Saturday, December 24, 2011

Words Connect Us

. Christmas Eve always makes me think of people who are lonely, without friends and family to share the holiday with. I wish I could gather them all up and make them not so lonely. I wish I could do more. But I was thinking, that as a writer, we do something remarkable, whenever we write something, or read a work from another author. We connect. And even though I may be reading, or writing, alone--I am connecting to the people who are reading my book, and the people whose books I am reading. It is amazing and profound, really, how books connect us. And that, I think, is what the human experience is all about. Connecting. Learning and growing. And ultimately, loving. Merry Christmas, everyone. And I wish you all much success in the New Year.

Casting Crowns: I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Everthing I Ever Needed to Know About Writing I Learned from "Annie"

As some of you may know, I have a daughter intested in musical theater, and it's been fun watching her perform and grow as an actress. She was recently cast as Tessie in Annie, and she just got through her first week of rehearsals. Sitting there, listening to them practice, got me thinking about how... everything I really ever needed to know about writing could be learned from Annie.

1. It's a Hard Knock Life A writer's life is not easy. Climb a mountain, slide down a hill. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Like the orphans in Annie, we have to be scrappy, tenacious people who won't let the fact we're orphans (er...un-published writers) get us down!

2. Tomorrow A writer that keeps on going is one who continues to have hope. We have to believe that the sun will come out tomorrow, and that one day, the time, sweat, and tears we spend at the computer will result in our dreams: our book being published.

3. Maybe And then, along the way, we'll get a glimmer of hope: a request for a partial, or a full, or an offer from an agent. And a little further down, we'll get that manuscript out to editors, and we'll start thinking that maybe, just maybe, that one editor will want to buy our book!

4. Easy Street After much perserverance, patience, determination, the time will come, yes it will, that all that hard work pays off. We will hold that little book in our hands, and it will feel like...

Hang in there, everyone! Have a great Monday!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Write your Passion

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." ~Robert Frost

When I was learning the craft of writing, I kept hearing how you should write what are you passionate about.  As an adoptions social worker, I am passionate about helping kids in the foster care system, kids who are available for adoption, and kids who are neglected or abused. So in hindsight, it came as no great surprise, that the first book I wrote and sought an agent for, (and the first book currently on submission) is FINDING PONY, about a teen guy and his sister who eventually get adopted.

There are over 500,000 orphans currently in the United States. Africa has the largest orphan population in the world, and with AIDS, that number is always rising. November is Adoption Awareness Month, and November 4th is Orphan Sunday. If you've always thought about fostering or adopting, think about it again. The need is so great. If you want to help but can't adopt or foster, consider volunteering, donating, or just getting involved.

They're counting on us.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Best. Book. Ever.

My first grader is learning to read, and we've had sooo...much fun with this book! It just cracks me up every time we read with her. It's the same retro pictures that everyone remembers from kindergarten, except with vampires.

Clare loves learning to read with this book, except for the one night she woke up with a bad dream. Guess what it was about?

Monday, September 19, 2011

For Writers: 8 Tips to Control Depression

Have you ever suffered through depression?

It is widely known that many famous writers (and for that matter, many creative types) have suffered from depression. Here is a small sampling: Hans Christian Anderson, Mark Twain, Robert Frost, Charles Dickens, Ralph Walso Emerson, James Barrie, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Mary Shelley, Tennessee Williams,and Virginia Woolfe.

I myself have struggled with depression on and off throughout my life, and I think that it has a lot to do with having a very strong inner life. I think about things...almost too much. I worry, I analyze. Also, even though I am not shy and can appear very extroverted, at my very core I'm an introvert. That means that being alone gives me energy, while being around people too much can deplete me. Discovering this small fact about myself has been a watershed moment, and knowing I need time alone from time to time to recharge has helped me accept who I am, and thrive, as a writer, mom, wife, social worker, person.

Here are some tips I have picked up over the years to help you combat occasional depression:

1. Exercise every day Exercising for 20 minutes or more every day produces natural endorphins and immediately perks up your mood.

2. Pray or meditate Praying, meditating, practicing slow breathing--just 20 minutes a day can bring stress relief and boost your mood.

3. Get some sleep! Most Americans are chronically overtired, and when we are tired, we can feel overwhelmed or depressed. If you have to, power nap for twenty minutes or catch up on sleep during the weekends.

4. Get daily sunlight. Some people get seasonal depression, also known as S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) due to lack of sunlight in the winter months. This is expecially my problem, when, living in an area that gets tons of fog in the winter, I can feel moody from lack of sunlight. Exercise can help combat this, and if you are really sensitive to the lack of sunlight, getting a sun lamp can help.

5. Make sure you are getting enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids and B complex. Apparently, most Americans don't get enough of our Omega 3s. Omega 3-Fatty Acids are found in such foods such as salmon and flax seed. There have been blind studies in which depressed people were fed so many ounces of salmon each day, and it helped their depression as much as people taking anti-depressants! I take flax-seed oil capsules every day (it's great for your skin, too), and try to feed my family salmon at least once a week. You can also buy ground flax seed at Costco, and use it in baking, in place of eggs or oil.

