Sunday, December 14, 2014


I’ve been fairly quiet on social media lately, other than tweeting about the occasional silly, unimportant thing. It’s not because I don’t care about what’s really going on in the world, but because I do. I care. My heart breaks for the people who are hurting. For the brokenness in the media and in our country and in the world as a whole. But I haven’t wanted to add my voice to the fray when I didn’t have anything new to say.

Maybe I still don’t. But in this season of thanksgiving, reflecting, and rejoicing, as I read about protests and conflicts alongside the updates I follow in the world of children’s publishing, two ideas keep swirling in my head.

1.      We really need diverse books.

We need them to be published. We need to buy them. And we need to read them. The surest way to understand someone else’s point of view is to become his friend. Maybe I can’t befriend everyone I meet in real life, but I can connect with characters in books. In a book, I can see the world through different eyes. And maybe that little bit of understanding can grow into a real-life change in perspective. And what better place for that to start than in books for our children. I’ve tried to write characters with backgrounds outside of my own experience, and I’m sure I’ve made missteps. But I won’t stop trying. For more information about the We Need Diverse Books campaign, click here.

2.     The golden rule is a good first step.

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this sentence every day since my children were old enough to understand: Treat other people the way that you want to be treated. It’s such a simple thing, but oh what a difference it would make if we all really put it into practice. We all want to be loved, appreciated, and respected. And if we could just start to show those attitudes toward the people around us, I bet we’d see some big changes.

At Thanksgiving, my son found a W.W.J.D. plaque at my in-laws’ house and asked what it meant. Those letters, representing, “What would Jesus do?” were printed and worn on bracelets when I was a teenager. I hadn’t seen one in over fifteen years. I explained to my son that it was a reminder of how followers of Jesus should act toward ourselves and others. A week later, while going through my desk at home, I found a purple W.W.J.D. bracelet. I don’t know how old it is, or where it came from, but it was just another string tying my thoughts and emotions together. This year as I celebrate the birth of Jesus, I plan to try to honor him by treating others not only the way that I want to be treated, but the way that Jesus did. With grace, understanding, and love. And for more about what that means, click here.

Thank you to all of you out there, in the writing community and beyond, for being a part of my 2014. Merry Christmas. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Photo Blog Friday

I'm finally home from the United Kingdom. England is my favorite place to visit, and I was so inspired by the spooky and endearing Corfe Castle and Old Harry Rocks, both in the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. Our day in Windsor was like stepping onto the set of Downton Abbey. (No, I didn't cheat and watch the new season while I was there.) And of course London was magnificent as always, a fascinating blend of cultures and history and modernity, all wrapped up together. I wish I had pictures to share from the Treasures Collection at the British Library. They have the original draft of Persuasion, in Austen's own hand, with revisions. An original draft of Jane Eyre, in Bronte's own hand, with revisions. First printings of Shakespeare and Wuthering Heights. The Magna Carta. A Gutenberg Bible. It's just an overwhelming affirmation that words, writing, and their power of communication matter, not just now, but in the past and in the future.

The Oakley Court grounds, Windsor

The Oakley Court

The Isle of Purbeck

Corfe Castle

The Jurassic Coast

Big Harry Rocks

One of many delightful pubs

At the Band of Skulls concert

The Eye and the aquarium

Big Ben, from Westminster Abbey

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Finding Good

For my last post, I felt a bit down about the constant ugliness in the world. I didn't want to link to the specific issues that bugged me because I didn't want to give them any more coverage. So I challenged myself to find good things happening. People helping people, instead of tearing each other down. Today I want to share two of those Good Things.

One day this week, the person in front of me paid for my latte at Starbucks. It took me by surprise, even though it's happened to me before, and even though I've done the same thing on occasion. Confession: I did not offer to pay for the person behind me. It struck me in that moment that those of us in line at Starbucks, myself included, could afford to pay for our own overpriced coffees. But what about the people who are truly hungry, sleeping on the sidewalks downtown?

My first thought was to take a donation to our local food bank. I came home, researched, and found a partner of our local organization, called Farm Share. Farm Share focuses on distributing fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk to agencies like food banks and soup kitchens with no fees. Farm Share is an exciting organization, and just the kind of thing I want to support. So, no, I didn't pay for the next latte in line at Starbucks. But it did spur me to make a donation to Farm Share when I got home. For every $10 donated, Farm Share distributes 110 pounds of food. That sure sounds like a Good Thing to me. Please click on the link for more information.

In the world of reading and writing, where this blog usually lives, I found my second Good Thing. The We Need Diverse Books Campaign continues to grow. The leap from awareness to action is now providing grants, support, educational kits, and more. Now we can lend our support through the IndieGoGo Fundraising effort here. From swag packs to agent-offered prizes for writers, you can't go wrong.

I hope you all are out there finding your Good Things, too.

Music for today: Shiny Happy People by R.E.M.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Public Eye

We all live in glass houses in this digital age.

I write about this loss of privacy in my YA fiction, and the idea just won't stop cropping up in the real world. Athletes and celebrities seem to take the brunt of the public eye, but they're not the only ones anymore. It spans such a huge range of situations, from the embarrassing to the criminal.

