Eclipse Day!

Eclipse Day: Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesToday is Total Solar Eclipse Day in Salem, Oregon, and for the citizens of Salem and outlying towns, it is a BIG DEAL. Hotels and Motels have jacked up their rates, restaurants have created special “Eclipse” menus (One of which includes an Eclipse Burger, a hamburger “eclipsed” by a fried egg.)

People with acreage have divvied up their land and are renting space to campers for hundreds, yes, it’s true, hundreds of dollars per night, and some private schools are doing the same with their sports fields and dorm rooms.

As for me and my hubby? We are staying home. We bought a pair of “eclipse” glasses, then got two more for free with an eye exam (so we gave a pair to the grands). I’ll wake up with my alarm clock to make sure I do not sleep through this long-awaited phenomenon, and hubby and I will view it from the yard (or across the street if our trees appear to be obstructing the view).

If you are anywhere you can see it, enjoy this astronomical phenomenon. Savor the moment. Human beings for thousands of year have viewed eclipses a portents of things to come. What might this eclipse bring for you?

And writers, be inspired. The awe and wonder the Hale Bopp comet lit in me ended up adding a whole, additional dimension to the plot of my middle grade novel, Set in Stone.

Your Turn

If you believed in signs and portents, what do you think this eclipse could be signalling for you personally, for our society, or for the world?

Writers, how can you leverage your experience of the eclipse into your work in progress?

I’m Back

I sat out in the front yard in my comfy camping/recliner chair, with a cool glass of juice, my sun hat, my solar eclipse glasses, and a notebook for making observations. The full event took about two hours. The full eclipse lasted minutes. It was awesome. Not only did it get dark, like dusk, but it got cooler as well. You can bet, somewhere, someday, there is going to be an eclipse in one of my novels!


When visiting with my grandkids, with whom I’d recently been talking about poetry, my eldest granddaughter contributed this:

Every hundred years we see
A big star in the sky,
but covered by the moon,
so birds don’t like to fly.

Along comes a guy
and he says
I want to fly
But that would be bad for my eye.



Pen Pals and Reading Buddies: Literate Lives 2017

pen-pals-reading-buddiesStarting a Blog is like Starting a Pen Pal Friendship…

That is how I began my second post here at Literate Lives.

As I was doing my blog-housekeeping last week, I was captivated by this post. “Yes,” I thought, ” Now art thou Romeo!” (translation: now you are acting like yourself! See Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Act 2 Scene 4.) Therefore, as with my previous post, I wanted to start a new year with some excerpts and additions:

Pen Pals & Reading Buddies

I have decided starting a blog is like starting a pen pal friendship. You begin by explaining to each other who you are, and as your individual identities become established, you begin to write about ideas and events in your lives and the common interests you share.

So, who is this person (me, Debby Zigenis-Lowery) who is trying to reach out to readers, writers, parents, teachers, and anyone else who loves reading or writing?

I have been (and-oftentimes-still-am) a child, as well as a wife, mom, writer,  student, preschool teacher, librarian, and middle and high school English/Language Arts teacher. And through it all, I have always been a reader.

Books were the first things I ever chose to collect. They have been my friends, guides, encouragers, windows to other worlds, and companions in scary, sad,  and lonely times. I love books–the look of them, the feel of them, their typefaces, cover illustrations, page and line art. And I love the materials that go into making them—pencils, pens, paper—so many wonderful kinds!—computers, word processing software, fonts, dictionaries, reference books, 3×5 index cards, notebooks, and any slip of paper on which I can scribble a new idea.

What do I read? I am a fantasy loving Christian. I love fantasy stories intended for all kinds of readers– children, young adults, and actual adults. Other favorite genres include historical fiction and historical mysteries. (I love the Middle Ages!)

As you may have noticed, I included children’s and young adult fiction in my fantasy favorites. Why? Because I grew up loving fairy tales, and eventually found C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Lloyd Alexander. I now not only read fantasy fiction, I write it. I have had retold folktales, published in Cricket magazine, have written Set in Stone, a middle grade novel and The Swallow’s Spring, a coming of age novel (and am now seeking publishing homes for both of them), and am working on a new middle grade novel and a YA.

I am a teacher, member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and two critique groups. In addition I am a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and serve as the Pal Communicator for our Oregon region’s Ad-Com committee.