6. Talk to someone. Writers can spend an entire day sitting in front of their computer, and this can lead to periods of isolation and lonliness. Sometimes Twitter can help, oftentimes picking up the phone and calling someone can help, and other times, we just need to step away from the computer and have lunch with a friend. Everyone has their balance of how much time alone (and with our characters!) we really need.

7. Get help. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself, or you are not able to take care of your basic needs, you might need to go to the next level and see your doctor. Maybe counseling might help. I know that when I had a really bad case of postpartum depression after my third child, it was a few months of counseling with a caring psychologist which really helped me get back on track. Now, if I'm having a bad day, I run through this checklist, and make sure I am doing everything I need to do. Chances are, if I'm feeling bad, it's because I am neglecting one of the checkpoints.

8. Celebrate who you are. If you do get depression from time to time, revel in the fact that we are in really good company! Being creative means that we feel more, see the world more vibrantly, and are more sensitive. It's a gift, but one that needs to be nurtured and cared for.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Passion, Naps, and Jane Austen

Wow, I haven't been around very much on this blog. Sorry! Life has been getting in the way, alas. On a good note, I had been really having a hard time getting into my new WIP. I'd been switching between three projects I'd been working on, a little bit here, a little bit there. Every page felt forced while I was writing. Can anyone relate? Ugh. Such an awful feeling.

One day, I was racking my brain about what was important to me, and what would be important in a book I write.

--Issue-driven fiction for one. Especially topics concerning teens in foster care, kids suffering abuse, kids who are marginalized.
--Romance, number two (good kissing scenes!).
--Passion, three. And watching characters overcome large personal obstacles. I thought long and hard about the books most beloved to me, the stories that I held most dear, some being: each and every Jane Austen masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, Les Miserables, The Lord of the Rings triology.

And then, I promptly took a nap. When I woke up, I came up with the best idea I've had yet and can't stop writing about it. (so exciting) I'm not going to say anything just yet, but here are some hints: it's YA, it's a love story about a boy and girl who have been friends since childhood, and to describe it, at this point, I'd say it's a mash up of Peter Pan meets Romeo and Juliet meets Wuthering Heights meets The Outsiders.

Confused yet? Hopefully more later.

In the meantime, enjoy this old promo for The Complete Jane Austen put on by PBS a few years back. If these guys don't get your heart pumping, then I don't know what else will!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Friday Read~Ghost Island by Bonnie Hearn Hill

My good friend and mentor, Bonnie Hearn Hill recently came out with a new YA paranormal, Ghost Island. Here is a quick description about this book:

Is Aaron a dream or something much more deadly?

Livia Hinson has just begun a Seminar at Sea when a storm hits their yacht. Now, she is stranded with the other students on an island off the coast of California. Far away from her foster home and her heartbreak, Livia finds Aaron, the perfect love. But the only way they can be together is in her dreams.

The other students are having tempting dreams of their own, and Livia begins to realize that the storm has blown in more than rain. Is Aaron flesh or spirit? Can he come to her world, or will he pull her into his? Together, they explore the blurred territory between love and illusion on a dangerous journey that will force Livia to make the most important decision of her life.
I read this book very quickly, it was very fast paced and creepy. It had a very eerie quality about it, and reminded me of those horror movies that were so popular in the 80's and 90's. In fact, the whole time I read the book, I kept thinking that it would make a good movie.
The love interest Aaron is very romantic and left me wanting to know more about him. Ms. Hill leaves the ending somewhat open, so I'm thinking... sequel?
Ghost Island is a great pick for fall, especially if you like to read scary books around Halloween. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Summer Lovin'~Quick Book Review of The Summer I Turned Pretty

I just came from a trip to the beach, and did not write one bit, except for a shopping list, a few short poems, and drew a few mermaids for my daughter, Lucie. But it was not time wasted.  I read three books, had great family time, and despite not writing, found that I got inspiration near about everywhere, and ideas for future books, and characters for my current WIP.

I had the pleasure of reading, among others, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han.

What a treat! If you haven't read it, surely pick it up, it's the story of Belly (sorry, Jenny Han, I wasn't a huge fan of her nickname, I must admit), and it focuses on one summer of a young girl's life where she makes that very subtle transition from girl to woman, and is (for the first time), truly noticed by members of the opposite sex.

Because I am lazy, here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer--they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one terrible and wonderful summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along.

I highly recommend this book--it was the perfect book to take to the beach, and it really took me back to that first summer that I had my first kiss...

I was fourteen, and it was the summer between freshman and sophomore year. Inexplicably (in my mind), a sophomore guy on the swim team named Dean Schiller (and was a complete clone of Kevin Bacon with a mild case of acne), made it known through the high school grape vine that he liked me. I was stunned, because he had dated the cute girls, and I had never thought of myself as one. One summer night, he walked me to a senior's house (story told to my mom: we were walking to the yogurt store), for a real live party. With drinking. And seniors. And...cue panic attack.

When it was time to go home (you know, from the yogurt store....) he pulled me outside and swooped in for the kiss (cue orchestral music). my naive, never-been-kissed, how-on-earth-was-I-so-sheltered mind, I thought you kissed with your mouths closed, and lo and behold was stunned beyond belief when all of a sudden I felt something warm and slimy in my mouth and to my utter disgust realized it was his tongue! Needless to say, I covered up my shock pretty well (and later learned to, uh...enjoy kissing as the years wore on), however once safely home, I made sure to wash out my mouth multiple times with mouthwash, completely grossed out by the most obvious spreading of germs.

