Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas! Etc.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukah! Happy Kwanza! Happy Wassail (for you Princess Sofia fans)! Or whatever you might celebrate this season. Hope it's a good one and that you make lots of happy memories. :)


See you next year!

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Book Exchange Booth!

Visiting the William Jewell campus for a Christmas concert, I came across this:


I'd seen pictures of ones in New York City, and was thrilled to see the idea had caught on here in a small Midwest town. If I'd had a book on hand, I'd have totally done an exchange. Still it was fun riffling through the offerings: Suzanne Collins, Janet Evanovich, Maria Schriver, John Grisham, and tons of authors I'd never heard of.

Have you ever seen one of these? And what book would you leave in a book exchange booth?


Monday, December 9, 2013

On Overcoming Criticism

So I recorded this video of my 4 y.o.:


She was very proud of it. But when I showed it to her brothers, 7 y.o. burst out laughing. "Oh! That is so embarrassing for her!"

I worried that she would get all self-conscious, but she was like a duck. The comment slid off her back as she grinned at her video on the computer screen, pride glowing from her.

And it was a flash of inspiration for me. There will always be someone out there ready to criticize. Ready to tell us we are silly (or worse) for doing what we did. For trying to write a book. For daring to think it might be good. For trying to get it published. For having published a book on that subject. Whatever.

But we have to be like my Girlie. We have to love our own work so much that it doesn't matter what anyone else says. Let those criticisms slide off our back and move forward.* We need to be confident in ourselves.

Because guess what? When 4 y.o. asked to watch it again, 7 y.o. caught the bug. "So do I get to make one, too?"

What have you done when someone hit you with a criticism-bomb?

*To be clear, I'm not talking about critique partner or beta-reader comments that were requested. I'm talking about those un-requested, hurtful, put-downs that we can all do without.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What I learned from NaNoWriMo

So NaNoWriMo is finished and amazingly, I won! I finished with 50,176 words written by Nov. 29th.
 
I first heard of this event about six years ago when a critique partner of mine told me about it. I'll admit, I thought the whole thing was nuts! Why would anybody kill themselves to write 50K words in 30 days, in the month of November no less? Thanksgiving alone makes the idea insane (and I also happen to have my anniversary this month, too).

But when I found myself with a novel all outlined and my last WIP scheduled to be to my agent by the end of October, I decided to give it a shot. Worse case scenario, I simply wouldn't win. So why not give it a go?

As it turns out, NaNoWriMo was very educational. I learned all kinds of things, which I'm forcing on sharing with you:

1.      I write better in the morning. I'm sure everyone is different, but when I found the time to do it first thing, it was always easier. The words came faster and better, I wasn't as distracted, and I could enjoy the rest of my day, guilt free.

2.      Having a more detailed outline really helped. I hit this point where I knew I had outlined, but apparently I hadn't written it down, or perhaps I'd written it on some scrap that I couldn't find. Point is, the writing slowed down enough that I stopped for a day to outline. Things went much smoother after that. (Did I ever stray from the outline? Absolutely. But I could just adjust it as needed.)

3.      Leaving myself a note at the end of the manuscript when I finished writing for the day saved SO MUCH time! I'd simply put a note in brackets to remind myself what I planned to have happen next. I didn't have to search my outline to remember where I was. I didn't have to reread everything I'd written the day before. And as a bonus, it plopped me right into the mood of the story. The days I forgot to do this, I really regretted it.

4.      I can write more than I think I can. There were a few days on my schedule that were so packed full of things I needed to do, I was certain that I couldn't do any writing. Amazingly, when I organized my time, scheduled it all—including writing time—it somehow all fit. I had to be diligent. I had to avoid Facebook and Twitter. But it WAS POSSIBLE.

5.      Pushing through the void helped me find my voice. When I started, I just couldn't find the voice. It was awful, the writing was awful, but I knew I couldn't afford to wait for my muse or I wouldn't meet my goal. As it turns out, pushing through helped me find it. Will I have a ton to revise? YES! But I always do. Even when I have the voice from the beginning. Forcing yourself to write ugly words can lead you to the better ones.

Despite my qualms with this whole event, I am now I convert. I learned so much about me and how I write. After 30 days of this boot-camp, I feel like a better writer. Admittedly, I'm not promising to participate next year, BUT . . . I plan to use this writing method to write the first draft of my next book (which I plan to do much sooner than November).

So how about the rest of you? Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? If yes, what did you learn? If no, think you'll ever try it?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Guest Blogging

Psst, I'm not really here because I'm hard at work for NaNoWriMo (totally rocking it, btw), BUT I had agreed to do a guest post over at Ink and Angst forever ago, so I'm over there talking about 10,000 hours.

Also, if you haven't commented on the Blog Tour post for Connie Arnold's Count 1, 2, 3 With Me, go and do it to be entered into a drawing for three great prizes! :)

Hope ya'll are having a great November!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Blog Tour: Count 1, 2, 3 With Me

So yes, I'm really still on break, hard at work on NaNoWriMo (so far so good!), but I had the opportunity to be part of Connie Arnold's Blog Tour for the release of her latest picture book, Count 1,2,3 With Me. This tour is Also for her new inspiration book, Peaceful Moments of Love and Light. Connie is such a sweet, kind, and supportive author, so I was thrilled to be asked and couldn't turn it down.

I had the chance to read Connie's book, which counts from one to ten, painting scenes from the life of a child. It has a fun rhyming text, with bright, vivid images which can easily be counted by children learning to count. As a parent, I love that the text is short, without feeling skimpy. Counting the objects together would easily add length if you were looking to spend more time on a book, but I love finding quick, fun reads that I can read to my kids at night (especially when it is past bedtime--more than likely mine!).  

