Summer Vacation: A Few Memories & A Spontaneous Giveaway

Yesterday, my son finished up his sophomore year of high school.

Excuse me a moment…

Anyway…other than an ever-increasing freakout the older my son gets, what the last day of school means to me is Summer. More specifically, summer vacation. Which comes with a load of feelings and memories from my past decades years. Like…

  • Carrying the heavy backpack home from school, loaded up with all the junk from my desk. No, I didn’t have the neatest desk in the world back then. Actually, it looked a lot like my bedroom. If you don’t believe me, talk to my dad. Wait, don’t, you’ll just give him a nostalgia-based ulcer.
  • Reading, reading, and reading. And more reading. And then some more reading. In bed, in my room, with the drape barely opened. It’s only with age and the colder winters we’ve been having that I’ve become anything like a sunshine and warmth fan. As a teen, I wanted a dim, shady cave of a room, where I curled up on my bed with the book of the day. (That’s why there was always a clean path from my door to the bed, well–okay, from the bookshelf to my bed. Again, talk to my dad.)
  • Camp. Not a lot, but at least a week of Campfire Girls’ day camp at Camp Takeneko (I am absolutely positive I am not spelling that right!), with our straw mats that were miserably itch to sit on and singing songs that–if you started me off today–I could join in on and sing easily to the end. And a couple of summers, the big sleepaway camp, also through Camp Fire, at Camp Natoma, where we slept under the oak trees (and the oak worms). We made key chains out of that plasticy stuff–you folded four pieces over (and under?) each other–oh, what IS that stuff called? OKAY, SPUR OF THE MOMENT SUMMER GIVEAWAY: THE FIRST PERSON WHO LEAVES A COMMENT WITH THE NAME OF THAT PLASTIC STUFF (without looking it up–you’re on the honor system here!) wins a copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide. JUST BECAUSE.

    We did macrame, too, it being the sixties and early seventies, we swam & showered & had the backs-of-our-ears checked for cleanliness. Good times, good times.
  • August vacations. August. In the summer. Since I grew up near Pismo Beach, and a lot of those vacations were driving ones (luckily, way back then, we could all read without getting carsick), we spent quite a bit of time sweltering through Arizona and New Mexico. Once Hawaii and once Texas. (Tip: Don’t ever go on a double-loop roller-coaster, twice in a row, in 113-degree heat. Just don’t.) We had good times there, and I mean no negativity to all of you who live happily in those regions, but you might be able to guess why I fell in love with Oregon and Washington. And ended up living in NorthernCalifornia.
  • My first summer jobs. I’d give away another copy of my book to the first person who guessed where I got my first job ever, but it’d be just too easy. Yep, the used bookstore in town. (Owned, by the way, by the past secretary of my elementary school, in who’s office I sat with the flu and vomited onto the floor just in time to prove to my mom that I was actually sick and not faking it. But that’s another story.) I worked part-time at her bookstore (mostly telling people that, no, that month’s issue of that particular romance series hadn’t shown up yet) and part-time at a children’s clothing store in Pismo Beach. There I sold sweatshirts to kids who had come over from the central valley, to our foggy coast, in shorts & tank tops; and I learned to make a bow out of wrapping ribbon, by hand, to top off the grandparent-to-grandchild presents I wrapped.
  • Typing up dog and cat records and cleaning exam rooms. After paying my dues in retail, I ended up working summers for my parents at their veterinary clinic. Yes, you’re right–I’ve listed only the glamorous parts of the job. Seriously, other than some of the cleaning and some of the holding down of dogs with sharp teeth that didn’t want to be held down, I loved that job. We were almost always busy, and I met some wonderful people. Their owners were often pretty nice, too.
  • Quiet birthdays. Since I’m an August-born and, at least back then, pretty shy, I remember feeling pretty detached from my school friends by the time birthdays came around. I know I had parties when I was young–I remember Musical Chairs in the kitchen of our first house and some Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and I had a couple of small sleepovers when I was older, but I think I was probably happiest with family cake and, you know, a new book. This might be a memory to check with the rest of the family, though!
  • Afghans. One more repeat–sixties and early seventies. One summer, I think I was twelve, my cousin came to stay for a week (more?) and she, a good friend, and I all crocheted granny-square afghans. And I mean granny-square. One. Big. Square. I believe mine was made up of yellow, orange, hot pink, lime green, and purple. I could check, if I were so inclined, because I still have that afghan. No matter how much you’re inclined, as an adult, to purge Stuff, there are some things you just don’t throw out.
  • Boredom. Yes, I think this may be the true function and purpose of summer vacation. To give the kids just enough off-time so that when the end of summer rolls around, they’re–if not ready–at least resigned to school starting back up again. Ready for something different. I know I was. Plus, you know, there were all the cool school supplies to buy–notebooks that were waiting to be written in, pens that were still filled with ink, Pee Chee folders to doodle on. Teachers that still had all the potential, at least, to be wonderful. And friends to see again. One more fresh start.