I am so looking forward to making new friends, as well as enjoying those I’ve long cherished, in the months ahead. So tell me about your reading, writing, and teaching interests. Who are your favorite authors? Your favorite genres? I hope Literate Lives will be a place you can come to enjoy, interact, and share.

The Dreaded “As” and “-ing”

Self-Editing 4 Fiction WritersThis week I finished a rapid read-through of Set in Stone, a novel I thought I had already finished. I’ve entered it in contests (it received an honorable mention in the Willamette Writers’ Kay Snow Contest), pitched it to editors and agents, and even sent out the full manuscript, upon request, a number of times; however, I had never edited it for the words “as” and gerunds indicating simultaneous activity ending in “ing”.

Silly me.

For years, agents, editors, and conference speakers have been recommending the book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King, and for years–like my stubborn grammar school self–I have resisted. (I read almost no children’s classics as a child, rather seeking out and finding lesser known books that were not being pursued by the herd. While I enjoyed a wide range of reading, I missed out on gems like Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles and Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time and Austen family novels–all of which I discovered in a college Children’s Literature course, and which launched me into writing books for kids and young adults.)

Anyway, back to Self-Editing. This is an excellent book, and I patted myself on the back the many times I noted I was already following their advice. Until… I came to the section discussing editing out, whenever possible, sentences like:

As Johann touched the scepter to the boy’s stone hand, color began to ripple down to his granite fingertips and up his arm.

In favor of sentences like this:

Johann touched the scepter to the boy’s stone hand. Color rippled down his granite fingertips and up his arm.

Or change sentences like this:

Ducking under the table, he pulled the magic cloak snug about himself and Gretl.

In favor of sentences like this:

They ducked under the table. Johann pulled the magic cloak snug about himself and Gretl.

I love the immediacy of the revised sentences.

I also noticed that when I use those forms, I seem to be trying to hurry my story along instead of allowing it to naturally unfold. Hmmm. Could this reflect my own insecurities. Is it possible I do not trust my storytelling skills enough, and so try to rush my tales along lest I lose my readers? Wow! I’ve got lots of thinking to do here.

And so, out went the old “as” and “ing” sentences, and in when the new, stronger verbed  phrasing (please excuse me for turning verb into an adjective; I love to play with words). Now I have to do it all over again with The Swallow’s Spring. Hopefully after these two hundreds of thousands of words exercises in editing out the dreaded “as” and “ing”, this new habit will be securely embedded in my writing brain.

What about you? Is there any great writing advice you ignored only to wish later that you had followed it sooner?


Summer’s End: Accomplishments and Tasks Remaining

sun_in_shades.svg.hiIt is the last weekend of summer. School will begin Tuesday, as will a new routine. I entered summer with such plans, such goals, such enthusiastic intentions, and now, at the end of it, I look back.

Goals accomplished:

  • Spent a week with my mom
  • Traveled with my husband
  • Camped with my daughter, her husband, and my granddaughters
  • Reclaimed my living room (0nce, my son’s “man cave”)
  • Completely reorganized my office
  • Rid my office of moths (long frustrating story)
  • Finished the revisions on Set in Stone, my middle grade fantasy novel about a boy who returns from clearing a field to find his parents and neighbors all turned to stone.
  • Attended two writers conferences
  • Pitched The Swallow’s Spring (a retelling of the first part of the medieval romance of Tristan and Iseult) to four agents who all invited me to submit chapters and even a full manuscript!
  • Started a new non-fiction poetry-picture book inspired by the trip my husband and I took to Mt. Rainier.


  • Did not blog regularly
  • Did not even enter my reading on Goodreads
  • Did not get my five boxes of filing all filed or thrown away
  • Did not finish writing the whole new beginning section for my fantasy novel Crown of Blossom and Flame
  • Did not get my guest room/craft room reorganized

Whew! When I sat down to write this post I felt a little dejected. (That’s why I decided to start with accomplishments. I didn’t want readers to feel depressed right along with me!) Now, I feel guilty of appearing to be bragging, but I assure you that was not my intention.

The takeaway: Do you ever feel like you just haven’t accomplished much? Sit down and list the things you have actually done. You might find yourself as pleasantly surprized as I did.

Writing Conference Jitters

swallow+bird+vintage+image+graphicsfairy007dI will be attending two writing conferences this summer–The Willamette Writer’s Conference and the Oregon Christian Writers’ Conference. This is nothing new. I have attended both of them several times in the past.

