ParentWise:Austin Essay out today!


Check out my essay in this month’s Parentwise:Austin magazine! The essays are lovely, so take some time and read them all.

Good Friends

I’m having a friend over today. I would like to say I entertain often because I’m social, and I enjoy my friends’ company, but the truth is I would just as soon meet them for a cup of coffee at Thyme and Dough.

The truth? I invite people over when my house is getting so messy I can’t find things, and the dog hair is piled up in clumps like snowdrifts.

Of course, cleaning takes away from my writing time (grrrr), but when I can’t see the monitor for the dust, it’s probably a good call. Ack! What’s this? Crumbs in my keyboard, rotten little kids…. oh, wait. I think I did that, too.

I think there’s an essay in here somewhere, about generational sloppiness. Given that I once invited my brother over to my house to help boil my dishes clean, I think I have adequate “platform” for this!

I have been very sad today. I found out that a close friend of mine — we met when we were 11, and stayed friends through graduate school! — died in late February. I didn’t know until last night. Her name was Melanie Wilkinson, and she had a voice like cream, a laugh louder than thunder, and was one of the kindest souls we had here. She never made fun of anyone, and she had this way of seeing the good in everything that made you want to try that, too. I sang with her through high school, but I missed her Master’s recital at Texas State University. I was out of town. My brother went, and said it was exquisite. I am sure it was.

I wish I could hear Melanie sing again, and then make her laugh just for the fun of seeing her happy.One of her co-workers said it was like a light went out when she was gone. I wish they could know that she was always like that, from the time she was a little girl. She was always a light to everyone around her.

Let Your Light Shine, Melanie!

Stuttering to Myself

What a marvelous, strange day! I had the great opportunity to hear Jeannette Walls, the author of
The Glass Castle (now moved to number one on my nightstand list, right after I finish Elizabeth Bunce’s A Curse Dark As Gold) speak at a Caritas fundraiser in Austin. My husband Dave was the official photographer, and I volunteered as well. They put me in with the group in charge of selling the artwork done by a support group of formerly homeless women. Of course, I don’t think they knew I did this professionally for years (selling art glass across Texas and Louisiana when I was young and sales rep material)! I have to say, we sold a lot. One piece to me! It’s painted on a skinny cabinet door, very cool. Found art.
Now to the stuttering. For the first time in… ever… I had an idea come together for a story that made me stop, break into a cold sweat, and think “Can I do this?”
I mean, really. I was freaking out, wondering if I could make this fabulous idea rest on the page, retaining its inital impulse and shape.
I have the first draft done. I don’t know if I captured it all, but I tried.
And, for the first time in… ever… it’s not humorous. It’s a picture book where all the main characters are shadows, at night, when they are free to relax and play. It combines my love for Latin dancing with my love for grandmothers. Gosh. I hope I can refine it, and find a home for it someday.

Ups and Downs

First off, let’s get this straight: I love writing. I am happier now than I have ever been in my life (well, maybe except for that first year or two of teaching music at Memorial Primary in New Braunfels. I remember lying in bed thinking, ‘Can I get up now?’ because I couldn’t wait to get to work. Wait, I do that some days now, too!) even though, so far, I have lost money as a writer this year! Every little check that comes in is more than offset by the conference fees, supplies, etc. Bah! Who cares. As long as my sweet husband continues to bankroll me, it’s all good.
But some days are harder than others! Take today, for instance. I worked all afternoon on a piece I thought was awesome, and my best friend came home from work and was like … “Meh.”
You know when you can’t get your head cheerleader to shake his pom-poms, you might need to work on a different project.
So, if anyone is interested in reading a slightly dark, boy-version of Pinkalicious — where boys eat their toys and suffer slightly horrible fates — email me. Especially if you pretend it’s fabulous, Newbery-quality literature.
So, how do I get out of the dumps? I read that gorgeous letter John Graves wrote me when I won the John Graves Writing Competition in 1998 (ahem, yes once upon a time, I gained glory and even made money writing, real money that I spent on… I can’t remember.) complimenting my “perceptive eye” and all sorts of other things.
Yep, it’s taped up there, right next to my favorite poem in the world, which ends with these lines
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
I hope you are doing something that gets you up in the morning, full of spark and ready to change your corner of the world!

The Kindness of Strangers

So… what a strange weekend so far! I wonder what will happen at church on Sunday. (I’m giving the children’s sermon, and you know that means all bets are off. It could devolve into utter chaos!)
I had the strangest thing happen — strange-nice, not strange-creepy — yesterday. A very lovely and talented writer (whose name I won’t mention until she gives me permission!) emailed me. She had found my blog, noticed my whining for an agent, and very sweetly offered to read my manuscript and send it to her agent, if she liked it. I know there are no guarantees that she or her agent will like it, but the thought of such kindness and generosity with her time, her skill, and her professional contacts… Wow!
This is random, too — as I was reading her writing samples on her website, I noticed that she was writing a MG book for girls, and that every time one of the girls said “OMG” she presented it as “OMGosh”. Now, the reason I mention this is because I have been thinking about the expression “OMG” for a week or two, and how much I hate it that everyone uses this expression so casually. I mean, it is the Lord’s name right? Even though I’m an ex-youth director (whose youth had to pay a quarter every time they cussed or took His name in vain), I still get this weird little tic in my eye when I see this written.
So there’s this lovely writer out there, who somehow noticed me, and she happens to care about the “OMG” issue.
How cool is that?
Now I’m off to revise a PB or two. More later this week — I’m expecting a lot of news on my submissions in the next two weeks or so.