Anyway. Ha.

 Completely true story there, and it still makes me laugh, even to this day.

So, I'd love to know, if anyone's reading this out there, what was your first kiss story? Best summer romance? Come on, summer is almost over, I'd love to hear some good ones, before it's just another memory.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

All I Ever Needed to Know about Writing a Book I Learned from Les Miz

It has been a very eventful summer, I must say. I have succeeded at one of my many goals of motherhood: I have gotten at least one of my children hooked on musical theater. My oldest daughter, Kateri was in her first play this summer, Cinderella (best mouse evah!), and has caught the acting bug. As a former theater kid and proud patron of the arts, I love it.

We had some friends in the local 15-20 year old production of Les Miserables, and just came from an amazingly talented, heart wrenching performance. I swear, I've seen this muscial several times: once in London, twice in Los Angeles, two locally, but it never gets tiring. Never. I was a wreck--cried on and off throughout.

Well, I got to thinking, while watching this play, what is it about Les Miz that brings people back again and again? On the way home, I decided there are seven things that we can learn from Les Miz to make our stories stronger:

1. Have a theme, and string it throughout Les Miz has several themes woven throughout: the quest for freedom, the quest for love, social injustice, the goodness versus the evilness of humanity. And since it's a musical, the acutal melodies are interwoven and echoed throughout in the different numbers. This ties the whole musical together, and in the same way, themes can tie your book together. In the beginning of Les Miz, we see the people unempowered by the injustices of their life. At the end, we see the people unified, despite the fact that they lost the battle. The layering of the themes strengthened the story.

2. Have lots of highs and lows A good story like Les Miz (and hopefully our own works in progress!) had lots of highs and lows. We are never kept guessing, and we are never dull. In one scene, Cosette and Marius have declared their love, then seconds later, Epinone is crying her eyes out for her unrequited love, and at the same time, the bad guys are trying to raid Cosette and Jean Valjean's house. Lots of action makes for a great plot.

3. Conflict, conflict, and more conflict I know I struggle with this one, because in real life, conflict makes me uncomfortable and I don't like it. But when I don't read about conflict on the page, I get bored, fast. When Marius joins his friends at the ABC cafe to talk about the revolution, he has just met Cosette, and has fallen in love. The last thing he wants to do is talk about some stupid war, and this creats lots of good, yummy conflict between him and his buddy, Enjolras.

4. Comic relief  Even the darkest story (and let's face it, Les Miz is pretty dang dark) has its share of comic relief, and this lets the reader have a mental break, almost, from your surely gripping story.

5. Kissing! Well, I do write YA, right? And let's face it--every good story needs some romance, and kissing. Oh, and also? Love triangles--they are always kind of fun. I quite like them when they work in a story. (Les Miz has one of the most gripping love triangles ever. Poor Epinone--took a bullet for that cad, Marius and still didn't get a kiss on the lips.)

6. Kill some people  Yeah, I said it. But it's true, right? This sort of goes along with conflict. In a good story, bad things have to happen. Okay, not necessarily death, per se, but events in people's lives that are earthshattering. Death. Divorce. Break-ups. Sickness. We want our books to reflect the things that happen in real life, but on a much grander, more dramatic (shall I saw poetic?) way.

7. Answer your story question Last but not least, make sure when you type The End on your beloved manuscript, that you have answered the question that initially started the story to begin with. Did he get the girl? Did the aliens invade planet Earth? And in Les Miz--Did Jean Valjean find happiness?(yes, but he died)
Did the people find empowerment? (yes, but at a price)

Anyway, you get the picture.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Reads

This book was such a pleasant, amazing surprise. As an author who writes issue-driven fiction, I thought that Gail Giles executed RIGHT BEHIND YOU with perfection.

RIGHT BEHIND YOU is the story of Kip--a teen who, when he was nine, murdered a seven-year-old neighbor. I wondered, when I first picked up the book, how Gail Giles could make Kip a protagonist I could root for, but she does, beautifully. The book follows Kip on his road to wholeness--first as an inmate at a teen correctional facility, and then, as he tries to transition back into society, and living with his dad and new stepmother. The book is written in first-person narration,and I thought that she captured the voice of a teen boy amazingly well.

I thought that all the references to therapy, his time in the mental institution, and his general awareness of his own inner growth, gave the book an air of authenticity (made me wonder if she is a therapist herself or how much research she did.)I loved that she showed the step-mom as such a positive, supportive person, and I loved the romance thrown in--Sam was the perfect counterpart to Kip/Wade's character.

Recommended for the older teen and adults, especially teachers, mental health professionals, and any parent.

Monday, July 25, 2011

First Drafts, Part II

I've been working on two first drafts for two different projects. It's funny, looking at this blog--I noticed that back in April I wrote a post about how much I love first drafts.


Not so much, this time around. I think that what's been stopping me up has been my inner editor, and boy, is she one mean, nasty shrew of a person. She doesn't let up, catching all of my echoes, horrible dialogue tags, and laughing at each and every cliche she finds, only to have me running in a corner and hiding.