You can purchase this book from Connie's website, from Amazon, or from 4RV Publishing. These links will take you directly to her book.

Also, Readers can comment on this post, or on the posts of other stops in the blog tour, to receive entries in a drawing for three prizes: 
  1. A set of three candle holders.
  2. A signed copy of Connie's first book.
  3. A framed sunset print with one of Connie's inspirational verses.
Details about the blog tour, prizes and schedule are on Connie's blog.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!!


This is the pumpkin I carved with my family. I am definitely a traditionalist.

So my good friend Susanna Leonard Hill holds these wonderful children's story-writing contests on her awesome blog (if you haven't visited, you should) and I never enter. So I mean to rectify that. Here are the rules:

Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words spookyblack cat, and cackle. (black cat can count as 1 word and title not included). So here is my entry:

Brewster's Halloween Trick

Brewster, the fat black cat, loved Halloween only second to chocolate. He ate it all the time.

When the witch donned her spooky hat, he shivered. When she whistled for her broom, he quivered. When she chanted her battle cry, he quaked.

"Cackle, cackle, black crow's feet, scaring children, that's MY treat!"

Brewster hopped on the broom. Tensed for take-off.

But the broom wouldn't go.

It hummed and whirred. Rattled and shook. Shuddered and Drooped.

Brewster was too fat.

So the witch kicked him off and zipped into the sky.

"Cackle, cackle, Eye of newt. Eat your veggies and more fruit!"

The End

So wow. Getting it down to 100 words was a fete-and-a-half!

Finally, I wanted to let you know that I will not be around for the month of November. For the first time EVER, I will be doing NaNoWriMo. I'm a touch nervous, but I've outlined until I can outline no more, and I'm excited by the idea, so here's to hoping it all goes well!

For those of you who have done it before, I'd love any hints or suggestions! Otherwise, I will see you on the other side. :)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On Agatha Christie

This past week I read my very first Agatha Christie novel.

I know, I know . . . no judging.

Last night, I finished And Then There Were None. Just saying, I might have had trouble going to sleep. Agatha Christie is amazing!

But what I loved best was the Author's Note at the beginning. It was an excerpt from An Autobiography (obviously hers):
"I had written this book because it was so difficult to do that the idea had fascinated me. . . . It was well-received and reviewed, but the person who was really pleased with it was myself, for I knew better than any critic how difficult it had been."
I love that! I love that she openly admits how hard it was to write this. Agatha Christie, pretty much the best-selling author ever, had to WORK for it. And she didn't let the hardness of it stop her. She pushed through until she succeeded. Until she'd written a perfectly chilling book that confused and baffled, yet had a logical explanation.

The woman was brilliant!

And I say that not because everything came to her easily. I say it because she didn't quit. She pushed herself to continue. To solve the puzzle. To do the nearly un-doable.

And when she'd finished, it didn't matter what others thought. She knew what she had accomplished.

What are you pushing yourself to achieve?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Celebrities with NO Make-up, Writer Edition

I'm sure you've seen them. Those picture-articles titled something like: "What Celebrities Look Like With NO Make-up!"

I believe they are supposed to make us feel good, because even the Stars don't look like Stars all the time!* Which brings us to the logical conclusion that if we had our own personal make-up artists and wardrobe consultants, we, too, would look like Stars. Right?

In fact, this whole idea inspired me to share such a comparison of myself:


 
 
Now, I know these pictures look like a before and after for some weight-loss program, but you should know:
  1. I weigh approximately the same in both these pictures. If anything, I weigh less in the not-so-nice picture.
  2. These pictures are taken less than a year apart (the not-so-nice one being taken last winter, the nice one being taken yesterday).
  3. I am wearing make-up in both of them.
So all these things being equal, what is the real difference between these two pictures? Why is one extremely not-so-nice, and the other so much better?
 
The answer? Effort.
 
In the not-so-nice one, I am not sure if I took this picture or if my husband did. Maybe it was even one of the kids. Clearly the photographer gave no thought to getting a nice picture. Snap, and it was done.
 
In the other picture, I took 21 pictures, adjusting something each time until I got a picture I liked. First the lighting wasn't right, so I tried some different locations. Then the angle of my face bothered me. Next it was my smile, then where my eyes were looking. After 20 little tweeks and nudges, I decided I was satisfied. In short, I put forth a lot of work and effort to get something that I felt was presentable.
 
This, dear peeps, is why we revise. Why we get beta readers and critique partners. Why we read and re-read our work and make changes until our eyes bleed. Because seriously, can you imagine sending that not-so-nice picture to an agent or editor?
 
I thought not.
 
*And I'll give us all the benefit of the doubt that we like those Stars better for it, and feel the indignity of what the paparazzi subject them to, because who would like having their picture taken in all their worst moments?

Monday, October 7, 2013

On Doubt

Today I wanted to share a quote that I found inspiring:
"Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith." -Dieter F. Uchtdorf
The business of becoming an author is almost as much about learning to deal with rejection as it is about learning to write. Rejection from agents. Rejection from editors. Rejection from readers.

It is no wonder that doubts creep in: Is my writing good enough? Do I have what it takes to continue? Do I have any ideas worth sharing with the world?

And really this is what it all comes down to. Our success is not so much based on our inherent ability, but on our determination to keep trying even when we doubt. Even when it seems impossible. Even when it feels like the world is telling us to quit.

We must cling to the faith we have in ourselves. The faith that our hard work and determination can conquer any odds.

We CAN'T let doubt pull us down. Because we CAN do this!

