New Summer Camp Themed Blog

Hello!

Long time no post, I know.

To be honest, I’ve always struggled to find my way blogging. Most days I just don’t know what to blog about. Writing? Kids? Camp? All of the above? That’s mainly left me unfocused and uninspired. I’m an author and this is my author blog, but I don’t want to write about writing. I want to WRITE!

95% of my blog posts felt like chores, time sucks that took away from the books I wanted to write.

Then . . .

A couple months ago, I finally discovered the secret to blogging. Write about a topic you absolutely love. Write your passion, and that’s where you’ll gain followers.

I wasn’t writing my passion here. I had no focus. I was just writing about random glimpses of life. The posts I enjoyed most were usually the posts about summer camp. Those were also the posts that had the most engagement: shares, comments, likes, etc.

I’ve also struggled to grow an audience for my Abby’s Camp Days series. I want to connect with others, share camp, and make Camp Spirit (the fictional camp of my series) available for any campie anywhere.

And all of a sudden, in a moment of clarity, it hit me: I needed a camp-themed blog.

I can share my camp stories, tips, recipes, photography ideas, experiences, ideas, movie/book reviews there. I can meet other camp people. I can befriend allies who share my passion and love for summer camp, and we can help each other bring camp and camp ideals to more people.

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I just wanted to let my faithful readers here know about my new summer camp blog, I’d Rather Be At Summer Camp. While I’m sure I’ll occasionally post in my writing blog, the majority of my focus will be on keeping the new one fun and up-to-date. I hope you’ll join me there!

There are several posts there already on all kinds of camp-related topics for everyone–campers, counselors, camp staff, deans, parents, former campies, and, of course, Camp Addicts.  I will be expanding to audio, video, contests, interviews, a store, and more soon. Tell all your summer camp friends. 🙂

So, please, if you’ve enjoyed my summer camp themed posts on this blog, hop on over to http://www.idratherbeatsummercamp.com.

Sign up for my mailing list to receive occasional updates.

Subscribe to my blog to get posts automatically sent to your email box as soon as they’re posted.

I’d love it if you surfed around, checked it out, and left me comments or “shared” posts you enjoy on social media.

Comments are especially important to me, as when I transferred my camp-themed posts there, I lost all the comments and fun conversations I had from readers about the posts. So feel free to share your own favorite camp stories in the comments if a post reminds you of something from your own camp days. I make an effort to reply to everyone.

And last but not least, let me know what type of camp content YOU want. I’m open to post ideas and guest posts.

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New Year, New Writing Focus

I was doing soooooooooo well with blogging this summer. I had a great pace of almost one a week. Then . . .

Life happened.

Writing life.

As a stay-at-home mom, I only have four afternoons a week to write. From noon until 3:10, Mondays through Thursdays, I write, edit, research, outline, format, tend to social media, market, and blog.

Twelve hours a week. Not much time to get everything done, so the blog suffered.

I know, I know. You’re supposed to write every day without fail. You’re supposed to set time aside every day. If you think you don’t have time, you’re just not making time. Even writers who are raising families can find time after the kids are in bed or waking an hour early.

If you can’t carve out enough writing time every day to handle everything, you’re just not dedicated enough. You don’t want it enough.

I’ve heard that from the “experts,” many times, and trust me, I’ve felt my share of writer’s non-productivity guilt. But the thing is, kids are only little once. And when I’ve planned to write for an hour on a Saturday while my husband takes the kids ice skating, but then my daughter (who is a strong-willed eight-year-old-going-on-sixteen) says, “Please, Mom, come ice skating with us. I want you to go, too,” I have options to weigh.

Someday (not too long from now, I fear) she won’t be caught dead ice skating at the local outdoor rink with me, but my stories will still be waiting. She might want to go with friends instead, but my novels won’t care if I’m embarrassing to be around, and I’ll have all the time in the world then (not really–I know life gets busier and busier, but I’m in denial).

And when the sweetest little guy in the world comes up to me with that too-cute grin and says, “Mommy, play with me,” the book on marketing I’m reading has to find a bookmark. He’ll be in school full-time next fall, and my Kindle will still know which page I’ve left off on.

Evenings are for my husband. We have an unspoken rule that work stops when the kids are in bed (there are the few rare exceptions . . . when midnight brings the end of an amazingly good print sale and I have photos to finish or the night before his semester grades are due for the next day). We spend time together, talking, cooking, playing cribbage. Okay, mostly watching TV. But it’s still time spent together, and I think this is part of what has made our marriage stronger while other couples who let romance fall by the wayside of work and parenting drift apart from each other.

