the 1960s, it was not unusual to hire someone to do light cleaning and ironing.  Every Monday, Alberta rode the city bus from downtown Louisville to Hunsinger Lane (roughly 25 minutes) and then walked several blocks from the bus stop to our house.  Before she got to work, she'd pour herself a cup of coffee.  She took it black.  Smoked a cigarette.  And then we chatted.  Alberta loved to talk.  And I liked to listen.  After lunch, Alberta would iron as she watched soap operas.  Alberta was part of my life for twenty years.  I never got the chance to tell her how much I loved her.  Alberta died of lung cancer.

A field at the University of Kentucky:
Rick was a former boyfriend.  When we first met, it felt as if we had already known each other.  Rick and I dated for two years.  One warm windy day, we flew a kite in an open field by the University of Kentucky.  I took a picture of Rick that day.  I still have it in an album and it reminds me how happy and carefree he was.  Six months later after that picture was taken, he broke up with me.  He could not explain why our relationship needed to end.  I was heartbroken.  Rick died when he was 50 years old.  I don't know how he passed away.  The obituary said that he died unexpectedly.  It troubles me.  I feel as if he took his own life.

There is no easy way to end this blog post.

Places remind me of friendships.  


Of conversations.  Of choices, dreams, talent, and secrets.

Places remind me of those I have lost, regrets, and of the fragility of life.

À la prochaine! 

July 1, 2019

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Doing the laundry in the Mrvos household is never boring.  My husband Jim helps out by doing loads of his biking and tennis clothes, but he is not as lucky as me.  When I do the laundry, surprises show up.  The thing is, I never know what the surprise will be until after the clothes have been washed and dried.

Our laundry room is small, but it's conveniently located upstairs next to the guest room/office.  If I'm doing a load while I'm writing, all I have to do is listen for the washer to stop, hop up, pop everything into the dryer and then go back to work.  Doing the wash couldn't be easier.  Far different than my college days.  Back then, I stuffed quarters in my pocket and lugged a mountain of dirty clothes in a basket three blocks to a laundromat.

For the most part, Americans take doing the wash for granted.  But if you stop to think about it, laundry practices in countries all over the world are more labor-intensive than the way we do the wash.

In Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast in western Africa, laundrymen known as Fanico go from door to door to collect laundry to wash and haul it away in a wooden cart.  The laundrymen make their living by washing clothes by hand in streams using palm-oil soap.  

The Moroccan city of Chefchaouen is known for its striking blue-washed buildings.  Here, people travel to the Ras El Maa waterfall to wash their laundry.  The clean wet clothes are then strewn and left to dry in laundry huts. 

In India, washers called Dhobis specialize in cleaning clothes. From dawn to night, the Dhobis and their families wash up to 1 million pieces of clothes a day.  They hand wash the clothes with local water, beat them against a hard surface, and leave them out to dry on a clothesline.  
In many European cities, people hang the laundry outside because they don't have space for a dryer like this home in Dubrovnik (pictured above).  When my family and I visited the walled city, this particular clothesline struck me.  The vibrant clothing seemed to be carefully arranged and presented like a colorful painting.

Clotheslines remind me of my grandmother and mother.  Even though they had a dryer, they hung laundry outside to dry from spring to fall.  I remember my mother hanging laundry on a rotary clothesline with a large circular canopy.  My grandmother used a clothesline that spanned a good portion of the width of her backyard.  They must have liked the way fresh air permeated the sheets.  I can't even begin to imagine how time-consuming it must have been.  Give me a washer and dryer any day.

In the Mrvos household, the wash is done about twice a week.  It is fast and easy and it is usually worry-free...unless things get in the wash that shouldn't have been washed.  Like tissues.  Wool sweaters.  Dry-clean only clothes.  And Nellie Belly Boo.

Nellie was our daughter's big fluffy stuffed dog. I can't explain why she chose this moniker, but Abby has a penchant for giving animals unusual names, alive or stuffed.