Monday, September 30, 2013

License Plate Interpretation PART 2

My husband saw this at work and, thoughtful man, took a picture for me:


This one had me curious . . . did someone choose to put this on themselves because it is a nickname from someone they love? Or did a dad do this to his daughter? Or maybe a different option all together . . . like they are a fan of that children's show . . . This is the song that never ends . . . Gah! What have I done?! Now I'll be singing it all day. :(

What do you think? What is the story?

Monday, September 23, 2013

License Plate Interpretation

Last Saturday we were headed off to my son's soccer game when we came across this license plate:

CANT-B

It was on a white SUV made by GMC. So my question to you is: What can't be?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tools

I have this cookie recipe that is just . . . Yum. So yum that people ask for the recipe all the time. Now I'm no master baker, but seriously, these cookies rock.

Which is why I was so surprised when I got some feedback that the cookies weren't working out. Had I missed an ingredient? Forgotten to tell them something? What was the secret that I was withholding?!!

I couldn't figure it out until I made them during a visit to my parents. The cookies weren't the same at all! I'd used my same recipe. I'd done everything the same, so why had I failed?

And then it hit me. The pans! At home I always use a baking stone. My parents didn't have one. And oh, what a difference it made.

So it turns out that my cookies aren't amazing because of any special talent I have, but rather because of the tools I use.

A lesson that applies to life. When I started writing, I thought that getting published was about talent. Only those who were born with an intrinsic ability to write could attain such a lofty goal. But I've since learned differently. Writing (or drawing, or playing a sport, or whatever it is you love to do) isn't about talent. It's about tools. And getting those tools is about work.

You want to write characters who are real? Start reading about characterization. In the blogosphere alone there are countless articles on how to do this. Check out a few books on writing, then practice, practice, practice. That is how you gain the tool of creating awesome characters. And the same goes for any other aspect of writing, or really of anything.

You don't think your talented enough? So what! Get out there and do the work. Practice, practice, practice. Because that, my friends, is where it's at.

Have you ever gotten a "tool" through practice and hard work?

Monday, September 9, 2013

This vs. That: Potato Chips vs. Cheese Puffs

I really meant to get to this a long time ago. And I could sling excuses all over the place in explanation, BUT . . . I know you're all dying to hear the results of this debate. Dying!

And I cannot in good conscious be the cause of anyone's early demise, so here we go:

Total votes: 13

Potato Chips: 9 votes; 69%
Cheese Puffs: 3 votes; 23%
Popcorn: 1 vote; 8%
Interesting. Everyone had an opinion. Not one person was split or wanted to vote for both. I place the blame entirely on the powdered cheese. It has a polarizing effect kind of like Hilary Clinton. Either you love, love, love it, or you can't stand it. No middle ground involved.

I voted for potato chips, but I confess that watching Toy Story 2 kind of makes me want to inhale a bowl or two of cheese puffs. Gross, I know. Which in the end is why potato chips won.

Another interesting note on this topic is that they have inverted initials: PC (Potato Chips) vs. CP (Cheese Puffs). Funny, huh? AND both initials stand for something else. PC: Politically Correct OR Personal Computer. CP: Critique Partner.

If I had noticed the initial thing sooner, I might have chosen Cheese Puffs solely for the preferable word association. Because I LOVE my critique partners. Hi guys! *waves at all my CP's*

Alas I digress.

So on to the next debate:


Cold Cereal

vs.

Pancakes

Monday, September 2, 2013

We Have a Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway and helped spread the word. You guys are awesome!

Rafflecopter has chosen a winner . . .

Sandra

Congratulations! I have e-mailed you with instructions to claim your prize. Thanks again to all who entered. Now go enjoy your day!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

HSC Congratulations: Amy's Book Deal!!

As you may know, Amy Sonnichsen, founding member of the Hacky Sack Club [HSC] recently signed a book deal!!!

We've been bouncing off the walls with excitement for her. BOUNCING.

So. This is the kind of thing that we at the HSC can't just let go by without doing something crazy. So Melissa Sarno and I got together. I flew in to New YorkWe Skyped and emailed and Googled and came up with a fabulous way to express our congratulations to Amy while embarrassing ourselves in a HSC kind of way.

As it turns out, Melissa is a sound and video editing genius, so for your viewing pleasure, we present to you our video [And YES! That is Melissa and me singing TOGETHER even though I did not get to fly to New York. She's brilliant, I tell you!]:



Congratulations, Amy! We're On Top of the World right there with you. :D

Monday, August 19, 2013

Stormclouds and Rainbows

Today I have a story to tell. See this picture? I took it at a rest stop in Wyoming.


But this is more than just a picture. It is a visual representation of the first twelve hours of my road trip.

See, my husband needed to study for a big test, so my three kids and I (ages 9, 6, and 4) headed off on a 16-hour drive. On our own.

I did all the packing, and I thought of everything. I pretty much packed the kitchen sink AND the bathroom sink. Alas, about four hours into the trip, I realized the one thing I forgot . . .

My wallet!

Yup. It would have been better to have forgotten ANYTHING else. I couldn't just drive back because I had less than a half tank by then. My husband couldn't just wire me some money to the closest town because you have to have picture ID to pick it up. He could mail my wallet to my destination, but what good would that do me when I had no way to drive the remaining 700 miles of my trip?

I was pretty much a mess, but I had kids in the car, so I had to pretend like I was calm and in control. (Which lasted . . . oh, not very long: "STOP WHINING! I have no money, no way to go home, I need to THINK!! And I can't do that with you kids fighting over who touched who!")

