Elle Cosimano

Tale of a Reluctant Reader

My 8 year old son was a reluctant reader. A VERY reluctant reader. But he also has some VERY unique challenges.

My son has Tourette Syndrome, which causes his body to experience frequent motor and verbal tics. He is unable to control or stop the blinking, facial grimaces, eye rolling, loud and persistent sniffing, shoulder shrugs, leg squats, hand motions, toe curls, and abdominal crunches. Nor is he able to silence the constant repetitive counting and intrusive thoughts inside his head.

Given all that, could you really blame him for not wanting to sit still over even the best of books?

I was beginning to wonder if he would ever enjoy reading. If he would ever curl up in a sunny window with a favorite book and escape for hours into his imagination, as I often do. Or if he would always dread it as though it were some torturous punishment he was forced to endure. The very thought of all he’d be missing broke my heart.

One day, on a whim, I picked up the first three books of The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. The chapters were short, the print was large, and the subjects were fascinating and diverse. The covers promised intriguing tales of mummies, dinosaurs, and knights. Magic and mystery all woven into simple stories with likable heroes. He read the first one — reluctant and slow — and actually came back for more… on his own!

Eureka! I’d found books he liked enough, even for all his discomfort, to READ!

As luck would have it, he’d just been assigned his very first book report. He chose to do his report about The Knight At Dawn (Book 2 of the Magic Tree House series). My mother spent hours laboring over his book report with him. We made him color-coded flashcards, and colorful props, and listened while he practiced in front of our family. Speaking in front of a group (as you can imagine) is no small challenge, but he was proud of his book report and tackled the presentation with a knight’s poise and a hero’s courage.

Bag and Props

And he still wanted to READ!

I decided to strike while the iron was hot. I googled the author, the series, and even fanned them on Facebook. We found the tour dates for The Magic Tree House Passport to Adventure. It was coming soon to our state! So I did what any overzealous Type A mother would do… I scheduled a field trip.

It was a long journey to the big city where Jack and Annie, the main characters in the series, were scheduled to appear. In preparation, we downloaded four of the Audiobooks so we could listen together in the car. And we drove two hours to Fairfax, VA, to meet Jack and Annie in person!

Jack and Annie

Connor and his Book

The actors performed a few musical numbers for the kids, and talked with them about the joys and benefits of reading. The children were told they could all take a Secret Oath, committing to do three simple things in order to become Reading Ambassadors:

  1. Read 5 books in the next 30 days
  2. Carry their reading passports with them and record the books they’ve read
  3. And help someone else learn to read

 

Great lessons, even for adults. What I heard was:

  1. Set a goal for yourself
  2. Measure and keep track of your progress toward that goal
  3. And help others along the way

 

Suddenly, reading was full of texture and color and sound and movement. It was meaningful! There were real faces he could associate with the story, and they were standing close enough to touch him!

At the event, I purchased my son the newest release in the series, a beautiful hardback book with a colorful jacket. The actors signed his book, presented him his passport, and allowed us to photograph him with them. He was so thrilled (and not just because he thought Annie was beautiful or because he thought Jack was actually Daniel Radcliffe!)

Signing

My son has since informed me that he plans to read the entire series… all 45+ books… himself. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

He loves to READ!

There is hope for even the most reluctant reader. And I am eternally thankful to the children’s authors whose creativity makes reading an enchanting experience for my kids. Extra special thanks to Mary Pope Osborne, Jack and Annie, and the bookstores who support events like the Passport Adventure! You truly put the magic in the Tree House stories!

On Selflessness and Sacrifice

It was a blistering cold day, that Valentine’s in 2006.  But I was shivering with excitement. Not from the weather. I’d spent days planning it. Coordinating and negotiating it to the smallest detail.

I’d bought a car.

And not just any car.

I’d ordered the ultimate “I Love You” present. I’d secretly purchased my husband the 2006 World Car of the Year — the BMW 330xi — brand new in sparkling graphite metallic finish, with every imaginable option. Did I mention it was new?

BMW

Per my instructions, it was waiting for him on the dealer lot, dressed with an obnoxious (and none-too-masculine) red ribbon and a sign in the windshield that said “SOLD to Cosimano.”

I’ll never forget the look on his face.

The scared-shitless one, when he turned to me and whispered “What the hell did you do?”

You see, I’d just gone back to work after four years of Stay-Home-Motherhood. I’d dieted my way back into my executive clothes, and clawed my way through 12 hour work days while juggling day care and bedtime. Because I wanted to. Because I needed to.