I can't help wondering what it will mean for our society in the long run. Will it make us better, eventually, knowing that someone's always watching us? Or will it just expose more of the darkness we already fear exists?

The ugliness weighs on me, as a woman, a mother, and a Christian. We have access to multitudes of information and countless people in the palm of our hands, and what do we do with it? Threaten and intimidate? I'm not sure what's worse, the hatred or the indifference.

I don't have any real answers. But over the next few weeks, I'm challenging myself to use this technology that's supposed to make our lives better and easier for something good. I hope you'll take on that challenge, too.

Music for today: Lightening Bolt by Jake Bugg

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fall Contest Round-Up

I mentioned in a previous post that I have a thing for contests. It may be time for me to step back and do things the old fashioned way, but as a PSA to all of you out there in the query trenches, here are a few of the amazing contests coming soon to a blog near you!

1. Pitch Slam

This is Leatrice McKinney's amazing contest that provides feedback in between rounds. This fall's theme is Agents of Shield, and I can promise she makes every part of the experience amazing. The entry window for 35 word pitches begins October 4, 2014. You must enter the first round to continue, and the first page window begins on October 6. You'll get feedback on both, with the chance to revise for the final round on October 9. Click here for more information.

2. Nightmare on Query Street

Michelle, Mike, and SC host this fear themed contest. Along with your query and first 250 words, you must include a short paragraph explaining what your main character is most afraid of. The submission window opens on October 19, 2014. Click here for more information.

3. Baker's Dozen Agent Auction

Miss Snark's First Victim, Authoress, hosts this event each year. Submissions include a log line and the first 250 words, and there is a $15 entry fee for this one. There will be three rounds available for log line critiques on September 22, October 6, and October 20. Submission dates for the auction are October 28 and October 30 for adult entries and November 4 and November 6 for YA and MG. Click here for more information. 

4. An Agent's Inbox

Krista Van Dolzer hosts this contest, with submissions of a full query plus the first page. Not for the faint of heart, the agent provides an honest reaction to what works or what doesn't. September's agent is Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency. The contest opens Monday, September 22, 2014. Click here for more information.

5. Operation Awesome Mystery Agent

Operation Awesome hosts a mystery agent contest most months of the year. The October lottery is open now until September 25, 2014. Fifty entries will be selected. This month's agent is looking for MG, YA, women's fiction, historical fiction, and romance. Entries include a twitter length pitch and the first page of your manuscript. Click here for more information!

6. PitchMas

Hosted by Jessa Russo and Tamara Mataya, this is an awesome December contest. Dates have not yet been set, but you can click here for more information.

Please be sure to check on all the submission guidelines before entering, and feel free to mention any contests I missed in the comments!

Music for today: Butterflies and Hurricanes by Muse

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What Really Makes Contests Worth It

Online pitch events are exciting and addictive when you have a query-ready manuscript. Recently we've had WriteOnCon, Operation Awesome's Secret Agent Contest, Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars, and Adventures in YA Publishing's Pitch Plus Five. And that was just August!

The primary goal of contests seems to be grabbing an agent's attention and garnering requests for your work. But these four were fabulous for another reason. Each offered feedback before the judged component, often from many critiquers at once.

The multitude of feedback has been a tad overwhelming for me, but also helpful. In the interest of helping and supporting others, when I landed a spot in Pitch Plus Five, I decided to read every entry and give at least one line of response. If you enjoy entering these contests, I highly suggest you try reading all the entries at least once. Here are a few things I learned:

1. It really is subjective.

You can hear it over and over again, but experiencing it first hand gives you new perspective. There were some amazing, well-written pages in Pitch Plus Five that just weren't for me. I'm not a huge fan of straight historical, and some jump-off-the-page voices just rub me the wrong way. I get that they're good. I admire them. But they just don't fit my personal tastes.

2. Contests take more time than you realize.

When I set out to read all entries, the simple math looked like this:

5 pages X 50 entries = 250 pages

Most books I read have more than 250 pages. I should've been able to go through them easily in about two days. But starting at the beginning and trying to immerse yourself in a new story takes more time than reading a book straight through. Then you have to think about what you enjoyed and what questions you had to frame your feedback. I didn't log my time, but it took much more than I expected. Contest judges volunteer their time on an even larger scale. Even if you don't agree with the feedback you get, you should always appreciate that someone took the time to try to help you. Time that could've been spent on their own writing, reading, or outside lives.

3. Your opening pages need to match the tone of your pitch.

In the first round of Pitch Plus Five, you only see the pages. The pitches don't come in until the second round. For all of my favorites, I got a clear sense of the genre, tone, and the main character without the pitch. For so many others, I felt like I was missing something. I enjoyed many of those pages. But the ones with the clearer tones stood out.

4. Seeing what works and what doesn't can help you improve as much as a specific crit on your own work.

My top five submissions were in different age groups or genres, but they all had certain things in common. Each pulled me in from the opening paragraph. They gave just a bit of exposition before jumping into the action. None fell into opening chapter cliches, and I didn't have to go back and re-read sentences for clarity. As I revise this time, I'm trying to check off these items on the list.