To give him credit, my awesome husband was ready to jump in the car and drive the 4 hours to meet us (EIGHT HOURS ROUND TRIP!!!). I just didn't like that option.*

I called my credit card company and they said they couldn't do anything from there. BUT, if I could convince a cashier to call them, they could approve a card-less transaction because I could prove my identity over the phone. I stopped at four different gas stations. At each one I politely explained my plight and asked if they could help, but they all refused. By the fifth gas station I was in tears. Funny how they were suddenly willing to at least try.

Hurray! I filled the tank, but it was not enough to get to my destination. So next,  I called home to tell them the situation. Amazingly, my sister was leaving that minute on a work trip heading my direction. She would pass me some time in Wyoming and wanted to meet in Laramie. I calculated distances, and realized gas-wise, it would be pretty tight, BUT, from Laramie, one tank of gas could get me to my destination. Maybe. Barely.

At Cheyenne, I debated. I was low on gas. But my car told me I could go 70 miles and Laramie was only 50 miles away . . .

ALL. UP. HILL.

Yeah. So I bit my nails, white-knuckled the steering wheel, and ignored that sick feeling in my stomach until I finally got to the top of the mountain pass. Which is when my car said I could go ZERO miles. But I was at the top of a mountain pass! It was downhill the whole way! And don't those mileage counters have a little padding built in?

Well, if my kids hadn't been with me, I might have tried it. Instead, I stopped at the Lincoln-head rest stop right there at the top:


Happily, my sister knew right where it was because of good old Mr. Lincoln there. She brought me a gas can and loaned me enough money to get me to my destination. It was like the picture. The moment the dark stormy clouds start to disperse and the sunshine breaks through, bringing with it a rainbow and a promise of better times.

It's kind of a good analogy for all sorts of things. Life. Writing. Overcoming obstacles. Alas, we have to face hard things all the time. Things that seem impossible to overcome . . . when the easiest or most obvious solutions aren't acceptable and you have to really FIGHT for something better. Keep trying even when you've been rejected how many ever times, and feel like it's hopeless.

This trip will forever after be remembered as "The Time I Drove Across Country Without Any Money." And when I think of it, I will smile. Because despite the odds, despite the stress, I did it. It took a lot of help, and a hero (my sister) had to swoop in to save me, but I did it.

And I can do it again. Next time I face insurmountable odds.**

Have you ever overcome insurmountable odds? Tell me about it!

And P.S. If you haven't already, don't forget to enter my giveaway!

*The whole point of the trip was to GIVE HIM TIME, not waste it!!
**Which will not be forgetting my wallet on a cross-country trip, because I will NEVER, EVER do that again. ;)

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Fabulous Summer Giveaway

So when I making plans to travel this summer, I had this conversation on Twitter:

 
So look who else I met this summer!


Yep, the one and only Elana Johnson (@ElanaJ), who may or may not be a long-lost distant relation (I mean, hey, if we go back to Noah, we for sure are!). She is just as cool in person as she is online. The type you want to cozy up with on a couch while eating a big plate of bacon while you watch crazy movies.

Right now she is up to her ears in WriteOnCon, which STARTS TONIGHT!! (Though the forums are already in full swing. Go check it out if you haven't.)

I also met the amazing Kasie West (@KasieWest)! (And her super cute daughters). If there hadn't been a line of people behind me waiting to get their books signed, we might have chatted all night.


And and and . . . I got to meet the super sweet Jenn Johansson (@JennJohansson), the crazy cool Natalie Whipple (@nataliewhipple), and the fabulous* Bree Despain (@breedespain).

Seriously, these are my people. And see that black bag in my hand in the picture with Kasie? Yup, totally swag I won. It even came with "Insomnia Pills"**

So of course, to celebrate having met so many amazing authors in one shot, I wanted to do I GIVEAWAY!! One lucky person will win their choice of any one book currently published by any of these authors:
  • Elana Johnson (Possession, Surrender, Abandon)
  • Kasie West (Pivot Point, The Distance Between Us)
  • J.R. Johansson (Insomnia)
  • Natalie Whipple (Transparent)
  • Bree Despain (The Dark Divine, The Lost Saint, The Savage Grace)
This giveaway is open to anywhere The Book Depository delivers and is open through the end of August 2013. I'll announce the winner the first Monday of September. Good luck!

I'm being all kinds of modern and using a rafflecopter, so just fill it out and I'll cross my fingers it all works the way it's supposed to.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

So what book would you choose if you won?

* Yeah, I couldn't think of another good "F" word to go with "fabulous" to keep it all parallel. I debated "freakishly fabulous," but that wasn't quite right. "fascinatingly fabulous" was better, but a bit of a mouthful. "flailingly" just doesn't fit, same with "flinchingly." "Flightily" is really stretching things, "fantastically" felt a bit overdone . . . Well, you see my dilemma.

** Jenn Johansson ASSURED us that they were CANDY. Not real pills. And she was 100% correct. Candy. Not pills. :)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Rockin' My Summer

I'm back!! And I have so much I could tell you. So much that you'd be astounded by my amazingly full summer. These events might include but are not limited to:
  1. The losing of my dignity when not one bottle of orange soda, but TWO, exploded in my car and all over me. (And yes, children are involved.)
  2. The entering of the wrong sex bathroom . . . and not noticing until exiting the stall to find a MAN at the urinal that I also failed to notice.
  3. The forgetting of my wallet as the only money-bearing person of the travelling group . . . and NOT noticing until I have driven beyond the point of no return. (This "not noticing" thing seems to be a trend)
  4. The epic battling against a swarm of mosquitoes that invaded our vessel when we pulled over for an emergency of the unpleasant-smelling kind.
  5. The helpless watching of my son who not only puked all over the McDonald's booth, but somehow managed to splatter everyone in our very large group.
Yep. My summers are always epic, and I have rules to share and everything. But I am not going to talk about these things today.