So I have 12 hours a week. Twelve hours for writing and everything related to it. Those hours often get interrupted by vacations (November and December, I’m looking at you!), snow days, field trips, photo shoots, and doctors appointments/sick days.

I’d love to be one of those people who blogs every week. But that’s not where I’m at in life right now. Twelve hours a week. Sorry, blog, I’ve neglected you. 😦 I’d say I’ll try to do better, but I have a story bible to work on, storyboard to play with, book promo to plan, and, oh yeah, a novel to write.

Yes, the blogging has fallen by the wayside. But I’d like to share what I HAVE gotten done this fall.

  • I reformatted the Kindle version of my ebooks. They now have a table of contents and chapters you can jump to with a quick tap of a touchscreen as well as hyperlinks that take you to other books in the series.Evolution of covers
  • I created new covers for the ebook versions. The old covers were made from templates and not conducive to thumbnail viewing. The new ones are brighter, the pictures bigger, and the fonts bolder.
  • I redesigned my web site. My new love of photography has given me more visual graphics/pictures to work with and a better eye for design. I hope you’ll visit it and let me know what you think, even if you’ve been there before: Jenifer Brady’s author website
  • I started a mailing list. If you want to keep up-to-date with Camp Spirit happenings, check it out and sign up. When you register, your confirmation screen and email will give you a link to some fun Camp Spirit online freebies. (a learn-to-gimp video, a Super Counselors photo shoot sneak peek, and a teen magazine parody aimed at camp counselors). Don’t worry about being overwhelmed with emails from me if you sign up. I don’t have time to overwhelm you! There will only be a couple of emails a year, when I have something exciting to share like a book release.STCCCoverebook
  • I released Save the Craft Cabin (Volume 6 of Abby’s Camp Days). Technically, the release was August 30, so not during fall or my 12 hours a week writing time. But I wanted to add more to the list to seem productive. I’ve been told it’s the best of the series by a few people, which is awesome to hear!
  • A friend and I started a camp alumni association for the real camp we love, which involved setting up an online form collection site for alumni to enter their current info and stay in contact with camp and camp people. I know that’s not writing-related, but it took up some of (okay, many of) my 12 hours a week. Plus, some readers only subscribe to this blog for the camp stuff, so hopefully this paragraph makes you campies feel as if you haven’t completely wasted your time reading this post.
  • I created and scheduled several picture/meme/quote posts for social
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    I meant to post a funny one, but then I found this one.

    media. Hopefully, they will give loyal readers blasts from the pasts of some of their favorite Abby’s Camp Days quotes and pique the interest of new readers.

  • I worked on my new book, the first non-camp related book I’ve attempted since 1997. It’s a fantasy spanning 50 years and written in third person rather than a middle grade/young adult book that takes place over one week or one summer and written in first person, so it’s been quite an adjustment.
  • I dove into world building, doing things like creating a culture and magic system and drawing maps. Yes, I drew something. And it didn’t turn out half bad. I know you probably don’t believe me if you’ve ever seen any of my illustrations before, but it’s true. I swear.
  • I discovered that a story of these proportions is much more difficult to write than my camp books, so I’ve had to study storyboarding, plotting, characterization, and third person voice.
  • I realized that I was feeling blocked with my book because I was overwhelmed and needed a story bible and storyboard. I started both a couple of weeks ago, and the story bible is at 102 pages and the color-coded (by viewpoint character) storyboard is at 158 slides (it’s probably a third done).
  • I realized by the span of my story bible and storyboard that this would not be one book. I was getting that impression a while back when I found myself 585 pages into the story and only about half of my scenes checked off on my outline. At that point I decided to go with a trilogy, but now as I’m expanding, storyboarding and discovering more about my characters, their world, and its story, it’s becoming apparent that I’m really only about a quarter done at 615 pages, so now I’m thinking it will be more than a trilogy. Not sure how many books it will be broken into, but it’s one continuous story, so my plan is to finish writing a first draft and then figure it out.
  • I started researching, taking notes on, and planning a free promo week that will come probably at the end of February if I stay on track.

Wow, I feel so much better about my 12 hours a week now that I see on screen what I managed to accomplish. My hope is to finish my story bible and storyboards in January/February and then get to work writing the books this spring and summer. I’d love to get it all done in 2015, but I know that’s a lofty goal.

It’s a New Year, and I’ll be focusing full time on my new writing project, rather than splitting time between the fantasy and Abby’s Camp Days like I did last year. It’s quite a departure from Camp Spirit and I can’t devote as much time as I’d like to it, but I’ll do what I can in the limited time God’s blessed me with. I can’t neglect those other blessings He’s given me either.