If you're out there in the contest trenches, I wish you luck and throw my support in your corner. I also encourage you to get the most out of the experience, from finding new writer friends to improving your craft.
There are so many ways to win.

Music for today: All the Rage Back Home by Interpol

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Remembering Why

I had this great conversation with a teenager a few weeks ago. He was a stranger to me, and circumstances just happened to have us sitting next to each other. He started by asking me what I was reading. (It was Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo.) I gave him a quick summary, and he shared with me how he used to enjoy reading so much, but things were just too busy between high school and his job to read for fun anymore.

He was a non-native English speaker, and it was learning to enjoy reading that brought the language alive for him. Any guess what the book that hooked him was? I wasn't surprised when he said Harry Potter, because I witnessed that same magic with my students in middle school year after year. My first revelation that day was a sense of regret that our education system hasn't picked up on this trend. In elementary and middle school, we encourage kids to read whatever they enjoy, to foster a love of books. We are dying for kids to read for fun. But in many high schools, the emphasis shifts. I think we'd do better to support reading as a source of entertainment instead of just work.

Next he asked me if I was a teacher. He said I just had that look, though I think it was more my enthusiasm for talking about Harry Potter, and books in general, that gave me away. So, here's the thing. I told him I was a teacher, but I didn't tell him I'm a writer. (I'm embarrassed to say I didn't relish the follow-up questions that come with that.) He could've asked more about teaching, or even stopped talking to this mom-aged lady, but next he asked me what I'd wanted to be when I was his age.

I can't remember anyone asking me that question in my adult life. So I told him. I told him how I'd always loved reading. Though there were many things I'd wanted to be throughout my childhood, when I was eighteen, I wanted to work in publishing as an editor. It was the only way I could see where reading could be my job. I didn't think I had the creativity to write, but I'd known I wanted to work with books. Teaching did let me do that, but not in the way I'd imagined.

It's taken a long and winding road, but I am finally following that dream. I'm really glad we crossed paths that day, because he reminded me why I'm doing what I'm doing. I love writing, and I'm proud of the novels I've completed. But whatever the outcome of my own writing career, joining this community, through SCBWI and social media, has allowed me to practice exactly what I wanted to do. Supporting writers. Reading books on the front lines of the industry through CPs, betas, and ARCs. And helping, even in some small way, books come to the shelves that bring our language and our world alive for young readers.

Music for today: Five Seconds by Twin Shadow


Monday, August 18, 2014

Fall Inspiration

With summer slipping away, so many changes are coming. In the grand scheme of things, after a month filled with one tragedy after another in the news, I'm looking forward to ushering in a new season full of potential, growth, and thanksgiving. Today I'm photo blogging with images to remind me of where I've been and keep me inspired for the times ahead.

The Upper West Side

At the Met

NYC at night

Boston and Cambridge from the Charles

Boothbay Harbor, Maine at Sunset

From the bay

Peaceful Summer 


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Elusive Voice

Over the past few months, I've been working on revisions. While incorporating feedback from various sources on my own work, I've also critiqued pages for others from a wide range of genres. The elusive voice, the unique filter that makes a work our own, strikes me as both the most difficult thing to revise personally and to address for writing partners.

I love the drafting stage of writing because of the freedom it allows. The words flow unhindered because they can be tightened later. My voice as a writer is born during this stage. In the next phase, through learning and experience, I sculpt the story and the sentences. We have these rules drilled into us: use more active verbs, cut all the adverbs, stay within the restrictions of your point of view, and don't pull the audience out of the narrative. These stick out in my mind because not only have I heard them in crits, I've used them with other people. But sometimes. Sometimes we need to break the rules to develop our voice.

Let's take a look at the opening lines of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately. 

Gaiman breaks every one of those rules. If I were giving comments on his first page in a blog contest, I could say:

Don't open with passive voice. You could cut this first line to say, A hand in the darkness held a knife. Look, you even cut words that way! You could cut not immediately, too. Watch out for those adverbs! And four adjectives in the second sentence--try to cut that down to only the most important one. In that third sentence, you address the audience. You could change it to say who specifically would not know they'd been cut. I also don't really get a sense of character in your first paragraph. Who is this book about?

I felt guilty writing the above paragraph, even in jest, because Gaiman's opening line and chapter are my absolute favorites. (Not just my favorites of Gaiman's, but my all time favorites.) Who cares if that first sentence is passive? The rhythm and the image set the perfect eerie tone for the rest of the book. Chills ran down my back the moment I read them for the first time, and I was hooked. And in the end, isn't that all that really matters? Being able to hook the reader?

I know we have the rules for a reason. I try to be ruthless with the passive voice and the adverbs. But sometimes we just have to trust our own voice as writers to tell the story in our own way, focusing more on our connection with the reader than on murdering all the darlings.

Music for today: Here Comes Your Man by the Pixies.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pens for Paws 2014

Visit Pens for Paws here
This year's Pens for Paws Auction is right around the corner!