Nope.

Because today I actually have a GOOD experience to talk about. And not just good.

AWE. SOME!

Have you ever met someone online who is the bomb? The kind who inspires and lifts and makes you want to be not just a better writer, but a better person? And then you learn they are not only the bomb, but a kindred spirit . . . and not just any old kindred spirit, but one who GETS your crazy, AND has the same crazy herself?!! Someone who would do this (not to mention this and THIS) for the sake of solidarity and connecting with others?

When Amy Sonnichsen and I "met," we lived on opposite sides of the country and I never thought I might get the chance to meet her in person. But this summer the stars aligned and it actually happened!

She is even more fun in person. We had a blast together, and as co-founders of the Hacky Sack Club, you KNOW we had to video something. *Big grin*

Alas, blogger is stubbornly refusing to let me post said video, but you can watch it here or here.

Have any of you gotten to meet a blogging/twitter/online friend? How'd it go?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Running on Empty

Have you ever hit that point when you've got nothing left? You've written your little heart out, given it your all, but when you try to keep going the mojo is gone. You just can't think past the blank page in front of you.

Yeah, me neither. ;)

But if that ever does happen, I present you with . . .

5 Tips for Moving Forward on Empty:

1. Use a bullet point list (suggested by the fabulous Margo Berendsen).

2. Read a book.

3. Take a shower (Because all good ideas come to people as they shower).

4. Go running (or participate in another physical activity).

5. Join the Hacky Sack Club! (Heehee . . . you should do this anyway!)

What do you do?

Finally, with summer here, I'm all over the place with the kids, so I will be taking a blogging break until school starts mid-August. Have an AWESOME summer, and here's to happy writing and an endless flow of ideas!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Winner of ONE

Thank you to everyone who entered and tweeted about my giveaway of ONE by Leigh Ann Kopans. Without further ado, I give you the winner:




Christopher Alonso (@ChrisRAlonso), come on down!!!

Woo hoo! Congratulations!

Use that shiny "Contact Me" page up there and I'll get your winnings sent off. :)

On to other things, I just wanted to share with you one thing I learned this weekend:

Playing with an app that makes silly pictures never gets old. It just doesn't.


What crazy things do you like to do?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Giveaway: ONE by Leigh Ann Kopans

If you were anywhere on Twitter this past week, you surely know that the super fun Leigh Ann Kopans (@LeighAnnKopans) just released her debut novel, ONE. It's been climbing all the Amazon charts, and has debuted with a smashing success! So excited for Leigh Ann. :D

My luck pool has been filling up of late, and recently it splashed over the edges to land me a copy of my own. Woo hoo for me, because it's been on my TBR list since I first read the pitch:

When having two powers makes you a Super and having none makes you a Normal, having only one makes you a sad half-superpowered freak.

It makes you a One.

Sixteen-year-old Merrin Grey would love to be able to fly – too bad all she can do is hover.

If she could just land an internship at the Biotech Hub, she might finally figure out how to fix herself. She busts her butt in AP Chem and salivates over the Hub’s research on the manifestation of superpowers, all in hopes of boosting her chances.

Then she meets Elias VanDyne, another One, and all her carefully crafted plans fly out the window. Literally. When the two of them touch, their Ones combine to make them fly, and when they’re not soaring over the Nebraska cornfields, they’re busy falling for each other.

Merrin's mad chemistry skills land her a spot on the Hub's internship short list, but as she gets closer to the life she always wanted, she discovers that the Hub’s purpose is more sinister than it has always seemed. Now it’s up to her to decide if it's more important to fly solo, or to save everything - and everyone - she loves.

And now woo hoo for you, because I'm going to give away the copy I was planning to buy! WOO HOO!!

So if you want to win a copy of ONE, just leave a comment, and I'll enter you into the drawing. Spread the word in any way (twitter, facebook, blog post, sidebar, word-of-mouth, etc.), and I'll give you +5 extra entries. Just tell me what you did (or will do) in your comment. No need for a link, I trust you. ;) Important: Please leave me a way to contact you, should you win.

Enter by Saturday, June 22nd, and I'll announce the winner on Monday, June 24th. Good luck!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Keeping it in Context

After last week's post, I couldn't get the idea of "Context" out of my head. It's not something I've thought about consciously as I write, yet it's kind of important.

First, what is context?

My good friend, Merriam-Webster says it's "the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning."

Blah, blah, blah, what?

On a basic level, this means that context is the sentence before or after a given piece of information. For example, suppose I said "I ate the little boy." Sounds kind of gruesome, doesn't it?

But if I give you some context (i.e. the sentence before), the whole meaning can change: "We made a pancake family for dinner. I ate the little boy."

Relieved to know I'm not cannibal? Me, too.

And while this is fascinating stuff, Merriam-Webster also gave a second definition that is especially important to authors: "the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : environment, setting"

Environment. Setting. Sound familiar? It's what drives every character's reaction to every event in your book. And when we ignore Context, or simply fail to consider it, we have credibility issues.

I personally learn from examples better than explanations, so here we go.

Examples:

1. Let's suppose we are writing an historical fiction that takes place in the 1500's.

Our mc is a 16-year-old young woman. Of course, we all want a strong female lead, so she gives her hair pink streaks, and secretly sneaks out at night to burn corsets and rails against her father (and every other male she meets) about the repression of women and how she should be allowed to become a Blacksmith if she darned well pleases.