Starting tomorrow, I plan to make the most of those 12 hours a week and make as much progress on the book (series) as possible.

Oh, wait. . . . There’s a possibility of school being called off tomorrow for snow/cold. I guess it’ll be a 9 hour week. Such is life as a stay-at-home mom-photographer-summer-camp-volunteer-indie-author.

Why I Took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (and donated, too)

Over the past couple weeks, millions of people have been introduced, through amusing videos of their friends shrieking as they dump buckets of ice water over their heads, to a nasty villain called ALS. For many, this was the first time they heard of the disease (and I’d be willing to bet that some still don’t know what it is, despite the number of times they clicked on those videos).

ALS is one of those diseases we don’t hear much about. It doesn’t get much press, despite the fact that it’s debilitating to patients and devastating to the families that go through it with them.

I didn’t know ALS existed until the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, when one of my campers from church camp sent me a letter, telling me that her father, Joe, had been diagnosed with the disease. I read the fear between the lines of her junior high age handwriting. He would eventually need a wheelchair. They were moving to a house that would better facilitate his needs. It was bad.

I was stuck at camp (I was working on staff that summer, as well as counseling) with no internet, no reference books, no doctors to question about this disease I’d never heard of. One of this camper’s relatives, a camp dean I knew well, happened to be at camp that week, so when I mentioned wanting to know more about what the family would face, he sat myself and another counselor (a good friend of both mine and our camper’s) down at a table in the dining hall and explained it.

It was fatal. It was fast (Joe’s diagnosis was 6 months to 2 years). It was just about the scariest thing I’d ever heard of: patients gradually lose motor function until they are no longer able to move any part of their bodies except their eyes. It usually starts in the arms or legs, confining patients to a wheelchair, unable to even lift a hand to turn the page of a book. Swallowing and speaking become difficult. Then even breathing becomes impossible.

That was what this family I had grown to love was facing.

Our conversation took place quite late at night, so after he’d answered all our questions, the dean went back to his cabin. My friend/co-counselor and I sat there for I don’t know how long, staring at each other and processing what we’d just heard.

Then we cried. For our camper, who was the sweetest kid you’d ever meet, her two older brothers (also campers/friends of ours) and their parents. Their dad was in his early 40s, although in 1998, at age nineteen, the impact of age 43 didn’t hit me with the pow factor it does now, given that my husband turned 43 on his last birthday.

If you’ve never been a camp counselor, you have no idea how tightly those campers can wrap you around their little fingers. Sure, there are the ones whose canteen cards you want to run through the shredder . . . or whose stuffed animals you want to punt into the woods. But there are also the ones who melt your heart, the ones you’d give your last yard of gimp for. Joe’s three kids were give-your-last-yard-of-gimp-for campers.

At first, I was in denial. This could not happen to them. It wasn’t fair, and God and I had several arguments about it. Well, I guess I argued. He listened. I prayed for the whole family every night. After all, ALS is fatal, but God is bigger than ALS. I prayed for a miracle. I begged for it. I bargained for it. Cried for it.

It didn’t happen.

I experienced ALS through letters from my camper, visits to Joe’s home, and updates from Joe’s sister-in-law. At first, I was just sad for my camper, sad that her wonderful family had to go through this.

But something happened during the next four and a half years—Joe became my friend. He had first come into my life in the form of just one of many parents dropping their kids and their kids’ friends off at camp the year I was a 16-year-old rookie counselor.

As I got to know the family better over the years (I went on to later attend college about an hour’s drive from where they lived) I got to hear Joe’s great camp stories (oh, boy, some were doozies!) and sit next to him and his wife at his daughter’s sporting and choral activities. I came to know the man referred to as “my dad” in all those letters and emails.

One day, I was sitting at their family’s kitchen table with Joe, his wife, their daughter/my camper, and my husband, and the subject of cribbage came up. It was one of their family’s favorite games, and my husband knew how to play as well. They needed four to play partners), but I’d never played before. Joe was a great cribbage player, but his arm muscles had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer lift the cards.

So Joe and I became a team. I held the cards, and he told me what to play, explaining why each time. After a couple games, I had caught on, so I started pointing at cards I thought we should play. He would give me an affirmative nod or a rethink-your-move shake of his head. We had a lovely afternoon of conversation, games, and sharing of camp stories, old and new.

It was the last time I saw him with the exception of his wake.

ALS took Joe over a decade ago. I’ve been the counselor to hundreds of campers since that hot August day back in 1995 when he and his wife dropped off their daughter and her friend, and every year, as I welcome my campers on the first day of camp and meet their parents, I think about him.

