Tuesday, September 3, 2019

2019 Summer Bucket List

The day after Labor Day. Whether school started earlier or not, this is pretty much the official day of the end of summer. Pools close. Weather starts to change (we hope!). Free weekends are a thing of the past.


But happily, memories live on, so it is time to report on our 2019 Johnson Family Summer Bucket List. To be honest, things have gotten a little out of hand. We used to make a list with the intention of finishing every last thing. Now we make a super long list with the idea that we can find something to do when we're bored.

Personally, considering how long our list was, I'm impressed we got through so much! And because I like numbers, here you are.

Number of items on our bucket list: 70
Number of items checked off: 42
Percentage of the list complete: 60%

Even better than numbers are pictures, so here are a few highlights:

Monster Pizza!! This was our kick-off activity. So. Much. Pizza. We definitely want to do this again . . . when we can drag along a few more people!



Here's a two-fer: Go to Oregon. Play on the beach. And really, this beach was the site of many bucket list fulfillments. Go for a walk. Go on a picnic. Roast marshmallows/make s'mores. Visit cousins. Seriously, the beach is my favorite.



We went to Lagoon.



We went to Canada.



We ran a family 5K (even if I only have a picture of two of us). And actually we ran TWO family 5Ks, so kudos to us!



But alas, we had a few items on the list I lament not getting to:
  • Learn to make macaroons.
  • Learn to make a curry dish.
  • Fix the trampoline.
  • Silent day!!! Okay, maybe the kids were glad about this one, but we're even because they also missed . . .
  • Hatchet throwing. (It could have been fun, I just have visions of a bad ending to that. o_o)
My favorite bucket list item was going to the beach (and we did that a lot). Girlie says her favorite was going to Canada (so shout out to Aunt Becca for making that happen!).

Anyway, the point is, we had an awesome summer, and I love that our kids love doing the bucket list. And who knows? Maybe we'll keep pecking away at this list over the  fall. That WOULD break the rules, but us Johnsons are known rule-breakers,* so it wouldn't really be a shock, would it?

Tell me about your summer! What was your favorite thing you did this summer?

*hahaha! This is a lie, we are ridiculous rule-followers, and when I DO break a rule or two, my kids are horrified. HORRIFIED.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Cover Reveal!!! - HELP WANTED: MUST LOVE BOOKS


I feel like I say this a lot, but being an author is like constantly riding a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs. There is a ton of rejection, but there are also moments that make your heart flutter. Seeing your cover for the first time is one of those.

With my middle grade cover, I knew that the cover was the only image I was going to get for my book. But with a picture book, the cover is a hint at all the lovely things to come! Thirty-two pages of beautiful, glorious pictures that represent someone's vision of this world I created.

My debut picture book, HELP WANTED: MUST LOVE BOOKS, will be released into the world on March 1, 2020! I can't wait for you all to see the whole thing (I just love it!), but in the meantime, here is a hint of things to come. The promise of a story that makes my heart happy. I hope it will make yours happy, too.

The illustrator is the amazing Courtney Dawson. You should follow that link to see her amazing art work! She's so talented!

So without further ado . . .

just

follow

the

little

dots

and

ta da!!!





my cover!!!





I hope you love it as much as I do! I'm so pleased with how Shailey turned out, and I love, love, love that you can read the titles on a bunch of those books on the bookshelf. I love the fun colors, and that title font (!!!). So fun! *happy sigh*

Thanks for stopping by, and I'd love to hear about what grabs your attention when looking at covers.

Help Wanted: Must Love Books is up on Goodreads, so feel free to add it to your "Want to Read" list!

And holy cow! Just this second I discovered that it's also live on Amazon, which means you can now pre-order it!! (no cover there yet, but AAAAHHHH!) [And just so you know, this would be another one of those exciting moments I was talking about at the beginning that makes your heart flutter.]

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Legoland in Review

When we drew up our last summer bucket list, I bribed the kids to go running with me. I told them that if they would run with me 5 days a week, 30 minutes a day, then run a 5k with me at the end of summer, I would take them to Legoland.

Well, they did:



So of course, I had to keep up my end of the bargain. I had so many people ask me to tell them what we thought, I decided to do a good old fashioned blog post with all my thoughts. And pictures. So. Many. Pictures!

So first off, I want to say the we LOVED Legoland. We got the two-day parkhopper pass that allowed us entry into both Legoland and the Sea Life Aquarium which is also on site. Honestly, I thought one day of Legoland would be enough, but boy was I wrong. There were so many things the kids loved and wanted to do again, and so many things we just didn't get to the first day. And turns out the Sea Life Aquarium is not a full-day's activity. We could have happily spent a third day in Legoland, but I personally would rather be left wanting more than less, so two days was perfect.