I think I've found a way to chain her up. Well, three things. One, a new author friend I met told me that she likes to write late at night, because she finds that when she's a little sleepy, and the kids are in bed, that inner editor is not so cranky. This has been working fabulously! (so far). Secondly, with FINDING PONY, I discovered a way to write very quickly: when you have a scene in your head, just write free form, no capitalization or punctuation, fast, fast, fast, until you have that little sucker of a scene down. Later you can go back and puncuate, if need be. This has worked very well when I have dialogue in my head, and once I can get the characters talking, I can just record what they say. Lastly, is a technique I learned from reading Stephenie Meyer's blog one time: write your scenes out of order, if you want. This is very liberating. Sometimes when I'm going on with my day, and I get a brilliant idea for something that happens perhaps, not until act two or three, I'll just write the scene out of place and save it somewhere, until I need it.

What works for you guys?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Always do what you are afraid to do

Confession time: I've been suffering from a little bout of writer's block. It is really very, very annoying. And the funny thing is, I don't really believe in writer's block, I subscribe to the B.I.C. philosophy of writing, i.e. Butt in Chair concept of just get it done. Put the words on the page and no more sniveling about it, you big cry baby.

But anyway, here I am not writing very much. FINDING PONY is being submitted to editors right now, and in the meantime, my agent and I decided that the next project I should begin on is a companion title, tentatively titled AURORA BEGINS. Aurora is an important character in my first novel and her backstory is so interesting that I just knew it should be the next book. I actually even told my agent, "This will be easy--I already know her character. I can whip this book out really quickly."


Aurora is seventeen years old, a tough Latina girl who grew up in East L.A. Her whole family is somewhat involved in the gang lifestyle and her boyfriend Manuel is the head of their gang. Okay, so...I'm white. And yes, I've been a social worker for some time, I've worked with kids in gangs and a little in L.A. even, and I've been doing research---lots of it--to make sure that my MC's voice will be authentic as it can be, to the best of my ability. I also know that there are so many writers out there who have written their MC's who are different races than they are, different genders, even different sexual orientations, and have done it well, very well.

But it's still scary. Really, really scary. Because, more than anything, I don't want to get it wrong. I want to do justice to my character, and to the people who will eventually read my book.

"Always do what you are afraid to do." This quote shows up on Twitter periodically, mostly I think because it resonates with us writers so much. I know that there can be greatness in doing something that terrifies you with the possibility of failure, but still, there's that niggling part of me, sitting on my shoulder this whole time whispering: it's crap, it's garbage. The cognitive side of me knows that every writer (at least I hope) goes through this--it is something we must all endure.

Here's a couple questions for anyone who may be reading: How much research do you do before you are comfortable writing your story? Are you ever, truly comfortable? Would you feel confident writing a MC with a different race than you? Gender? Sexual orientation?

Hope you guys have a great Wednesday.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy Friday, everyone!

 Apparently July 6th was National Kissing Day and I missed it...what? Really? Well, I came across this delightful video and was entranced--thought you all might enjoy as well. Happy Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Child Abuse and the Death of Caylee Anthony

I suspect most of the nation has been mourning the passing of sweet little Caylee Anthony. I know I have. It's horrifying, isn't it? The possibility that a mother could murder her own child (I know, she's been aquitted, but still...). It goes against every instinct within us. And yet it happens every day, all around us. Even within our very own neighborhoods.

Consider this. In 2009, approximately 3.3 million child abuse reports were made involving over 6 million children in the U.S. That's a lot of children, and that only reflects a very small portion of those cases that actually were reported to authorities.

There are four types of child abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect. Believe it or not, but neglect often times has the most devastating psychological effects on a child. As sick as it sounds, when you are beaten or sexually abused, at least you are getting attention. As a social worker, most people, I've found, believe child abuse happens just to poor people, or children of the drug addicted. What they don't realize is that all forms of child abuse cross over every socioeconomic level, ethnic and cultural line, religions, and all levels of education.

Here are some other disturbing facts:

--a report of child abuse is made every ten seconds

--almost five children a day die from child abuse

--60-85% or child fatalities due to mistreatment are not recorded on such on death certificates

--90& of child sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way

--over 60% of people in drug rehab centers were abused or neglected as children

--abused children are 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy

--children of sexual abuse are 2.5 times likely to abuse alchohol and 3.8 times more likely to develop drug addiction
--14% of men and 36% of women in prison report being abused as children

For writers (and readers), there are some great YA books out there that tackle different forms of child abuse very beautifully and eloquently. Recently I've read Beth Faulbam's beautiful books which follow a girl's journey to recovery from sexual abuse: Hope in Patience and Courage in Patience. Another amazing book also dealing with sexual abuse is Scars by Cheryl Rainfield. A book I'm reading right now is called You Don't Know Me by David Klass, about a 14 year old boy being abused by his stepfather.

The list goes on, but the reality is the same: children being abused are our children's classmates, our neighbor's kids, our relatives. We don't want to think that it's in our back yard, but it is. What I've learned most from being a social worker, is that most of the time, parents who abuse their children tend to look just like me and you. What can we do? Educate ourselves, and try and keep our eyes and ears open. And of course, please, even if you are not a mandated reporter, report any suspected child abuse to your local Child Protective Services Hotline.

