Blog Break

Hi everyone!

As I mentioned last week, my world has been preoccupied with Odyssey of the Mind. Competition Day is a week and a half away. All I can say about that is, “Aggghhh!!!” So with that, I am taking a break from blogging this week. I hope you understand. My team needs me. 🙂 Please stop back next Wednesday. Maybe I will have something useful to say by then!

As for you…keep reading and keep writing. Or, just go have fun doing something else you love. Everyone needs a break sometime!



Creativity, Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind

This week, instead of focusing on my writing, my mind has been preoccupied with something else. As some of you may have read in the Author tab on this site, in some of my free time, I coach an Odyssey of the Mind team. Odyssey of the Mind is an international, educational program that provides problem solving opportunities for kids from kindergarten through college. Kids work in teams solving problems that range from building a vehicle, or a machine, to creating a structure that holds weight, to performing a new version of a literary classic or performing an original, humorous play. Thousands of teams from across the United States and about 25 other countries work on their projects and then showcase their solutions in regional, state and worldwide competitions!

In all categories, kids must work together to solve the problem as creatively as they can, within a fixed budget and with absolutely no outside help from parents, teachers or other kids. The team learns to rely on each other because they really are all they have!  Coaches (like me) can only offer support and ask questions of the kids that will encourage creative thinking.

I’ve coached for seven years now, first working with my daughter, Danielle’s team and now with my son, Adam’s team. The majority of Adam’s team has been together for five years. This year’s team is a group of five kids- four eighth graders (Adam, Julia, Jake, and Kara) and one sixth grader (Ryan) – each very different, but all very creative in their own way! This year, they’ve chosen a really cool problem. Teams are to create and present an original performance about a community that feels threatened by something in a location it has never visited. The community townspeople will use a creative method to select one or more travelers to visit and explore the location. While at the location, a traveler will use a means of communication to send a message home to convince the community that there is nothing to fear. The performance will also include a narrator character, two rhymes about the travels, and a moving set piece.

The team must create all their own costumes, props, sets and write their own script, without any input from me or anyone else! As you can probably guess, solving the problem takes months of work. Sometimes it’s fun. Many times it’s frustrating. Always it’s amazing for these kids to see the ideas they’ve had swirling around for days and weeks, finally turn into a massive spark! That ah-ha moment when it all comes together into a solution they’re excited about is incredible…for them and for me!

This week in Upstate, NY it’s crunch time for many Odyssey of the Mind teams. Regional competitions are happening all over the area right now. Our region in particular competes a few weeks from now. That means that my team is busy putting finishing touches on their project, rehearsing their performance and practicing spontaneous problems they’ll solve on the day of the competition. It has been exciting to watch the kids interact, brainstorm ideas, overcome personality differences, fix problems with their set that have literally crashed to the ground, and finally solve their problem in an extremely creative way!

So that’s where my mind has been lately. It’s crunch time for my team and I am definitely feeling it! I’m sure any writer or artist or athlete or breathing person can relate to the nerves and excitement an upcoming deadline or book release or competition can bring!  

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my inspiring team. They motivate me every time they get together.  As a creative person, I live to see any tiny, vague idea, grow into an actual thing that you can see and hear and touch. Maybe I’ll even post pictures when all is said and done! Until then, I’m off to make some snacks because the crew will be over any minute and creative minds need nourishment…or that’s what they tell me anyway. All the time!

Short Story Showcase

Olympic Writing!

In honor of the Winter Olympics happening right now in Sochi, Russia, I’m adding a new event to the blog… Short Story Showcase! The Olympic committee added Slopestyle this year and it’s turned out to be an amazing snowboarding event. So, I decided to try something new too!

Short Story Showcase will be a place where kids can post their entire story from start to finish- up to 800 words. I chose that number because many children’s magazines like Highlights for Children use this word count for the short stories they publish. It’s plenty of words to create a great story!

The first event will happen on April  30th.  I will post up to 5 stories at each event. If I get more than that I’ll save them for the next Short Story Showcase. You can submit your short story at any time for this showcase beginning March 1st.  Send your complete story with Short Story Showcase written in the subject line to swirlandspark@gmail.com.  Be sure to include the title and your name (no last names please) to your story. Full details can be found on the Short Story Showcase tab, which will be posted to the blog soon. So keep checking back!

I’m really excited for this event- excited to read your stories and excited for you to have a place to showcase them! April is just around the corner so I hope you’ll take the next few weeks to work on yours. If you have any friends who’ve written a great story or might like to write one, please tell them about this awesome event. It a great chance for any up and coming author to show the world their work! Your story can be about anything you like…dragons, elephants, princesses, ski racing, figure skating, whatever!  It can be a fantasy story, a realistic story or a mystery. Whatever interests you will probably interest the rest of us.

Why not give it a shot?  Write a story. Because, like Wayne Gretzky- one of the greatest ice hockey players of all time said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  And he’s right. 🙂

So on that note, I’m off to watch the Olympics. I can’t think of a better place to find inspiration for any goal.  Speed skating, downhill skiing, or writing! Let the games begin!

Book Nook

YA Books Anyone?

It seems like our whole country is having a colder winter than usual this year. With so much more snow! Places that don’t usually get snow have been transformed into winter wonderlands, and even the Southern most cities have felt these bitter cold temperatures. I’ve heard the people in Florida are even wearing hats and gloves!

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I’m not a fan of snow. Not when I have to drive in it, or shovel it, or dress up like an Eskimo to run even the simplest errands. Besides, this season lasts just too long. But, I am trying to look at the positives to this endless winter. And I have one really good one…

Books!  There’s nothing like curling up under a blanket on a cold, blustery day and reading a good book. Especially one you can’t put down. Add a fireplace and a cup of hot chocolate and I’m smiling inside so much that I almost forget about the blizzard outside. Almost.

So, in the spirit of that, I’ve decided to add on to the Book Nook. As it is now, the books I’ve posted are strictly Middle Grade, which means they’re written for kids mostly between the ages of 8 and 12, with some upper middle grade geared toward 14 year- olds as well. It’s my favorite age group to write for and some of my favorite books to read too.

I’ve noticed though that this blog is grabbing the attention of older kids too, ones who are beyond Middle Grade books. So, I’ve decided to add a Young Adult (YA) section. Besides, some of my all- time favorite books happen to be in that category. I mean who doesn’t love The Hunger Games series or the Divergent Trilogy?

Over the next week, I will be adding some YA books and then gradually adding more just as I have done with the Middle Grade section. I’ll keep adding Middle Grade too, don’t worry. That’s my first love so I wouldn’t dare stop now! 🙂

I’ll be the first to admit though, that I’ve read much more Middle Grade than YA. If there’s a YA book that you love, please leave a comment for me, and tell me about it. I’ll put it on my TBR (To Be Read) list and possibly post it on the site. I only post about books that I’ve actually read so it may take me some time. I’m open to adding more MG books to my list too so please send those as well! This blog is for anyone who loves books so feel free to share any and all comments about the great ones you’ve read.

So keep checking back this week and in the weeks ahead to see some of my favorites posted in the Book Nook. Then go grab a blanket. You’ll definitely need one in this weather!

Oh, but before you do, thanks to all of you who posted stories last week and left comments for the January Stories. It’s great to see writers supporting each other! Hopefully the comments were helpful and encouraging. We’ll do another critique round in the Spring (whenever that is!) but until then, keep writing and keep reading. Before you know it, the birds will be chirping, the daffodils will be blooming, and the sun will actually be shining. Imagine that!