Solstice Stanzas

This week at my writing group our prompt asked us to consider the oppositional nature of the Solstice. The dark and the light. The good and the bad. I thought about the season of winter and how, for most of it, us Midwesterners complain about the snow and ice and cold and dark and blah, blah, blah. Most see winter as a hinderance. I pondered this and then thought, what if we viewed it differently? What if we viewed the cold and darkness that kept us indoors as a blessing that slowed us down, focused us in, and helped us relax? 

Below is the poem that I crafted after the ten minute free write. I hope you both enjoy it, and use it to reconsider this season in perhaps a kinder light.

Welcome Guest Author, Linda Matchett!

Hello fellow word-nerds! I am excited to introduce you to my writing friend Linda Matchett.

Linda describes herself as an author who writes about “ordinary women who do extraordinary things.” Sounds like my kind of writer! In addition to writing this novel Linda is an avid blogger on the site Stitches Thru Time, works at a high school boarding school, is a docent at a WWII museum and leads a bible study! Sounds like she is doing some pretty extraordinary things herself!

I hope you are able to pick up some amazing writing tips, or find your next read as we discuss Linda’s second book: Love Found in Sherwood Forest.

Award-winning Broadway actress Leighanne Webster has it all until an on-stage panic attack brings her career crashing to the ground. Then her sister throws her a lifeline: Come home and help produce the annual Robin Hood Festival play. Returning to England could be the salve Leighanne needs to heal her bruised feelings, except for the fact that ex-fiance, Jamison Blake, is the play’s director. But she’s a professional, able to do the job without letting old relationships get in the way. Then why does she find it so hard to focus on her work?

Five years ago, Jamison Blake broke off his engagement to Leighanne, so she could travel to New York and become the brilliant, sought-after actress she deserved to be. But he didn’t count on his heart’s refusal to stop loving her, and life has been empty since she left. Her return to Nottingham is temporary, and she is still angry about their breakup, avoiding him at all cost during rehearsals. Can he convince her to give their relationship another try despite careers that span an ocean, or will he have to let her go again? This time for good?

Can two people entangled in their own hurts and misconceptions, find their way clear to discover God’s plan for their lives-plans that may include a future together?


AZ: How did the idea for this novel develop? What was your inspiration?

LM: The idea for this story came from a writing prompt. A major publisher put out a call for submissions. And listed prompts based on the type of stories they were looking for. The prompts were a list of three items (such as an arrow, a hidden space, and a book) and also a location. I love history, but the submission request was for contemporary stories, so I had to come up with a way to incorporate history. When I saw  the lists that included Nottingham, I immediately thought of the Robin Hood legend and then came up with the idea to wrap the story around a Robin Hood play.

AZ: Writing prompts are the best! Anyone out there on the lookout for some great writing prompts? Click here for a free prompt gift from yours truly. :)

AZ: Do you have any connections to theater productions or Robin Hood? Were you able to use any of your real life experiences while you wrote the on stage scenes?

LM: Over the years I have attended a lot of stage productions, but last year I performed in our school's production of Fidder on the Roof. I even had three lines! LOL. That experience helped quite a bit in writing the scenes.

AZ: Taking a research vacation is high on my writing bucket list. Did you travel to England to write gather info for this book? What was your research process for this book and do you enjoy this part of the writing?

LM: I was blessed to be able to go to England in March 2015. Until then I did research from my desk. The internet helped a lot, but I also have friends and acquaintances from England and often talked to them. The interviews were a huge help and I highly recommend interviews for any writer while in their research phase. For this particular story I had to research the Robin Hood legend and all the people associated with it. There are myriad opinions on who Maid Marian actually was, and I also stumbled on the Major Oak, a massive oak tree in Sherwood Forest thought to be 1,000 years old that was the shelter for Robin and his men. I love research and had a wonderful time during this project. And I would got back to England tomorrow if I had the chance. It was a fascinating trip, and I only scratched the surface of an amazing country.

AZ: What are you working on next?

LM: I am currently working on a novella for Celebrate Lit Publishing that will be part of a collection. The story is about a young woman on the eve of her wedding who finds out the fiance she thinks died during the war is alive. The manuscript is due to the publisher in early January, and the book will be published sometime in the Spring.

AZ: How does your faith impact your writing?

