Saturday, March 28, 2020

Pandemic Diary Entry #2

A neighbor's weeping cherry tree

Pandemic Diary Entry #2

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Hope everyone is staying safe and healthy. New York City has become the new epicenter of COVID-19 in the US, and the US is now the new epicenter for the world. My heart goes out to my friends and cousins in NYC.

At this point, we only go outside to occasionally pick up groceries, and to take walks. It almost seems cruel, doesn't it? That so many trees and flowers are blooming, and it's still March, and it's all lovely and inspiring, and the world is a trash fire.

Daffodils! They're everywhere in our neighborhood

T.S. Eliot said in the opening line of The Wasteland, "April is the cruellest month." But March has been cruel enough. If April is worse than this (and it undoubtedly will be), we're all doomed.

See? I have moments of deep despair, where all I want to do is crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head and shut out the world. I've suffered from anxiety all my life. I took Xanax for years. This is worse than anything I've been through, and I've been through a lot.

But I have to remind myself that we have plenty of food, a warm house, a beautiful neighborhood for walks, tons of books to read, and of course there are always movies to watch. I also have to remind myself that everyone is in the same boat and the only way we'll get through this is together... apart but together.

Received an email on Friday from my college roommate, who has lived in Paris since 1984. She became a French citizen years ago, and when I emailed her last week to ask how she's doing, this was her response (she gave me permission to post):

We are in our second week of lockdown and can only go out with a printed or handwritten form ticking off one of the 7 reasons for going out. Then signing, dating and marking the time. We have to show it along with our ID card.

People can go out alone or with a family member for max an hour within one kilometer of home address, to have a walk or walk the dog. The first time fine has gone up to 135€. 

The gov't is saying the lockdown could last 6 weeks but will depend on the curve. At the moment, it's rising exponentially and some area hospitals are overwhelmed.

The East and Paris region are the most affected. But poor Italy has double the number of deaths as China, and Spain is quickly catching up to that number.

So you think you're suffering during your quarantine or self-isolation? At least you don't have to show an ID and have a printed form filled in with date and time whenever you go out to the grocery store or for a walk! At least you aren't limited to your own neighborhood for walks. 

On Friday, besides talking the walk pictured above, we started cleaning out our pantry, one shelf at a time. Found some canned soups that were best by 2017! So it's been a while since we cleaned that closet, obviously long before my second brain aneurysm rupture (which was in 2017). We also found a bag of dried navy beans we purchased from an Amish market two or three years ago (there's no date on the bag). My husband is currently washing and soaking them. Does anyone know if it's safe to eat beans that are two or three years old?

Today, the rainy day, I cleaned out the extra bathroom in our house, the one formerly used by our sons, who are now grown and living elsewhere. Oh, how I miss them! I just want to give them each lots of hugs, but for now I have to put up with texts and phone calls. However...

when I cleaned out their bathroom, I found all of these treasures!

They're ours now. Buried treasure! It made me deliriously happy!

Stats for March 28th:

Still reading The Overstory by Richard Powers (this book is long, and the print is tiny!). I miss the years when I could read faster. I have some fantastic-looking books to read next, including one by Amy Sarig King and one by John Green.

From Worldometer:
Countries affected: 199
Number of cases: 662,402
Number of deaths: 30,826

That's more than doubled from four days ago. The US now leads the world in total number of cases at 123,271, although Italy has the most deaths at 10,023.

How are you holding up? Do the stats depress you? Should I keep them to myself? You know I'm really keeping this journal for the future, right?

Do you take walks and look for beauty where you can find it?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Pandemic Diary: March Edition

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The world has changed dramatically since my last post. That was only one month ago, people!

Figures. I finally get a book deal.... and the world falls apart. This, boys and girls, is an excellent example of irony.

But this isn't about me! We're all self-isolating and fighting to stay alive in the worst pandemic since the 1918 Spanish Flu. It's bizarre, and surreal. And it's frightening how fast it multiplied around the world and in the U.S. My husband and I are hunkered down at home, far away from our own sons (sniff! sob!)  and other family members.

They say you should keep a pandemic diary for future alien archaeologists, yourself and your family. So I'm starting one now, looking back at early March with the perspective of a few weeks. After this, it will be real time.

Pandemic Diary, March Edition

March 4, 2020

We already knew the virus was coming, so we stocked up on canned beans at the market (I still have my receipt!). The TP aisle was already nearly cleaned out, so we bought one 9-pack of the only brand left, Charmin', the most expensive one, naturally!