However, this time, I truly believe The Swallow’s Spring, a historical fantasy novel based on the medieval romance of Tristan and Iseult, is done, and I just finished final revisions on Set in Stone , a middle grade fantasy novel, as well. I know it is time to try to sell them. My gut aches just typing the words.

Why? I’ve pitched them before. I’ve submitted them before. I’ve submitted and sold other stories before. So why such jitters this time?

I think it’s because I believe these novels are truly done. It is time to seriously try to sell them. That means, inevitably, as every writer knows, dealing with rejections and the busy work of sending the novels out somewhere else. Argh! I’d rather write something new.

However, if I don’t submit my novels after all the time I have spent working on them, the fact is I will have wasted a huge chunk of my life. I did not write them for the pleasure of writing, although believe me, the pleasure was intense and real. I wrote them to share. I wrote them for others to enjoy. So, I have to submit to the submission process or self publish, and since I’d rather keep writing new things then embark on the strange, new adventure of self-publishing, I really need to give traditional publishing a try.

Therefore, the jitters. However, I will “soldier on.” Say a little prayer for me, The Swallow’s Spring, and Set in Stone. And I’ll just keep telling myself that I know I will enjoy the conferences because I always love having the opportunity to learn something new.

School’s Out! A Writer-Teacher’s Summer Dream Routine

sun_in_shades.svg.hiSchool is out! This is my first week of summer break and I have a few goals–writing goals, household goals, and learning how-to-play goals.

Being the orderly list-maker that I am (Ha! When it comes to things I need to do, my brain has colander-size holes), I created a little daily routine to keep me on track. What does it look like? Funny you should ask. Here it is, sans pretty, flowery clip art:

1 hour: Mocha/Breakfast/Read  (Hey, I know how to start a day!)

Read Bible

Stretch/Dress/Tidy Bedroom (So far the only thing I’ve skipped is stretching.)

Empty Dishwasher/Make Phone Calls (I am blessed with a husband who does the dishes.)

Pray/Copy 1 Prayer into Personal Prayer Book (I’m ashamed to say I have not got on my knees yet, although I have tossed up a lot of little balloon prayers and brainstormed a prayer list.)

2 Hours: Write  a) prepare for writers’ groups, b) enter revisions for Set in Stone, c) do a one-day read through of Set in Stone, d) continue to draft A Crown of Blossom and Flame or–hmmm, maybe I’ll retitle it A Fiery Crown.)

Type 3 Quotes (I have a stack of books nearly 3 feet tall bristling with sticky notes marking quotations I would like to capture–I haven’t gotten to this even once this week.)

Blog or Respond to Email (30 minutes MAX)

Update Agent List (I have been collecting agent names for The Swallow’s Spring for so long now, I could easily send her out to an agent a week for at least the next ten years.)

Housework~Routine Housework (Yes, at last I get there. Have I done this yet? No, except Monday, I did vacuum up the dust on the bathroom floor.)

Manuscript Submissions Swallow/Set in Stone at least once per week (This one actually does not begin until I hear from the person I gave an exclusive for Swallow and do the final read-through of Set in Stone.

Mend one item (My mending pile now fills two milk crates to overflowing. Needless to say, I have not done any mending in a long, long time, and I am beginning to miss some favorite clothes. As I complete this task, if I stick to the routine, it will be like getting five new pieces of clothing/week. Have I done it yet? No. I plan to start next week.)

1/2 Hour MAJOR House Project~a) finish reorganizing my office–I started twice during the school year; my office now lies strewn between 4 rooms–talk about crazy making! b) turn our kids’ bathroom into my bathroom now that the last kid has moved out–finally I will have a bathtub! c) organize my craft room. Whew!

Small Office or Writing Project 20 minutes. (Working on picture books and poetry, sorting card making materials, rubber stamps, punches…)

20 Minutes: Craft Room (Did I say my craft room was a mess?)

Make one card ahead of time for the next year (this will be both duty and letting myself have a little fun)

Do Something Creative (Will I remember how?)

Oh, and that learning to play thing? That happens when my husband says, “Hey, let’s go…” We did that Monday, Wednesday, and today.

Well, I’ve already spent 41 minutes preparing this blog post. Time to go. What are you dreaming of doing this summer?