So when videos of people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads in the name of raising awareness for ALS started popping up, my heart swelled. I’ve donated to ALS research several times and have always wanted to participate in an ALS walk, but it just hasn’t worked out schedule-wise. I thought the “ice bucket challenge” was brilliant! I loved seeing people get into it and hearing about how much money the fundraiser was generating.

I clicked on every headline I saw related to the ice bucket challenge, reading what family members of patients thought, which famous person was donating $10, 000, and what the latest research findings on the disease were.

Then they started cropping up—negative comments.

I should have expected it. I’ve been around the internet long enough to know never to read the “comments” on articles related to subjects I care about. I don’t know why I started doing so on the ice bucket articles. I should have known better. I guess I thought it was such a positive thing, so how could anybody have any qualms?

Now, for the record, I’m not talking about anybody on my own newsfeed or any of my personal Facebook friends. I’m speaking of articles by strangers I’ve read and comments on those articles. All of a sudden, something fun and well-intentioned that’s doing a lot of good things for ALS awareness and funding was being criticized and even mocked. I refrained from responding to any of them, but they still burn me up:

*Those dumb videos are clogging up my newsfeed. It’s inconvenient having to scroll past all of them.*

Inconvenient? Really? It’s inconvenient?

Inconvenient is not being able to drive your own kid to camp because your arm doesn’t have enough strength to work the car’s manual gear shift.

Inconvenient is having to use a voice recognition program to write a letter to your kids at camp.

Inconvenient is having to drink everything with a straw because you can’t hold a glass.

Inconvenient is having to use a spring seat to get up out of your chair.

Inconvenient . . . well, I could go on, but I won’t.

I really feel your pain at having to click past those ALS videos. Whatever do you do with all posts about “Which 80’s Song Should Be Your Theme?” and “Please vote for my cousin’s husband’s ex-mother-in-law’s dog groomer’s dog to win best haircut. You can vote 50 times a day!”?

*Everyone’s just jumping on the bandwagon.*

Good! This is a bandwagon that needs to be jumped on. Jump on it! Jump on it if you have a family member who battled ALS. Jump on it if you learned what ALS is five minutes ago. Jump on it if you just like watching people pour ice water over their heads. The more people who jump on this bandwagon, the more money is raised, the closer we’ll be to a cure or more effective treatment.

*But it’s not working anyway because people are just dumping water over their heads to avoid having to donate, which totally defeats the purpose of a fundraiser.*

So if that’s true, then how do you explain donations to the ALS Foundation being up 1000% compared to this time last year? I’ve seen many people decline to participate in the ice dumping but who pledge to donate and still others who do both. Sure, some people are dumping water and not donating, but there are so many people who are donating that it makes it worth it. It’s not just about money; it’s also about awareness, and this is raising awareness.

*People are just trying to copy celebrities or show off.*

So what? Who cares why people are doing this? Does motive really matter? If someone sees a friend dump ice over their head, learns about ALS, and donates $50 to the cause, does it really matter whether the friend’s motivation to take up the challenge was because a pro athlete they admire did it or because they believe in the cause? The point is, families living with ALS are $50 closer to hope.

*But can you believe how much water this is wasting???*

Um, can you believe how much water Americans waste when they start brushing their teeth and then don’t turn the water off until they’re done two minutes later? Or wash their cars once a week just so they look nice and flashy? Or flush the toilet every time they use it? (Whatever happened to if it’s yellow, it’s mellow but if it’s brown, flush it down?)

Or how about waterparks? Every year, we take our kids to a fantastic indoor waterpark, and I must admit I feel guilty standing there as my kids play in gallons and gallons of water, knowing there are kids out there who don’t even have a cup of clean water to drink.

It’s not that I think we should waste water. It’s a precious resource, and we take it for granted in this country. I was reminded of that last week when we turned the water off for 24 hours to remodel our bathroom. But I can think of things that waste water that are a lot more deserving of chastise than raising money to battle a horrid disease.

*It’s not fair to all the other charities that this silly water bucket thing went viral. What about other organizations that rely on donations? Why do you have to do something stupid to get donations?*

Here’s the thing: people don’t know what ALS is, or at least they didn’t until last week. When I mentioned it in the past, most people gave me a blank stare or asked, “What’s that?”

There are the many diseases that everyone is familiar with. I won’t list them because I don’t want anybody to think I’m attacking any specific organizations. Because I’m not. They are all worthy causes. I’m just pointing out that there are many, many diseases we’re asked to donate to all the time. Walk-a-thons, telemarketers, raffles. But have you ever been asked before this month to donate to the ALS Foundation?

