When a homeless woman gives Maxzyne a painting of a French poodle just like the one in a storefront display, it turns out to be more than just a coincidence for the impulsive 10-year-old. Maxzyne finds herself at the center of a rescue mission when a wayward freight elevator, a family of enchanted vintage mannequins in distress, and a secret tunnel propel her straight into the mysterious depths of a Chicago department store. Can she convince the ghastly Gigi not to use the mannequins' heads in her art exhibit before store closing? It's a race against the clock for Maxzyne and her new mannequin sidekick Elise.Despite her overactive imagination and tendency to get distracted, she learns some important lessons about loyalty, bravery, generosity, and accepting responsibility for her actions. A wonderfully spirited and fun adventure story, Maxzyne Meets the Mannequins is a delightful read for children of all ages.
Two decades ago, I had an amazing opportunity to visit China. Looking back, I'm grateful I experienced it before its global boom. For instance, at the time, there was only one Starbucks coffee shop! Although it was located in the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel where many international travelers resided, I still wondered why anyone would drink coffee in this land of fine exotic tea. I recall one lovely historic teahouse on the water in Shanghai. It was accessible only by crossing a long crooked bridge purported to keep evil spirits at bay. I chose a flower tea from a photo on the Chinese-only menu. It arrived at our small wooden table with dried pink blossoms floating in the steaming water of a glass teapot. The nibbles that were served with the small teacups were their own adventure. We peeled strange fruits, sampled sweetmeats encased in shiny green leaves, and even tried a few speckled quail eggs. My advice? For a memorable afternoon, skip the Starbucks latte, and just wing it with a foreign menu and all the tea in China.
Like Maxzyne, a strange environment and threat of danger can bring out my worst case scenario tendencies. This happened to me one morning while riding the subway in St. Petersburg, Russia. My husband and I were squeezed into a subway car where we stood swaying and holding on to the overhead straps, our faces bobbing into the armpits of strangers. Suddenly, the lights went dark. As we continued to hurtle through the underground tunnel I immediately smelled smoke. "Fire!" I gasped to my husband who snaked his free arm around my shoulders. A woman standing near the back of the car pushed a button to alert the conductor. Her frantic call for help in Russian was met with a brusque, staccato order. I couldn't believe that the train continued to move forward. Imagining the worst, I was sure we would die. My thoughts raced as the smoke swirled, an acrid burning smell rising fast and constricting my lungs and throat. To this day, I have idea why or how the other passengers, crushed together in our potential metal coffin, remained stoic. Was it something the conductor said? Minutes later, the train pulled into the cavernous and gilded station, doors opening, smoke and passengers pouring from the cars. Not looking back, my husband and I ran for our lives.
I loved Chicago winter days. Now that I live in the Sunshine State, I am often asked if I miss the bad weather associated with the Windy City. People are often surprised when I tell them that I actually liked those months of freezing weather, gray days, sleet and gale force winds compressed and howling between towering skyscrapers. Why? Because it was just like the "snow" days of my youth. Translation: a free day at home! But Instead of TV reruns, Monopoly or a cookie bake-off with my sisters, I instead had a guilt-free day to write. If the weather was fierce outside, all non-urgent appointments or social commitments could be postponed, a fragrant soup or stew whipped up to simmer on the stove and the gas fireplace flames turned up to dispel the grim weather outside. Tucked into my glass window condo overlooking a frosty Lake Michigan, it was like being in my own private snow globe world - except the snow was outside! And I could settle into my writing chair and focus on another world where I controlled the weather, characters and adventure. My story world. Maxzyne's world.
Turning the calendar page to a brand new year can be just what is needed to push a daydream into reality. That imaginary achievement, bucket list item, or grasp of the previously impossible is held up and examined once again. Could it ever be? Suddenly, there are another 352 days to make it happen. Will this be the year? I am just about to sign off on the final proofs for the next book in the Maxzyne series. In a few weeks, "Maxzyne & The Old Horse Theatre" will be available to young readers everywhere. When I published the first book, I was elated. I held that dream in my heart for so long and now I was actually holding it in my hand! The first book proved I was a writer. Somehow, though, this next book makes me an author. Happy New Year!
Not long after we married, my husband and I began a holiday tradition of heading to Sydney, Australia to celebrate down under. Although he no longer worked at a university (UNSW) there, it seemed the perfect time to escape the chill Chicago weather and head down under for some warm sunshine and longer days. Not to mention, what a great city to visit any time of year! So when an academic conference presented an opportunity to travel there the week before Christmas, we both jumped on it. And now it's become a wonderful tradition on those years we don't see family. Yes, it's a frenzy to get those Christmas cards and gift packages to the post office. We squeeze the calendar and still manage to attend a few holiday events with friends. Did I mention packing a suitcase for both city and beach time? But once I get on the airplane, I feel energized, light and free. Holiday to-do list? Done. And if it isn't, it's too late to worry about it as I secure my seatbelt and choose a movie. Now I relax. Nearly 24 hours later, when the plane lands down under, I revel in the Aussie-style festivities - peace, love, joy and sparkle, but none of the fuss.