And he’d supported me, without hesitation or question or judgement. When I’d wanted to be home with them, he’d said we’d make it work. And now that I was ready to go back, his response was the same. He diapered and changed, bathed and fed, medicated and cuddled our children without once complaining that I should be home doing it. He gave me the freedom to climb my way back up the ladder. And climb I did.

And when I wanted to show him how much I loved him for it — in a grossly indulgent over-expression of my gratitude and admiration — I did.

He’s been driving his dream car for five years.

Until last night… when he waved good bye to that car without hesitation or question or judgement, so that we can afford to pursue my dream — my dream — for one more year.

Sometimes our love isn’t measured by what we give to each other, but rather by what we’re willing to give up.

Mar

31, 2011 |

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Angry Airplane Lady

Today’s post is about accountability.

And airplane bathrooms. But mostly about accountability.

On a recent flight, my five year old son tugged on my sleeve and told me he had to go to the bathroom. I glanced down the aisle. It was empty of passengers awaiting the “necessary” so I said, sure. No problem.

I followed Little Man to the front of the plane. Then made him wait while I checked the “Vacant” sign. Yep, the sign said the bathroom was empty, so I let him reach for the handle.

Whoooopps!

There was Angry Airplane Lady, still doing her business, and not very happy with my son. Little Man was very polite and immediately shut the door. He turned as red as she did, and I assured him he’d done nothing wrong. Angry Airplane Lady had simply forgotten to lock the door.

Hey. It happens.

Eventually, Angry Airplane Lady emerged, and she glared daggers at my little boy. She mumbled something at him under her breath and proceeded to huff and puff and glower at him through the rest of the flight. (She happened to have the seat right behind us… just our luck.)

As much as I tried, she wouldn’t look me in the eyes, because I am old enough to know and she is old enough to know — despite her behavior suggesting the contrary — who was actually responsible for the bathroom door debacle. It wasn’t the five year old’s fault. So why lay the blame on him?

We all make mistakes sometimes. If it hadn’t been my son, it would have been the next person to barge in on her business. And yet, she made it a point to show everyone, through her behavior, that she was not woman enough to take responsibility for her own embarrassing oversight.

I’m not sure where I was going with this post. But I guess my message is, remember to lock the door. And don’t point fingers at someone else who is smaller and incapable of defending himself if you know in your heart the mistake was your own.

And if you happen to walk in on Angry Airplane Lady, on a flight to or from Dulles International or Cancun, send her my warmest regards and a copy of my post.

Writing Like Real Estate

In my previous life, I sold houses. Lots of them. I guess you could say I was pretty good at it. The more time I spend immersed in the writing world, the more parallels I find between selling a book and selling a house. It’s just a different kind of property.

Lindsey For Sale Sign

This month, I’ve worked closely with my agent to determine the new direction for my book. As we explore new tones, new themes, new characters, and new plotlines, we’ve come to the decision that the book will be… well… entirely new.

I’ve survived the emotional loss and mourning process after the burial of my first completed draft. I am starting my novel again… nearly from scratch… knowing it will be stronger, tighter, and more gripping for the changes.

As I’ve shared this news with friends and family, people have asked questions, like why didn’t you just choose an agent that likes your book the way it is? Or why not just ask your agent to submit it in “as is” condition? Maybe it will sell?

I didn’t even have to think about the answer; it came as easy as breathing. Because if I think of my book in terms of real estate — it’s my property, and it’s extremely valuable to me, so it’s a reasonable analogy — my answer is no.

Here’s why…

Let’s say you have a house, and you want to sell it. You want to list it for the best possible asking price, and you want it to show well. Not only that, but you want the listing agent to be savvy, aggressive, and honest in their counsel. You want more than just a lop-sided “for sale” sign in the yard and a half-assed ad in the Sunday paper. You want the best possible contract with the best possible terms. So you interview and hire the most professional agent to list your home.

That über-agent will walk through your home, show you the comps, present a comprehensive marketing plan, and tell you what you need to do to make your home show-ready. If they’re good at what they do, they’ll be honest with their feedback. If the house really sparkles, then it will demand a higher asking price from the market, and maybe even yield multiple offers.

In my case, my agent told me the house has incredible potential, but it needs work. We can make it better… and this will involve a few pretty significant repairs. I had a choice. I could go with an agent who might be willing to slap a for sale sign on it and throw it out into the market without much due diligence. It would be a numbers game, a gamble on the possibility of a sale. Or I could choose the savvy agent (who’s going to expect some elbow grease from me) to make sure the property sells for the best possible price.

No contest. I chose Agent #2.