I don't know what possessed me to wash her toy dog.  But after a sudsy bath in the washer with Tide, Nellie Belly Boo was no longer fluffy.  Her fur got this matted down look.  Abby was in tears—even though her beloved toy was clean.  From that day forward, I was forbidden from washing Nellie ever again.

As to the surprises that I alluded to earlier, here is a list of the things that found their way into the wash:
  • gum
  • pennies and dimes
  • concert stubs
  • clothes tags
  • receipts
  • dollar bills
  • a guitar pick
  • earbuds
  • a Lexmark name badge
  • a pen
  • a tube of sunscreen 
  • a plum pit 

This silver item pictured above is the strangest thing I've ever washed. It's all twisted and unusable now.  Can you guess what it is?

Clue #1:  it does not belong to me.
Clue #2:  

I don't mind doing the wash.  It usually doesn't take up too much time.  It can be a nice break from writing when writer's block sets in or when my brain gets overwhelmed with editing.  And, it can be fun when a surprise shows up.  Who knew laundry could be this much fun?

À la prochaine! 

I enjoyed your posts......the laundry one really got me laughing.  I too have experienced very strange things coming out of the washing machine......some were impossible to identify after spinning them.  I’ve washed rocks & other treasures when the boys were little.....especially after a week at Boy Scout camp. The big boy(Steve) was also very entertaining .......medical supplies would occasionally show up from his pockets or money .......change or bills.....or keys.  Nancy B.

I just wanted you to know I enjoyed the blog and related to it on several levels with similar early experiences and the convenience of having my laundry room and office on the same level – the basement. I do, however, hang our sheets on the line because of the fresh aroma – at least in warmer weather.  Jan C.

I think your mystery laundry find was the spring from your grandfather's watch, which somehow wound up in the pocket of your favorite overalls, which hadn't been washed since grandfather learned how to tell time.  Marshall C.

June 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                           Photo: Mahkeo 

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Author wannabes crave instant gratification.  They want to get published and they want to get published NOW.

How do I know?  I've learned that many of my mentees submit their manuscripts before they are thoroughly edited.  These writers revise, but they believe a second draft is good enough to submit.  They can't wrap their heads around the fact that it may take multiple drafts to shape a manuscript.

I want to shake some sense into my dear sweet mentees.  Many of them don't have the patience to hone their craft.  On top of that, they are so confident and enamored with their stories that they brush off sound advice.  They want to get published as fast as possible, regardless of the quality of their submissions.

Below are two mentoring situations that I've handled recently.

Case #1:  One of my mentees wrote a picture book with a conflict that only older children can understand and appreciate.  She felt that since her children understood the advanced concept in her story, other young children should be able to grasp the concept, too.

I suggested that she keep the characters and plot of the story, but create a conflict that the very young could grasp more easily.  After all, picture books are generally for ages 4 - 8.  Unfortunately, the story sends a red flag to an agent or publisher because the conflict is too advanced for young readers.  But this writer stood firm on her beliefs.

Case #2:  Another one of my mentees wrote a story where the main character's want is weak and vague.  So, here we have a story where there is nothing at stake.  As much as I tried to impress upon this writer how a protagonist needs to develop a compelling want, he refused to change his story.  He failed to understand that an audience (and publishers) want to root for and cheer on the main character.  But when the want is trivial, readers are not going to give a sh*t.

Sadly, that was not the only problem with the story.  The resolution was the second problem.  In this story, the main character relies on an adult for help.  In picture books however, the main character must solve a problem (overcome the conflict) by himself.  According to,  "You need a main character (preferably a child or animal), who has a problem that he needs to solve.  Along the way, the child has obstacles that he must overcome.  Finally, he solves his problem by himself without the aid of an adult."

Photo:  Annie Spratt
In both of these cases, the mentees resisted meticulous revision and submitted their work to publishers.
Several weeks later, one wrote to me wanting to understand why his submission was rejected.  It's hard to know the exact reason, but I had a feeling that on top of having a problematic manuscript, he probably failed to follow the submission guidelines. Oh là là!  