How often have you been told your own dream had no purpose or place to exist? Maybe you were given subtle reminders of the impossible odds you faced in actually obtaining your heart's desire. Or, perhaps worse, the soul-draining proclamation that you have no right to reach so high for that sparkling brass ring you set your hopes on. How dare you even imagine doing so! It's hard to go against those authoritative voices that insist they know best. But you know what? It's harder to let go and give up. You didn't get this far in imagining, planning and carefully executing your goal just to let it die because of some shallow negativity. Instead, you pull those arrows of fear thrown your way and deflect them right back out into the universe. Because you know they're made stronger by the affirmations you whisper to yourself and that precious dream. You give it permission, power and energy to rise higher, becoming unstoppable. And those naysayers? They just don't yet realize the world needs your dream.
As the year winds down we can be haunted by all the things we didn't accomplish. This year, I helped myself a bit with a daily resolution. As long as I did one thing to move the ball forward on my career as an author, be it writing the next book in the series, editing, marketing, social media, etc., I could feel better knowing that I was truly being productive and moving toward my goals. In that vein, I have really enjoyed writing these Bublish bubbles every week. I get to rejoin my character at various points in her adventure (that I wrote!), reflect on the writing process and take care of a little marketing and social media too. Who knows, maybe someone saw one of my posted bubbles and a new young reader is reading a Maxzyne book right now. I sure hope so. That's a ghost I can live with.
What could be more fun for ten-year-olds than having free rein in a candy and soda shop after hours? The temptation to try everything and create a few original recipes of her own has Maxzyne making a mess of the store displays. As she entertains her new mannequin friend, Elise, with sugary concoctions and an impromptu birthday celebration, the two girls form a strong connection. Will it be enough to escape an irate store manager?
The holiday season is a time of relationships. Families come together from near and far, celebrating their joy and gratitude for each other. I wonder what might happen if we each remembered to say "thank you" to our significant others, family members and friends at other unexpected times of the year? I say, let's surprise them.
Despite her best intentions, Maxzyne's shifting focus creates bedlam in her promised mannequin rescue operation. It can be just as easy for an author to let a writing goal drift off course. You fill your novel ship with plots, characters, intended daily word counts, and your absolute best writing intentions before setting sail. Sunny blue skies beckon on dancing waves as the spinnaker runs faster than your imagination. Until there is a shift in progress, subtle or abrupt. Is it a change in wind direction? A broken rudder? Or just pirates hijacking your writer's will and story treasure as the book vessel runs aground and shudders to a stop? But like any seafarer worth his salt, you know the key to getting underway again is to listen hard for the call of the muse. She will guide you back to your story as you again sail into the wind, one word, one page, one chapter at a time.
Nobody likes getting stuck in an elevator, whether it's for five minutes or five hours. Particularly if you are all alone, hanging in limbo while imagining every horrible thing that could happen in the dark. Maxzyne's appetite for adventure is quickly quashed as soon as the lights burn out and she is alone in the dark freight elevator. Suddenly, she regrets sneaking out of her condo. Who can save her if they don't even know she is gone? By the end of this adventure, adults and their stifling rules just might seem more reasonable to an impetuous ten-year-old.
What happens when a daydreamer's best intentions are constantly competing with a vivid imagination? Ten-year-old Maxzyne's tendency to get sidetracked from the task at hand is the cause of her current dilemma. Can Chicago's most impulsive heroine keep her promise, stay on point and actually save her new mannequin friends from destruction?
There is no place like home when you are ten years old. That is, unless your helicopter parents are worried sick about your unexplained disappearance from the premises. Upon your return, there is a good chance they will hug you, scold you and threaten to lock you up and throw away the key so that you never scare them like that again. But everyone knows that the lock-up threat is just love talking down the fear of losing you. Yes, you wandered off, had a scare during your taste of freedom, got into some trouble, figured out how to fix it and finally managed to find your way back home. That's growing up. Adults accepting it? That's love.
I love walking past the Macy's windows on State Street in Chicago every week. Part illusion, perhaps even a bit of modern day sorcery, it is as if the merchandisers blow magic pixie dust through the plate glass windows, giving pedestrians a reason to stop and gaze at the goods so imaginatively displayed. Whether it's the latest fashions reflecting a change of season, or holiday goods to tempt you into an entertaining mood, you might suddenly find yourself mentally preparing a party guest list, despite your busy schedule. Just what is that sparkle and pizzazz that entices us into those bronze swinging doors of commerce in pursuit of magic pixie dust? And can I create some of it for my own book sales to kids, parents, librarians and teachers with just a computer screen, website and a few more clicks...?
This month I'm heading into the final proofreading phase for the sequel to the very first Maxzyne book. As my production team and I look forward to a January 2020 publication, I'm marveling a bit as I wrap up several of these last important details. Somehow, despite the long process of writing, re-writing and now bringing the illustrations, interior design and cover into the book's creation cycle, I have managed to birth another book. How is this possible? By lassoing my daydreams, pinning them down and on the page, one word at a time. Ideas became words and words became chapters as another Maxzyne adventure for middle-grade readers, Maxzyne and the Old Horse Theatre is soon available to kids everywhere. Yes, real girls can.