There are annual television telethons for research into some diseases. Do people complain that that’s not fair to the other charities? What about all the commercials with famous movie stars asking viewers to contribute to a cause? Is that unfair to the other charities? I’ve never heard anybody complain that it was. (Disclaimer: Maybe they did and I just never read the comments on those posts.)

So keep on dumping that water, folks. It doesn’t matter why. Or better yet, donate here.

Believe me, when I had a bucket of ice water dumped over my head, I wasn’t trying to clog up my friends’ newsfeeds. If I wanted to do that, I would have shared Frozen parodies or the results of the “Which (insert TV show or movie character) are you?” quizzes (because, yes, I enjoy those and take them myself). I’m not jumping on a bandwagon. I’ve been on this bandwagon since 1998 and I’ll stay on it until there’s a cure. I wasn’t trying to imitate a celebrity or waste water. And when I made a monetary donation, I certainly wasn’t trying to rip off any other charity.

I was remembering a cool guy who probably would have taken up this challenge himself. (And then his dog would have scrambled to chew up all the ice that fell on the ground, another great memory I have of spending time with Joe’s family.)

Joe taught me so much: how to play cribbage, how to keep your spunky spirit alive when faced with insurmountable odds, and most importantly, that being a camp counselor isn’t something you do for a week. It’s who you are all 52 weeks of the year. In good times (like rainy day indoor cabin water balloon fights) and bad (including devastating illness).

Joe, thank you. This bucket of ice water’s for you.

 

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authorblueJenifer Brady is a mom, photographer, and the author of the Abby’s Camp Days series, set at the fictional Camp Spirit. Her current work-in-progress is a YA fantasy trilogy. Find out more about her books at JeniferBrady.com or her Amazon Central author page.

This is what makes it all worth it

Writing is hard.

I mean, it’s an awesome, amazing, incredible part of my life that is so essential to my happiness that I couldn’t quit even if I tried my hardest (and trust me, I’ve tried).

But it’s also hard.

There have been many days when I just wanted to give up: 

When I’m editing a brilliant scene I wrote yesterday 🙂 and discover that it’s not really that brilliant after all 😦 (and may actually, in fact, suck).

When I’m ecstatic about selling 6 Kindle books in one day (6!!! In ONE day!!!) 🙂 and then find out that some indie authors sell 7 or 8 hundred in a month (oh, yeah, um . . . only 6 . . . in one day 😦 ).

When I spend hours crafting a blog entry or working on a marketing strategy 🙂 that ends up getting only a dozen views or 2 new “likes.” 😦

When I’ve been sitting behind a table at a craft fair for three days straight and sell four books total but can hear the guy behind me saying things like, “Oh, when you buy 5 books, you get one free so pick whatever you want!” about his bizarre-looking, supernatural books. (Only 😦 involved here. No 🙂 at all.)

Writing is hard. And sometimes you wonder if it’s worth it.

Then there are days like today. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Three smile days.

A counselor named Karalyn who is finishing up her last week at church camp sent me this message around 1 am:

Camp_Expert_Cover_for_KindleI just want to tell you that tonight your book was a lifesaver. I had a girl who relentlessly cried until her mom came and picked her up around midnight. One of my other girls is her best friend so she was up as well and now she’s alone without her friend and had a hard time getting to sleep. We’ve been reading Camp Expert before bed so I took it out and read two more chapters just for her and she’s sound asleep.

She was making little comments here and there about her own camp experiences as a first time camper. It was very cute.”

My writing helped both a camper and a counselor last night. Added happy dance because campers and counselors are two of my favorite kinds of people.

And everything is worth it again. The blood, sweat, tears, and even the (cringe) marketing.

Thank you, Counselor Karalyn and campers, for reminding me that the joy that comes from writing often has nothing to do with sales, royalties, or 5-star reviews.

Camp Spirit fans: Do you have a story like Karalyn’s about how one of my books helped you?

Fellow authors: Do you have a similar story of a time when a reader was helped by one of your books?

Share in the comments.

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authorblueJenifer Brady is a mom, photographer, and the author of the Abby’s Camp Days series, set at the fictional Camp Spirit. Her current work-in-progress is a YA fantasy trilogy. Find out more about her books at JeniferBrady.com or her Amazon Central author page.

Abby’s Camp Days Polls

In honor of the release of Abby’s Camp Days: Volume 6 this August (I’m shooting for the 19th), I’ve created some Abby polls. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

 

Leave your suggestions for future Abby’s Camp Days polls in the comments below.

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authorblueJenifer Brady is a mom, photographer, and the author of the Abby’s Camp Days series, set at the fictional Camp Spirit. Her current work-in-progress is a YA fantasy trilogy. Find out more about her books at JeniferBrady.com or her Amazon Central author page.