So this is me… stripping ugly wallpaper and threadbare carpeting, remodeling kitchens and baths, giving my story a stronger foundation with crisp decor and a shiny coat of paint. This story is a reflection of me and my choices. So, this is me… working harder, putting my best foot forward, even if it means taking a step back. Because anything worth having is worth working for.

 

Mar

18, 2011 |

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Interviewing Your Agent

“How did you land your agent?” This is the most frequently asked question I’ve heard from writer friends since I signed with The Greenhouse.

I’m not going to bore you with “how”. There are hundreds of insightful blog posts and websites devoted to this subject, and they all essentially say the same thing:

  1. Read a lot of books
  2. Write the best book you can
  3. Find brilliant critique partners
  4. Research agents, the industry, and the process
  5. Write a kick ass query letter (I can’t emphasize this enough)

 

That’s it. There’s no substitute for elbow grease, and no secret weapon. I am convinced there’s no love potion or Cupid’s arrow as effective as a solid query letter — and an intense amount of work and patience.

So let’s say you’ve made it this far. An agent loves your manuscript. Now what? You’ve been jumping up and down, waving your arms in the air, screaming “pick me, pick me” for years, and suddenly an agent is holding your beloved darlings and the tables are turned. What do you do?

Google wasn’t much help with this. There are so many of us out there trying to get through the first hurdle, it seems the next step is often overlooked.

The answer? You interview them.

With the help of agented colleagues and friends, I’ve compiled a list of interview questions I found helpful during the process, and a few words of advice to consider when choosing an agent.

NOTE: Revised 12/16/2011 – an updated list may be found in my guest post at Ink & Angst – No Such Thing As A Dumb Question.

Without further ado…

 

I received the greatest advice from a widely known, award-winning author while attending a conference last year. She told me to choose an agent I felt comfortable with.

Your relationship with your agent is a long partnership. You hold hands and take risks together (as my agent told me) and you should feel confident in that partnership. Your agent should be someone you trust to guide you through the publishing waters and keep you afloat. If they don’t return calls, don’t answer your questions, or if you feel uncomfortable picking up the phone or asking, there is probably a reason. Compatibility is important, in any successful long-term relationship. You’ve got to like each other, believe in each other, and trust each other.

If any agented colleagues are reading along, and have additional interview questions to add, or feedback to share, I welcome your comments.

Good luck out there!

 

Secret Superpower

In recent years, the YA market introduced readers to a broad spectrum of young people with super-human powers. I admit, some of these powers are pretty snazzy and would probably come in handy in a war-plagued dystopian universe. Like reading minds, or talking to dead people, never missing a target, manipulating the weather, or shooting laser beams from your fingertips.

All very cool.

All worthy of great tales of heroism.

A little known fact about me? I also wield a great superpower. It’s probably not worthy of a best-selling YA novel. And it would only come in handy in a post-apocalyptic world involving way too much water and Kevin Costner at the helm of an ark.

But it is a gift. And I am proud of it. So I will share my secret power with you.

Little Elle Fishing

I can catch fish.

Lots of them.

Anywhere.

And I don’t need an expensive reel to do it. (Sorry, I had an Allison Reynolds/Breakfast Club moment. Picture me digging a shiny Penn reel, a bag of frozen squid, and a package of double bottom rigs from my overstuffed handbag…)

I don’t know the meaning of the word skunk. And I’m no girlie-girl. I bait my own hook.

Ask my father or my sons. They’ve watched with wonder and amazement as all species of sea life found themselves snagged by my infallible hook (insert evil laughter sound clip here). True story of a mother’s love… I once caught a tropical fish in the shallows of a tidal pool using a tiny plastic sand bucket and a PB&J sandwich for bait. How could I say no when he looked at me with those big watery eyes and said, “Please, Mommy. You’re the only one who can catch him for me!”

And that’s no fish tale.

I like to think it would be an advantageous power to have if I suddenly found myself struggling to survive in Panem’s District 4.

I’m a believer that everyone has something they do really well.

So I’m curious. What’s yours?

Mar

07, 2011 |

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I promise you won't go blind…

(Disclaimer: This post is about masturbation. All those too chicken to talk about it may abort now. I promise you won’t go blind. But you may stay ignorant. I can’t help you with that.)

So here we go…

I have a Facebook page with a small clan of loyal followers (mostly friends, family, and old colleagues). My “Average Daily Users” hover in the neighborhood of five. One of them is usually my mother.

It’s cool. I get it. I’m not very important.

This morning, just because I was curious, I checked out my Insights Report, neat functionality that allows me to see a snapshot of activity (or lack of) on my page.