What about you? What are a few of your favorite (or not-so favorite) summer memories. Join me in a few moments of time travel and share something from those vacation weeks. And don’t forget, if you know what that plastic stuff is called and you’d like to win a copy of my book, leave a comment to enter!


Saturday Six: Links to Share

Lately, I feel like I’m checking in a blogs a lot, but not necessarily posting comments. I know there’s a lot of discussion around about whether blogs are on the way out, and I never know if my pattern is part of a trend or just a piece of my general business? Either way, I know there is still a lot of good stuff out there, and I thought I’d share a few today.

1. First, in case you missed it during the week, a link to my own blog–but to someone else’s post! Annette Dashofy guest-posted here on Wednesday about managing and participating in an online critique group. She’s got great stuff in the post, and if you leave a comment before Sunday night, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

2. Have you been following the Ed DeCaria’s Madness 2012! Poetry Competition? I’ve been popping in and out to see some rounds and give an occasional vote. I’m not a big poetry expert, but when something wows me, well…then I feel like adding my reaction to the count. It’s an amazing concept, I think–each poet gets a random word to build a poem around, and their poem comes up against another poet’s poem, written around a totally different word. Susan Taylor Brown wrote a great post here on dealing with her word and her fears–check it out. I wasn’t sure what page to link to for the contest itself, but here’s the scoreboard for the competition, which does have links to some of the poems. I think! Myself, I’ve just been watching for status updates on Facebook and then following those posts to the poems. Whether or not you’re a poet, I think this is both amazing and fun.

3. I’ve had people see me at the bookmobile, with my (yes, rather largish) stack of books to check out, and sigh that they wished they had time to read that much. Ack. Yes, I get that there’s never enough hours in the day to do all we want, but I also know that nobody in my family would want to live with me if I didn’t get my reading time in. Even so, I totally know what Jennifer R. Hubbard means about the rarity and the delight of just curling up with some reading time, not letting anything else demand your attention or your minutes. And someday, I’m going to get myself away on the kind of reading retreat Debbi Michiko Florence has been scheduling for herself this past year.

4. Until I was scanning my blog roll for links today, I actually missed this post by Nicole at Viva Scriva on getting back to her WIP after a forced “vacation” from it. Oh, so much here that resonates with me this week, plus some of the links that helped Nicole get back on track. Blog links within blog links–that’s what it’s all about today, folks. BTW, if you don’t have the Viva Scriva blog on your reading list, check them out for a few weeks–I’m guessing they’ll be a permanent add.

5. Another post I missed until this morning (okay, maybe I AM skimming too much!) is Jen Robinson’s review of Robin LaFevers‘ new book, Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book 1. I am a huge fan of Robin’s Theodosia books and enjoy her Nathaniel Fludd books, too. Not to mention I read Robin’s blog posts avariciously for her help with plotting. I haven’t read this new book yet, because if the car works and the creek don’t rise, I’m hoping to go buy my copy (and finally meet Robin!) at her Books Inc signing on April 4th. Jen’s review should give you a good idea, though, about why you want to read this book.