Nobody Brought the Cheesy Puffs

Fireworks.

Hot dogs.

Sparklers.

Red, white, and blue.

Must be the 4th of July, otherwise known as THE holiday on my dad’s side of the family.

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My grandmother was totally into the 4th of July. My grandfather had served in the Navy during World War II, and patriotism was ingrained in who they both were. Most grandmas can’t wait to throw huge Christmas celebrations full of family, gifts, baking, and tree trimming. They handle (with expertise and ease) all those little details parents are too harried or too tired to remember.

Gram in her 4th of July best. (FYI, the cat pictured here isn’t the cat who walked in the cake.)

Gram liked Christmas, but I’m fairly sure she started her countdown until the next year’s Independence Day celebration on July 5th. No effort was spared, whether it involved fireworks, decorations, treats, or “fun plates” (4th of July-themed paper plates found in the seasonal aisle that cost double or triple what the plain paper plates cost). She even made herself a 4th of July outfit out of material that featured American flags and fireworks.

Until my grandparents passed away, I never celebrated a 4th of July anyplace besides their house, hours and hours away in Lower Michigan. My aunt, uncle, and cousins always came up for the holiday, too, and around dinnertime, many neighbors, friends, and local family members gathered for our 4th of July party, which featured great company and a mouth-watering barbecue. We even got our own personal fireworks display, selected and set off by my dad.

If Christmas Eve is the longest night of the year, 4th of July is the longest day. As a kid, it’s torture to wait for the sun to go down. Poppers and snakes are fun, but every kid knows that 4th of July doesn’t get good until dusk. Then the sparklers can come out, which is the only way to pass the time until it’s dark enough for fireworks.

Everyone had their traditional 4th of July roles:

  • My dad spent the day organizing all the fireworks, from the least-impressive-but-still-fun small ones to the “grand finale” and everything in between.
  • My brother was his assistant, helping to plan and then, come dark, set the fireworks off.
  • My uncle manned the grill, expertly flipping hot dogs and hamburgers.
  • Gram baked cookies and bought treats from the local bakery. She also baked a cake and decorated it like an American flag. (Once, a cat named Frosty walked across the cake, which caused flurry of frantic baking in order to get a replacement one ready in time.)
  • Pool '86

    Playing in the pool, waiting for it to get dark.

    My mom and aunt (and myself when I got older) kept my younger cousins busy with water toys, walks around town, and games. It always seemed that we got a heat wave that week, so we’d set up a wading pool to splash around in.

 

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  • Grandpa set up the fireworks stage (an old door placed horizontally across two saw horses) and a bucket of water, ready to snuff out wicks and keep everyone safe. He also put up the traditional screen tent so we didn’t have to share dinner with any bugs.
  • Joey Chestnut, professional competitive eater, tried his best to out-eat the other competitors in the nationally televised Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, which we had to find on TV or 4th of July morning would be ruined. It was ten minutes of intense competition that was so disgusting we couldn’t look away.
  • Friends and relatives brought side dishes, such as potato chips, baked beans, fruit, and salads.

We lived for the moment the first relative’s car pulled into the driveway because that meant dinner could start and we were that much closer to fireworks. As soon as Great-Uncle Art or Johnny from across the street showed up, the party would officially start, and we could dive into the food.

Ada's cake

A later version of the 4th of July cake decorated by my daughter and not stepped in by any cats.

Every dish was delicious, especially the perfectly-decorated American flag cake and my uncle’s grilling. But the snack we looked forward to most was Cheesy Puffs.

My grandparents’ across-the-garden neighbor, an elderly lady named Bena, brought over a bag of Cheesy Puffs every year. I don’t remember which name brand of these tasty treats she bought. Come to think of it, I think they were the generic brand sold at the local grocery store. But they were fabulous, and my brother, cousins, and I always piled them high on our “fun plates.” Who cared about baked beans or salad when there were Cheesy Puffs?

After dinner, we’d light sparklers as dusk slowly and painfully turned to dark, each of us kids (and some of the adults) sneaking back inside several times to grab another handful of Cheesy Puffs out of the bag. The worst was when your hand kept reaching deeper and deeper into the bag, only to graze crumbs at the bottom. The best was when Bena had brought a second bag, and you could rip that one right open at the sight of the first crumb. All night, we reached for sparklers with neon-orangish-yellow stained fingers.

Sparkler time! Outfit brought to you by the '80s.

Sparkler time! Outfit brought to you by the ’80s.