My Daily Walk to the Idea Factory

I have so many ideas I can’t get them all into document format fast enough.
For some reason, the picture books (PBs) have taken over my brain. I finished a church-themed one — don’t judge until you see it! — this week. It’s funny, like all the rest. It’s titled “God Is Watching You!”
So, I was doing research into where to submit this thing. Real research, checking the websites of every single Christian pub out there. I know them all, since I worked with their books for the last decade, right? Every single one is shut tight to un-agented subs. And I looked at practically every recent Christian PB in print — not one with the angle that this book has. Not one! Do you know how rare that is? Thus the “argh!”
I SO need an agent. If I didn’t have to do all this online hacking around, I could have written my Newbery-winner yesterday. (I don’t have to write “Just Kidding” for you, do I?)
So, today I’ll write another PB that sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus, I mean Nikki, last night. This one is for Drew, a story about a little boy who pesters his Mom for so many stories that she runs out, and starts saying “Duhhh…” Then he has to fill her back up with stories of his own until she’s back to normal.
Pretty much like my life.
I did write some more on “Comportment Camp” yesterday, for those nieces/nephews/sons out there who have been pestering me. It’s coming, don’t worry.
Oh, if you’re wondering about the title of this post? I get most of my ideas on my walks around the neighborhood. If you’re not careful, I’ll post my poem about the Muse here. It came to me on a walk that turned into a run to get home in time to remember it all.
But then I would be one of those bloggers who posts her poetry on the web. Oh, the horror!
Off to write….

Motherhood Finally Paying Off

Hey, you know how some people say you have to wait until the kids are grown, have good jobs, and can afford to take their elderly mothers on fabulous safari vacations to see any pay-back from this whole mothering gig?
I gotta say, those folks were wrong. (Sorry, Mom.)
All ya gotta do is write about the little darlings.
That’s right, I just placed another essay in Parentwise:Austin, out next month. This one is about Cameron, my own Mom, and the dark days of colic.
You know that expression “Someday you’ll look back on this and laugh”?
I think I might have punched someone who said that to me when Cameron was an infant. I’m sorry. You were right, whoever it was.
Believe it or not, I wrote a funny essay about the Devil Baby, and I’m going to take my Mom out for a whole lotta margaritas when the check comes in!
Now, isn’t that a nice Mother’s Day gift? I thought so!
For those of you who have been keeping up with my book submissions:
I have Soccer out there, swimming against the tide of rejection (actually, I’m getting huge positive response so far, but I’m not gonna blog about it and tip my hand yet!), and the next-to-last PB I wrote, The Best Grandmother Ever Contest, is getting some positive attention, too. If you are near and dear, and haven’t yet been subjected to — I mean, haven’t been a beta reader for any of the above, let me know! I also have another FUNNY PB, S.O.S. from S.U.E.. ready to go. I’ll start sending it out this week…
I’ll post the Parent:wise link as soon as it hits the stands!

Written on the Heart – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Happy Easter! (And Happy Birthday to me as well!)

Here is an interesting Easter surprise: an essay I submitted last fall to a magazine for Christian leaders was published last month. Interested? Follow the link and check it out.

Slightly awkward that it’s been out for a month and I didn’t know it…. better get that spreadsheet for my submissions set up tonight.

Written on the Heart – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Latest in Nikki News

Hi again! Last weekend, I participated in a workshop. No, not for writing… for Zumba.
I am now a fully trained, certified Zumba instructor. Don’t laugh. I could be teaching your next gym class, and if you giggle at me in spandex, I will make you suffer.
All the physical activity seems to have done my writing a world of good, too. I finished another essay. (The family reacts in horror: who is she writing about this time? Will she tell lies about us all, and call it “creative nonfiction” or, worse, will she tell the truth? Wait and see…)
I also finished a picture book, titled The Best Grandmother Ever Competition. I have a “golden ticket” from the Houston SCBWI conference in February to send it to a publisher for consideration. Wish me luck!
On the “Soccer” front: it’s out to one editor, two agents, and a manuscript competition… and I have around 12,000 words written on the next book in the series!
More later….
Love to you all!

A Few Important Nikki Facts…

Hi, folks!
I assume at this point in my blogging life that almost all of my readers are family members or close friends, but on the off chance that someone out there in the wider world is curious about me, here are a few interesting facts!
1. I love to rollerblade, scuba dive, ride bikes with my kids, and run.
2. I ran three half-marathons in the past 18 months!
3. I took private Latin dance lessons from a Colombian national champion for three years. Ask me to shake my hips. Come on, I dare you.
4. I have been a popcorn girl, a hostess in a steakhouse, a primary-school music and Gifted Ed. teacher, a used book store clerk, a boutique manager, a grader for the UT Math Department, a jewelry designer/sales rep/marketer, a Director of Family Ministries for a large and a small Presbyterian Church, and a freelance writer.
5. Some of my favorite authors are David Sedaris, Christopher Moore (you must read Lamb!), Charlaine Harris, and Roald Dahl.
6. I have two bookshelves: one out in the hall, filled with fine, publicly acceptable literary works, and another one hidden in an understairs closet, jammed full of genre fiction. I would rather have strangers go through my underwear drawer than through that secret book closet.
7. I wrote for JewelryCrafts and Nomad magazines years ago, B.C. (before children).

And one more thing, for any of you who are wondering how I’m doing — I’m fabulous! I can’t wait to get out of bed each day to write. Taking this year off work was an excellent decision; I have finished two manuscripts and I’m hard at work (OK, it’s not that hard, but I’m writing a lot) on a third. In my current novel, I’m torturing Raymond Mahaney with Cotillion lessons…. can you imagine putting that snarky little guy in an etiquette class for summer camp? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Must go torment my main character now. Love to you all, N