A Writer’s Delight!

Stories
    Serendipity is a beautiful thing!

An unexpected email led to a delightful afternoon.

Hometown grandmother Nancy knew I grew up in Michigan and wondered if I’d autograph a book for her granddaughter visiting from Washington state. Then she realized I now lived in Florida. She expressed how much her daughter loved her new book, President of the Whole Sixth Grade—Girl Code.

Well, just so happened I was in Michigan for the wonderful author-illustrator experience, Nerd Camp, in Parma, Michigan. I reached out to Nancy, set a date, and it was on.

Meeting Nancy and Sarah was a true highlight to my week. Sarah, 10, was adorable and very smart. We sat around chatting like ladies who lunch.

Divine!

And if that wasn’t enough of the serendipity sauce, Nancy brought along a friend—my middle school civics teacher whose habit of teaching us to read newspapers in her classroom directly led to the plot of the third book in the President series—Mrs. Western. Now, I’m sure the woman has a first name but I still feel like raising my hand when I see her so I didn’t ask.

Thanks Sarah and Nancy for renewing my understanding of why I write stories for children. Your kind words motivated me to carry on. And thank you, truly, to Mrs. Western, whose caring yet no-nonsense teaching style helped open my eyes to the world around me, inspiring me to see greater and be greater. Thank you, ladies for a wonderful day.

History Is Made

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On Tuesday, Feb. 6, my nephew and I watched history being made when SpaceX launched into outer space.

Daelyn, my nephew, is a 17-year-old high school junior. I’ve been telling that boy he was a natural-born engineer since he was seven or eight. Did he listen to me? Noooo! Then along comes Elon Musk. Now the kid is monitoring the NASA website and reading about astrophysics, astronomy and, you guessed it—engineering.43B4868C-CF19-4D87-ABDC-6A7EE532CEEC

We waited from 11:30 am until 3:45 pm. A community of history-seeking sky gazers shared our experience on a rocky lip of land that overlooked a slip of Intracoastal water separating us from the Space Center. People of all ages and ethnicities strolled, chatted, sunbathed, snacked, read and prepped their cameras. All in anticipation of the launch.

Daelyn and I sat in canvas chairs. His youthful energy was a stark contrast to my need for a nap. Still, he looked over, face gleaming in the sunlight, and said, “This is it. We did pretty good, huh?”

Right now I am officially his BAE—Best Aunt Ever.

 

A Writer’s Life…

Stories

The Breakdown Cure

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I’m juggling a couple projects, but on deadline for only one. So, of course, it takes precedence. My brain has jet lag even though it’s been months since I’ve been near a jet. And I’m trying to plan marketing strategies for my two newest books as well as a book giveaway. Too early for vodka. So, comfort food it is. #amwriting

Homemade tomato soup is good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Not to mention creative meltdowns and middle-of-the-night panic attacks. (“Oh, god! Did I remember to rearrange paragraphs three and four? DID I? THE WHOLE MANUSCRIPT IS DOOMED!”)

Quick zesty tomato soup recipe. Eat like a published author or manic insomniac. Either way, the soup tastes good.

1 can tomato sauce (I prefer Contadina, but hey, you do you)

1 cup 2 percent milk (I’ve done it with pure cream or whole milk; richer taste, but can feel greasy)

2 tsp butter

1 tsp basil

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Tomato sauce, basil and pepper in saucepan, bring to boil. Lower heat, add butter, milk, and nutmeg. Bring to slow boil. You can get your bowl and crackers, or toast points or grilled cheese ready while you wait. Takes about six minutes. Watch carefully. You know that milk will rise up like a frothy beast if you’re not careful. Voila! Top with a sprinkling of Parmesan or cheddar. Soup is served.

 

A Bright And Shiny Day

Stories

 

Authoring can be tough. You are the creator, the whimsical-minded engine that brings imaginary worlds to life.

But you are also the businesswoman. The one-woman-shop, who must handle public relations, promote, plan speaking events and marketing strategies. When you are trying to be an up-and-comer in the publishing world and produce a beautiful piece of work, which I shamelessly proclaim The Sweetest Sound to be, you expect the WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD will love it as much as you.

The reality, however, is that despite critical accolades, a dedicated marketing team at your publisher and determined efforts on your part, your little book hasn’t yet set the world afire as you’d hope.

Which is why Saturday was so awesome.

I awoke to an email from a dedicated school librarian in Upstate New York. Talk about chicken soup for the soul. Stacey Rattner contacted me to says how much she enjoyed The Sweetest Sound and how much her students loved it. She even sent along copies of letters the children had written to me about what they thought of the book.

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As I was already preparing to go out and visit bookstores to Twitter and Tweeter and all sorts of social media stuff for Sweetest paperback, feeling the love energized me. I wore makeup, put on a dress and even wore heels. Then I met the cutest, sweetest bookseller at Books-A-Million in the Loop Mall, Kissimmee. She was so excited to meet—Me?

At the Barnes & Noble near downtown Orlando, bookseller Cassie was an angel, helping  take pictures as I grinned like a mad woman upon seeing my new paperbacks.

It was one of those days when us little-known yet determined authors can, for just a while, feel like a J.K. Rowling or James Patterson or Jacqueline Woodson. It was a very good day.