The fireworks would finally begin . . . and then they’d be over after many sparks, crackles, pops, whistles, explosions, and “ooh . . . aah”s. Then the countdown to next year began.

One year, everything was going as usual. The cake had been decorated, my uncle had started the grill, my dad and brother had the fireworks line-up set, my cousins and I had played several board games, and Joey Chestnut had beaten his own hot dog eating record (he’s not nicknamed “Jaws” for nothing).

Friends and relatives began to arrive, and we headed for the food. We loaded our plates and found spots outside at the picnic table. The food was yummy and the company lively, but it felt like something was missing. I worked my way through a hot dog (one, not 68 like Joey), potato salad, chips, pasta salad, fizzy punch, and a huge piece of good old American-flag-decorated cake . . . and suddenly I realized—there weren’t any Cheesy Puffs.

Bena had passed away that winter, and without her there, nobody brought the Cheesy Puffs.

This might sound strange, but the whole evening’s activities felt “off” after that. We didn’t sneak back inside to snag more of anything off the table. We didn’t feel as stuffed as we usually did. The fingers that reached for sparklers that evening were boring and clean, not neon-orangy-yellow.

I sat in an old lawn chair and watchedtigers8 with everyone else as the fireworks exploded, but this time they didn’t seem quite as “Ooh . . . ahh . . .”-worthy as usual. I just kept thinking about how something so small that someone took care of every year could be missed so much when that person wasn’t there to take care of it.

Now, I realize that off-brand junk food is a silly example. But I’ve heard so many people say they don’t feel important, that because they don’t do huge things in life, they don’t matter.
The truth is, everybody brings something unique to their families, groups of friends, and neighborhood 4th of July parties. It was a small thing Bena did–bringing Cheesy Puffs. But those Cheesy Puffs were just as important to us kids as the fireworks were to our holiday enjoyment and just as integral a part of our memories.

Our contributions, both large and small, all contribute to the life experiences of the people we come into contact with. People say “I’m just a kid” or “I’m just a stay-at-home mom” or “I’m just one of many salespeople at my job.” Well, Bena was “just the neighbor who brought Cheesy Puffs,” but when she wasn’t there, our holiday wasn’t as stupendous as it was with her.

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And yes, the fireworks displays and fancy cakes of life are what will draw the “ooh”s and “aah”s of the world. But sometimes, the smallest things we do mean the most to people around us.

Happy Fourth of July! I hope yours is full of fireworks and Cheesy Puffs.

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authorblueJenifer Brady is a mom, photographer, and the author of the Abby’s Camp Days series, set at the fictional Camp Spirit. Her current work-in-progress is a YA fantasy trilogy. Find out more about her books at JeniferBrady.com or her Amazon Central author page.

Getting Out of Your Point-Of-View Comfort Zone

How many times have you been encouraged to get out of your “comfort zone?” I’ve heard it at writer’s conferences, in church, and at summer camp countless times. Shy and reserved? Get out of your comfort zone and take a public speaking class. Is your thing teaching Sunday school to churchgoing kids? Take a leap out of your comfort zone and extend an invitation to worship service to a friend who doesn’t go to church. It’s all about getting out of that comfort zone.

First person point-of-view was my writing comfort zone. I’d published seven books for middle-grade and Young Adult readers, and they had all been first person point-of-view. That had been partly out of necessity–five of the seven were part of a series which I’d started off in first person, and it would have been bizarre to switch to another format mid-series. YA is often written in first person, so I was also sticking to industry trends.

But I’ll admit . . . I had chosen first person POV mostly because it was in my writing comfort zone. First person uses “I,” “me,” “we” and tells someone’s story directly through his or her eyes. The reader (and writer) is in the character’s head, seeing what she sees, thinking what she thinks, believing what she believes.

This has always been an easy way for me to tell a story. After all, we live our lives in first person and have had a plethora of practice using it. Every time we answer the question, “What did you do today?” at the dinner table, we’re practicing telling a story using first person narration.

I’ve always found first person to come more naturally to me than third person point-of-view. It’s easier for me to persuade readers to care about my protagonist when I’m using her own thoughts and feelings to convey who she is and why readers should turn the page to find out what happens to her.

I’ve also found humor much easier to write in first person. My books are set at a Christian summer camp, but it’s not all roasting marshmallows and holding hands, singing “Kumbaya” around the campfire. I tackle tough situations such as divorce, death, church politics, and changing friendships. I don’t want my books to be downers, so I work hard to make sure there’s a certain level of comic relief in there, too. Nothing makes me feel happier as a writer than when a reader tells me he or she laughed and cried through a scene in one of my books.