LM: My faith is an integral part of my writing. I hope to encourage and edify readers through my stories without banging them over the head or being preachy. The themes in my books are usually issues I'm dealing with personally. It helps me to work them out through writing the story.

AZ: Do you have any productivity tips for other writers?

LM: I try to pick a regular place to write. I have found myself to be more productive because it's almost like "muscle memory." When I sit down at my desk, my brain knows I'm in my writing space and it's time to work. Also you have to make time to write (vs. finding time). Schedule writing time in your calendar and stick to the appointment. Also, find a critique group. I am a much better writer thanks to the critique group I'm part of. It's an online group, and I've never personally met any of the women, but we are very close nonetheless. We came together through the ACFW main critique loop.

AZ: Thank you so much for sharing your time and words with us Linda!

LM: Thanks for hosting me!

If you would like to find out more about Linda you can visit her website. To order your own copy of her eBook: Love Found in Sherwood Forest, click here:  You can read the first chapter for free here

 

A Blog Post in Which I Share Several Lists and Give Shout Outs

If you spend any amount of time with me, you will quickly discover 5 things.

1.       I am more than slightly addicted to Diet Pepsi.

2.       In the list of my life priorities, words are #2 on the list (behind my family).

3.       I like lists.

4.       My writing heroes include Maggie Stiefvater, Taylor Swift and Eminem. (An eclectic list, I know.)

5.       If you happen to look at my hands… while I type, while I talk and use them to gesticulate, while I sign your book… you will notice my nails are always nicely manicured. It’s vice #3, right after Diet Pepsi and Cherry PopTarts.  (Did I mention I like lists?)

 For this blog post I am going to combine #2, 3 and 4 to create the ultimate piece of WRITING WISDOM. Also, I may or may not be drinking a Diet Pepsi while I write this. Who am I kidding? I am most definitely drinking a DP as I write this.

In an interview I once watched on a morning talk show, Taylor Swift said, “You need to find the people in this world who are the same kind of weird as you.” This is a paraphrase because it happened during a rare moment in my life when I didn’t have a pen and notebook next to me. Weird, I know. But the general truth still shines through. If you love pickles. Hang out with other pickle loving people. Go to pickle serving restaurants, attempt picklicious recipes, buy t-shirts featuring pickles, shout out your love of pickles! And while your obsession might be totally random and misunderstood, being with people who also love pickles will make you so darn happy, you will not care. There is nothing that can replace the peace, joy, productivity, inspiration or energy of spending time with people who love the same thing as you. How does this in any way, shape or form connect to writing advice? Keep reading.

If you look at Taylor’s advice again and substitute the word NERD for WEIRD, you will come up with my best piece of writing advice ever. FIND PEOPLE WHO ARE THE SAME KIND OF NERD AS YOU. What does that mean for writers? Find other word nerds, and spend time with them regularly. I have found a variety of ways to put this advice to practical use. (Ready for a list? C’mon, you knew it was coming!)

1.       Attend Conferences and Writing Events

Last spring my writing partner and I jumped in the car to spend a weekend in Madison, WI at the Writer’s Institute. Three days full of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, manuscript critiques and agent pitches, social hours, public readings, new writer friends (Hi John!) and more… it was worth every penny. I also attended NerdCon in the Twin Cities last year and the opportunity to geek-out with 3,000 other word nerds was an experience I will never forget.

2.       Find a critique partner and meet with them regularly.

Whether online or in person, set regularly scheduled times to share and trade your work with another word-nerd. This will force you to have quality things written on a consistent basis, and also allow you to get feedback in a safe environment. Set a schedule and stick to it to get the most out of this experience. (Shout out to my critique partner Marci! Everyone click here to read Marci’s book Lily Laughs.)

3.       Take Writing Retreats

When you are free from the daily constraints of schedules, children to raise, a full-time job, TV, the laundry, etc. you are able to fully immerse yourself in your passion for writing. This summer I attended my first (and hopefully not my last) Highlights Foundation Workshop. While in rural Pennsylvania I learned about a specific niche market of writing from seasoned veterans. I also made amazing nation-wide writing friends that continue to support one another from home via the magic of the internet. A writing retreat on my bucket list can be seen by clicking here

4.       Join writing organizations

I recently moved to a new town and joined Women Writers Ink. Through this organization I was able to meet new friends, hang out with a writing group that meets every other week and also participate in the organization’s public reading and selling events. If your city doesn’t have a face to face organization, join an online group. I am part of a few very productive Facebook writing groups and with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) officially starting on Tuesday, the internet will be full of writers looking to make new connections. SCWBI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is another great community to consider joining. 

