A Rather Funny “Tail”

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Okay, friends. Gather around, because I have a story to tell.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to take me to all kinds of book fairs and craft shows and “white elephant” sales. It seemed there was always a vendor, tucked away in a corner, who was selling personalized books. The books that take your child’s name, and other details, such as the names of siblings, friends, or pets, the name of the town where you live, and other information, and plugs them into a pre-written story. There were all sorts of titles to choose from, and different subjects, some meant to appeal to girls, some to boys, and others with universal appeal.

Over the years, I accumulated several of these books including “Me, Snow White, and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Read About Me and the Bee,” and “The Great Sesame Street ABC Hunt.” But there is one book that will always be more special and memorable than all the rest, for a very odd reason. This book is called “Read About Me in the Mousehouse.”

One detail you must know about the mouse-house book is that the name of the mouse changes depending upon who the intended recipient is. The mouse’s name is the child’s name—spelled backwards. In hindsight I bet this convention caused some trouble for the parents who bought the book. I would imagine that many, if not most names spelled backwards are hard to pronounce. But that’s not the only problem.

You see, my name is Lana. At least, it was back then. When I was born, my name was Lana, but everyone pronounced it wrong. All the time. Teachers. My grandparents’ friends. The man at K-mart asking over the P.A. system if my parent could please come to the front of the store because I was lost. My mom got annoyed, then she got sick of it, and the spelling was changed to Lonna. But back when this book was created “especially for” me, my name was Lana. L-A-N-A.

Do you know what ‘Lana’ is spelled backwards?

Anal.

I have a book in my possession where the mouse is named Anal. Anal Mouse.

To my mother’s credit, whenever she read the book to me, she pronounced Anal as “AHH-null.” Not that I had heard the word ‘anal’ or had any idea what it meant when I was a toddler. I wasn’t sure, why though, it was always so hard for my mother to keep a straight face when she read the book to me. After all, it was an enjoyable book, but it wasn’t funny.

Here is something that’s funny though. Anal Mouse was most decidedly not anal. Her mouse-house is a mess, “as jumbled as” her name. Empty bottles and jars and boxes, torn mittens and holey socks, clothespins, used postage stamps, rubber bands, match boxes, and buttons imprinted with logos and sayings and pictures are just some of the junk that clutter Anal’s mousehouse. By the end of the story, Lana (that’s me!) had helped Anal to create a more livable space by upcycling and reusing all the trash to make furniture, décor, and storage solutions for the decidedly un-anal Anal. I was truly ahead of my time.

If you aren’t crying with laughter at the thought of a children’s book that inadvertently named one of its two main characters Anal then I can’t help you. But here’s one more delightful snippet from the book that might cause you to crack (no pun intended) a smile.

Lana is exploring around her house when she stumbles across the mousehouse, quite by accident, in the back of a closet. The mousehouse, is, of course, a “tiny hole” in the wall.

A tiny hole.

A tiny hole with a sign hanging over it.

What does the sign say?

Anal.

But(t) of course.

You’re welcome.

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My Pitch Wars Bio 2017

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What the Heck is Pitch Wars?

From the Pitch Wars website: For those unfamiliar with Pitch Wars, it’s a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer edits on how to make the manuscript shine. The mentor also edits his/her writer’s pitch and query letter to get it ready for the agent round. Those entering Pitch Wars submit applications (query plus first chapter of manuscript) to their chosen mentors. The mentors then read all their applications and choose the writer they want to mentor for two months to get them ready for the agent showcase.

I participated in Pitch Wars last year and it was, hands down, the best thing I have ever done for my writing. I met fellow writers, made some great friends, had a lot of laughs, and learned so much about my craft. And now I’m back, ready to do it all over again!

About Me

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Hello! My name is Lonna. I’m a writer. I also love to read. I adore children, animals, and bugs. Autumn is my favorite season and windy days are my favorite days. Polka dots are kind of my signature thing. My favorite holiday is Halloween. I play a mean game of jacks. I’m an expert at parallel parking, which is weird because my spatial awareness is terrible.  I will go out of my way for miniature golf, a good ice cream cone, used book sales, and steamed crabs. Beach over pool. Forest over mountains. Fish over meat.

My Writing

I would love some help with showing versus telling, active versus passive voice, head hopping, and maybe some assurance that my story isn’t a terrible bore. As a writer what I fear most is indifference and being called self-indulgent.

