Writing the Book Part II

As I journey with this book, Things You Forget, in person and sometimes on this blog, I want to remember this particular incident because it encourages me, and we all need a little encouragement, don’t we? It happened a while back, April 2017, to be exact.

I submitted to a first page critique by literary agent Holly McGhee at Pippin Properties on Kathy Temean’s wonderful Writing and Illustrating blog. I sent on a whim, not expecting any results. And then I forgot about it. When I finally remembered to check the status of my entry, I learned my first page had been selected.

The April 2017 results are here. My specific results are below. I know I’m going to come back to this moment as I try to stay centered and finish this book.

THINGS YOU FORGET by S. K. Van Zandt Young Adult

It’s late November and lousy cold. Wind mixed with sleet gusts across the parking lot. Jordan Rutherford crosses to his truck, yanks the door hard against the freezing blasts, and climbs in. Engines start around him. Headlights blink on. Cars pull slowly away from the church for the long drive to the cemetery. Jordan looks toward the front of the line at the white limo, a foggy stream of air pouring from its exhaust. His mother wants him to ride with her and his grandmother, but forget that. He wants to be alone.

He pulls in somewhere near the end of the line of cars, and they drive onto the main road. People steer their cars onto the crusty edge of the pavement to let them pass. Some stop completely. A little kid leans out the window of a parked car and smiles and waves, like he’s watching a parade or something. Jordan wants this to be over.

When he finally gets to Woodland Memorial Cemetery, a crowd has already gathered, huddled beneath a dark green funeral tent that bends with every burst of wind. Several friends from school hang at the edge of the crowd, including Jordan’s best friend, T. J. Bradley.

Jordan stands on a nearby hill, apart from everyone. He looks past the crowd, at the rows and rows of graves dotting the icy ground, then back to the funeral tent and the waiting grave beneath. If he narrows his eyes just right, everything blurs. As the pastor begins talking, Jordan walks back to his truck, climbs in, and drives away without looking back.



I was really moved by this one; it grabbed my attention and I wanted to know more about these characters and what Jordan’s role in the death was. I felt genuine emotion coming through the words. I think this is a strong first page. My only comment is to choose every word carefully, and where there is an opportunity for an appropriate extra detail, grab it. (I’m thinking of the line with the little kid leaning out the window, that seemed like a chance to add a telling detail and use fewer words as well.)



A Funny Thing Happened…

Laughing babies: the ancient practice of forcing strangers to look at pictures of your children basi

I’ve been thinking about laughter lately, and not just in regard to my reading and writing. I’ve been noticing how moments of genuine laughter make me feel warm and happy and exhausted in a good way.

So, what is it about laughter?

Here’s a little bit of randomness I discovered:

Laughter is a contagious, involuntary response. Ever had the giggle snorts during an important meeting, and the person sitting next to you begins to do the same thing, even though they don’t have a clue why you’re doing it? Ever watched a newscast when one reporter starts laughing and the others follow? Yep, contagious and involuntary.

Snoopy he he he

Laughter releases endorphins, which can produce all sorts of wacky but beneficial biochemical changes in the body. These include increased blood flow, relieved pain, and an improved immune system.

Laughter can also burns calories.

Most daily laughter occurs during everyday social situations, not as a result of things like jokes or funny movies.

The study of laughter is called gelotology. (Yes, there is such a thing.)

Some experts believe that we laughed more in the past than today  – 20 minutes daily back in the 1950s compared to 6 minutes today. (Okay, I don’t know how they got these stats, but it’s still a curious thing to me.)

The first Sunday of May every year is known as World Laughter Day.


This year, I want to pay attention and laugh more. Every day. I think Dr. Seuss said it best:

From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.

When was the last time you really laughed?

Smiling Ostrich


Laughing baby photo by Constance Bannister. Snoopy from socialtimes.com. Smiley face from smscs.com. Smiling Ostrich by Jamie Hanson.

EEK! Writer’s Block!

writers-block drmichellecleere.com

When is the last time you sat at your computer, excited, enthusiastic, and ready to write? The feeling is so strong – it says “write, write, write.” Then you sit down, and…………….you don’t write. You do everything BUT write. You read old notes, play games, sigh, run your fingers through your hair. Your elbows callous over.

You actually want to write – really.  But you don’t. You’re frozen inside. Some people call this immobilizing state Writer’s Block.