6. Here’s a fun post from Beth Revis, where she polled the members of her debut-authors group, the Elevensies, on the top three things they learned in their first year of publication. There’s a definite thread of letting the things that are out of one’s control be, well…out of your control. And another one on getting that next book started.

Enjoy the links, and enjoy your weekend. Happy writing inspiration to everyone!

Looking for Guest Bloggers…and Giveaway Winners

So, if you read my theme post earlier this month, you’ll know I’m getting back to my fiction writing in 2012. This doesn’t mean, though, that I am forgetting about critique groups or the book I DO have out, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Group: How to Give and Receive Feedback, Self Edit, and Make Revisions.

I have an article out in February’s issue of Writer’s Digest magazine, “Critique Your Way to Better Writing,” and I’m always available here, or on Facebook, to talk about critiquing. Heck, I’ve even added a second critique group to my own life, one that I’m going to use to focus on my picture books.

And here’s the thing. I still have quite a small pile of author copies in my office. And they’re not doing me, or anyone else any good, just sitting here.

So it’s a year of giveaways! Well, almost a year, since I didn’t get it together enough to start this until February! What I’m going to do is ask for guest posters to come to my blog and talk about their critique experiences. I want to keep things positive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share a not-so-great experience that taught you something, or a bad place you started from that led you to a better critique place. Basically, I’m open to anything, just not full-out slamming of any group or the critique process overall. Cause that’s not how I roll.

Each guest-blogger is going to get a copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide. AND, on top of that, I’m going to pick one commenter at each guest post to also send a book to. (I told you I have a pile!)

If this sounds fun to you–the guest-posting part–send me a quick note at beckylevine at ymail dot com, with the basic idea for your post. I’m hoping some of you will want to chime in with your thoughts and experiences.

And, hey, you’ll be helping me continue to clean up my office in 2012!

Monday Morning Brainstorming: In Which I Take My Own Advice

In The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, I’ve got a chapter titled, “Brainstorming.” It’s not a long chapter, but I think it’s an important one, because I do think brainstorming is one of the biggest gifts critique partners can give to each other. I’ve talked to some beginning critiquers who haven’t realized that it’s an option for their group–and a great one. If they get stuck in a story, they struggle along by themselves trying to get past the block. And too often, this just puts them in a position in which they’re not writing, not submitting, and just feeling worse about how much they’re not getting done.


This morning, my group’s having an all-brainstorming, all-kicking-ideas-around session. For various reasons–some of being in between projects, some of us dealing with end-of-the-summer business, some of us (who, me?!) in that stuck place I just talked about–there were no submissions this week. It only took a quick email around to find out that there were several of us who thought this was a great opportunity to raise a hand and say, “Over here! Ideas welcome!”

My personal goal: To stir up the mud that has been the one big, LAST story problem of the picture book. The one I stare at and stare at and say, “Huh” about, over and over and over. Maybe someone in my group will have THE brilliant idea (fingers crossed!). If not, though, I know I’ll come out of the session with thoughts I haven’t had on my own, ideas I didn’t know were out there. And that, my friends, is a step forward.

Writer Mama: Final Week of Every-Day-in-May Book Giveaway

If you follow Christina Katz, The Writer Mama, or read her blog, you’re already up on the fact that she’s been giving away a book a day this month. Well, she’s heading into the final stretch, and if you haven’t dropped by yet, it’s worth going over and seeing what’s on offer these last few days.

Christina’s giving away my book, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, on Saturday, May 28th. If you don’t have a copy yet, or know someone else who needs one, drop by and leave a comment to enter. And make sure to check out the other days, because, well, there are just a lot of good books being handed out!

Contest: What’s Your Revision Metaphor?

WARNING: MIXED METAPHORS (or possibly even analogies) AHEAD:

You know that stage in revision, when things are FINALLY coming together? When you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s NOT a train)? I have struggled for years to come up with a good way to describe. Something concise, cohesive, and coherent that really hits the nail on the head. See? There’s already that whole nail/hammer imagery going on, and we haven’t got to the contest yet!