Here’s what I saw…

Active Facebook Users Feb 7 Daily Post Views

My “Average Daily Users” and my “Average Post Views” shot up to 85 on February 7th.

From 5 to 85 in one day! WTF?

What did I post on my page on February 7th? So I went back to my Wall and looked.

This huge spike in traffic occurred the day I posted a link to “Sticky The Movie” — a documentary about masturbation. I can’t embed the trailer, but here’s a link. If you haven’t watched it, go ahead and check it out now, and then come back… I’ll wait.

So I crunched a few numbers with a calculator (cut me some slack… I failed Basic College Math 101 all three times) and then I threw the calculator out the window. But here’s my best estimate:

Video link + masturbation theme = a big freaking increase in traffic in one day… for one post.

And yet, not one “Like” or one Comment. And not one person shared the link. Hmmm…

Obviously, everyone is very interested in the subject of masturbation. And we all know everyone’s done it. (Any brownie points you think you earn by denying it are wasted. You just wipe them out by lying about it.) Is it possible, that in this modern day of progressive and liberal thinkers, we are still too afraid to talk about masturbating? Seriously?

So, you might say “Elle, your followers are all teens who are probably just too embarrassed to talk about “it” [giggle into your hand and insert creative euphemism of choice here].”

But you would be wrong.

The vast majority of my followers are not teens. And I’ll prove it…

Facebook Page Gender and Age chart

So now you say, “Big deal. We’re grown ups and we don’t have to talk about it.”

To which I respectfully call bullshit.

Those of you in the big, fat column marked “Ages 25-44” are also probably parents. Many of you are parents of teenagers, or will be very soon. My guess is most of you have not, and will not, talk about masturbation with your kids. Most don’t. And we can’t rely on MTV or American Pie (as awesome as that movie is) to do the job for us. These are just vague references, watered down in bathroom humor and flashy lyrics. (Most of my adolescent friends and I thought Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” actually was a dance move or a day-glow plastic o-ring bracelet, and The Divinyls “I Touch Myself” didn’t come on the scene until I was college-bound.)

So my point is, no one is really talking about it.

And here’s a true story about that.

When I was a freshman, one of my best guy-friends from high school called me. (For those of you who’ve known me that long, no, I will not share his name, so don’t ask.) For today’s story, we’ll call him Fred. Fred was a little late to bloom and struggled a bit in the cruel and sadistic middle school/high school social mix. He was distraught and crying on the phone (yes, guys sometimes cry).

Fred told me he thought there was something wrong with him and he wanted to kill himself. So I asked him why. He told me he’d touched himself. I asked him if it felt good, and did he make a big mess. He said yes. I assured him his plumbing was fine. There was nothing wrong with him, and not to forget to wear a condom if he had any plans to do it with anyone else.

That’s the problem, he said. Fred assumed his desire to touch his own penis (yes, I said it… go ahead and get your giggles out now. We’ll probably say it again… penis, penis, penis…) must be an indication of sexual preference. He assumed it meant he was gay. And he was devastated by the sudden and frightening implications of what he’d just done to himself.

So I asked him, Fred, what were you thinking about when you got excited? He told me he’d pilfered his Dad’s Playboy (back then, porn came delivered to your house in conspicuously inconspicuous paper sacks) and he was thinking about the centerfold, a blonde with particularly large breasts.

Scary dilemma #2 was solved. No, Fred, you’re probably not gay, I said. And touching yourself when you think of naked ladies is normal. And even if you were fantasizing about boy parts and hot guys, there would still be nothing wrong with you!

But it’s a penis, he argued. He didn’t like penises. Why did he want to touch one? And if it was normal, and all the other guys were doing it, why wasn’t anybody talking about it?

Fred raises a great question. Why isn’t anybody talking about it. Not joking or giggling or making up dance moves about it. Really talking about it. I couldn’t answer that question then. I still can’t. But here’s what still bugs me about this…

1- Fred was scared to death because he touched himself, and he felt dirty and guilty and wrong for doing it.

2- Fred wanted to kill himself because he thought he might be gay.

Now here’s the real eye opener…

3- What if Fred was your teenager? What would you say to him if you could? What if you never got the chance?

Three really good discussion points. Who volunteers to go first?

I know we can’t expect the schools to tackle this subject in Health Ed. And frankly, there are a few teachers I can think of who might be the exception to the “everyone is doing it” theory. Or maybe it’s just been too long since they’ve tried. Not sure how effective that class lecture might be, and a little afraid to think about it.

So where do we begin having some intelligent adult conversations?

