A nod for TOMFOOLERY!

May the road rise to meet you, and the wind be always at your back.

~Irish Proverb

Tomfoolery. It’s a word I love, and the title of the middle-grade novel that I’m revising and preparing to send back to my agent, Linda Camacho.

Tomfoolery just received a runner-up honor in the Cape Cod Writers Center annual writing contest– a delightful confirmation that I am on the right track, something all writers need at one time or another. I feel the wind at my back, even as I acknowledge that in the writing and publishing world, the road can be rocky for writers and it does not always rise to meet us!

My main character is eleven-year-old Tom Foley, who lives on Cape Cod and dreams of being a famous window dresser like Simon Doonan. When he defies his grandmother’s wishes and sneaks off to a semester of Saturday art classes in Provincetown, his artistic skills blossom, but he realizes he needs the support of his friends and family to be truly happy.

Tom, a bit of a late bloomer (a topic I blogged about recently), frequently gets teased for being gay– but he’s not quite sure of his identity yet. He fits into that “questioning” category, like many middle-schoolers who question just about anything.

Carnival beads figure into a few Provincetown scenes in TOMFOOLERY, so sometimes I wear mine for inspiration!
Carnival beads figure into a few Provincetown scenes in TOMFOOLERY, so sometimes I wear mine for inspiration!

Thank you, Cape Cod Writers Center, for the vote of confidence!

What a children’s writer learned from a fierce diva’s cabaret act

Billy Porter was just in Provincetown for a three-night nightclub engagement. You know, the Billy Porter who won a Tony for the role of Lola in Broadway’s hit “Kinky Boots.” He sang with supreme confidence in a skirt, a killer hat and some kick-ass ankle boots.

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He paid homage to “Kinky Boots” (now on national tour with someone else in the lead role) without irony or sarcasm, honoring it as the show that changed his life, that brought him to a new level of artistic growth. He described reassuming the role of Lola when the national tour hit his hometown of Pittsburgh: “the prodigal son came home… in a dress.”  In his Pittsburgh childhood, he said, he’d been “bullied… discarded… told by the ministers at the front of the church that I was worth nothing because of my homosexuality.” Years later, he conquered the Pittsburgh stage as Lola, in a play that, as he said, “changed hearts and minds…. it was the ministry of Lola.” A triumph.

kinky boots billy w tony

A professional career coach recently told me that the most successful people are the ones who know WHY they are going what they are doing. The WHY behind the work drives success, clarity, and vision.

As Billy swept through the audience, eliciting participation and making merry, he neared a smiling mom and her androgynous teen. As he walked past, he placed his hand for a moment on that teen’s shoulder. That moment, that gesture, said so much. Ministry, indeed.

Billy also paid homage to Cyndi Lauper, lyricist of “Kinky Boots.” “She wrote the hell out of that song” he said of one number… and told us about her completely rewriting Charlie’s “want” song four days before Broadway opening… because it needed it! Then he sang the song so we could admire her artistry.

Seeing this show rearranged all my brain cells. There was music, fierce fashion, food for writing thought, activism and beauty. Billy Porter is a genius– it was a delight to see him in a small venue.  He clearly knows the WHY of what he is doing, and it shines out of him with a laser’s intensity. His example made me, someone who writes for kids, a better writer in that one evening, crystallizing my own WHY that keeps me writing, persisting, creating.

Here’s my favorite song from “Kinky Boots,” which Billy sang solo in Provincetown quite beautifully. Enjoy!

When Stars Align: diversity, writing & pop culture

As a teacher on summer hiatus, I’m grabbing all of the free hours I can muster, running as far and fast as I can with my middle-grade novel-in-progress, Tomfoolery. And the other day, the stars aligned to tell me, “Yes! Keep going. You are moving in the right direction!”

You see, my main character Tom’s world is being rocked by taking part in an art class in beautiful Provincetown. Suddenly, as a gay/questioning, artsy kid, he doesn’t feel so alone– he has found his people.

 

Provincetown
Provincetown

I wrote a scene the other day in which the art teacher referenced ballerina Misty Copeland. In response to someone using the term “firebird,” the teacher shows an image of Copeland leaping mid-air in flaming red regalia. I wrote some dialog from the teacher:

“Misty Copeland,” Will pointed. “African American soloist  with the American Ballet Theater. Most famous role: Stravinsky’s Firebird.”

Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland

Finished with my writing time, I clicked on over to Facebook for some social interaction, and there on the headlines was Misty Copeland: newly-named as the first African American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. I immediately went back to my manuscript and made that change!

In the middle of my novel, where my gay/questioning character feels a bit at sea, a bit too “different,” I had introduced an example of another artist who has also had experiences of feeling at sea, and different. And then, there she was, like a Firebird, soaring. Inspiring my character, inspiring me.

The stars aligned, in a little way– but it was enough for me. To keep me going, when I feel a bit at sea in the writing process.

FIREBIRD, by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Christopher Myers.
FIREBIRD, by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Christopher Myers.

I’m going to keep soaring.