You see the problem? This character is not believable. She is shouting ideals of a time period well-beyond hers, and participating in activities that were probably never thought of back then.

Now, make this into a fantasy or dystopian . . . in other words, change the Context . . . and you're on your way to some great world building. Context changes everything.

2. Let's make this one a contemporary chapter book.

Our mc is a 5-year-old boy who loves frogs and dirt. He loves worms and bugs, and catches grasshoppers for fun, but he always lets them go. He looks at spiders through magnifying glasses, makes match-box beds for pill bugs, and hosts a sit-in protest when his mom tries to spray an anthill in her flowerbed. Then one day, he sees a garden snake and takes his mom's hoe and hacks it to death.

Ummm . . . yeah. See the problem? In the context of this character, this is not something he would do. It just isn't.

Now, create a circumstance that gives a new context for that action, and you might have some interesting tension and inner turmoil going on. But without that, you will lose your reader if your character doesn't act within his own context.

3. Finally, we have a MG fairy-tale retelling.

Our mc is the 37-year-old wood-cutter from Little Red Riding Hood. The book explores the graphic details of his murderous past before he faces his own mortality and the mercy he receives from a little old lady. In a display of symbolic irony, he redeems himself by slaying the beast who ravages that little old lady and her dear grand-daughter, Little Red Riding Hood.

Now could this be a good book? Absolutely! But given the context of our audience (Middle Grade), this book misses the mark. No middle grade editor is going to read past the description. It is simply isn't Middle Grade. Make it adult fiction, and you might have something.

Context helps define our characters as well as the setting. It outlines plausible events, and keeps us focused on our audience and genre.

Now, I am definitely not saying that you can't mix things up a bit. But if you choose to ignore a context that you, as the author, have previously established, you risk breaking a trust with your reader.

Have you ever stopped reading a book because of context issues?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Out of Context

I was parking my car, when lo and behold, what should I find? You guessed it, a personalized license plate. And this one especially caught my attention because, well, just look:
 

I know, right? So of course, I immediately assumed that this is a kindred spirit, a fellow writer, because that's MY context.

MG = Middle Grade.

But then I realized . . . ummm . . . I could be wrong. Duh, duh, duh . . . [Those are the 3 notes of impending doom you hear after some nefarious revelation in a movie . . . just trying to create an atmosphere here.]

So first, I wanted to say something pithy about creating context for your characters, etc., etc. But it's the end of a long weekend, and, well, you can guess what I'd say, right?

About the quarter?

And the chocolate cake?

And that other thing that I don't even need to mention?

I thought so.

More importantly, I wanted you to fill in the blank for me. What does "MG" really stand for?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Life of a Shiny New Idea (in pictures)

Once upon a time, a shiny new idea popped into my head, and I was like:
 

And to all my friends I was like, "Yeah, I got a shiny new idea.":


But then I had to think a lot:


And I was like, "I thought shiny new ideas came all assembled!":


But I wrote and I wrote until I was like:


And, "Squirrel!":


And "Oooh! Housecleaning!":


I was going to get back to it, but then I saw this book that looked MUCH more interesting than mine:


And wait, "Is that another squirrel?":


And then Darling Husband asked how my book was coming, and I'm like, "GET OFF MY BACK, I'll get to it!":


"I just really like housecleaning.":


And then I'm like, "What am I saying?":


"There are way better ways to waste my time!":


So how do ya'll stay on task?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Winner and Thoughts about "The Journey"

Finally! After all the debates and hullaballoo, we have a winner!! *throws confetti*

Amy gathered the names. Her daughter, very fairly, drew a name from a hat. And the winner is . . .


Congratulations!

You can email either me or Amy and let us know which prize you choose:

1) TWO 10-page critiques (1 from Amy & 1 from me)

OR

2) The SURPRISE package!!!

Thank you to everyone who entered our contest and passed along congratulations to our amazing friends. :)

So I've been thinking a lot about this whole writing journey lately. I remember when I first started writing with the idea of getting published. So much excitement! Every word on the page was magic, and everything I wrote was brilliant.

I didn't stop to consider the reality of the publishing world and all the hurdles I'd have to overcome to get my book in print. I just wrote. And I loved every minute of it! I subjected my (then new) husband to first drafts and he laughed in all the right places and told me he just knew I'd be published some day. (See why he's a keeper?!) :)

Good times, those.

But, of course, that doesn't last forever. The rejections came. I still remember my very first conference critique by a real live editor. "It sounds like you haven't found your voice," he said.

Oh, but that hurt.

And then my first critique group. My perfected chapters came back covered in ink.

That first rejection from that first query. I think it took a little under an hour to receive it in all it's "Dear Author" glory.

And the list goes on.

More often than I care to express, I wondered if all this effort was worth it? With all the rejection, why did I think I could ever reach that shiny goal of seeing my words in print, and my name on the cover?

Two things kept me going.

First, was remembering why I started writing in the first place. Remembering the sheer joy of bringing a world alive and watching others react to it. How could I give that up? WHY should I give that up just because I hadn't been published yet?

Second, was this quote:
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
 
Confucius
551 — 479 B.C
Success is not achieving something we can't control. Success is moving forward in the face of difficulties. It's not giving up just because something is hard.

And that my friends, is pretty awesome. Because we can control that.

I'd love to hear about your journey, and how you define success, too.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Too Close to Call

We tried.

You tried.

But the consensus? It was just too close to call.

We can't tell who ate more ice cream!

Besides, it's like Theresa Milstein said in her comment, "How can anyone lose in a game of ice cream?"

