Author Archives: Susan Wroble

Cocoon!

By Susan Wroble

Photo: “Cocoon” by Dawn Huczek is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

I was born with a hip that didn’t fit quite right, so I always knew I was going to be a candidate for an early hip replacement. The past few years gave a steady decrease in the things I was able to do. When I stopped being able to ride my bike around the neighborhood, I knew it was time to talk to an orthopedic surgeon.

The surgery was scheduled for early January. Our neighbors graciously loaned us every conceivable type of device I might need, from a cane to a shower stool to an amazing walker. Our daughter set up a Meal Train account, and emailed the link to friends, so we had meals delivered a couple times a week for a month.

Surgery was easy, with no complications. But recovery was a fascinating period. For the first few weeks, I was simply exhausted. I couldn’t wait to go to bed. Each night, I’d throw the covers over my head and think: “Cocoon!” Yet even as I thought it, I had no idea why.

The surprise to me was that it was indeed a cocooning period. The me that emerged was different. With all my normal activities on hold, my attention was increasingly focused on writing. It was the one thing I could still do.

A month after surgery, we went to a party, and someone asked the standard “What do you do?” question. For years, my typical reply has been that I volunteer too much. This time, however, what came out was completely unexpected. “I’m a writer,” I said, surprising myself with the answer.

For years, I’ve wanted to make that switch to writing. I just never expected hip replacement surgery to be the precipitating piece. My nighttime cocooning was indeed transformational, and I emerged feeling incredibly blessed.

 

 

 

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Giving Away Treasures

By Susan Wroble

I love thrift stores. Once a month, I choose one and treat myself to a long perusal of its shelves. I love the excitement of not knowing what I may find. But I do know that having explored the rest of the store, I’ll always end up in the book section. Like all children’s authors, I can’t get enough of books.

And when that perfect award-winning book sits forlornly on the shelf, I buy it. How could I not? At thrift stores prices of a quarter for a paper-back, or two-for-a-dollar hard-covers, I’ve found true treasure. My own bookhelves, of course, are bursting. I can’t keep these books. But I’ve found a solution. I give the books away.

My thrift store treasures go into one of three boxes. One box is for a small library in rural Indiana, a library my great-uncle helped build. At the start of each summer, I mail this library a box of books, from readers to middle grade, that they use as rewards for their summer reading program. Each year, I’ve gotten a card signed by all the kids in the program, and I’ve been thrilled to see the list of names get longer each year. It is because they are getting great quality books at the end of their program? I don’t know, but I can only hope…

The second box is the hardest, but the most satisfying. To fill this box, I need to find, on my thrift store adventures, twenty-four pristine, un-marked holiday books – books like The Polar Express or The Night Before Christmas. Typically, it takes a few years to fill this box. And when I’ve finally found the last one, I wrap each book and tag it with a number, 1-24. The collection becomes a magical advent gift for a special child, with a different book to unwrap and read each night on the count-down to Christmas.

The third box is new, and its contents will stay closer to home. My own street is too quiet for a Little Free Library, so my church is allowing me to set up a Little Free Library on their grounds, near a city bus stop. This Little Free Library won’t be installed until this spring, when it’s warm enough to dig and pour concrete more easily. With an inner-city location in a primarily minority neighborhood, I’ve been able to start collecting books for a different demographic and age spectrum than those aimed for school kids in the mid-west. I can’t wait to become this library’s steward, and see which types of books will best serve the community.

 

 

 

 

 

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What Makes a Great Book?

By Susan WrobleIMG_0579

I picked up Leila Sales’ amazing book Once Was a Time at the library last week. Immediately, I was engrossed in its themes of history and time travel and, above all, friendship. It made me start thinking about what makes a book great. I know what I do when I read what I think is a great book (and what I did with Sales’ book) – I fall in love with the language and the characters and the intricate weaving of the plotlines. I cry towards the end, hug the book when I finish, and finally turn right back to page one and voraciously start the whole thing all over again.

But, as I said, that’s what I do. It isn’t what a great book is. Author and rare book dealer Rick Gekoski tried to answer this same question in the context of the Man Booker Prize, the annual award for the best book written in English and published in the United Kingdom. In a 2011 article for The Guardian titled What’s the definition of a Great Book?, he wrote “When you read works of this quality you often feel, and continue to feel, that your internal planes have shifted, and that things will never, quite, be the same again.”