I’m heading off to yet another workshop where I will be talking about this moment WITHOUT a metaphor. Without one that really says it all. Oh, sure, I’ll talk about weeding out the stuff that doesn’t belong, I’ll describe sanding off the rough spots. I’ll tell them how the puzzle pieces start to fit, even fall into place on their very own. I’ll mention Michelangelo’s (or was it daVinci? Someone else altogether?) idea that the statue is already in the chunk of rock, and that if you (only he?!) chip away long enough, the complete thing will emerge. If I’m crazy enough, I might even mention the idea that it’s kind of like carving something out of soap and watching all the spare flakes fall to the ground (and hoping that the darned thing doesn’t snap into pieces).

Okay, no, I won’t talk about all these things. The workshop is only an hour, for pete’s sake. Plus, I don’t want the people who come to listen thinking I’m completely crazy.

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to come back to the answer. A description of one or two (okay, MAYBE three) sentences that just…says it? You all know what I’m talking about–if you haven’t hit it yet, yourselves, you’ve heard other people talk about it and you’ve dreamed about it happening to you. Yes, you have. I’m not saying it’s the moment of “done.” But it’s that time when all the work you’ve done starts to feel worthwhile. When you see a glimmer of resemblance between the words on the page and the vision in your mind. When you at least start to believe that you may possibly create something that holds together, stands on its own, doesn’t–as my husband is fond of saying–roll on square wheels.

So, while I’m gone: A contest.

Normally, I am a totally random contest-winner chooser. I put all the names in the hat, and I draw one out. Not this time. This time, I will be…A JUDGE.

Here’s what I want. Post your entry in the comment section of this post. I’ll give you UP TO 3 sentences to come up with a metaphor (or an analogy or a simile or a comparison or a whatever) that gets these elements across:

  • That feeling that you’ve gotten rid of most, if not all, of those big extras you THOUGHT you’d need but that you now see have no place in the story.
  • That feeling that, when you make a change in one chapter, you (almost) instantly think of one or two more places in the book that you need to change, and you’ve got a pretty clear idea of what change is going to work.
  • That feeling that, as you revise, you’re connecting your characters at a deeper level, that everybody’s story is starting to link up with everybody else’s. In a good way.
  • And, finally, that feeling that you may still have a long way to go, but that–right now–you’re very busy turning this story into something.


Wait, what? Oh, a prize? Yes, there is a prize.

If you win, and you don’t already have it, I’ll send you a signed copy of my book, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide. But I don’t want to cut out ideas from anybody who already has the book. SO…if you win and you do already have the book and don’t want a copy for a friend, I’ll send you, INSTEAD, a copy of Colin Cotterill’s The Coroner’s Lunch. Just because this series is my newest happy reading discovery, and I like to share. Basically, your choice!

I’m going to run the contest for a week, and I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, May 18th. I’m going to make no claims about knowing the BEST entry; I’m just going to pick the one that feels the most right with the way I feel when I get to this point in revising. I’m still working on an early draft of my WIP, so all these entries are going to be nice reminders of what I have to look forward to–good motivation for writing along, so I get to revise.

Enter away. And have fun!

6-Month Anniversary Prize Winners!

First, thank you to everybody who came and celebrated with me. What a party! (Come on, you know we all love the ones where you don’t have to get dressed up or leave your own home.) So many people wished me good thoughts & entered the contest, it was like having ice cream every day–with extra sprinkles. And chocolate sauce. And two cherries. And…Well, you get the picture.

So last night, I managed to drag my son away from the couch, the cat, and his book (A. Lee Martinez’ In the Company of Ogres, in case you’re wondering), and get him to draw the names. Yes, TWO names. Because you guys went so crazy with your comments.

Here’s the prize package again:

  • A signed copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide
  • A set of the critique goodies I put into my raffle bags, including…

  • A first-chapter critique of your manuscript, or a full picture-book critique.
  • One other writing-craft book of my choice, yes, STILL to be decided!

 Impatient yet?

The winners are…


Ladies, please send me an email at beckylevine at ymail dot com, so I can say “Yay” in person, get your snail mail address, and get organized about the critiques! Congratulations and THANKS to you both!