To my writing friends, near and far, present, past and future, thank you for the countless gifts you have given me. Time, critiques, listening ears, words of encouragement, Facebook likes and shares, evenings of reflection, weekends of rejuvenation, weeks of learning, advice, recommendations, reviews and more. You are the champions of craft, the master marketers, the forever friends that make what could be a lonely and solitary place dominated by a blinking cursor a fulfilling world of words and friends.

So, if you are reading this and thinking, “Man, I really need to go round up some nerds!” I resolutely concur. Open your door, internet browser, community center brochure, local college course booklet… open your mind and go find your nerds, whatever kind they might be. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

What kind of NERD are you? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below! Happy reading! Happy writing!

<3, Amanda

Writing in the Good Old Summer Time

The longer I am a teacher, the weirder it feels to not work in the summer. Granted with boat loads of freedom, an endless array of weather-warm options and minimal responsibility just seems… too good to be true. It was this gift of limbo-time that allowed me to complete the ungodly amount of things I accomplished this summer. Things like, visit seven states, ride six planes and drive for twenty-four hours in a twelve day period of time; things like celebrating the lives of two grandparents now gone to heaven; things like sell a house and move; things like plan and attend a class reunion; all without taking a single day off of work. 

While this summer was busier than most, I did manage to use this weird, child-like time off to accomplish some writing. (It may not feel like it if you use my blog as a measuring stick, but I assure you, I did write… some.) Below are the writing highlights of my summer. 

In June I attended a one week workshop at the Highlights Foundation. I spent five days in the Pennsylvania wilderness learning the ins and outs of the Educational Market. Unlike the traditional market or the self-publishing world, this writing niche is home to assessment text, classroom materials, purposeful fiction series and nonfiction book sets. I learned about the practical application of my writing skills and educational experience and made a dozen new writing friends a long the way. The quaint cabins and gourmet food were the icing on this piece of word-nerd cake. The week was capped off with a tour of the Highlights offices and Boyds Mills Press. I hope to return for another workshop in the future. If you are debating on attending, save your money and go. You won’t be disappointed. 

In July I traveled to Glenwood City, Wisconsin to teach an all day young writer’s workshop at the incredibly beautiful Everwood Farmstead. Generous hosts Chris and Bill have created an artist’s haven. Nine young writers and I spent the day creating and polishing, playing and critiquing. I was blown away and humbled by the abilities of the writers who attended and beyond impressed when they braved the stage and read their stories aloud for parents and friends at the end of the day. Definitely put visiting Everwood, whether for a workshop, concert, or culinary event, on your bucket list. 

 

Finally, I finished, truly finished, two manuscripts. 

The first one, has been a long time in the making. A reallllly long time. The manuscript for The Birthday Cache has been through seven drafts, a couple of agents and their thoughtful feedback, an editor, and critiques from a writing partner and writing mentor. I had begun to feel like the story wasn’t even mine anymore. BUT, then I thought about the writers whom I had listened to over this past year in conference presentations, author panels, blog posts and online articles. They went through how many drafts? How many rounds of revisions from their editor? How many interns helped work on their text? When I felt like I was relying too heavily on others to create high quality work, was I really just becoming more professional? Instead of putting out low grade literary work all on my lonesome, was I really just working hard (really hard) and using the resources available to shine and polish and mold my story into its best possible version? I am choosing to go with this second line of thought. I now have a really great middle grade story that I can’t wait to get out there. Stay tuned for this first geocaching book in the exciting series Adventures Await. 