Here are some signs that a child is being abused:

Warning signs of emotional abuse in children
Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantruming).
Warning signs of physical abuse in children
Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.
Warning signs of neglect in children
Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.
Is frequently late or missing from school.
Warning signs of sexual abuse in children
Trouble walking or sitting.
Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior.
Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14.
Runs away from home.

Monday, June 27, 2011

How much do you help other writers?

When I first started writing seriously, I was amazed by how supportive the writing community out there really is. People going to each other's book, signings, plugging each other's books, websites--it is all so edifying.

I know for me, I love helping people, so anytime I come across a new writer who needs helps, I'm happy to point them in any direction I can. As far as I'm concerned, you can never have too many good books on the shelves, too many good authors out there. Plus, I strongly feel in the "pay it forward" concept--that if you've been helped, you have a responsibility to go forward and helps someone else. People might call it good karma, but I call it just being a good human.

How are some ways that you help other writers? How much time do you invest? Do you go to book signings, buy your friends' books ...what else? Comment on blogs, friend people on Twitter, Facebook--I feel like I'm still learning, so I'd love some tips out there.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Are you OUT?

This is a question I have for other writers: who and how many people do you tell that you are a writer? When in your writing process or career do you actually start thinking of yourself as a writer, and not just a person messing around on the computer?

A couple of years ago, it all began late one night with a blank computer screen and an idea. At first I thought: I could write a page. And when one page turned into 50, and 50 turned into a book, at first I was very, very secretive about the fact that I was trying to write a book. Little by little, my husband, kids, and very closest friends got in on my little secret. When I joined my critique group, it did get easier to identify as a writer, much in part because suddenly I was surrounded by other writers. But still, it was hard to "come out" to people.

"I am writing a book."

The reponses, well most of the time they were kind of patronizing, like, oh how cute--she is taking on a new hobby.

I think my parents thought I was having a mid-life crisis. Once I got an agent, I thought it would be easier to tell certain people, that I would have more of a sense of credibility, but then I realized that most non-writers have no idea how hard it is to just get an agent. The struggle is lost on them. I found that some just weren't going to believe it until a book was in their little hands.

My dad has asked liked a million times if I paid my agent to take my book, and, "don't you know there are a lot of scams out there?" Sigh. I guess he can be forgiven because he is a farmer, and the publishing world is about as foreign to him as growing crops are for me.

So my method is, tell only people who will give me the most positive response, and when that book hits the shelves, point them in the direction of the nearest bookstore and smile.

But what I'm really curious about, is--are there some people out there who, the day after they started writing, told people what they were a writer? That takes real bravery, I think.

Anyone out there wait until agented? Their book sold? Hit the shelves? Got a website?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why does YA save?

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain --and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

-Robert Frost

Why this poem? It's always been one of my favorites, I think. To me, it's about connecting with other people, sharing their pain, whether it be empathy or sympathy or just that thing which is human connection.

I remember I was thirteen the first time I read Anne Frank's Diary of a Girl. It was such a powerful book. I remember thinking, why, she's just like me. We think the same exact things.We have the same fears. We both want to kiss a boy! We are both worried about our future.

And I could say this, and despite the fact that she was long dead, and we spoke a different language, and I would never meet Anne Frank, that it was true. We were alike, and despite never meeting, we connected.

That's what good YA does--connects. Supports. It says, I, too, have been one acquainted with the night. And you have, too.

It's so nice that we are friends.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Upon Which She Finds Herself Agented...Again

This blogging thing continues to be awkward, I think because part of me feels like, "who out there possibly cares about my silly little life?" But then I remember (I SO remember) when I was in the earlier stages of my writing career, and any little scrap of encouragement I got from blogs, any little story of how authors got agents, got their books published...helped. Tremendously. (Still does, in fact.)

Because of this, I thought I'd share what happened to me, in hopes that others might find something of value to take away.

Back in late March, I signed with my first agent. I was elated! She was sweet, professional, enthusiastic, and most of all, she really got my book. We were a very good fit. And she helped me edit my book--thanks to her critique, in a month's time I added about 12,000 words and a whole lot of texture to the story. We were just about to get ready to go to submission when she told me that she needed to leave agenting to pursue her own writing career.

Oh, I was bummed. Devastated for a brief, brief moment, but then I realized, you know what? It was meant to be. She needs to follow her dream, and I need to keep following mine. So I picked myself back up, brushed off my query, gave it a mini-makeover (extra lip-gloss and hair product, so fab), and started querying again in May.

Things happened, guys. This time, I got a lot of interest right away. Nine requests for fulls. And for a grand total, five offers. Wow. Needless to say, I was stunned that the situation was so different! I had five lovely phone calls with five amazing agents, and instead of being elated, I was stressed (I know, I know--how ridiculous). But it was very hard to choose, partly because I hate to hurt people's feelings and partly because it was all so overwhelming! (But in a good way, my husband kept reminding me.)

In the end, I decided to sign with the lovely Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch. She loved my book, and I think when she referenced The Bachelorette, I knew she was a girl I could hang with. But most of all, she got my book, and the thought of FINDING PONY on a bookstore shelf is just...well...I'm pinching myself.

So here it is, my little story. It sounds cliche, but I guess the lesson here is when you have a dream, don't give up, and keep trying. You will get there.