This online auction, hosted by my friend Angelica R. Jackson, raises funds for Fat Kitty City, a no-kill, cage-free cat (and dog!) sanctuary in El Dorado Hills, California. She has fabulous items for writers and others in the publishing community.

The auction starts next Monday, July 14, with new items added each day through Friday, July 19. Be sure to check it out! Items up for bid include:

Signed copy and poster of Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Crit of 25 pages + package of books chosen by Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary

Signed copy of Snow Dog, Sand Dog by Linda Joy Singleton

Autographed first editions of Finn Finnegan and Gideon's Spear by Darby Karchut

Crit of query+10 pages, & ebook collection by Kelley York

Crit of query (5 separate queries) by agent Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary

Critique of 40 pages by agent Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency
Critique of query + 1st chapter by Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency
Package of books chosen by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary, including:
Longing for Home by Sarah Eden
Never Too Late by Rhonda Helms
Prophecy Girl by Cecily White
Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes
Free Agent by J.C. Nelson
Spencer Hill Press Package, with books, swag, and critiques!

Entangled Books package!

Critique of query + 1st 15 pages from Jessica Watterson of Dijkstra Literary Agency

Operation Awesome package, including critiques, books, ebooks, swag, and more!

First-print copies of The Lives of Tao and The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu

Be one of the first in (the virtual) line to get a signed copy of Lark Rising by Sandra Waugh!

Signed books from the Otherkin series by Nina Berry!

Advanced Readers Copy of Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer!

Please join in to help the kitties!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Reviews: A Double-edged Sword

Recently a writer I know and respect sent out a message asking readers and friends to please review her new book on the various sites. (Goodreads, Amazon, etc.) It was all completely on the up-and-up. She didn't ask for positive reviews, just honesty from those who'd read it, in the hopes that they might balance out some harsh ones. I haven't read her book yet, but of course this piqued my interest to see what prompted her request.

She had a few of those scathing, rambling reviews that tell you far more about the general unhappiness of the person writing them than the actual book. Who has time to write this stuff? I mean, why not spend that time writing their own masterpieces of fiction? As a reader, those reviews mean nothing to me.

But the rest of the reviews were of the helpful variety. They gave short summaries and highlights of what they liked and what they didn't. The points were all very similar, with above-average ratings. My problem is this: the issues they mentioned were all things that really bug me in other books. They're things related to character development that cause me to put a book down.

I wanted to buy this book, both for my own enjoyment and to support a fellow writer. But with so many awesome releases coming out every week, what I read on these sites was enough keep my money in my pocket. The key point is that it wasn't the terrible reviews that held me back, but the good ones. The worst thing is, at least from her perspective, that I would have bought her book if I'd never gotten that message.

Music for today: Lovesong by The Cure

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. Please stop by their blogs to join in the fun!


Buy it using Indie Bound here
I just finished Cassandra Clare's City of Heavenly Fire, either the sixth or the third in the series depending on how you classify it. I enjoyed it, as I do all of her books, and I did find the conclusion satisfying. I didn't find it to have as many twists and turns as the earlier ones, and I wonder if this has to do with being familiar enough with her style to see precisely how the ending will play out as the clues unfold, or if the ending was just predictable. One note if you haven't read it yet: if you're also a fan of the Clockwork series, you really should read Clockwork Princess before reading this one.


Work on the WIP has stalled, mostly due to life getting in the way. My boys have camp next week, so I'm hoping to move on with my word count then. I have been playing around with a new opening chapter for Perception when I get a few moments here and there, and I'm anxious to share it with my critique group this weekend. Why am I reworking it? Sometimes I ask myself that question, too. I had some feedback about the opening from a request. I've never heard these criticisms from anyone else before, but I'm curious to see if these changes make it stronger.


My kids. Watching them grow into young men is both exciting and hard to accept. I struggle with the idea of being proud of them. They've both had accomplishments lately that made me feel proud, but those accomplishments belong to them, not me. I want them to know I'm happy and proud for them, and I hope that they strive to do their best because it's what they want, not because they think it makes me happy.


Is it just me, or has 2014 flown by? I can't believe it's June. Summer has already filled with plans, and I'm most excited about an upcoming trip to New York City, Boston, and the coast of Maine. We have plane tickets and hotels booked, but if anyone has any suggestions for restaurants or must-do activities, please share!  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Writers on Writing: The Writer's Process

Last week Alison Miller tagged me in the Writer's on Writing blog hop, and today's my day! You can check out her blog here. Thanks, Alison!

1. What are you working on?

My work-in-progress is a YA contemporary about a girl with a disabled father and a mother in prison. She's done a fine job taking care of herself and her dad, thank you very much, until the uncle she blames for her mom's conviction shows up to ruin everything. Again. The writing is going slow, with end of the school year activities on top of work-type editing responsibilities. But I am in love with this character. She's brave and strong and loyal, with a questionable moral compass. The family relationships are complex, and it's exciting to see how their interactions play out. I've readjusted my goal of finishing the first draft from a certain date to sometime this summer.