Writers love their manuscripts and many don't like making changes to their work.  They don't want others to tweak it.  It's their baby.   But there comes a time when it is necessary to listen and not be defensive and stubborn.  Writers need to see their manuscripts objectively like an agent or publisher would view their work.  They need to be open to revision and send their very best because the competition is steep in the world of publishing for kids.

It doesn't hurt my feelings when writers ignore my advice.  Ultimately, it's their choice whether they edit their stories.  However, while I may not know everything, I speak with authority and from the viewpoint of an author and an editor who has been writing and publishing for over twenty years.

I want writers to succeed.  My suggestions are tailored to help writers reach their publishing dreams by pointing out the essentials of writing and submitting a picture book manuscript.  But at times, I feel as if I'm beating my head against a wall.  It's like the can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

And sometimes in the case of mentoring, you can take a writer to the path of success, but you can't make him take a step.

À la prochaine! 

May 1, 2019

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Putty is two-timing me.  Yeah, that adorable black and white cat pictured above.

This is the cat that has a warm house on our patio.  This is the cat I feed four times a day.  Or more.

How do I know?

Lately, Putty has been putting on weight.

At first, I thought he was just puffy-looking, growing more fur on that white belly to stay warm during the winter months.  But upon closer inspection, he just started looking heavier.

I feed him moderate servings of dry kibbles and wet food, but not enough for him to look chunky—though when he comes to our deck and presses his face against the glass of the door, he often receives an extra helping.  Still, he only comes around three times a week.  It is obvious that Putty is hitting up on other neighbors.

I wanted to know where he went.

Plan A:  The collar

I bought a neon pink collar and wrote on it with a marker: 'Who cares for this cat?' along with my cell phone number.  Getting the collar on him would be tricky because I didn't want to take a chance of getting bitten.  So, when he arrived on our deck, I slipped on a coat and garden gloves for protection.  Then, I set out a bowl of wet cat food.  While he ate, I snapped the collar around his neck, which is not as easy as it seems with a squirming cat and thick gloves.

Now, whoever feeds him will see the collar and may be curious to read the message.  I expected to hear from a neighbor in no time.  It was disappointing.  Nobody called. 

Then within a week, our little stray showed up on our deck without the collar.  I got the feeling he would not wear that gaudy pink.  He would not.  It's not in his color wheel.*

Plan B:  Surveillance

Even though the collar didn't work, I was still determined to see where Putty went after I fed him.  One day after he had a bowl of food, I watched him trot from our deck, cross the street and amble up the driveway directly across from our house.  And then he disappeared from sight.  I had no idea where he was headed, but the houses across from ours have dogs, so he probably wasn't going there.  I had a hunch he was going through backyards to get to Oak Creek Drive, one street over from our street.

I phoned Kate, a neighbor and cat-lover who lives on Oak Creek to ask her if she had seen a black and white cat.  She said, "You mean, Double Stuff?  Sure, I know him."  Kate explained she feeds him premium wet cat food and has a warm house for him.

But that's not all.  Her neighbor also feeds him.

And she had a heated home for him!

Plan C:  Share

Putty puts up with gets along with our cat Ozzie, as long as the screen door is closed.  They are, for the most part, buds.  But given the opportunity, Putty would bite Ozzie.  I know because it's happened before. 

When it's warm outside, Putty takes naps in the sun.  He shows no interest catching a bird even though we have several bird feeders on the deck.  He could care less about squirrels.  Putty has expensive, more refined taste.

Since I've fed Putty for over two years, he knows and trusts me.  He'll come up to the door when I call him and he'll let me pet his head.  When he hears my car pull into the driveway, he trots down the deck steps to greet me.  So, this makes me feel like Putty is MY cat.  But he is not.