I am an incredibly hard worker and will never balk at criticism or shut down in the face of  constructive feedback. In fact, I crave feedback, even harsh feedback, because I want to know what’s working, what isn’t, and what to do about it. I make a conscious effort to practice gratitude at all times. I strive to have a positive attitude and an open mind. My life’s philosophy is to have as few regrets as possible and to never wish anything away.

My World-View

In a less imperfect world (one that took place prior to our most recent presidential election, for example) I wouldn’t feel the need to include this section in my bio. I am a Christian. I have been a Christian all my life and my relationship with God is incredibly important to me. I don’t name-call, or point fingers, but I don’t want to be lumped in with the people who call themselves Christians but support ideologies that are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus. I don’t like everyone, but I try to love everybody, and when the love doesn’t come easily, I look for ways to empathize. As much as possible, I try not to judge but I am human and I am not perfect.

I believe in marriage equality. I believe it is a woman’s right to make her own, private decisions regarding her body. I believe that people should be able to use any bathroom they want to. I believe that children deserve parents who love them and that families come in endless combinations. I believe that all races, genders, sexual orientations, and varying levels of physical and mental ability are equal and equally important. I believe that everyone has a story to tell. I believe that God loves everyone.

I do not believe in bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, trans-phobia, body shaming, racism, or using God to advance personal or political prejudices. I do not support invoking the name of Jesus to lend legitimacy to hate campaigns or exclusion. And I do not believe in “love the sinner, hate the sin,” because it’s a lazy way of cloaking ourselves in goodness and mercy we don’t really feel for the purpose of judging another person. We are all sinners. If God wrote an eleventh commandment, it might have been, “Thou shalt get over thyself.”

What Else I Do

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I’m an archaeologist and a museum professional. I am a wife and mother. With young children at home, I spend most of my time teaching: preschool, Sunday school, ballet, creative movement, and how to wipe one’s own bottom.

Books I Love

I grew up in a house filled with books. Some of my favorite children’s books are Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, Leaf Magic by Margaret Mahy, The Secret of the Sachem’s Tree by F.N. Monjo, Teeny-Tiny and the Witch Woman by Barbara K. Walker, Nate the Great and Lost List by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, One Bright Monday Morning by Arline and Joseph Baum, Someday by Charlotte Zolotow, and all the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel.

When I got a little older my favorites included My Side of the Mountain by Jean George, The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, Homecoming and Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt, and The Ghost of Windy Hill by Clyde Robert Bulla.

Adult books I love include The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Return to Treasure Island by John Goldsmith, Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, My Antonia by Willa Cather, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates.

I also love J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, especially The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Deathly Hallows while Ms. Rowling’s Coromoran Strike books written under the name of Robert Galbraith have become a recent obsession.

My Pitch Wars Manuscript

I believe in this story with all my heart. I love my characters, the settings are among some of my favorite places on earth, and the plot and themes are very personal to me. I am passionate about telling this story and will do everything I can to make sure that other people have the opportunity to read it. Trowel and Error is a contemporary romance. It takes place in the mid-1980s in Washington, D.C., a fictional town called Mockingbird Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, and an 18th century Spanish mission in California’s Valley of the Oaks. It is . . .

Trowel and Error

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Eleanor Blake is an archaeologist who needs only a trowel and a dig site to excite her and make her feel fulfilled. She came of age during the tug-of-war over the Equal Rights Amendment and considers herself a feminist. But she must confront stereotypes and outdated notions of what is suitable work for a woman.

Nevertheless, she persists.

She’s an unapologetic and independent woman and a role model for all the little girls who love books, history, and science.

Eleanor exists in a new reality where the fledgling MTV and other emerging media on cable television exploit women’s bodies and glorify sex even as the specter of AIDS looms. She struggles to define her own morality and to identify the risks that are worth taking. And while she longs to experience the sexual freedom of her mother’s generation, she has no intention of letting a man be responsible for her happiness. In 1985, an attempted sexual assault frightens her into giving up field work. She hides behind her desk job at the Smithsonian, unhappy with the limits she’s placed on her career, but unwilling to risk the potential dangers she perceives as lurking outside the museum.

Tom Gage is an actor who’s let his mother and father guilt him into giving up his love of stage acting for more lucrative and visible movie roles. He’s miserable but too afraid of disappointing the parents who worked hard and made enormous sacrifices to ensure his success. When Tom and Eleanor meet in the middle of a blinding thunderstorm on a Tennessee highway, a sense of connection over their shared struggles leads to a night of passion. When Tom tries to convince her to go back to field work, knowing from personal experience that she might regret her decision to quit, their argument blows up into the fatal words of “coward” and “hypocrite.” Eleanor returns to Washington, D.C. and Tom follows her there, hoping to repair the damage of their fight. She sees his grand gesture as creepy obsession and sends him away, expecting never to see him again.