2. What makes your work different?

Every piece of long fiction I've written takes place mostly in the South. This didn't begin as an intentional choice, yet most pieces take place in north or central Florida, in areas where I've lived for many years. North Florida has a unique flavor, somehow both deep South and lassez-faire, diverse in culture and beliefs, and both literally and figuratively hot and steamy. I hate seeing Southerners depicted as dim-witted and close-minded on television and in movies, and though less often, also in books. I try to bring a different touch of the South to my work, something that enhances the characters without drawing too much attention to itself.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I fell in love with YA while teaching middle school. It started out as a way to stay tuned to what my students were reading. I read everything they recommended, alongside my Anita Shreve and Stephen King. One day, a student came to me and said, "Mrs. D, you have to read this! It's about a boy, and he finds out he's a wizard, and..." Suddenly I wasn't just reading children's books for them anymore. I was one of those people waiting to pick up the next Harry Potter at midnight when it came out. When I started seeking out YA books that were beyond my sixth graders for my personal reading, I knew I was hooked.

Still, when I started writing, my first novel was in the "women's" fiction camp. It took place over twenty plus years, but it began when the main character was a freshman in college. But she didn't act that way. She acted like someone in high school. And it hit me that tapping in to the potential for a life full of wonders and firsts and mistakes, was the sweet spot. The place where I wanted to write. I started reading YA almost exclusively, and writing it, and I haven't looked back since.

4. What is your writing process?

Everything starts with a character. I think about him or her for a while, and I start with jotting down everything. Likes and dislikes, quirks, family background, friends, everything. Once I have a general idea of what the problem will be, I write a rough idea of what the climax will be, usually not knowing how it will end. Next I write more back stories for more characters, and then I just dig in and let those characters take me where they will. So, in short, I'm a pantser.

For my fantasy Trespassers, I have composition books filled with the "rules" of the world, drawings, maps, sticky notes for errant thoughts, the arch of the would-be trilogy, and extensive research of the history on which my magic was based. For my magical realism Perception, everything is cataloged in Word and Excel. (I think for me, the method changes to fit the story.) I do listen to music while drafting, and when I wrote Perception, my playlists included music my MC Evan loved. I edit and revise in quiet, and now that I'm drafting again, I'm having to find new music to suit my girl.

This has been so much fun! Alison also tagged Melanie Stanford today, so please check out her answers. And I'm tagging fellow Florida girl Missy LaRae, so please stop by her blog here for her answers on Thursday, May 29th.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's been forever since I checked in with YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday. This week the topic is simple and perfect for what's been on my mind:

What are you reading right now?

I'm still reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. At about halfway through, that's slow reading for me.

I've been itching to talk about it, though, because I think Ms. Tartt has a secret. On top of being a best-selling, Pulitzer-winning literary powerhouse, she may secretly be a YA writer in disguise. Let's start with the premise of The Goldfinch, according to Goodreads:
Buy it here

Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

I realize that in the course of the narrative, Theo will grow up, and I'll learn how the trials of his youth shaped him and the circumstances he faces as an adult. But for the first half of this book, Tartt creates a raw, honest picture of a teenager's life in America. Theo deals with tragedy and loss, guilt and confusion. My heart aches for him and for my real-life sons, who are edging too close for comfort to his age.

The "youth" portion of this novel may not form a complete story on it's own, but even with plot elements aside, it would hold up as a coming of age tale. My question is, then, which defines a book as YA more, the age and circumstances of the main character, or the intention of the author to write for young people? If the answer is the former, then Ms. Tartt is definitely a YA writer in addition to her other talents.

Happy reading and happy Wednesday, everyone!

Music for today: Bad Blood by Bastille

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop hosted by the lovely Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. Please check out their blogs to join in the fun!

What I'm Reading

I just started Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. I love Donna Tartt. To anyone exploring the realm of New Adult, I highly recommend her first novel The Secret History, about a small-town boy who becomes enthralled in a strange and exclusive group at his university. I've read some opinions that The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer because The Secret History should have won ten years ago. I haven't formed my own opinion yet. Tartt has the rare gift of beautiful, literary prose voiced through youth. The main character, in the beginning, anyway, is a thirteen-year-old boy. For someone who reads mostly YA, it's a huge shift in pace, but the emotions and the story are right there with my normal choices.

What I'm Writing

I broke the 12,000 word mark, and the fifth chapter, on my WIP. I'm in love with this story, yet I'm not nearly as far as I'd hoped to be by now. But it's all good, because I was sidetracked by The Writer's Voice. It's an amazing contest hosted by Brenda DrakeMónica Bustamante WagnerKimberly P. Chase, and Elizabeth Briggs, based on NBC's The Voice. If you want to get a glimpse of a day in the life of an agent, take a look at the live blog hop on any of the sites above. There are 139 queries and first pages, and the talent is mind-blowing. I am so honored to be chosen by Kimberly Chase for her team, along with fellow WUW gal Alison Miller! 

What Inspires Me Right Now

Music has been my inspiration lately. It's funny; I tried writing this WIP to some of my Perception playlists, and it was not happening! The Lumineers are working better for this one, and the occasional Death Cab and Twin Shadow. 