Photo by Alison Agate Dixon on Facebook March 20, 2020

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

That was the last time I went out of the house and did something normal (besides picking up groceries). Actually had a mammogram. The waiting room was a lot emptier than usual, and I had no trouble staying six feet away from the other patients. Also took full advantage of the three hand sanitizer stations, after signing in with their pen, for instance.

Afterward, my husband (who has been my driver since my second aneurysm rupture) and I went to lunch at a sandwich restaurant. We already knew by then not to go somewhere with a lot of people, like Panera. So we picked a sandwich shop that we remembered is never crowded.

Little did we know that would be the last time we'd eat out in a restaurant, where you sit down and they actually bring the food to you. Remember that?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The last time we went out in public! That was for groceries and medications. There were still some meats and canned goods, but the frozen meals were already low, and the liquid hand soap aisle and TP aisle were completely empty. Why does everyone hoard stuff like that? We need bidets in this country!

Photo by Alison Agate Dixon on Facebook March 20, 2020

Later that day, the World Health Organization declared this a pandemic. Here's a quote: "As of Wednesday (March 11), 114 countries have reported that 118,000 have contracted Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus... Nearly 4,300 people have died."

As of Tuesday, March 24 (13 days later), 196 countries reported 395,583 cases, with 17,234 deaths. That's quadrupled in less than two weeks!

And so it continues...

From the Portland Press Herald March 12, 2020

Speaker Pelosi bumping elbows with Senate Majority Leader McConnell on March 12th. How nostalgic now. Remember when people thought elbow bumping was the way to greet each other? Before we learned we have to stay at least six feet apart to stop the spread of the virus? 

Friday March 20

For the first time, we ordered groceries from Giant Direct. I put in the order on Wednesday, but the first available time slot to pick up in their parking lot was Friday afternoon. It went smoothly, but we only got about 2/3 of what I had ordered. Guess that's going to be the norm from now on. 

(Thanks to my friend Alison Agate Dixon for the photos from her own Giant! Can't believe I forgot to take photos myself.)

Week of March 22, i.e. this week

My husband and I spend a lot of time reading (I'm currently immersed in THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers, that won the Pulitzer in 2019), cleaning, finding creative ways to make another meal out of bits of leftovers, taking walks for exercise, and watching movies. Funny movie suggestions are always welcome.

How do you spend your time while self-isolating? Have you done anything you'd never done before (like clean out that closet you've been neglecting)?

Stay safe, everyone! And remember to check on your neighbors by phone. Let's all hope this experience leads to more kindness, instead of more selfishness. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

So... this happened!

In today's Children's Bookshelf from Publisher's Weekly:

39780-1.JPGSally Morgridge at Holiday House has bought world rights to Everywhere Blue by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz. The debut novel in verse is about a 12-year-old girl with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder who loves music, math, and everything in its place. When her older brother disappears from his college campus, her family starts slipping away from her. Publication is set for summer 2021; Barbara Krasner of Olswanger Literary brokered the deal. 

Yes! This is really happening! My writing journey continues. I was thrilled to sign a contract with Holiday House. 

Sally Morgridge is a fantastic editor, who is helping me make this into the best novel in verse I can write.

Was planning to do more revising tonight. But I think I'll take a moment or two to celebrate. It is, after all, Mardi Gras!

Monday, February 24, 2020

NOW OR NEVER! by Ray Anthony Shepard for Black History Month

I didn't want to let Black History Month go by without mentioning this hard-hitting, beautifully-written book by Ray Anthony Shepard (whom I was lucky enough to meet at the Highlights Foundation Novel in Verse workshop in 2016).
From the distributor, Penguin Random House