Nearly a year later, Eleanor, determined that a past she can’t change won’t impact her future, is back at work, teaching a summer field school in California. When a chance meeting brings Tom back into her life she realizes she’s been lying to herself about her feelings for him. They make every moment count, and it’s easy for Eleanor to forget that her life and work are waiting for her in D.C., while Tom’s acting career anchors him to the west coast. When their summer to remember ends, she must decide between the career she’s fought for, and the only man she’s ever loved.

And Last

Well, that’s all for now. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading this. I want to thank Brenda Drake and her fantastic team for making Pitch Wars happen. Thank you to Lana Pattinson for Pimp My Bio. Thank you to all the mentors who work so hard to help other writers. You can always find me right here on my blog and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/lonnaseibertwriter

Please follow me on Twitter at @lonnaseibert. I would love to meet you and I follow back.

Good luck, everyone!

Henry and the Monstrous Din – A Cautionary Tale?

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I am not a political person and I try to avoid controversy. But the state of our great nation and the direction we seem to be heading scare me. To say nothing at all is just as bad as spewing hatred. I don’t hate anyone, but I do question the choices and doctrines of those who may soon be leading us. So, when the dissonant noise of the political campaign trail, the biased reporting of the media, and the hurtful agendas of bigoted and narrow-minded people are applauded and championed, we must stop the noise, and use our own minds and hearts to decide what is right. And so I present, “Henry and the Monstrous Din,” an innocent children’s story written in 1966 with a great deal to say to us in 2016.

Henry and the Monstrous Din is Russell Hoban’s story of an imaginative little boy who, early one morning, begins to make a little noise. Before he knows it, the noise has grown and grown until it takes the form of a monstrous din, a living creature with a bass drum for a body, the twin bells of a traditional alarm clock for eyes, a steam whistle on the top of its head, and many other parts designed for raucous and ultimate noise-making. This monstrous din precedes to take his creator, Henry, for a long ride past his school, much to the principal’s dismay, and off into the countryside for an all-night adventure that includes a double-feature at the drive-in with plenty of popcorn and ice cream. As the monstrous din begins to get tired Henry is eventually able to convince it to take him home, and he subdues it once and for all by repeating the noises that first created it, in reverse, and more and more softly, until the din is gone.

I loved this story so much when I was a child. The idea that I might have the ability within me to create something so powerful, even if it was something I couldn’t at first control, was irresistible. Lillian Hoban’s pictures are so imaginative and fun to look at and her conceptualization of the din’s physical appearance is delightful to see. The language is incredibly detailed and evocative. The descriptions of the din’s noises are wonderfully descriptive, including my favorite: “like fire engines and bulldozers crashing into a piano warehouse.” The most beautiful language of all, though, comes when Henry and the din’s journey is described. “They galloped past fields and farms on faraway roads.” I love this! I was always drawn to assonance in books when I was a child, and this sentence fed that love, while also filling me with a sense of adventure and a longing to see those fields, those farms, to travel those roads.

The reader is never entirely certain whether this event takes place in Henry’s head, or if it is real. By the time he and the din return, it is still the same morning of the same day they left. The hole the din made in the side of the house closes magically and Henry’s parents are completely unaware that anything unusual—aside from a bit of noise—has happened. I like to imagine that Henry and his new friend did indeed go off on a wonderful adventure, and to think that Henry can bring his din back to keep him company whenever he likes.

This book shows us what we already know—that we can create things.

Our words and actions—our noises and even our silences, can have a tremendous impact on the people around us, and on events and the bigger world.

Henry cannot at first control what he has created and although it is just noise, there is the potential for harm. Every time Henry’s din encounters opposition, it drowns out those who would stop it with deafening and appalling noise. Noise can confuse us. It can bewitch us or frighten us. It can drown out our own inner dialogue, and muddle our perceptions of right and wrong. Noise can be distracting. It can be hurtful. And it can sweep us along with a strength that cannot be resisted. Whatever we create, whatever words or actions or noise we put into the world, we should be asking ourselves if we are right, if our creations are worthy, if we are kind, and whether we mean them for good, or for harm. We must always question our purpose and measure the effect we have on others and on the world. Otherwise the noise, the clamor of hatred and intolerance, hurts not only our ears, but our sensibilities and eventually, our very humanity.