Much to my son's chagrin, we did not stay in the Legoland hotel because it was pricey. However, I booked through the Legoland website when I discovered it cost less with both hotel and tickets together. We stayed at the Hyatt Place which we loved. It provided a very yummy breakfast, had an outdoor pool, a fitness room, and was only about three blocks from the beach. Perfect in so many ways! It was far enough to need to drive to Legoland, which meant we had to pay for parking ($18), but even with that, it still cost less overall. We also bought a picture pass for one day, which was great, although I kindof wish I'd sprung for the year-long pass which wasn't much more.

My kids are way into Legos (especially my boys), so this was kindof their mecca. If your kids like Legos, they will love this park. Amazing Lego structures fill the park! There are also videos on how the structures were designed. How they were built. How they were shipped to the park. It's fascinating!

Iwo Jima

Amelia Earhart eating a PB&J (!!!)

The Bard (Shakespeare)
I really wish I could show you everything . . . okay, okay! I couple more!




But there is way more to Legoland than just the amazing creations. There were so many fun, non-traditional rides. For example, usually you see these towers, where you are pulled up and then dropped really fast.

Not at Legoland!

You use good old-fashioned arm strength to pull yourself up with the ropes. And to make it even more fun, you get to race against the other riders. My arms got a serious workout! Then there was the fire-fighter training ride! A ride that requires teamwork to pump the firetruck into motion (serious effort required!), so you can put out the fire by spraying the water into the bulls-eye. I loved the teamwork, and we had so much fun competing against the boys.




They had the traditional teacups (Bionicle-themed), several roller-coasters, and a choose-your own level of craziness Nexo-Knight ride. The boys chose the highest level! (The crazies).

The Bionicle spinny ride

This coaster was actually pretty tame, but it goes around twice, so we timed our "Woo-hoo!" expressions. ;)

They did level 5! I did level 2, and that was plenty for me, thank you very much.

But our favorite ride, hands down, was the Ninjago ride. It was a 3-D, interactive video game ride. You karate chop your way through all the bad guys of Ninjago, trying to outscore not only those on the ride with you, but everyone else for the whole day! We managed to make it on the "best scores of the day" board once! (We may have been some of the first people to ride it that day).

I look like I'm meditating, but I'm really just holding my glasses. We got through the line so fast (walked straight through to the ride), I didn't understand what the ride was this first time on it.


Oldest child is #3, I'm #4, and Rick is #5.

And in addition to all the rides, there were Lego stations all throughout the park. We spend a considerable amount of time at these stations. A place to build boats, then send it down the rapids. A place to build cars, then test it on the ramps. Tons of build-whatever-you-want stops, not to mention the archaeological dig. We had a hard time convincing the kids to leave!

We discovered this basically on our way out. The kids really wanted to spend more time here.


We basically dragged Girlie from this area (after a really long time). They let you check out shovels, brushes, and buckets.

We spent a good hour in the Robotics lab, learning how to program a robot to perform specific tasks, and I convinced my family that we NEEDED a lego family drawing. A bit of an expensive souvenir, but I'm so happy we got it to remind us of our super fun trip. I'm kind of in love with it.




We tried these amazing things called Apple Fries. And speaking of food, there was a great variety of healthy and unhealthy alike. The prices were amusement park-ish, but I felt like they weren't too ridiculous.

One other perk, is that I happily did not get sick at Legoland like I do at most amusement parks (curses on adulthood!). Probably because the rides are a bit more tame than most such parks. Which brings me to my one point of warning. Our oldest was 13 when we went. Seriously, he looked like the oldest kid there. That said, he loved it, but it won't be long before he has outgrown Legoland . . . at least until he has his own kids.

Oh my! And I almost forgot about all the characters you can meet.  I will end with those pictures, but our family gives Legoland an enthusiastic 5 thumbs up!  (One last note: We went on the Thursday and Friday in the week before Thanksgiving. Almost no lines. Not crowded at all. Perfect weather. Such a fabulous vacation!)




Thursday, October 19, 2017

Find me at From the Mixed-Up Files

Hello, hello!!! It has been months and months since I wrote a proper blog, and I could rattle off to you all crazy life events that have kept me from being here, but that would be boring (though one super, major, big reason is that my family and I will be moving soon!).