The second manuscript was a MUCH faster ordeal. I started it in February and finished it last night. Six months, three beta-readers (thanks ladies!), two drafts, and thirty-five thousand words. Champion Chocolatier is being released next month by independent publisher Lovely Christian Romance. This book is part of a six book collection. Each author was asked to write a story that took place in a northern state during Christmas time and had hot chocolate play a major role in the story. I haven’t read the other novellas in the collection yet, but I can’t wait to see what everyone came up with. This book is my first non-self-published book and also my first book to be turned into an audiobook. Proud and excited do not even begin to describe how I feel about it. If you'd like to pre-order this book, please email me! amanda.zieba@yahoo.com  

So, tomorrow the summer ends. I start back too school with teacher meetings and orientations and technology trainings and a million other work-related tasks. So long to the summer hours and the lack of structured schedule. Sure part of me is sad, but there is another part that is ready for the school year and the order that it brings to our family’s chaotic life. See ya later summer, hello fall.

Have Books, Will Travel

So… we’re moving. At least, that is the desired end result.

Last night my job was to prepare the house for our first showing… on about 24 hours notice.

After work I raced through Wal-Mart to pick up some of the Glade plug-ins YouTube is always advertising on my writing music playlists, a few Rubbermades, new rugs and shower curtains to update my bathrooms and some Windex. I got my children from daycare and then quickly fed them a gourmet dinner of chicken nuggets and tater tots before depositing them at a friend’s house for a couple of hours so I could get some serious cleaning done. (Thank you Cathy!!)

The largest task was cleaning and organizing the items belonging to the youngest two Zieba’s.  I started in the living room and quickly realized that the both the books and toys would not fit in the shelving unit. I made an executive decision and started piling the books into the Rubbermade. As I did this, I realized a few things.

  1. We have a lot of books. They easily outnumber the DVDs in our house four to one. Maybe even five to one. I also realized that I am ridiculously proud of this ratio.  

  2. As I stacked up the books, I realized that each one is a memory. Moments in time are pressed safely between their covers, just waiting to be revisited again and again. I relived the first time I read my first child I’ll Love you Forever. I’d read it before, but never to MY child. I had never understood why everyone cried at the seemingly simple and predictable story, until I read it to MY son. It was then I cried like a baby while blubbering to him, “Kameron, it turns out your momma is a sap, just like everyone else.” I relived afternoons spent reading in our deck tents, enjoying both our stories and a cool spot on a hot summer day. I relived the moments the books were given… for birthdays, baptisms, and just becauses. Each book packed away was like time traveling to each time it was read. Book by book, year by year, a childhood encapsulated in cardboard covers.

  3. By the time I was done in the living room and both boys’ bedrooms I also realized the 30 gallon Rubbermade was too heavy to move on my own (even when I tried pushing it across the carpet). It was a job I would need my husband to help me tackle.

When I looked at that tote, so full I could barely snap on the lid, I looked at 6 years of reading memories and love. I looked at a thousand precious moments. I looked at the foundation we built of a life of loving to read.

After I was done, I couldn’t help but go downstairs (where, thankfully, it was already clean) and gaze at my own bookshelf full of memories. There was the young reader’s edition of Heidi that I read at a fifth grade birthday sleepover while the other girls fought for most of the night. There was the copy of Speak I read as a high schooler in my front lawn and marveled at the problems that existed in our complex world. I smiled when I saw Oliver, Amanda and Grandmother Pig and struggled to remember who exactly got me this first beloved chapter book. Mom and Dad? Auntie Jan? Grandma? There was the entire set of Harry Potter books, the set I loan to no one, right next to the copies I do allow to leave my presence. My eyes pass over my growing collection of author autographed books. I count the titles on the shelf that I own, but have yet to read. (36, for inquiring minds).

If things go according to plan, these memories will also have to be boxed up. The moment will be bittersweet. We have spent the last 9 years in this house, with these jobs and these friends. Even though it is somewhat sad and scary to move on, we are excited for all the future holds. Knowing that we are taking some of our history with us, will make our new space feel automatically like home.

So last night I realized something else. Have books, will travel… and luckily the memories will come with us too.

Writing is hard. Sometimes I read instead.

Writing is hard work.

And sometimes, after a full day of work and mothering… I just don’t have any parts of my brain working at full functioning levels to plot, dialogue or edit. Last Friday was one of those days. I had taught half a day, visited my son’s school for Muffins with Mom, done three Career Day Presentations at a local elementary school, ran a rummage sale for a few hours after school and managed to get the boys fed and in bed.

I sat down. It was 9:00. I couldn’t fathom doing a single thing more. Even my Friday cocktail sat in a melted pool of ice. If I couldn’t finish that, how on earth was I going to puzzle through the forty pages of edits and editions I needed to type into my novella-in-progress? I couldn’t.