What Else I've Been Up To

I'm thrilled to be leading a new SCBWI critique group in the Jacksonville area. Our first meeting is this Saturday, and we've had lots of interest online. For me, my writing life is usually compartmentalized away from my regular life with friends and family. But I'm ready for worlds to collide, and I can't wait to meet and dig in with other local writers.

And finally, I know I just wrote a post about sharing too much about my children, but I can't help myself. Son #1 had a piece of art chosen for an art show. I am so proud of him, and so excited! The show is being held at a local hotel, and afterward, the pieces will stay on display. Yay!

I can't wait to catch up with everyone else!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Writer's Voice: PERCEPTION (YA)

Welcome, readers! I lucked out by securing a spot in "The Writer’s Voice,” a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Brenda DrakeMónica Bustamante WagnerKimberly P. Chase, and Elizabeth Briggs. You can find more info on any of their websites. If you're one of the judges, thank you so much for this opportunity! This entry is for my YA novel PERCEPTION.


Evan Evans can’t decide what scares him more: keeling over from his rare liver disorder or dying a virgin. When he gets drunk to ask a girl out at a party, he ends up with disturbing dreams, a hangover, and a video of his escapades on a gossip blog.    

Now Evan’s grounded. His liver’s failing. And his secretive virtual support group is pissed that the video highlights his symptoms. Things go from bad to weird when the hangover-induced nightmares start coming true, including a make out session with the blogger and a classmate’s death.

Falling for the girl who exposed him, confronted by a specialist conducting unregulated clinical trials, and wanted by a government informant desperate to record his dreams, Evan must face his disease and its effect on everyone he cares about. Will he choose a longer life on someone else’s terms, or freedom with no hope of recovery?

PERCEPTION is a 76,000 word YA contemporary with a speculative twist. The wry humor will appeal to fans of Holly Black’s White Cat, the take on relationships resembles Jennifer Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, and the light touch of fantasy is reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report.”

First 250:

That first sip tasted like change, cool with only a hint of bitter.

No one at the party expected me to take a beer, least of all me. But after hours at the beach, alone by the fire and surrounded by couples making out, I fished a can from the cooler and cracked it open before my conscience could stop me. I’d wasted three years in the shadows. Before senior year started, I had to ask a girl out. A little liquid courage seemed like a step in the right direction.

“Oh, shit! Evan Evans has a beer! Somebody take a picture.” Jake Morgan laughed.

I flipped Jake off and walked to the shoreline. We’d snuck into Hanna Park through the woods, far from the lights of the condos farther south. Away from the bonfire, the night was all black water and white moonlight catching on the breakers. The memory of coconut sunscreen clung to the breeze, warm but welcome.

I chugged the rest of the beer, ignoring my churning stomach. Powdery dry sand weighed down my feet, and my toe caught when I crossed onto the hard-packed dampness. I pulled a thin red ribbon from beneath my foot. It slipped from my fingers and caught on the wind, twisting and swirling toward a girl hunched over alone on a rental chair.

I couldn’t tell who it was, but I started toward her. Better to talk one-on-one than to crash and burn in front of the crowd.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Open Door

I'm often struck by the idea of privacy, and its frequent absence in our constantly media connected world. It's an underlying theme in my novel Perception, and lately I've had the opportunity to question some real life issues with our expectations of privacy.

Last year a law passed in the state of Florida that prohibits educators from discouraging a parent from bringing an outside party to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting for his or her child. I won't unpack all the particulars, and this isn't a post about our education system in the US or our services for people with disabilities. Of course parents should be able to bring advocates to meetings. But that protection also extends to the media. If a parent chooses, she can bring the local news team, have them record the meeting, and broadcast it publicly. And the educator can't show an emotion that could be construed as discouraging.  

You may ask, "If the educators don't have anything to hide, why would they care?" My concern isn't with the educators or the parents, but for the child.

I post photos of my kids on Facebook, and I've even put a few on my blog. At some point, they may not appreciate that, and there's not anything I can do to take it back. When they're teens, molding their own Internet-public images with pictures, videos, and words, they'll have to live with the consequences of how they choose to represent themselves. Because if they act publicly, and someone else shares their information, there's nothing they can do to take that back, either.

In the past two days, five people I encountered in real life said to me, "I saw Son #2's [insert photo-worthy accomplishment]! That's great, tell him congratulations." I didn't post this information to the Internet, and neither did my husband. I didn't even get a notification through social media that I had been tagged in said event and photo album. It's a great thing, and I'm proud of him. I'm not remotely bothered that my friend chose to share this information. But what if it had been something I didn't want public? Or something he didn't?

Future employers and friends may be able to see with one click a full biography of my kids' lives, not of their making. Big Data scares me worse than Skynet.

While I was picking up my kids from school yesterday, I watched an adult yell animatedly at the child in her care. (I was in the car with my windows closed, so I did not hear what she said.) I wondered if I pulled out my phone, videoed the exchange, and showed it to her, how she would feel. Would she be proud of words and actions? Would I have been in my rights to take that video and upload it, as an example what a screaming parent looks like? And how would it affect the child, to have that moment immortalized?