Monday, June 13, 2011

OneRepublic - Secrets

You Have Issues...

I have issues, you have issues, everyone has issues. As writers, even our characters. Especially our characters, hopefully.

I belong to a weekly critique group led by the amazingly talented YA author, Bonnie Hearn Hill. She says that everyone has a hole in their heart that really lends to who they are, and what motivates their actions. She always wants to know what our character's "hole" is. This has been so helpful in my writing and in creating authentic backstories for my characters.

Why is it so important for your characters to have issues? Well, I think most importantly, because it makes them empathetic. It's hard to like someone who's perfect, or read about them, because for one they're not interesting, and secondly, because we can't relate. We read because we want to see ourselves on the paper, and we want to see the characters making the same kinds of mistakes, having the same kinds of problems that we do. It's human.

It's kind of like how some women tend to always go for the bad boy. Why do they do it? Because they see vulnerability within them. Take Captain Kirk in the most recent Star Trek movie. He was definintely a bad boy, but he was an empathetic character becaus we knew that the reason he was having such a hard time was because his dad died when he was young, his mom was always away on other planets, yada yada yada....and we liked him despite his actions because we believed he was really good on the inside. He has issues, and once we saw that, we started to root for him (well, and Chris Pine is sort of gorgeous...)

So anyway, if you have a character who is seemingly perfect, you better rethink that. Give them some character flaws, create some backstory, and you'll go from making your characters from flat to round.

Friday, June 10, 2011

This looks awfully appealing right about now...

My oldest just got out of school to today and so for me it officially feels like summer. The pool's fired up, the weather's finally feels really good right about now.

Looking forward to reading lots and lots of good books (naturally), and I have a goal of finishing a WIP I've started. As a family, we are planning a few nice trips, and the kids have the usual array of summer camps and activities.

...Also, I have some really good news that I've been sitting on, and I can't wait to share it with everyone, hopefully by next week.

In the meantime, watching Bear taking a nap outside is just waay too tempting, so think I'll lay down for awhile, read some books, and take a quick nap.

Hope everyone out there has a great, wonderful weekend! Cheers!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What was Your Favorite Summer Books as a Kid?

Last day of school today for my kiddos. The last week has been an everlasting parade of parties and awards and papers coming home, and now it's here. Summer. And for me summer means (besides of course, swimming and trips and ice-cream and movies and fireworks etc...) books. Lots and lots of wonderful, glorious, can't-wait-to-fall-into-them...books.

As a kid, my highlight of the week was when my mom would take us to the local library, and we would get to pick out our books for the week. I can remember when I first discovered THE BLACK STALLION, that was my summer of horse books. Then another summer, I plowed through the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, The Lloyd Alexander books, and all the J.R.R. Tolkein books. Anyone fall in love with ANNE OF GREEN GABLES? Oh, that was a happy summer reading all of those--I think there are like nine. What about all the Nancy Drews, or Hardy Boys? And as an adult nursing my second son, I remember discovering with delight the Harry Potter books, and reading them one right after the other, baby on one arm, book in another.

Here is a quick list I made of some of my favorite summer reads:

1. Lord of the Rings series

2. Harry Potter series

3. Chronicles of Narnia

4. The Black Stallion series

5. Anne of Green Gables

6. Hunger Games trilogy

7. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer

8. All of Jane Austen's books

9. Little Women, Little Men

10. Stephen King's The Stand, The Shining, The Gunslinger Series

The list goes on and on, for sure.

So...I'd love to hear what were some of your favorite summer reads as a kid. Are there some I'm missing?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Public Service Announcement!

Hellooo there. To keep myself on track a little bit better, I decided that I'd try to give myself a sort of schedule for blogging. It also will give all y'all who stop by from time to time something to expect. So, without further blogging schedule!

Mondays: Writerly Stuff and What-not  On Mondays I plan to talk about my foray into publishing, getting an agent, writing my book, etc... . I also hope to talk about all that other great stuff associated with writing: voice, character, plotting, etc... etc... and from time to time talk about my book FINDING PONY and my other works-in-progress.

Wednesday: Social Worker-y Stuff  I am a social worker with a Master's in Social Work, and I currently work in adoptions. I've had some pretty cool and interesting jobs in the past: worked in a group home, an emergency shelter, homeless shelter, adoptions, CPS, and many of my experiences have still stayed with me and effect my writing. Oh yeah, that. I also write issue-driven fiction; it didn't start out that way, but I guess because I love what I do and the kids I work with, that it just seeps through and travels into my brain and through my fingertips. So on Wednesdays, I may talk about anything on my mind related to social work and issues teens face: foster care, gangs, sexual abuse, physical abuse, teen homelessness, adoption, get the picture.

Friday: Fun Day! My kindergartener's teacher does this thing on Fridays called Friday Fun-Day. Doesn't that Yeah, to me, too. Fridays will be a day where I'll just post something fun, a video, a poem, a book review, maybe even a picture or a recipe or two. We'll see how it goes.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why I Write What I Write

One of my earliest memories was long ago, when I was around five years old. We were in the old family station wagon, on a rainy Thanksgiving night, leaving Disneyland to head back home to Bakersfield. It had been a good day, no, a great day, filled with rides and parades and lots of treats to eat. And I was content, looking out of the window, watching the rain patter down the glass, until I looked across into the window of a diner and saw a man, alone, drinking a cup of coffee. He was shabby, and even in my child's eye I thought he might be homeless. He looked so sad, so alone, and it haunted me, thinking how could a person possibly be spending Thanksgiving alone? That image stayed with me ever since.