So instead, I will just tell you that I am finally celebrating the paperback release of The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society! Today, I'm over at the blog From the Mixed-Up Files, being interviewed and offering 4 (FOUR!!) signed copies of my paperback. The giveaway is open through Oct. 24th, so head on over, and enter! Just click HERE. (Even if you already own a copy, books make great gifts. Plus I will personalize it to whoever you'd like.)



Thank you so much for spreading the word, and best of luck!

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Hidden Reality

Last Thursday was my kids' last day of school. I somehow managed to remember to take a picture, AND send a teacher gift. But I have words.

Because writing a sentence like that, everyone fills in all the blanks I left. Everyone tells their own story of my morning, without even realizing it, I would bet.

Maybe people will read that and think, "she has got it all together."

Maybe they will imagine that it means I got up early enough to be dressed and showered and  make-upped.

Maybe they will imagine I made my kids a big 'last-day-of-school' breakfast consisting of bacon and scrambled eggs with spinach and other veggies, not to mention cut fruit (because that would be healthy of me, and I am clearly that kind of miracle-working mom).

Maybe they imagine I had those teacher gifts wrapped up in beautiful packaging and ready a week in advance.

Maybe they will imagine my kids smiling all morning and giving me plentiful hugs because I'm just such an amazing mom.

And maybe they might compare themselves to all that, and feel a little like a failure. Not quite good enough. And that is why I wanted to write this.

I'm the one in the hot pink. Don't I look lovely?

Because of course, none of those images would be right. Well, I did get up early to go jogging. But yeah, that shower? It never happened. So fix that showered, dressed, make-upped picture of me. I was in sweaty workout clothes that showed all my lumps. My face was red and blotchy (yeah, I totally get that way when I exercise), and boy, did I ever stink! My kids wouldn't come anywhere near me, let alone give me a hug. (In fact, I may have threatened one of them with a hug if they didn't hurry up and get dressed. Maybe. I can neither confirm nor deny this story).

And then there was the whining. Oh, the whining!! For the love of all that is cereal!!! Can we just stop!!!! (Yes, my exclamations increase with each iteration.)

Truth: the whining has been going on for years

And of course that frantic moment when I remembered. "TEACHER GIFTS!!! I forgot teacher gifts, AGAIN! Quick, write this card! Aren't you done yet?? Now move people, we have to get to the store before school!"

And those leisurely pictures?
  • "Hurry people! Time is limited!"
  • "Number one child, MOVE so I can get one of the others."
  • "What??! Your shoes aren't on yet!!"
  • "Now smile. Smile! I SAID SMILE!!! AND WHY ARE YOU LOOKING OVER THERE! LOOK AT ME!!"
Oh yes, it was all quite lovely. Parenting at its finest. All the stuff we hide away from our super cute Facebook and Instagram posts. The beautiful packaging we put on for the world, so they don't think less of us.

I've been thinking about this for a long time. I've listened to countless women compare themselves to what they perceive as reality.

And it's not right. We all deserve better.

Which is why I decided to start a project this summer. It is an Instagram project that I am calling "The Hidden Reality." (@the_hidden_reality). It is my attempt to share my own hidden reality with all of you. It is my way of telling you that you are good enough. That you are smart enough. And doggonit, people like you! (They do!)

For now, I just have the picture of my ridiculously messy desk (and yeah, it's pretty much always that messy), but more are on their way!

And in the mean time, have an awesomely wonderful summer, secure in the knowledge that you are good enough!

P.S. I wrote this with mom's in mind, but in truth, it applies to everyone. Any kids out there reading this, trust me . . . all your friends (and all those who are not your friends) are looking at others and comparing themselves. Sometimes people are mean because they don't feel like they are good enough when they compare themselves to others--both adult-people and kid-people. I hope you are not one of them, because you know what? You don't need to compare. You are good enough just being you. You can be nice to others without being any less of a person. In fact, it's just the opposite . . . you are more of a person.

Monday, April 24, 2017

You've Written a Book! (what to do next)

Recently, I've had several people approach me with the fabulous news that they've written a book (congratulations!), and they'd like to look into publishing, but they don't know what to do next.

I've been working on getting published for so long, that I sometimes forget that the things I've learned about how to get published aren't always obvious. With so many people asking this same question, I thought it might be helpful to share this information with all of you.