Best Friend I Never Had

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We never met, not officially, at least. Stuart Scott, the courageous ESPN sports anchor with the contagious wit and zest for life, succumbed to his fight with cancer on Sunday. Despite never sharing a single how-do-you-do, he and I were besties. In my head, at least.Unknown

On Sunday, during NFL Countdown, ESPN invited Good Morning America icon and ESPN alum, Robin Roberts to pay a stunning tribute to Scott, who at age 49, lost his third bout with cancer of the appendix. As Roberts so elegantly revealed the paths and passages of Scott’s trailblazing life, not to mention his unending love for his two daughters, I couldn’t hold back my own tears.

In this day and age of social media and electronic relationships, it’s not difficult to feel connected to someone whose handshake you’ve never felt. Yet, my bond with Scott predates Twitter and Facebook; Youtube and Instagram. For decades he and I have done a sort of cosmic dance, circling each other. He was a brother to me, not in the vernacular but in spirit. Check this out:

In 1990, I worked for ESPN. While working fulltime for the Hartford Courant’s sports department, I decided to put a childhood fantasy to the test. ESPN was headquartered about 45 minutes away, in Bristol, Conn. I called the producer of High School Sports America and asked if he’d let me take him to lunch to discuss his job. He agreed. A short time later, he created a job for me – and I jumped at the chance.

The opportunity to glimpse Dick Vitale strolling the labyrinth of ESPN trailers or bumping into Dan Patrick in the lunchroom, man, that was nirvana. And when I passed Robin Roberts in the halls a few time, I nearly went all fan girl. But you know, I kept my cool.

While I was at ESPN, Stuart Scott was an up-and-coming newsman working in Central Florida WESH TV News.

My career trajectory was set in newsprint. So as much as I loved being at ESPN, when an opportunity came to work at a newspaper in South Florida, I took it. I left two-and-a-half years before anyone had ever heard of Stuart Scott nationally. But that would change.

Seemingly out of nowhere, in 1993, this guy appears on the TV giving sports scores and doing stories with swagger. I mean, saying things like: “Boo-yaa” and “cooler than the other side of the pillow.” My kind of talk. Stuart Scott didn’t just tell us the sports news, he did an open mic night — night after night. Brash and buttery, all at the same time. And the instant I saw him, I couldn’t help thinking, What if I’d stayed at ESPN?

He brought younger folks into the conversation in a way I’d only dreamed of. In a way I wished I could have done.

From that point on he became an icon. A fixture. He was that guy on ESPN. “He’s crazy, man,” friends of mine would say. “Did you hear that guy last night?” dudes crowded along bar rails would ask.

I crossed paths with Scott a few times. In an airport in New York; a few times at NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) conferences. Always on escalators, believe it or not. Always going one way while he was going the other; yet, inextricably bound. Never introduced myself or gushed. Somehow, that didn’t seem like the right move.

So he and I exchanged head nods. Cool like that. He didn’t know me from Adam. But I felt like I knew him. And he was all right with me.

Life kept moving as life does. My time in South Florida was all about making a name for myself as a print journalist. Until cancer punched its way into my family and left a gaping hole. The same year that Scott was starting at ESPN, I was starting the year without my mother. She died of lung cancer at the age of 56 during the Christmas of ‘92. And in 2000, when I was burying my father, who also died of lung cancer, Scott was bouncing his youngest daughter, Sydni, I was pondering the definition of family when so much of mine was gone.

I know, it might seem like I’m reaching. Seeing connections that aren’t real. I don’t know. I just feel like I was more than a fan. A kindred spirit, perhaps. See, the same year I buried my father, I adopted my first child. A year later, thanks to a friend I made while I was a University of Michigan Journalism Fellow, I got the chance for a do over. A chance to interview for a big girl job at ESPN. No more part-time hustle. This was a chance to go pro.

Although I’d fantasized for years about what it would have meant to be a trailblazer and lead the way for Scott, now I was getting a chance to follow, somewhat, in his footsteps. While the job I was interviewing for was in production, I had a candid discussion about the possibility to moving into an on-air spot someday.

It was a good interview that ESPN left open for me to pursue. I was jazzed. Then I realized halfway through my plane ride back to South Florida that the only thing I truly remembered talking about with the guy was our kids. I was a new single mom of a little girl. I was contemplating uprooting her to take a job that meant working the overnight shift. In the end, I couldn’t do it.

Little by little, my focus shifted. I gave up the ESPN channel for the Disney channel. Adopted a second daughter, and lost myself in tutus and Crayolas. In 2005, I was diagnosed with lupus and by 2007 the illness was taking a toll. I left my newspaper job in 2008, exhausted and in a lot of pain. I did not know that during that same time, Stuart Scott was beginning his battle with appendix cancer.

So here we are. And it’s weird, you know? I ended up moving from South Florida to Central Florida to raise my two girls. The same TV market where Stuart Scott began. And he died during the holiday season, just like so many of my relatives. Tell me that’s not some sort of karmic convergence.

I really wanted to see him win his battle. But as he said in his Espy Award acceptance speech in July of 2014, “When you die, that does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”

We can all learn a lesson from Stuart Scott, the best friend I never knew.