Fast forward many years. I became a social worker, got my Master's even, and it was very fulfilling, in my various jobs, trying to help people, especially children. But still, the stories I saw haunted me. Took hold of me. Rattled me. I have seen things that most people only think happen in movies. Kids in cages. Kids burned. Ritualistic abuse. Death. All sorts of horrific physical abuse. And sexual abuse, lots and lots of sexual abuse. When I left CPS to go and start my family, I thought I would never return, because it was too much, being a mother, and loving my own children so much and thinking about all the poor children I worked with, not being able to make sense of the incongruities. But years later, I found I could not shake the stories, and as my own children grew, found myself wondering about the kids I worked with, hoping and praying that their horizons were better than when I last left them.

But the stories...

After all, that is what we have, don't we? Our life is our story.

There are four types of abuse that child protective workers identify when removing a child from a home: physical, sexual, emotional abuse, and neglect. Guess which one has the most negative impact on a child's psyche? Neglect. The absence of any attention. And that is why, I suppose, that I decided to write about Jesse, a boy with a meth-head for a mom and a little four-year-old sister to take care of. He is a fictional character, to be sure, but he is based on little scraps of reality, children I have met and situations they have found themselves in.

He has been bugging me for years to tell his story, and finally, I said yes. Because I wanted him to know that I have listened. And I have been rooting for him this whole time.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Where do you like to write?

I guess we are all creatures of habit.

When I first started writing seriously, I had vague notions of setting up a cozy little space in my home just for writing--complete with cute plants, memorable quotes, and soothing, stimulating music playing in the background. Ha.

Enter reality. For much of the past three years, I have written at our kitchen table, laptop and papers, sticky notes and pens strewn about me. Oh, and kids' homework, school lunches, and the phone ringing in the background, constantly. And dogs, and neighbor kids.

But for some reason, it worked (maybe you shouldn't ask my husband this for verification, though). I enjoyed writing where I did, I could see what was going on, help the kids if they needed helping, and could see the birds at their feeder outside, making me feel more peaceful, I guess.

For this last month of revisions for my agent, I have taken to bringing the laptop with me, adn writing in the car, in between dance lessons, baseball, and preschool. Yes, the car. But it worked! And that was what was important. I came across an article featuring Lauren Oliver where she said that much of BEFORE I FALL and DELIRIUM was written on her phone while writing the subway. Her phone, people. (Amazing author by the way--DELIRIUM has been one of my favorite picks of 2011 so far. Can't wait for more...)

That, to me, is a testimony to creativity. You can train your brain to bring forth whatever is in your head and use the time that is given, however precious.

So, where do you like to write best? Is there anyone out there that has a super-fancy, cool writing room? Space? Car? Just wondering.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

First Drafts

Now that I am in the throes of the (fifth? sixth? seventeenth?) draft of my MS, I can reminisce fondly about the good old days, the days of the first draft. I've read on a lot of these blogs how so many writers absolutely loathe their first drafts, but I'm in the opposite camp.

I love them.

I think I love them because they are still that daydream...there is still that excitement over what will happen next, that utter delight when I am surprised by the paths my characters take. My favorite way to figure out storylines is when I am driving~I put on the radio, and just let my mind wander. (The right music definitely helps.) And then, my mind savors that plot, or dialogue, or chracterization~whether it be in the shower, right when I wake up, or jogging~and I can't wait to jot it down on paper. What really helps me, when drafting, is to just type away, all in lower case, as fast as I can. I try and imagine my scene, much like a movie scene, and just type what comes into my mind. That seems to work very well, and I can get really authentic dialogue if I am really open.

However. First draft, is not where I am at.

As I polish my MS, at this point, it seems like it is scarier because it is getting all so real--people are reading this, my words, with the intent to sell, for the very intent of other people reading and buying my words. And while that thought is exciting (exhilarating! dream fufilling!), there is an element of fear attached. The leader of our critique group mentioned the other day that at this level, what people tend to do is fear success. And as scary as it can me, I can not, will not, let that happen to me.

I will be brave.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Writing and Mommydom~the Guilt Factor

So...I joined Twitter. Italic

Hi, Twitter people, nice to meet you. I'm Kara. I'm kinda new around here...

Still trying to figure out my place in that enormous universe. Seriously, if I'm being honest, Twitter kind of reminds me of when I had to change schools my junior year in high school. Um...yeah. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and instead of cool clothes and cheerleader outfits, everyone has all these brilliant, witty, fantastic things to say, amazing websites, fabulous posts, shiny new book's daunting, people!

But enough of letting you all into my own squishy sense of self-confidence. What I keep noticing, time and time again, is that a lot of y'all are...moms. And here is where I am fascinated, and where I have tons and tons of questions. How do you balance it all? I have a full life. I work in adoptions part-time. And I have a husband and kids ranging in age from 14 to 4. So that means I occasionally have to do laundry. And go to games. And ballet.