Which is GREAT news because now everyone who voted for either person will be entered in the drawing! Hurray! *throws confetti*

We'll announce the winner Monday, so be sure to come back to find out if it was you!

Monday, May 13, 2013

In Which We Eat Ice Cream

We did it.

We came.

We saw.
We got on Skype at the same time (even though Amy's mic was broken so I had to talk to her on the phone).

We even had the same kind of ice cream.

And our nine-year-old boys STUFFED OUR FACES. (Mine may have enjoyed it a little too much. If you listen closely, you can hear him cry with wicked glee, "This is the most amazing day of my life!" Uh huh.)

Here's my video evidence of the grand competition.

video

But we have a little problem. Amy and I are in grave disagreement about who won. Amy says I ate the most ice cream. I say she ate the most ice cream. We need your help.

Who ate the most? Watch Amy's video here to decide and leave a comment on one of our blogs. We'll add up the votes and make our decision on Wednesday. Then we'll announce the ULTIMATE WINNER of our blog competition next Monday (find out what the awesome prizes are here).

And one last congrats to all our friends! You KNOW we love you after seeing these videos, right? ;)

P.S. I sense questions coming over the little cutie trying to get in on the ice cream eating action. Her arm, you ask? Yup, it's newly broken. But it's just a hairline fracture, and she's a trooper. She's more upset by the splint than the break. She'll be back to good health before you can blink. :)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Ice-Cream Eating Celebration Contest!

Holy Cow, has it really been a MONTH since I posted?! Unbelievable. So I stayed busy doing this:


And this:

 
Not to mention THIS:

 

And while I didn't really think ya'll would be stagnant while I was gone, all kinds of good things happened:

One of our very own members of the HackySack Club, MelissaSarno, just SIGNED WITH AN AGENT!!, so head on over to her blog and read about it!

Note: New members to the Hacky Sack Club are always welcome and we DO seem to have some good mojo going. Just saying.

Also, my Hacky Sack Club partner in crime, Amy Sonnichsen's Fablulous CP, Krista VanDolzer [of Mother.Write. (Repeat.)] announced theBOOK DEAL she just signed!!

And JessieHumphries, from my NaNoRevMo group, announced herawesome TWO-BOOK DEAL with Amazon.

Anyhoo . . . so much good stuff going on for our friends that Amy and I couldn't just let it slide. We are holding a Celebration Contest!

And since all good celebrations need ice-cream, we are having an Ice-Cream Eating Celebration Contest! Woo hoo!

So here's how it works:

Amy and I are going to battle it out to see who can eat the most ice-cream in 20 seconds. Too easy, you say? Our 9-year olds are going to be the ones stuffing the ice-cream in. Still too easy? Another child will hold our hands behind our backs to keep us from cheating. 

And you'll get to see the whole thing on video!! How cool is that?!

BUT, it gets better. There will be PRIZES!!

All you have to do is guess who will win. Me? (uh, yeah). Or Amy?

Everyone who guesses right (on either blog) will be entered into a drawing for your choice of

a)       a 10-page critique from BOTH Amy and I,

OR

b)      Surprise Package D (gosh I love me a surprise package). Could be a book. Or two. Or a gift card. Or, who knows? Maybe even A BRAND NEW HACKY SACK! Heehee.

Just post your guess in a comment before Sunday, May 12, midnight EDT, and come back next Monday, May 13th, for the ice-cream eating event! Winners will be posted shortly thereafter.

So go on, take a guess! But just know . . . this is me, Toughest, Ice-cream eating-est, Brain-freezing-est contestant around! Just saying.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tying Up Random Odds and Ends

First thing to tie up: Around mid-week I realized that I FORGOT to choose the winner of Leigh Moore's THE TRUTH ABOUT LETTING GO. So I am rectifying that right now. Random.org has spoken and the winner is:


Hurray! *throws confetti* Congratulations! I have e-mailed you, so check your inbox. :)

Second, a few of you had some questions about last week's blog hop. Did I end up with S or X? (If any of you wondered about M . . . he's my brother, so ewww! Did NOT end up with him).

Darling Husband
The answer to that burning question is neither. I met darling husband a couple of months later, and I'd like to say the drama ended there. Since I can't, I will say that I am ever so grateful I ended up with who I did. He's a keeper!

Finally, the last loose end to tie up is my annual April blog break. What with A to Z going on, and some serious revisions on my plate, I am going to disappear for the month (or so). I wish you all happy April, and hope you all the best. I look forward to lots of good news when I return in May.

Happy Blogging!

P.S. Happy April Fool's Day! May you play some fun jokes on people who appreciate your humor. ;)

Monday, March 25, 2013

My So-called Teenage Life Blog Hop

Today I am joining this fabulous blog hop hosted by Andrea of Maybe It's Just Me, Christa Desir and Amy Sonnichsen.

We are supposed to post an old entry from our teenage journal, but alas, my old journals (which are embarrassingly hilarious) are all buried in a box in my parents home (a couple of states away). Yeah, I should probably finish moving my stuff out of my parents' house now that I've been married over 11 years.(!!!)

But since I haven't done that, I'm posting a journal entry from pre-married life. I read through these with hubby, and they are also quite embarrassingly hilarious. So sit back, enjoy, and maybe blush once or twice for my former self. :) [Note: The ellipses are all in the original text. No skipping here. I just really liked ellipses.]

2/22/00 -- I went skiing, for the first time this season, yesterday with M-- (bro.). We went to Beaver Creek up in Logan. It was okay . . . except that it got really hot and the snow got kindof slushy. The first time down I did a major face plant. I still have a sore neck. :x Later in the day, M-- took a bad fall and I think he got a mild concussion because he lost his short term memory. It was kindof scary. It started with: "Wow, I can't remember how I crashed. Which lift did we go up last time?" How did I fall? . . . Oh, well which lift did we got up last time? . . . " etc. I decided that we should go home.