The hardest thing for me is to get used to the fact that my stray strays.  Sometimes, I get a little jealous and offended.  I think:  what's wrong with what I'm serving today?  But I've come to realize that kind people welcome him.  They give him food and comfort.  They like him and treat him well.

I'm okay with sharing him with others.  My stray has figured out who to be nice to and what to do in order to be fed.  Putty, or should I say Double Stuff, knows what side his bread is buttered on.

* "I will not wear that gaudy orange.  I will not.  It's not in my color wheel"  Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

À la prochaine! 

April 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: Egor Barmin

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Just the other day, I needed to return a pair of athletic shoes.  I expected an easy transaction—bring the box to the store, open the box, show that the shoes had not been worn, produce the receipt, and get the credit.

But the experience was far from easy.  Or polite.

Seeing I had a return, a young salesperson lectured me that since this store was a local business I should try on more shoes, even though I explained this was my third trip to the store and nothing had worked.

He suggested giving men's shoes a go, and I tried doing just that on a previous visit, but my size was not available.  This salesperson was unrelenting, pressuring me to shop and this conversation was getting edgy.  He moved at a snail's pace processing the return (that was okay, I wasn't in a hurry), but he scrutinized the receipt (as if it had somehow been faked).  I was beginning to feel anxious.  This shouldn't be taking this long or be this weird.

Then he inspected the shoes to look for damage.  Mind you, this was not a casual glance which would have sufficed because I told him the shoes had not been worn outside and they were less than a week old.  Nevertheless, he inspected the right shoe, ran his hands over the soles, stretched the shoe laces and peered inside.  Suspiciously.  Then, he scrutinized the other shoe.  He made me feel like I was a criminal trying to pull something over on him.  His attitude was offensive.

Before leaving, I asked the young man to cancel the hold I had made on a pair of Asics athletic shoes because I had bought a pair of Brooks shoes (love 'em) at a different shoe store.

Instead of saying thank you for letting me know, he scornfully informed me that Asics shoes were for narrow feet.  It was as if he was saying was:  Idiot. You are returning shoes marked wide.  Why on Earth would you place shoes that run narrow on hold?  In my defense, it made sense for me to try Asics since my daughter had lent me her pair for my aching feet when we were traveling abroad.  I kept quiet.  There was no point in defending my reasoning or starting an argument.  But he was pushing me to the verge of tears.  He didn't know I was suffering from a stress fracture and standing there waiting for him to process the return was getting unbearable.
Photo:  Eduardo Dutra

Unfortunately, this hasn't been my only encounter with rudeness.  At Starbucks, a barista huffed a heavy sigh when I asked where the napkins and straws were located.  At a grocery store, a young checker rolled her eyes at me when I asked her to place my groceries in a plastic, not a paper bag.

To others, these expressions of being put out may not have even been noticed.  But I noticed and didn't enjoy being treated that way.  Maybe writers are just over-sensitive people.

Back to the shoe store.  I contacted the store manager, explained my take on the situation, and expressed how I wanted something good to come of this.  She appreciated my calm approach and wanted to use this incident as a teaching lesson for her employees.  She said she'd follow up.

In the meantime, I wonder:  Will my conversation with the manager make a difference?  Will it cause the salesperson to think about his attitude?  Or will nothing change?  Will it make him angry and defensive?

Maybe something positive will happen.  I am hoping the manager will be able to point out how actions and attitudes affect others.  I am hoping she will convince her employees to be more polite and understanding.  To be friendly and considerate.  I am hoping she will be able to impress the power of kindness.

À la prochaine! 

March 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Photo: Gyorgy Bakos

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I'm a picky person.  I'm picky about clothes.  I'm picky makeup and hair style.  I'm picky about having a clean house, being on time, and publishing features for KIT.  But I am not too picky about food.

I enjoy experiencing the delicious delicacies of different cultures whether it's Portuguese, Italian, French, Creole, Mexican, Spanish, Jewish, Serbian, Croatian...and the list goes on.