I'm going to warn you, this will be a long post, but I hope it will be helpful.

~~~

So congratulations!!! You've written a book. The first thing you should do is celebrate. This is a huge accomplishment! Many start, but few finish. You are one of the few!

First of all, before you do anything else, you should have someone who is not family read your book and comment on it. Then you should consider those comments, make changes, and repeat the process. I would recommend sharing it with at least three people at a minimum.

Finding people can be hard, but if you're serious about it, you should be willing to exchange manuscripts with someone else. I actually find that critiquing someone else's work can be really helpful in showing me what kind of improvements I could make in my own work.

Also, a great place to find critique partners is the Querytracker.net forum.

There are all kinds of discussion threads, including one called "Critique Group Central."

Do you just want to see your book in print? Do you want to share your work with family? With a broad audience? Do you want to traditionally publish? Do you want an agent or would you rather submit to publishers on your own? Do you want to self-publish? Do you want control over every aspect, or would you rather pass some things off and just work on writing?

Here are some things to consider:

Self-Publishing:

This option can get your book out there faster, but it can be a hard road, and there are steps that normally a publisher would do that you would need to take care of. For example, you would need to do things like editing and copy-editing. I would strongly recommend that you pay someone to do that for you, as outside eyes will catch things that you as the author will not.

You will need to design a cover and format the e-book (or pay someone to do it). Also, you would be in charge of all marketing to get your book known and out there. This can be really frustrating, and it can be hard to find an audience, but these are things you would be responsible for. One thing to consider is that it can cost a good chunk of money to self-publish (if you do it right), and that is not always earned back.

That said, there are many benefits to self-publishing. For example, you get a higher percentage of any sales. You have a lot more control over content, and cover, and marketing and promotions. Some people very much want that control.

To give some other perspectives, HERE is an article from Harold Underdown, who has worked in publishing a long time. He gives a lot of good information in this article.

And HERE is an article from Elana Johnson who has both traditionally and self-published (successfully).

Traditionally Publishing:

So there are two options here. One, you search for a publisher on your own. And two, you work to get an agent, who will then submit to publishing houses.

For both of these options, I highly recommend using QueryTracker.Net. You can use it to search for agents and publishers who publish your genre. Whether you are looking for an editor or agent, you will need to research each agent or publishing house and find out what they are looking for and whether or not they are open to unsolicited submission/queries. QueryTracker provides links to many of these agents and publishers so they are easy to research. Certainly, there are other places to find this information. There are yearly books published, but I have found QueryTracker works for me.

Once you've done your research, make a list of those editors/agents you want to submit to. Once you know who you want to submit to, you need to write what is called a query letter. A query letter is a letter asking the editor or agent if they would be interested in considering your work.

For good information on how to write one, here are some sites to check out:

HERE is Nathan Bransford's post on writing query letters.

Rachelle Gardner breaks down what to include in a query letter HERE.

Janet Reid's Query Shark is a place to see real-time improvement on query letters. You can see exactly what an agent is thinking as she reads a query letter. I recommend reading through the archives to get a sense of what a query letter should look like.

Finally, HERE is an example of a successful query letter received by Andrea Somberg.

Reasons to search for a publisher on your own:

You don't have to split your earnings with anyone. Also, many people don't want to take the extra time to find an agent. It would be faster to go straight to the source.

Reasons to find an agent first:

(Caveat, this is the option I chose, so I might be biased.)

Many publishers are only open to submissions through agents. The reason for this is because it saves them time. Agents have vetted the work, often done rounds of revisions to get the book closer to being publication-ready.

Agents also help you with contract negotiations. They know what to look for, and they will help you avoid contracts that aren't favorable to authors. This can be a big deal. BIG DEAL. Better to have no contract than a bad one. I've seen it.

Agents act as a go-between for you and your publisher. Agents will do the hard stuff like pushing back on a cover an author doesn't like, or dealing with problems that may come up in the editing process. Or pushing for edit notes when they are long overdue. This allows the author to maintain a more open, less tension-filled relationship with the publisher and editor which is so needed throughout the revision process.

HERE is an article on what agents do and don’t do for writers:

Honestly, I can't imagine trying to get published without one.

The process is long and arduous to get traditionally published, and I think it's important that people understand that up front and know what they're getting into.

All of these options can work. It mainly depends on what your personal goals are, what you are willing to put into the process, and what you hope to get out of it.

I hope this has been helpful for you, and don't hesitate to ask any questions in the comments.

Monday, April 10, 2017

My First Podcast

Hi all! I haven't been around much with all the fun stuff I've been doing lately (conference presentations, school visits, family fun, etc.), but in all of that, I had a chance to visit with Mindy McGinnis for her podcast series, Writer Writer Pants on Fire. It is out today!

So while I collect myself and work on getting a better post written, you can enjoy listening to a conversation between Mindy McGinnis and I on querying, agents, books, writing middle grade, and humor HERE.


Have a fabulous day, and I hope you enjoy it!