But writing is an integral part of who I am. And every time I pay attention to one area of my life, I still feel that good ol' Irish-Catholic guilt flaring up. (...Playing with the kids? Grreeeatt...but you didn't get to your word count for the day. ...You wrote ten chapters? Sure, but your youngest just asked you why you love the computer so much.)

Arrgh I am so neurotic!

I guess what I really want to know, is how other moms, dads out there balance their writing life with their personal life.

Do you limit how much time you spend each day writing? Do you have a daily word count. Do you ever feel . . . !!GUILTY!! for neglecting the little things that other, more perfect moms do: aka cooking homemade cookies, being on the PTA (yuck!), or handsewing every Halloween costume? (Please don't tell me that you can do all of the above and write. I can't handle hearing that. )

Seriously, I have been impressed, since lurking around the writing universe of Twitter, by how many of you have incredible websites, amazing books, great self-promotional tools, and are young moms. To oftentimes little kids. I would love to know how you do it!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Archetypes in Fiction

Today was a very stressful day. *sad face* Had to go to court to finalize an adoption (awesome!), but got like fifty phone calls in between, and when I came home, I had a virtual Mount Everest of laundry (which I have yet to tackle....hence the blogging....ahem...).

But! On a brighter note, I am going to take my sons on a date to see Red Riding Hood before it leaves the theaters. Anyone seen it? Any good? Wait, don't tell, because I'm planning on seeing it anyway.

Which brings me to my post topic. Archetypes in fiction. See, every good fairytale is really just a take on one of the basic archetypes out there. Anyone every read any of Joseph Campbell's works or Women Who Run With the Wolves? If not, check 'em out. Really good stuff. Growing up, (and heck, even as an adult), I am a little wee bit embarrassed by listing reading as one of my hobbies. Because, let's face it, to the outside world (aka non-readers or writers), that doesn't sound very. . . cool.

But in our defense, if you've read a little Freud or Campbell, I have come to the notion that we as human beings read stories, listen to stories, as a way to connect with ourselves and the world around us. When we read, we are working though our issues, learning, and hopefully growing.

Some of my favorite classics are The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Chronicles of Narina, The Black Cauldron, Harry Potter--so it comes as no surprise that my current MS is basically a"hero's journey"--it's a storyline to which I'm always drawn. And everyone knows that the typical Romeo/Juliet storyline continues to thrill, with each and every new generation that comes along (loved Simone Elkeles' take on that with Perfect Chemistry.)

Anyway, so the next time someone makes you feel bad for reading, tell them to mind their own business. You're working.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Emotion in YA

I was having a personal pity party a few days ago, and went into my closet to unearth the dozen or so journals I have stored there, from 5th grade up until currently. And upon reading them, I was struck by how much emotion filled each and every page.

Anger, despair, heartache, elation, depression, love... I thought, boy, I was an angsty little thing, wasn't I? On the flip side, I was impressed with how in touch with my emotions I was, how much of my life at the time was spent living in the moment.

Good YA does exactly that. It takes you to that deep core of yourself, where you are insecure, hopeful, unsure--where you are truly you. As a writer, it's an excellent reality check to make sure that I portray my characters as having lots and lots of heartfelt, honest, emotion, that the readers can identify with.

My own teenage years are something I continually draw upon for my own books because it was such a magical time of firsts: first kiss, first love, first heartbreak, the first tenuous toe-dip into the vast ocean of adulthood. There is so much possibility. The world is wide open.

Now how do you feel about that? :)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bringing You Up to Speed

Clearly, I have not gotten better about blogging. Ah,well. I blame it on life--my mom life, work life, wife life, writing life, and the fact that I was a teen/young adult more in the Breakfast Club/Friends/Melrose Place era rather than the whole Blog/Twitter/text era. But I'm learning. Acutally, I have discovered the joys of texting and am quite fascinated with Twitter. But I digress! Remember when I said I wrote another book? So anyway, I started querying in October November (admittedly, very, very half-heartedly--hardly got more than a dozen out for a while.) Then my writing partner finished her project and began querying right around January first--which motivated me all over again. My goal: get up to fifty queries out there and hit 50 rejections, whichever came first. I got rejected, of course. But after the first ten, it was cool--I told myself that this was the process and then I started on a new MS that I was really excited about. And day...I got a request for a partial. And another. And another. Suddenly everything became very real and publishing my book started becoming more like a real possibility. My critique group, the fabulous Mondays, were awesome. So supportive, so encouraging. Of course you'll get published, they said. Love those people. And then it happened. Three requests for fulls, and by the end of the week, a couple offers. Wow. Blown away, I was. And actually, I still am. Every morning I wake up and pinch myself. It's real. In the end, I signed with the very lovely and eloquent Lora Rivera of the CG Literary Agency. She, from the very beginning, seemed to really get my book, love it for what it was, warts and all. (And it does have some warts--we're working on that.) So now, I have an agent, and am working on revisions. Oh, and the book, you ask? It's called FINDING PONY, about Jesse Sampson, a fiercly loyal fifteen-year-old boy, who, after a sickening experience in foster care, sets out to find his kid sister lost in the system, braving gangs, drug dealer, cops, and social workers. I'll talk more about it later, in upcoming posts. In the meantime, look out for my website, which I'm in the process of developing, and newer posts. I'd love to hear from you.