Though I'm not too picky about food, I have known some picky eaters, and most of them are four-legged creatures.  Namely, our cats.

Our first cat Ollie (God rest his soul) ate dry cat food.  He wasn't picky about the food, but he was picky about HOW he ate the food.  Ollie liked to play with his food.

After I'd pour kibbles into his bowl, he would put his paw inside and flick one out to eat it.   Now maybe he didn't like touching the bowl with his whiskers.  Whatever.   But when he was hungry, we knew it.  He was loud.

Scoop.  Crunch.  Scoop.  Crunch.  Scoop.  Crunch.

Which leads to the question:  why do parents tell their kids don't play with your food?  Isn't the objective to get kids to eat what's served?  Playing with food worked for Ollie.  Why not kids?  Unless parents are pressed for time, seated at a restaurant, or teaching manners, playing with food could get kids to eat their veggies.

Our second cat Ozzie is not as picky.  He likes wet and dry food.  He doesn't flick food out of his bowl, but he likes to have a clean food bowl when it's time to eat.  Which is often because he is, like most cats, a grazer.  Ozzie wants to have treats sometimes before he eats.  And if he spends the entire morning sleeping on the bed in the guest room as I write, I will bring his food bowl to him.  This brings new meaning to breakfast in bed (okay, stop rolling your eyes).

We also take care of a stray cat we call Putty.  During the winter months, we have a heated yurt for him.  And he loves it.  But lately he's getting choosy about meals.  First, he enjoyed Luvsome dry food, which I also serve to Ozzie.  After a while, I thought the morsels might be getting boring for him, so I added some Purina wet food.  This combination used to make him happy and he'd lick the bowl clean.

On one particularly cold day (in the teens) I felt sorry for him and put some of Ozzie's premium wet food on top of the Purina wet food.  Putty picked out the Weruva cat food and left the Purina.  That's pretty nervy for a stray who should be thankful he's getting fed.

And then I got the feeling my stray strays.  He works the neighborhood—presses his sweet face up against a glass door or window and stares until he's fed.  No telling how many neighbors he's visiting.  Obviously, a lot.  He's gotten plump, much fatter than Ozzie.

To be fair, not all four-legged creatures are picky eaters.

When it's winter, I put grapes in the bird feeder for the cardinals and robins.  These birds eat berries and since the trees are bare, they go for the grapes which I'm guessing must be a good substitute for berries.

Seeing that they enjoy fruit, I decided to try something new.  One day, I put a banana in the feeder.  And...they ignored it.  Maybe it was a texture thing.  So, before accepting defeat, I poured safflower seeds around the banana, you could say as an appetizer.  The birds ate the seeds and left the banana.

How can birds be so picky in the winter time?

Be it as it may, I will accommodate these picky eaters.  I enjoy watching the birds and having Putty visit our deck.  And I wouldn't want them to go hungry in the winter.

So, Putty will have expensive wet food.  Birds will get grapes.

And as for feeding our indoor feline?  By now, you all know the drill.  Ozzie will be having his breakfast in bed.

À la prochaine! 

February 1, 2019

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer

A Pain in the Jaw   

I get TMJ.  And it doesn't make me happy.

The technical name is temporomandibular disorder—a fancy name for a pain in the jaw.  If you've ever had this condition, I can sympathize.

For me, TMJ affects the joint by my ear.  Yawning hurts.  Chewing is challenging. 

Muscle relaxers don't touch it.  Or painkillers.

TMJ can affect my writing.  When it flares up, I find it hard to concentrate on editing for Kid's Imagination Train ezine, revising manuscripts, or composing blogs.

I have to give up eating my favorite crunchy cookies, Tate's Bake Shop Gluten Free ginger zinger cookies.  And that makes me grumpy.

Experts say the exact cause of this disorder is difficult to determine.  Pain may be due to a combination of factors such as jaw injury, genetics, or arthritis.