NOW OR NEVER! 54th Massachusetts Infantry's War to End Slavery by Ray Anthony Shepard (October 2017, Calkins Creek, 144 pages, for ages 10 and up)
Synopsis (from the publisher):  Here is the riveting dual biography of two little-known but extraordinary men in Civil War history: George E. Stephens and James Henry Gooding. These Union soldiers not only served in the Massachusetts 54th Infantry, the well-known black regiment, but were also war correspondents who published eyewitness reports of the battlefields. Their dispatches told the truth of their lives at camp, their intense training, and the dangers and tragedies on the battlefield. Like the other thousands of black soldiers in the regiment, they not only fought against the Confederacy and the inhumanity of slavery, but also against injustice in their own army. The regiment’s protest against unfair pay resulted in America’s first major civil rights victory -- equal pay for African American soldiers.
Why I recommend itI learned so much from this slim volume about a little-known part of American history. Everyone should read this well-researched book, not just teens and pre-teens. Shepard doesn't hold back in telling the sometimes-gruesome, sometimes-infuriating history of the African-Americans who fought and often died for the Union.
Why did I wait until now to read a book from 2017? Ray is such a kind man, when he learned what I had been through in 2017/2018, and that I was awaiting brain surgery in 2019, he told me to hold off until I was fully recovered, saying it's a "hard and sometimes-disturbing Civil War story."  I'm glad I finally read it, though. It's definitely worth it.

Ray Anthony Shepard from his website

Bio (from Ray's website): Ray Anthony Shepard is a grandson of a slave, a former teacher, and retired editor-in-chief of a major education publishing company., He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Education and the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he received a Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. This is his first work of creative nonfiction.
"I write to provide young readers of any age a fuller (not revisionist) picture of American slavery, a corrective history of the struggle and anguish of courageous individuals in the two-and-a-half-century assault to limit full American citizenship to African Americans by ascribing inferior physical, moral, and intellectual attributes to a set of racial features."

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Monday, November 18, 2019

My agent journey

source: Giphy

As John Cleese of Monty Python used to say, "And now for something completely different..."

I have an agent.

Bear with me while I repeat that. I have an agent! How did this happen after all these years of writing?

Starting with my second novel, written in 2010/2011, I've queried a few agents at a time. Perhaps 25 total for that second novel, and around 35 for my third novel, written in 2012/2013. Despite a few encouraging rejections, the reaction was mostly silence. I know, I know, you're supposed to query at least one hundred agents, but I felt in my heart if 25 or 30 rejected me, there had to be a reason!

So I stopped even trying to query agents with my fourth (admittedly wretched) novel.

My fifth novel (i.e. my current one), a middle grade novel in verse, felt different to me when I first starting writing it in late 2015. And not only because it's a novel in verse, a form I feel I'm meant to write. The story fell into place in a way that hadn't happened to me before. For the first time, I didn't get stuck in the middle. I'm a pantser, but the plot spontaneously appeared as I was writing. (Note: I don't recommend writing this way. I'd much prefer to be a plotter!)

In 2016, I attended a Highlights Foundation Workshop on Novels in Verse. With the inspiring leadership of authors Kathryn Erskine and Alma Fullerton, I managed to write a new draft that seemed to work.

A second Highlights workshop, in 2017, with the same mentors, but mostly different attendees, helped me bring my novel in verse up to a higher level with, by then, the fourth or fifth draft. Only three of us, Barbara Krasner, Leah Rosti, and I, attended both workshops. Filled with inspiration again, I continued to revise.

Then, that September, I got sick.

Most of you know my survivor story by now. If not, suffice it to say I lost more than a year of my life due to a ruptured brain aneurysm (my second!) and a Grade 4 bleed.

Writing, and even reading, went by the wayside.

After recuperating, I went back to my novel in verse and revised it yet again. I had feedback from some writer friends and even some friends who are not writers! Then I learned that Barbara Krasner, my fellow workshop attendee and the author of several published books, had become a literary agent with Olswanger Literary. Leah Rosti had signed with her, so I decided to submit my novel in verse to Barbara, not really expecting much of a reaction.

She loved it!

But she gave me eight suggestions for revising it (again), most of which were small changes. When I completed this newest revision, I sent it to her...

and kept my fingers crossed. A few weeks later, she offered representation!

Yes, I'm still pinching myself.

Monday, October 28, 2019


According to randomizer,

the winner of the hardcover copy of Nicole Valentine's debut novel, A TIME TRAVELER'S THEORY OF RELATIVITY is...

Congratulations, Faith! Expect an email from me asking for your mailing address. Readers, if you haven't checked out Faith's gorgeous blog, please do so.

For the rest of you, I hope you'll support my friend Nicole and buy your own copy of this exciting sci fi adventure novel. Debut authors need our support and love.

Here's a stellar review from ALA Booklist:

Valentine’s debut is an emotionally compelling and heartfelt tale of love and family that is reminiscent of Tuck Everlasting and A Wrinkle in Time.”