What do writers do when they are too tired? This writer reads. It is my reward, my learning experience, my relaxation… all in one. So today, instead of productively detailing a technique or sharing some bit or writer wisdom, I am going to tell you about the best books I have read lately. If you find yourself burnt out at the end of your day and unable to be productive on your WIP, here are a few books for you to consider. (** Disclaimer, other than being great written works from which to learn or enjoy, the books below are not writing related what-so-ever.**)

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

When one woman sets out to live a year of her life as a woman of the bible would, hilarious, relatable and intriguing events occur. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book that my pastor ensured me was “funny”, but I can tell you I am taking a lot more than funny away from it. Rachel is the girl next door. Nothing fancy. Nothing perfect. A regular-Jane, attempting to live life as a good Christian woman would. It is her “every-day-ness” that makes her lessons easy to apply to your own life. And if you are not ready or willing to cover your head at all times, call your husband master or sleep in your front yard during your period, you can learn valuable life lessons vicariously through Rachel’s experiences. Through this book I have learned that not all customs (religious or cultural) that seem from a distance backwards or barbaric, truly are. I learned a lot about what it means be a Christian/Biblical woman, but mostly I learned about how to be a woman of high moral character, one that from any standpoint or walk of life I would admire. For the record, my pastor was right. This book is very funny. I would also label it thought provoking, enjoyable, and an easy read.

 

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the fourth and final book in The Raven Boys series, and because the literary universe loves me, it was released on my birthday. The sheer weightiness of my schedule prevented me from picking it up until yesterday… but now that I have, I will cease to do anything unnecessary until it is finished. Beautiful prose weaves a fantastical tale of a girl, her psychic “relatives” and four Prep-School boys on a quest to find an ancient king and collect their one wish reward.

“These days, they all had their hands thrust into the sky, hoping for comets.” – Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven King

If every book that was thrust into my hands, or onto my computer screen via an inbox advertisement or jammed on to my shelf was like this series, I’d never write or cook or sleep a full night, ever again. Do it. Stiefvater, she’s amazing. Just read them. All of them.

 

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Reading just a chapter a day aloud to my students was pure torture. This book begs to be devoured. (Judging by their audible groans at the end of every chapter, I think it is safe to say I am not alone in this sentiment.)

Sage is an orphan that has been pulled from a medieval orphanage and thrust into a dangerous game of political intrigue. Conner plans to mold Sage, or one of the other three orphans he has “selected”, into the supposedly dead Prince Jaron. He plans to claim the throne through his chosen boy, rule as a regent and live himself a pretty fine life. What happens to the three not chosen? Well, one is already dead.

Secrets and facts are woven into half-truths and bold faced lies. The reader is tugged (not always so gently) through each chapter with the promise of more truth around every corner. Who will be chosen? Who will be declared the winner at the end of the dangerous game? The best part of this book just maybe that reaching the end is truly only a beginning. Two more books follow in this incredible middle grade series.

 

Laugh-Along Lessons by Helen Lester

Reading at home this spring has happened less than I would have liked, but one book my sons (ages 6 and 3) have gone to again and again is Laugh-Along Lessons by Helen Lester. While it slightly resembles a school-basal text book, I assure you it is much more fun. Inside, 8 great stories featuring real-to-life problems and characters walk readers through sticky situations and their sometimes funny solutions. My sons and I adore the illustrations by Lynn Munsinger, an added bonus. My favorite is “Princess Penelope’s Parrot”, while Kameron loves “The Wizard, the Fairy and the Magic Chicken”, and Riley likes “Me First” best. There is really something for everyone. One short story turns into two more helping us easily fill up our reading calendars.  

 

A few Side notes

I read to my middle school students each day, 5 minutes aloud at the start of class. This year I have read some amazing titles: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper and A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen would top this list (along The False Prince mentioned above). I also had the pleasure of re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Maniac Magee, both truly a treasure.

Books on my TO-READ-List include: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen,  Baby Fat: Adventures in Motherhood, Muffin Tops and Trying to Stay Sane by Pauline M. Camposand The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. 

What about you? What have you recently loved? What is next on your list?

Happy reading!

~ Amanda