Luckily, my brother is a dentist.  He told me TMJ can be caused from clenching or grinding teeth.  So, he made me a night guard, an acrylic piece which slips tightly over my teeth.

I have used the guard countless times and it helps.  But during the latest TMJ flare-up, I couldn't find the guard.  This little treasure is always kept in a case under the sink in a basket, which also holds a case of my daughter's orthodontic retainers that she wore 14 years ago after having braces.

One thing is for sure—my daughter likes to hold on to things.  She's sentimental.  So that's why we still have the retainers as well as baskets of elementary-school papers and art projects.  We also have plastic tubs of her stuffed animals, dolls and doll clothes, and a kitchen playset complete with plastic food and dishes, which may come in handy if I become a grandparent.

I digress, so, back to the night guard.

Surprisingly, I got the okay from my daughter to toss out the retainers. (I am not sure why she came to this decision, but I was thankful).  But many months later, it dawned on me that I had grabbed the wrong case and accidentally discarded my night guard instead.  That was an expensive mistake.  Though my brother didn't charge me to make the guard, it would cost hundreds of dollars to get a replacement.  It's like I threw $300 in the trash.

Since I didn't have a night guard, I went to my dentist to see what he could do for the jaw pain.  He suggested doing jaw exercises,  going to a TMJ clinic, and looking into physical therapy.  He also said he could make me a new bite guard.

I thought it would be more economical to try jaw exercises.  This, along with applying warm towels did the trick, and in about two months the pain went away.

TMJ is annoying.  It crops up unexpectedly and it lasts indefinitely.  But if the pain is not too bad, I can concentrate on my writing.  I can still have French roast coffee.  I can switch to soft chewy cookies.  Granted they're not my favorite cookies, but sweets after lunch make me happy.

And as for having my daughter's retainers instead of my night guard?  Well, that little treasure makes one member of our family a very happy Mrvos.

À la prochaine! 

January 1, 2019

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I've had to fight my whole life to be heard.   

I am an introvert.  But this doesn't mean I'm quiet.       

It might seem like I'm quiet when I'm with a group of people.  But I'm listening.  I wait before jumping into the middle of a conversation.  Like in French class.  The class is lively and everyone has an opinion, whether it's on politics, the latest movie, and of course anything French.  Because there are so many people wanting to express themselves, it's more comfortable for me to speak up after everyone has had their turn.  If I try to join in, my voice gets drowned out because I'm soft-spoken.  I've learned if I want to be heard in French class, je dois être patiente (I must be patient).   

I am an introvert.  This doesn't mean I'm aloof.

After graduating high school, I applied to the University of Kentucky Medical Technology program.  This required an interview.  The night before the interview, I rode the bus from Louisville to Lexington and slept on the floor of a friend's dormitory room.  The following morning, I met with three professors—two of them made me feel at ease and another one terrified me.  I had no clue how the interviews went.  There was no feedback.  But then several weeks later, good news arrived.  I was accepted into the MT program.  Afterward, I had access to the results of my interviews.  On one, there was a note which described me as being aloof.  Really?  ALOOF!  So far from the truth.  The professor interpreted my reserved nature as haughtiness. 

I am an introvert.  This doesn't mean I am shy. 

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, believes Western culture misunderstands introverted people.  Introverts are conceived as shy, but that's because they may not be comfortable expressing themselves verbally.  Cain says introverts, "often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation."  

That quote rings true.  I found it excruciatingly difficult to ask questions or to speak up in high school. Luckily, I had the opportunity to take a creative writing class as an elective.  As a teenager, writing gave me the chance to express myself more freely.  

And it still does.  Though I worked as a medical technologist for over twenty years and made a nice living, it was never as fulfilling as writing.  

Writing allows me to be creative.  It gives me the opportunity to entertain and educate others. It empowers me.  It gives me voice.  Writing helps me fight to be heard. 

Contrary to what people may think, I am not shy. 

I am not aloof...or quiet.  

I am and will always be an introvert.

À la prochaine!