You know, so much has happened yet I don't want to go back and relive it all right now. . . . I got a guitar for Christmas.

 9/10/2000 - S-- told me that on both Friday & Saturday he wanted to come over with his engagement ring and propose on the spot. He said he decided he could give up chocolate for me and that even the cooking thing wouldn't bother him, but that he didn't want to lose my friendship over chocolate (that had been one of his concerns). He did say, however, that he couldn't give up hunting. :) Funny boy. If only it were as simple as that. He invited me over and offered to come over, but I told him "no."

I can't tell you how tempting it is. First, I really do care about S-- and I am really attracted to him. The thought of leaving the whole dating scene is very tempting, and then I wouldn't end up as one of those old maids to whom everyone always gives those sympathetic looks. But, unfortunately, I just don't feel good about it. I don't know if it's just silly fears or not, . . . Anyway, so I have to admit that my first proposal wasn't at all like I imagined. It feels nice to know that someone cares about me that much, but it feels awful having to tell him that I don't feel the same way.

4/23/01 -- Oh! One thing I forgot to write is that X-- told me that he had been interested in asking me out right when S-- and I started dating. He told me that he was just getting ready to make his move when the whole S-- thing started. He said he was really jealous and it was like an extra twist to the heart that S--'s real name was [the same as his]. This might sound awful, but I was glad to know that it made him jealous. It's always interesting to hear things from a different perspective.

---
Okay, I'm sure that's more than enough. Oh, the drama! I just want to smack myself sometimes. Ya think it was a concussion? Just because he lost his short term memory?!!! But hey, I got a guitar for Christmas. :)

And gosh, my view of "old maids." I was how old? I think I read too much Anne of Green Gables growing up.

But oh the, "interesting to hear things from a different perspective" bit. Interesting indeed, My Former Self. Interesting indeed. *Shakes head*

Have a great day ya'll!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Interview with Leigh T. Moore and a Giveaway!

So Leigh T. Moore's book, The Truth About Letting Go has been out a couple of weeks and is doing awesome! Read all about it HERE.

So what else is there to do but have a giveaway? Hurray! *throws confetti* One lucky commenter will win a copy of The Truth About Letting Go, just let me know in the comments you're interested, and leave me a way to contact you.

Last day to enter is March. 24, and I'll post the winner on Monday, March 25th. Best of luck!

In the mean time, since I already interviewed Leigh HERE, I let my 3-year-old do the honors to give you a fresh perspective on this amazing author. :)

Girlie, take it away!

Girlie: What is your favorite color? Mine is pink.

Leigh: I'm imagining us sitting at a little white tea table with a few stuffed animals joining us. I'm very big, and I've got my pink boa and tiara on... 

(sips tea) I like pink, too. When I was little, purple was my favorite color, though. You can be Pinkalicious and I can be Purpleicious. Is that OK?

Girlie: Will you sing me a song? OR Dance with me! I like being a ballerina. How do you like to dance?

Leigh: I don't dance super well. My dancing takes special medicine, otherwise I look like Kookoo the Bird Lady from Freaks.

Girlie: Let's play magic wands! Mine turns people into stones. What does yours do?

Leigh: Stones! Goodness.
 
Me: Yup, it's true! I've totally been turned into a stone like 4 times just in the past week. Crazy.
 
Leigh: Did I mention I really like this tea? And that's a lovely dress you're wearing. Umm... what if my wand turns people into fairies? That's fun, huh? 

Me: If I don't hear from you in a while, I'll confiscate Girlie's wand. See if I can figure out the reverse spell! ;)

Girlie: If I'm the princess, what does that make you?

Leigh: I guess I'd have to be either one of those little birds that help you get dressed or a mouse... I'm glad I'm not the step-mom or anything. They're always bad. 

Girlie: I like to cut things up and play with glue. What do you like to do?

Leigh: You know what's fun to do with glue? Put squiggly shapes on construction paper and then dump a bunch of glitter on it and shake it around. It's real, real messy. Ask your mom to show you how to do this... LOL! :D
 
Me: Um, thanks a LOT!

Girlie: I can write the letter K. What can you write?

Leigh: Now that I'm big, I can write most of my letters. But you know which one I still can't write? Cursive Q. That's hard for me. Oh, and cursive Z. You'll probably do those really well. I still have to make those in print.

Me: Okay, I have to intervene, because this is my blog after all. Last question:
 
What would Ashley's personalized license plate be? Colt's? Jordan's? 8 letters for each. Go!

Leigh: You know I HATE this!!!
 
Me: Bwah ha ha! I am evil incarnate. :)
 
Leigh: I'm not good w/personalized plates. Urgh... umm... do they have to be 8 letters?
 
Me: Okay, okay, you have UP TO 8 letters.
 
Leigh: OK, here goes...

Ashley would be  REBLREBL (I'm thinking "Rebel Rebel"--like the David Bowie song... does this look like Robble Robble?)

Jordan would be HAVEF8TH (That's not very good. I know.)

Colt would be L8TRDUDE (OK, his would be cooler than that, but I actually knew a guy who's plate was that... LOL!)

Me: Awesome plates! REBLREBL totally came across right. :) Now aren't you all wishing you could sit down to a tea party with Leigh, wearing a pink boa and a tiara? I know I am!!
 
Thanks for visiting with us, Leigh! And the rest of ya'll, don't forget to mention in the comments if you want a chance to win Leigh's latest.