Like many 10-year-olds, Maxzyne believes she is ready to be in the world without adult supervision. In her mind, growing up in a big city like Chicago means she has nearly everything within five city blocks and it's all very familiar territory. The energy, creativity and excitement beckon, so why wouldn't she be able to venture out alone? The world awaits! But those sidewalks are also the home and livelihood of many indigent people, including Esmeralda, a schizophrenic artist who has lost everything. It amazes Maxzyne that some people live their whole lives in the very shadows of her own 57-story condo and she has always been taught to avoid them. Yet this homeless woman's wisdom helps Maxzyne see her own place in the world for what it truly is - someone's daughter who still has big dreams to nurture until she is ready to fly alone. After all, home is where your heart is and the people who love you. So don't be in such a hurry to leave it!
A great mentor is a wonderful gift to any aspiring artist, author or creative person. All of us hope to learn, excel and then launch our storybook dream on dragonfly wings out into the world one day. My own mentor was wonderful. I met Cheri Coons, a playwright and teacher at the Chicago Dramatists Theater, when she was developing an exciting new class, Story Into Song, for musical theater writers. She was warm, knowledgeable, generous and dedicated to her craft. Somehow, she made every student feel that they had written something worthy of the stage and yet was able to give a discerning critique. Her gentle, yet concise public reviews inspired revision that each week took the working draft to the next level. Thank you, Cheri. You were the wind beneath my writing's dragonfly wings
The most amazing feat of the human imagination is its ability to corral and multiply the power of "what if". What if that poodle in the store window can actually speak French? What if there is a forgotten system of tunnels right underneath Maxzyne's condo building in downtown Chicago? What if there is a secret entrance from the tunnels that lead into the historic building right next door where she lives? One of the best tools in an author's arsenal is curiosity. It only takes a moment to look at something ordinary and ask, "What if," but it becomes magical when whole new worlds are created.
My husband and I spent the past week where we live in south Florida preparing for hurricane Dorian's arrival. We watched and waited, trying not to second-guess our decision to stay as the violent storm stalled over the Bahamas. We agonized for the nearby Islands as they were punished by the fierce winds and rising water. We felt guilty to be spared its destruction and yet marveled as the storm bands crossed the sea and brought our coast occasional deluges of rain, wind gusts and pounding waves that roiled and scalded the beach. The turtle nests, along with their markers and signage were tragically destroyed. And yet there was sheer jubilation as the breakers rose high enough to attract local surfers into hazardous water despite vigilant police patrols. Sometimes I think my character, Maxzyne, has hurricane tendencies. She is a force of nature inside and out, often to the chagrin of adults who venture into her path unprepared. You can never be too sure which way she will go, or what she will do next, but when it happens it will be a memorable and energetic moment for everyone.
I never feel alone when I write. When I sit down at my desk and settle into a new writing session I usually start by editing what I wrote the previous day. It helps me return to the imaginary world and immediately ask, "So what is Maxzyne doing today?" Trying to get into the head of a 10-year-old overactive daydreamer who longs to experience the world on her own terms, is a bit like capturing fireflies in a jar at twilight in July. As the author, I skulk, eavesdrop and follow her energetic lead, teasing out her desires and motivations. Most times I know where she's going, but I truly enjoy it when she surprises me and entices me into a chase in the dark.
I live in FL now and the change of season is a lot more subtle; less rain, heat, and humidity starting in October. Locals begin to notice a lot more tourists arriving from colder climates and restaurant reservations are suddenly required. While living in Chicago, the seasonal transitions were much more pronounced. The cold winter days lengthened, but spring seemed reluctant to arrive. No wonder Macy's department store chose the week before Easter to entice us into its historic doors on State Street for their annual flower show. The windows came alive with the gorgeous blooms of a storybook theme or exotic locale. Once inside, the smell of blossoms, fresh greenery mingled with the moist smell of living plants and flowers, assaulted the senses. Hungry for more, people wound their way under the sparkling mosaic Tiffany dome and up the escalators. What delights had the creative staff designed this time to celebrate spring despite the lingering chill outside?
I wasn't an only child, but I was the eldest of four daughters. Growing up, my mother and I had a challenging relationship. By the time I was 10, I was often in trouble for wanting to be anywhere but at home looking after my younger sisters. Or, worse, helping with the daily household chores. (Although I did like getting my weekly allowance.) It was also maddening that my friends were allowed to do so many things that I wasn't, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. Much like my character, Maxzyne, I longed to take a stand for my own independence. Writing this book invoked memories of my younger self and the willful spirit that longed to soar outside the realm of parental authority.
Writers often hear that the best way to write a great story, song or play is to "write what you know". Well, no wonder I write children's books! I am and have always been a daydreamer. I can be distracted by just about anything, anytime, anywhere. The busy streets of Chicago create ample opportunities for me to find something extraordinary in an otherwise ordinary stroll down the sidewalk. It's no surprise that Maxzyne, my 10-year-old protagonist, also exhibits the same character trait, much to her parents exasperation. An imagination is a terrible thing to suppress. And that's why I let mine roam as I collect story elements and see what happens when make-believe and reality collide.
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