Should children have a right to an expectation of privacy? For my hypothetical child with an IEP, should a parent have the right to expose her child's disability and the comments made by a team of people about her, to the world via the local news, even if her intention was to fight for that child's rights?

Like a friend of mine says weekly, I'm glad All the Things--Internet, Mobile Phones, etc.--weren't around in this capacity when we were teenagers.

Music for today: Every Breath You Take by The Police

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Manuscript Music

This week the lovely Leatrice McKinney at Info Dump a la El is hosting Pitch Slam: Battle of the Bands!  In addition to pitching novels, each day this week we're rocking Pitch Slam Twitter Parties. Today we're sharing our writing playlists. 

My YA novel PERCEPTION is about a boy with a rare liver disorder who spends one wild night trying to forget his disease and exposes disturbing new neurological symptoms instead. Grounded, wanted by experimenting doctors and government informants, and falling for the girl who snitched on him, he faces treatment as a lab rat or freedom while sacrificing recovery. 

Here are some of the songs on my Perception Playlist!  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a blog hop created and hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to connect and encourage writers. Please visit their blogs to join in the fun!
Click here to buy it locally through Indie Bound

This week I'm reading Cherry Money Baby by author and agent extraordinaire John M. Cusick. I'm really enjoying Cherry's distinctive voice and the authentic family relationships.


I'm 5,000 words in to the shiny, new WIP! It's taking more research than I'd expected, which has kept me from moving as quickly as I'd like. But my main character--this girl is something else. I just hope I can keep up with her. I'm even more crazy about her than I was when I started with my last MC. My goal is to have the first draft finished before my boys are out of school for the summer, and for now that seems feasible.


My friend and critique partner Angelica R. Jackson has amazing news! Her book Crow's Rest sold to Spencer Hill Press, with a release date of May 15, 2015. I can't wait for this book to make it out into the world, and I am so happy for her. Seeing her take this next step on her journey inspires me to keep up my own persistence and writing fortitude. Congratulations, Angelica!

And on another front of CP news... Since I started writing seriously, I've been looking for a local critique group. I have many amazing critique partners, including Angelica, who I've met at conferences and through the Internet. But we're spread out across the country. I'm greedy, I know, but I want more. I want more CPs and betas, with an in-person perspective. The existing writing groups in Jacksonville mostly focus on adult books, so through the SCBWI, I'm starting a local children's book critique group. We're still in the planning stages, but I'm so excited about what's to come.


It's been far too long since I went to a concert, and that will be remedied tomorrow night. Local Natives are playing here on Thursday. I've been counting down the days. They have a soulful, indie style with beautiful lyrics. Here's an example of the images they create, from the song Heavy Feet:

Powder in your hair
Staples in your jeans
Fireworks in the water
You were holding
A styrofoam cup
Held between your teeth
Telling me how you're going to outlive your body

You can check out their latest album Hummingbird here.

I can't wait to see what the rest of you are up to this week!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. Please check out their blogs to join in the fun!

What I'm Reading

A few years overdue, I just finished Maggie Stiefvater's Forever. I've said it before, but Stiefvater is an amazing writer. She has a talent for fleshing out characters and writing multi-sensory descriptions. But the highlight of this trilogy is the love story between Sam and Grace. I'm glad I finally crossed the ending to this series off my TBR list.

What I'm Writing

This week I'm polishing my query, short pitches, synopsis, and the opening chapters of my YA novel Perception. This whole process should have me anxious and nervous, but I'm actually just excited to get it out there and start work on my next project. These new characters won't quit bugging me, and I'm ready to meet them on the page.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Speaking of those pesky new characters--on Monday I met with a lawyer friend to discuss a multitude of family law topics for research on my new manuscript. I didn't want to hinge my plot on legal situations that weren't plausible, and as it turns out, I have several different avenues to explore with my main gal. I am so ready to find out where she'll go, and how she'll get herself out of sticky situations!

What Else I've Been Up To

This weekend my nephew got married. My husband and my youngest son were both in the wedding, and it was beautiful. The bride is a wedding and event planner, so you can imagine just how spectacular it was. I was so grateful for the time to be together as a family, celebrating. But I also left with a secret emotion simmering below the surface. Weddings used to fill me with joy and hope for the future, but this time....I felt a little sad.

I'm hopeful and happy for the newlyweds, but I can't help thinking about how time seems to speed up when we get older. My niece's children are the young and wiggly kind who can't sit still in church. Her husband asked, sarcastically, if I missed having children that age. I'm glad mine are older now, but I felt sad because that time of angelic faces and delightful squeals just doesn't last, and I'll never experience it as a parent again.

My sister-in-law has one in college and a junior in high school. The older one? She was the flower girl at my wedding. I'm happy and excited for both kids as they make that transition into adulthood, with all of the promise it holds. But they remind me that if I blink, my sons will be in those same places, and these days of loving Harry Potter and building Lego sets will vanish like the unpredictable smiles and wonder of the little ones.

Okay, okay, enough melancholy for one day. Back to the polishing trenches! I look forward to seeing what you fellow blog-hoppers have been up to!