Cow Writer's Block tamarika.typepad.com

You could be more specific and call it the “I Can’t Write My Opening Scene Block” or maybe the “Help! I Can’t Come Up With Any More Stuff to Put in My Book Block” or maybe even the “I Will Never Be Able to Write Another Book As Long As I Live Block.” You may even call it “Chronic Procrastination” instead of Writer’s Block. However you choose to label it, the reality is – you aren’t writing. At least not the way you’d hoped, or maybe not at all. Why? I don’t think it has anything to do with the Mysterious Muse grabbing its sacred bag of toys and going home, or the lack of Feng Shui in your writing room. I think it stems from a basic problem we all have – fear.  Fear of letting go and digging into that creative spot where no man (or woman) has gone before, fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of success. And speaking of fear, I was actually afraid to write about writer’s block. I didn’t want to discover anything else about it because I was fearful I’d pick up a new variety, a sort of writer’s block hypochondria.

ummm matttauber.blogspot.com

But let’s define the word blocked. If you look up ‘block’ in the dictionary, one definition says “a sudden interruption in speech or thought because of a deep emotional problem.”  Block can also mean obstruct, deaden, hinder. I think writer’s block can be all of these things and more, triggered frequently by vast hinterlands of unknowing-ness.


There are lots of tips on dealing with the plague of writer’s block. Here are five strategies I use:

*1 Write with your computer monitor off.  Can’t see the words, can’t critique the writing. At least not right away. Click away on that keyboard and let yourself write whatever you want to write – either for the scene you’re working on or whatever pops into your head. You’ll be surprised. Something good and original will come out.

*2 Write longhand, skipping lines, on a yellow legal pad. Yellow energizes the mind and studies have shown it can call forth long-forgotten memories, feelings, and experiences. And by skipping lines, it will look like you’re writing a LOT, which is great positive reinforcement for the brain. Also, writing longhand is less hurried, less immediate. It gives you time to gather your thoughts as words flow onto the page.  Hemingway wrote longhand.  J. K. Rowling did, too.

*3 Interview your character. It’s a great way to get to know her/him/it and maybe break out of a slump. Also, you might try interviewing yourself. (I know, that sounds a little out there, but it can work.) Here’s a quick example of an interview I did with my main character (I’ve taken out specific details):

Me:  Hello

MC:  Hey.

Me:  I think I’ve figured out why I’m having trouble with this story.  I don’t feel very emotionally drawn to you.

MC:  What does THAT mean?  You don’t like me?

Me:  I like you, but I think the story needs more emotion. More of who you are, rather than just incidents that move you through the story. I’m not sure I can figure out how to do this, but it will definitely make the story better.

MC:  So I have no gut feelings about anything? Great. I’m a cardboard character.

Me:  What do you have strong feelings about?

MC:  Everything. My… (fill in the blank). The fact that everyone thinks…And my parents treat me like…A whole bunch of stuff, but not in any particular order.

(More Stuff Here)

Me:  Could you take over for a while?

MC:  Move over and let me sit down.

*4 Educate yourself about writing. Read Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser. It’s an older book, but still a goldmine of information – all about the creative and editorial process of writing. One particular section on writer’s block is titled, “Resistance Always Has Meaning.”

*5 Stay connected. Repeat after me. Critique groups, critique groups, critique groups. Writers often feel isolated. Critique groups can help a writer feel less so, and at the same time, serve as a springboard to improve your writing. Critique groups can act as Teacher, Editor, Psychologist, and most importantly, Friend and Supporter. Be selective when you choose your critique group. Make sure it is a good fit.

And don’t forget the importance of showing up daily for the words:

How to Cure Writer's Block the writersadvice.com

Meaning to Write from Michelle Cleere; Cow Writer’s Block from tamrika; Umm from Matt Tauber; Universe from news.softpedia; How To Cure Writer’s Block from writersadvice.com

The Good Stuff

Pardon me, but I need to rant a little.  About the news.

Why does everything have to be so nauseatingly sensationalized?  Dirty, horrific, outrageous, terrifying, shocking?

When I signed on to my email server today, which shall not be named here, the following headliners appeared, and these are just a few, mind you:

Executive Suspected of Murdering His Wife

Star Reveals Hollywood Horror Story

Amish Girl Accused of Bizarre Act

Intersection Called Corridor of Sin

Harmless Prank Went Horribly Wrong

What Mom Buys for Son is Killing Him

Man Claims Creature Stalked Him

Monster Said to Live in This Lake

And here are a few more, from random popular news sources:

Doctors Intentionally Concealed Decapitation of Baby During Delivery

Bumble Bee Tuna Plant Worker Cooked in Steamer Identified

Man Stabs Grandmother 111 Times, Slits Her Belly, Removes her Organs

I didn’t have to search for these type stories.  They’re everywhere.  The news is saturated with them.

What is going on?  Are we not a people of intellectual integrity?  Do the news powers that be have to report on every vile, despicable act?  Is this what we want to read as news?  Oh, please.

Where’s the uplifting news?  The stories that make us appreciate, smile, relish the infinite positive possibilities?  Where’s the good stuff?

Give me the good stuff.


Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.  ~Author Unknown


So I’m thinking about dreams today.  We all have them.   We all pursue them.  Some are fulfilled.  Some remain, and we hold them close, feel their beating fluttering desire to be realized.  The word Yearning comes to mind.

So here’s my thought for today, for everyone who seeks to tell their story, no matter the artistic path:  Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.  ~Langston Hughes