Abby, the main character of my series Abby’s Camp Days, is a shy, quiet, tender-hearted girl. She also has an  inner monologue that occasionally turns just a touch snarky in the way she describes people and her camp experiences (especially camp rules and jerky counselors). More than a few readers have pointed out many LOL Abby moments that come from her “I’m-just-pointing-out-what-everyone-is-actually-thinking” narration, and I’m sure her camp friends and counselors don’t suspect half of what this sweet girl is telling readers.

Cover art for Volume 5 of "Abby's Camp Days." Abby is the brunette in the middle.

Cover art for Volume 5 of “Abby’s Camp Days.” Abby is the brunette in the middle.

It’s been easy for me to balance Abby’s nature and actions with her thoughts through first person narration, and Abby is a much more interesting and relatable character for it. Abby, as well as the entire tone of the series, would be very different if I had chosen to write the series in third person. In fact, I originally did, but after struggling through several drafts of Camp Expert (the first in the series) that didn’t work, I finally switched to first person. Then the book and five more flowed, no problem.

I was comfortable with my writing format and saw no reason to mess with it.

Then a fresh, new idea for a fantasy trilogy came to me this fall. It didn’t have anything to do with summer camp (well, it kind of did, but only on a very basic level . . .) but this story took place in my own invented world that’s closest to the Medieval time period in our culture. My work-in-progress includes a large cast of characters and a saga that spans fifty years and three generations, rather than one week of summer.

First person POV just wasn’t practical, given the scope of the story, so I took a deep breath and dove into the world of third person limited.

“He,” “she,” and “they” became my new pronoun friends. I chose limited POV because I was afraid of falling into the head-hopping trap of poorly-written omniscient narration. When it’s done well, omniscient view point can be marvelous. But my last attempt at third person POV of any kind had been high school fan fic (Star Trek and North and South but heavily influenced by my Young and the Restless watching days . . . oh, boy, I think you get the picture, and no you can’t read it unless I’m looking for a new “most embarrassing moment”). Third person was already a big leap for me; I wasn’t ready to go bigger.

With third person, there were no inner monologues to slip comic relief into, no direct hopes and dreams and wishes to help get readers on the protagonist’s side. It involved getting to know all my characters inside and out from children who were catching their first glimpses of this magical kingdom to kings who had ruled the same kingdom for several decades.

And it involved planning. Lots and lots of planning. With outlines and charts and spreadsheets and erasers.

When writing from a first person perspective, there’s no thought involved in POV once you’ve chosen your narrator. The POV of every scene is from that character. No further planning needed in that area, unless you get fancy and write multiple first person POVs (which I did once with my book Super Counselors).

This was a whole new ball game of decision making. Which character’s experience should begin the story, and thereby set the tone for the entire trilogy? Who should be present in the final scene? Whose POV would be best for which climactic scenes? Which characters would appear in the book but never as a POV character?

I messed up a lot at first. I’d start the scene following one character’s POV and end up hopping to another character’s by the end of the scene–that dreaded head-hopping rearing its ugly head (or would that be heads?). Then I’d have to decide whose POV was more crucial to the scene and fix the whole thing. And the hardest part for me: any humor had to come from the characters’ actions and interactions themselves, not comedic asides from the narrator delivered directly to the audience.

At first it was frustrating. I thought I was going to fail, that it was going to be the worst fantasy book in the history of fantasy books. But I kept plugging away, and as more ideas came to me and things started to fall together plot-wise, I hit my third person stride.

I now find third person POV very freeing. I can follow any character anywhere and offer readers a more comprehensive view of the plot and setting. I’m not limited to one person’s beliefs and biases. I can show two sides of a disagreement. Time can go by and characters can die or move on in life, yet my story can continue.

I write differently in third person. My voice is different. It’s my voice, rather than my character’s. I’m sharing the world I created, telling the tale of my world, not simply allowing a character to show readers her world.

I still love first person narration, and I have four more Abby books to write using that POV. They will be deliciously snarky and full of comedic relief. But I feel I’ve grown as a writer over the past several months, and the majority of that growth is a direct result of tackling a new style of POV.

It’s so important as a writer to try new things. It helps you evolve. The more ways a writer can tell a story, the more versatile he or she will be.

What are your writing comfort zones? What can you try that will help you grow as a writer?

Fellow writers, share in the comments. I’d love to discuss!

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Jenifer Brady is a mom, photographer, and the author of the Abby’s Camp Days series, set at the fictional Camp Spirit. Her current work-in-progress is a fantasy trilogy. Find out more about her books at http://www.jeniferbrady.com or her Amazon Central page: http://amazon.com/author/jeniferbrady.