Shift, change, movement, transport… My definition of a great book would be one that transports the readers — in both meanings of the word. Readers should feel first that they are in another place or time, and second that they are overwhelmed with emotion. For me, that feeling initially came when I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Reading Wrinkle gave me insight into concepts of advanced physics, and changed my beliefs of what is possible and what is real. The book transported Meg and Calvin and Charles Wallace and me across space and time, but more importantly, it transported me to a place of happiness in the knowledge that love will always triumph.

I narrowed my question, no longer concerned about what makes a book great, focusing instead on what makes a book great for me. It’s a book that transports, that carries me away, that lifts me up. And when you find a book like that for you, give it a hug from me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gone to the Dogs

 

By Susan Wroble, photo by Carol-Ann Mullin

A graduate level conference for social workers, focusing on human-animal interaction, was the last place I expected to find a recommendation on the practice of writing. But there it was, a gem of information, right in the midst of sessions about addressing trauma through the use of therapy animals.

NellaHathawayGalena

Like all writers I know, I wear a lot of different hats. I always hesitate when people ask what I do. My usual answer is that “I volunteer a lot.” The dozen or so organizations where I give my time center around three areas: science, education, and dogs. That meant that the “Animals on the Brain” conference, hosted by the University of Denver’s Institute for Human Animal Connection (HAIC), was right up my alley.

 

Much of the conference focused on brain chemistry – specifically, the hormones oxytocin, which promotes trust and bonding, and cortisol, which is released in response to stress. Working with animals tends to release oxytocin in the human brain. As a result, social workers are increasingly incorporating animals into their practice with individuals who are autistic or who have experienced trauma.

 
Nina Ekholm Fry, Director of Equine Programs at HAIC, was in the midst of a talk on the Social Neurobiology of Equine-Assisted Work when she made the observation that changed my writing practice. “Your state of mind can be changed, it can be affected. Your state of mind goes to sensations and thoughts.” She continued, “I have input in that. I can change what I feel.” Before working on a difficult task, Fry said that she reads through a list of compliments her students have sent her. This, she explained, changes her brain chemistry and thus her mindset.

 

My writing sessions have all too often started with the mundane – and the depressing. Filing a rejection. Figuring out where to send something next. Wondering whether or not I should follow up on an article sent months ago, given no response from the editor. And that, I realized while listening to Fry, is completely wrong.

 

As a result of the conference, I’m separating the filing, the rejections, the “what’s next” questions out from my writing sessions. Starting with a dash of anxiety-inducing cortisol is not the way for me to be productive. Instead, I’m collecting a file of kind words and published articles and rave reviews (okay, those may all be from my writing group!). I’ll review those before starting my writing. And, of course, spend a whole lot more time petting the dogs.

 

 

 

 

 

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Nutty for Newberys

NewberyShelves

By Susan Wroble

My January tradition isn’t getting into shape, losing weight, or becoming organized. Instead, I watch for the American Library Association announcements, and get my hands on the latest Newbery Award winning book as fast as I can.

I’ve loved the Newberys since I was old enough to read them. This award, given to “the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature,” began in 1922. I started collecting them in the early 1990s, then got serious a few years ago about tracking down those last few missing books.

Carrie Seidel and I have more in common than membership in this wonderful writing group. She also collects the Newberys. Carrie’s shelves are full of hardbacks, and she especially loves the old library hardback editions with their clear plastic coating and cards with lists of names inside the cover. In contrast, my collection began at thrift stores, so has a lot of paperbacks. And if I really love a Newbery Honor book, it gets shelf space right next to the award winner for that year.

This year’s winner, Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña, was a shock. It’s a picture book. I have to admit that I was annoyed. A picture book winning the Newbery? Then I took the time to read it, and re-read it, and think about the award. The writing is tight and elegant and lyrical; the story is timeless. It’s a gem of a book.

With our youngest in college this year, I once again have the time and energy to devote to writing. I have plenty of picture book ideas that were started and filed in those two decades devoted to active parenting. And so this year, I’m eagerly awaiting March, with the ReFoReMo (Reading for Research Month) Challenge offered by Carrie Charley Brown. The idea behind ReFoReMo is to use the month to delve into and study picture books—an average of five a day—and use them as mentor texts for our own stories. Here’s the link for more info:  http://www.carriecharleybrown.com/reforemo

Who knows? Perhaps one day there will be another Newbery Award winning picture book, this time with my name on the cover. Not likely, but it sure is fun to dream!

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