Here’s a start. If you’re curious (don’t lie, we all know you are) here’s where you can watch the trailer, “Like” the trailer, and/or share the trailer. “But Elle,” you whine, “people will see I liked it on my Wall. What will they think?” Who cares what they think! You’re a progressive individual with an open mind, and you’ve got backbone!

And most importantly talk to your kids. If you need ideas, here’s where I plan to start with my boys once they’re old enough to hear it. I’m starting with two Health Ed lessons too often forgetten.

#1 – It’s okay to love yourself, both physically and emotionally.

#2 – You’re okay, and I will love, respect and support you, no matter who you love.

Good Things Come…

To those of you patiently awaiting more “Welcome Back Kotter” clips, I extend my apologies. It’s been a very busy week.

I am giddy. I am exhausted. I have an agent.

Thanks to the power of The Query Letter, I am now represented by the extraordinary Sarah Davies of The Greenhouse Literary Agency, and officially promoted from struggling, starving writer to squealing, starving author.

Nearly’s finally found a home. She needs a little work (I’m not gonna lie) and I will be buried for the next several months under a mountain of revision notes. In the spirit of Daniel Day Lewis, I’ll stay alive no matter what occurs, but promise to come find me. And bring me Swedish Fish. All writer survival kits should come properly equipped.

For those following and waiting, Nearly’s book will also undergo a name change. Apropos (for those who already know her story). But fear not, no hotties will be killed in the re-making of the story.

All good things.

So thanks for being here. For helping me heft my bucket. I couldn’t have realized this dream without you.

Killing Baby Bob

“Don’t kill it, Mom!” My five year old son stomped his foot on the bathroom stool and fisted his little hands. A snot bubble swelled under his nose.

“Kill what?”

“My baby!” He stretched on his tip toes and grasped at the soggy dixie cup I held over the open commode.

I looked into the cup. One of his little ‘sparements (translation: experiments).

“What is it?” I squinted at the unidentifiable blob where it lay drowning under an inch of cloudy tap water.

“It’s Baby Bob!” The snot bubble burst. “You can’t put Baby Bob in the toilet!”

My son, Doctor Frankenstein, was making imaginary friends out of tiny balls of toothpaste, which — when soaked in water overnight — transformed into a swollen, marble-like substance. He assured me they were only ‘sparements, but it didn’t surprise me to see one fly through the house at warp speed only hours later. In his twisted amateur laboratory, he’d not only created a companion, but also invented a unique reproducible form of ammunition with which to pelt his unsuspecting older brother in the back of the head.

Of course, it all made sense. I understood completely why I couldn’t kill Baby Bob (and why — I noted, as Bob grew before my eyes — flushing him into our septic system might be a mistake I’d come to regret).

I set the dixie cup back on the counter, and his little shoulders relaxed. I identified with his pain. Because, figuratively speaking, I have Baby Bobs too.

My own babies aren’t terribly different. I collect little wads of sticky ideas. I paste them in empty notebooks and hope by adding enough sustenance and letting them rest in their literary petri dish, they’ll swell into something wonderful. Something bigger and harder-hitting. Something I can throw at the world, to make people scratch their heads and think “hmmm….”. My babies aren’t called “Bob” but they have identities. They speak to me and keep me company, taking up friendly residence in the quiet corners of my mind while they brew.

For all the reasons I understand my son’s obsession with his Bobs, I decided to let his babies take up residence in their quiet corner of my bathroom. For his sake, I hope they grow big, I hope they make him proud, and I hope his tiny dixie cup never dries up.

Feb

09, 2011 |

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Welcome Back

Facebook is such an odd juxtaposition. It’s all of our memories and histories brought to the surface using a technology we never could have dreamed about in those way-back years. I recently found my 5th grade teacher — the greatest teacher I ever had — here on Facebook, and have laughed and reminisced watching her reconnect with my old elementary school clan. Old stories are coming back to me, and I am feeling inspired to share.

This post is just a teaser really. Next week, I’ll roll out a series called “Lessons With Mrs. P.” And since I am a child of the 1970’s, my readers will suffer through clips of one of my favorite 70’s TV shows, about an inspirational teacher and the wacky students who loved him.

I won’t leave you guessing. If you’re a Kotter fan, stay tuned next week.

Welcome back,
Your dreams were your ticket out.

Welcome back,
To that same old place that you laughed about.

Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
But those dreams have remained and they’re turned around.

Who’d have thought they’d lead ya (Who’d have thought they’d lead ya)
Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)

Yeah we tease him a lot cause we’ve hot him on the spot, welcome back,
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Kotter Screen Shot

Feb

04, 2011 |

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