The Kangaroo in the Attic

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When Barbara Kaye finds a baby kangaroo in a box of breakfast cereal only she and her sister believe the creature is real. They decide to keep it as a pet and as it grows larger and stronger on a steady diet of cereal it begins to outgrow their bedroom. Soon the animal is big enough to take the girls for rides in its pouch, in the attic. At last the animal has grown so large that its head breaks through the attic ceiling. When a concerned neighbor calls to alert to the girls’ father to a kangaroo stuck in the roof, the parents finally realize the kangaroo is not a cute toy and take action to have the animal returned to the makers of the breakfast cereal from whence it came.

The Kangaroo in the Attic was written by Harrison Kinney and illustrated by Alain in 1960. It is the fun story of a larger than life pet, late-night rides in a kangaroo’s pouch, children who are keeping a delightful secret from their parents, and parents who are slightly clueless. These are all factors that will appeal to young readers. But I see the book as a learning opportunity, primarily for parents. Why? Because the parents in this story are not listening to their children. Most of their responses to the fantastic claims their children make are of the, “that’s nice, dear,” variety. The girls are not permitted a voice to explain the origins of the kangaroo or, in fact, that it is real and not a toy. They are dismissed as silly, with overactive imaginations. Neither parent believes there is a live animal, much less an enormous kangaroo, living under their roof, even when they see it with their own eyes. Each blames the other parent for buying what is first thought to be a highly realistic toy and later, a toy that is much too big for the house. The mother does not seem particularly concerned that one of her children has taken to eating nothing but breakfast cereal while the father is not even aware of this new development.

When the kangaroo is finally revealed to be a real, live animal, the father’s primary response is to worry that it could effect his job security if the story reaches his boss. Parents, we must be vigilant and we must listen to our children. Yes, this is a harmless children’s book with some fun and amusing moments. But what if a child was telling a parent, not about a kangaroo that came in a box of cereal, but something frightening and dangerous. What if a child was trying to communicate about an inappropriate touch, or an unsecured gun, or the girl who cuts herself, or the confusion and ambivalence she or he feels about growing up? As parents our job is to guide and to teach and it is also to listen. With an open mind, an open heart, and open ears. To really hear what our children are saying to us. To make them feel heard. To make them feel believed. To make them feel safe. And to make them feel loved. Because we’ve all heard of those phone calls that no parent wants to receive. And I don’t mean the one telling us there’s a kangaroo stuck in the roof.

Mexicali Soup

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Mexicali Soup was written by Kathryn Hitte and William D. Hayes and illustrated by Anne Rockwell in 1970. The mother of a large family is on her way to shop for the ingredients for a favorite recipe, Mexicali soup. Along the way she encounters the members of her family, and each one asks her if she would mind leaving out a certain ingredient. One would prefer that the soup have no peppers, another that there be no tomatoes, someone else asks her to eliminate the potatoes, and so on. By the time dinner is served, the family finds themselves seated at a table spread with bowls of . . . hot water. The mother’s accommodations to her family’s tastes, preferences and desires resulted in a recipe that basically included nothing. Can you imagine coming to the table to find a bowl of hot water at your place setting, when your stomach is rumbling and you have been eagerly anticipating your favorite meal all day? How disappointing! No one can be nourished and satiated with just a bowl of hot water. What a bland, uninteresting and lifeless dish.

I believe we risk the same when we turn away from people who are different, or flawed, or who embrace other beliefs or lifestyles. When we think someone is strange or unattractive or not smart. When someone is sick or differently-abled. When we judge people because of who they love. When we look at another person and don’t see a reflection of ourselves. Is it really so hard to remember that Jesus embraced everyone, from the outcast tax collector to the prostitute, to the leper, to the criminal? He welcomed the little children and befriended the friendless. In the Mexicali soup of life, if we leave out the ingredients we don’t like, or even the ones we only think we don’t like, what kind of a meal are we creating? What kind of dinner are we eating? What sort of nourishment are we taking in, and more importantly, what is missing from our diet?

When God created the earth it contained every sort of plant, bush and flowering tree, some for the nourishment of our bodies and others to please our eyes. When He populated it with animals, there were mice and wildebeests and kangaroos, reptiles, lizards, birds and insects. It is mind-boggling to contemplate the number of lifeforms, with their distinct biological processes, survival mechanisms, and appearances, that exist in this beautiful world. And when God created man, He made each one in his own image, yet completely unique and individual. God’s creation is diverse. It was never His intention that we should limit our diets to a few select foods, or share our world with just a handful of other creatures. And it was His plan that we should live together in harmony as children of God. It can be uncomfortable to be more inclusive. Whether sampling an exotic new flavor or texture in an unfamiliar dish, refusing to eliminate ingredients from a tried and true recipe, or reaching out to others who are different, these changes can be hard. But the end result is delicious, not just for the palate, but for the soul. As God intended.

Someday

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Someday is a beautiful little book about a girl and her dreams. It was written by Charlotte Zolotow and exquisitely illustrated by my beloved Arnold Lobel (the creator of Frog and Toad) in 1965. The little girl of Someday is optimistic, idealistic, and full of wonderful plans for the future. Someday, she will have $100 to buy gifts for everyone she knows. Someday she will have a little bulldog who sleeps on her bed. She’ll find a room in her house that no one has ever seen before . . . someday.

The little girl plays baseball and does ballet. She loves to read and can think of nothing better than a big box of books arriving at her door someday when she is bored and lonely. She plays the piano and helps her mother set the table. She has an older brother and that tricky sibling relationship that is part rivalry, part annoyance, and all love.

It is good to have hopes and dreams. It is wonderful to imagine the future, to plan ahead, to think about what makes us happy, to understand who we are and what is most important to us.

At the very end of the book, after the little girl has shared all the exciting things she will do—someday, she adds, “But right now, it’s dinnertime.” I love this! This little girl is very wise. She lets her imagination run free, and then she very firmly entrenches herself in the present. She is present, and she is mindful. Her longing for what will be, someday, does not prevent her from enjoying the here and now, it does not detract from her happiness or so consume her that she forgets to live the life she has now. The simple gift of a meal, hot, fresh, and waiting, prepared for her with love, is another thing to be enjoyed, to be savored. For now, it is more than good enough. The little girl is happy in her contemplation of the future, a future she is content to wait for patiently. She is not wishing away the present. What a great lesson for all of us. Waiting for “someday” can be such a trap. It can lead to unhappiness and discontent. It can make us forget or ignore all our current blessings. But it doesn’t have to.

God gave us desires, aspirations, and the ability to set goals. He gave us creative minds so that we might think, and rich imaginations so that we might dream. And as we wait—for tomorrow, for next year, for God’s kingdom to come, for someday, we are filled with hope and expectation, and we live, and we love.

For I have plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

Amen.

Miss Suzy

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“Miss Suzy was a little gray squirrel who lived all by herself at the tip, tip top of a tall oak tree.” And so begins Miriam Young’s magical tale of a solitary but kind-hearted creature who cherishes the comforts of home and possesses a heart of gratitude for all that she has. When a band of bullying red squirrels chases her away from her beloved oak tree she is forced to look elsewhere for shelter. The attic of an old house provides her with a new place to live in the form of an elegant doll house, and when Miss Suzy also discovers a troop of toy soldiers, she finds friends who will become as close as family.

With wonderfully detailed and beautiful illustrations by Arnold Lobel, the creator of Frog and Toad, and an engaging story told through evocative language with a winsome cadence, this book is sure to be a beloved addition to any storybook collection. Miss Suzy’s appreciation for nature, the love and care she lavishes on strangers, the respect and love she garners from those strangers, and the loyalty she inspires in them, all offer marvelous lessons and teachable moments to share with young children.

I see so much of God in this story. Miss Suzy’s love for and proximity to nature show that she is a caring steward and a grateful denizen of God’s perfect creation. The fact that at night she can see “a million stars” is a gentle reminder that even in the darkness, God provides us with light and hope: The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork! When the wind blows, her house rocks gently like a cradle, that speaks to me of the simple pleasures God gives us.

When God guides her, not just to adequate shelter, but to a safe haven where she finds new friends who can help her, it is an example of His intercession and divine mercies. Miss Suzy’s insistence on taking the soldiers into her home, mothering them and caring for them, shows her servant’s heart and her love for others. If Miss Suzy is rudely ejected from her own personal Garden of Eden through no fault of her own, God is still with her in her exile, and just as he has made promises to His people, He leads her back home again, to the life she loves, but now broader and richer for the friends she has made, and with full awareness of the blessings she has received.

What can we learn from this story? What can we teach our children?

If you did it to the least of these you did it also to me.

Do unto others . . .

And of course:

The greatest of these is love.