Music for today: Wake Up by Arcade Fire

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

I am so thrilled to join What's Up Wednesday for the first time! WUW is a weekly blog hop developed by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to help writers connect with each other. If you'd like to join, too, please drop by Jaime's blog to add your post to the list!

What I'm Reading...

Buy it here

I finished Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown a few days ago. It was amazing. It was so crazy good that I had to wait before starting something new, because I just wanted to think about how she pulled it off.

In this market, surely people said No One could sell a vampire book right now. And Holly Black just laughed and said, "Watch me. I'll write the best vampire book you've ever read."

Her characters are believable and flawed. They remind you of people you know. And ultimately this isn't a book about vampires; it's about how people react when they're hurt, and the double-edged swords of revenge and mercy.

After a two day grace period, I started Jonathan Maberry's Fire & Ash, the conclusion to the Rot & Ruin Series. I'm enjoying it so far, and I can't wait to see how he pulls it all together.

What I'm Writing...

The WIP went to beta readers this week. I'm excited and nervous for so many reasons. I can't wait to hear the feedback, and I hope that they agree that it's time to send it out into the world. I know that next step is full of highs and lows, but I'm positive that this book is THE ONE. I also can't wait to get all my research in a row and start drafting my next novel. The drafting is my favorite part, so that might be the most exiting horizon in my immediate future.

What Inspires Me Right Now...

Every morning when I take my kids to school, I pass this abandoned neighborhood. It was slated to start before the recession hit, but no homes were ever built there. This little snapshot reminds me everyday of the next WIP, and I'm loving the thought of building my characters' world. I also felt super creepy stopping to take pictures, but I'm afraid that things might turn around, and they may actually start cleaning things up soon.

What Else I've Been Up To...

Well, my old blogging buddies may have noticed a few changes here on the website. I officially made the switch from my Blogger title Unavoidable Awkwardness to my own domain. ( I've also been working on my church's website. I'm learning more about the techie side of things little by little, and I'm hoping I'll be able to put this knowledge to good use here and elsewhere on the Interwebs.

Thanks so much for putting this together, Jaime and Erin! I can't wait to catch up with everyone!

Music for today: Here Comes Your Man by the Pixies

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Falling Flat

I recently read a popular book by an award winning author. It was terrible.

I'm choosing not to name the book, because I realize that my opinion is just that. But that experience, the one of having high expectations for a book and having them fall utterly and completely flat, has affected me as both a reader and a writer.

As a reader and book consumer, I feel gipped. The money and time I spent on this book could've gone to an awesome debut book, but this one grabbed my attention because of the hype. Sometimes a great concept just isn't enough. I couldn't relate to any of the characters, the relationships all felt forced and fake, and every problem was solved easily and unbelievably.

As a writer, I wondered if an author reaches a status of success in which editors hold back the red pens. If this had been the author's debut novel, would it have been published at all? Or are my feelings just a matter of subjective taste, like so much of the industry seems to be? Goodreads ratings range from mostly four stars to a hand full with one star; the latter nearly all agreed with my assessment. But I've also found books that I loved with those outlier one star ratings, too.

As I move forward to the next stage with my work-in-progress, I'm trying to take that to heart. This industry is subjective because of widely varying tastes. If I find a few people who love this one, and are willing to take it on, great! And if not, I'll just write better next time with the lessons I've learned.

Music for today: Out of the Black by Royal Blood

Monday, February 10, 2014

Apples to...

We constantly make comparisons. To describe. To explain. To just make sense of the world.

This week, I've wondered if perhaps we doth compareth too much.

Instance #1: I'd finished reading Sarah J. Maas's sequel to Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight. I enjoyed it, and I felt the pacing and character development were stronger than the first. (See? Already comparing, this time apple to apple.) Then I tried to describe the series to a friend. "It's a lot like Kristin Cashore's Bitterblue," I said, because I knew she'd read that series. And suddenly, my enthusiasm for Crown chilled. The similarities struck me, and suddenly Crown didn't feel as fresh. I was thrilled with it when I put it down; why did I have to ruin it by comparing it to something else?

Instance #2: I'm three books in to Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin series, and last night I watched the mid season premier of  The Walking Dead. The husband and I were asking the normal sort of questions, primarily why don't the jawless zombies attack? If the brain controls their movements, wouldn't they still attack, even without arms or jaws? I mentioned how in Maberry's zombie world, it's related to the reflex of the jaw muscles. Of course this brought to mind comparisons between Maberry's main character Benny, who is just a little older than The Walking Dead's Carl. But the more striking contrast between the two is the emphasis on religion in the world of Rot and Ruin. I like how different the two worlds are, but I also wondered if Kirkman will eventually address those same religious issues, and how I will feel about it when he does. Again, comparison left me feeling less connected with both stories, rather than more.

Instance #3: I've just started reading Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves. Stiefvater's prose is magical, and I read her books in equal parts a writer studying craft and a reader searching to connect with a great story. In only a few chapters, she's weaving these unbelievable metaphors: 

He always said Ronan differently from other words. As if he had meant to say another word entirely -- something like knife or poison or revenge -- and then swapped it out for Ronan's name at the last moment. 

[The leather bands] tasted like gasoline, a flavor that struck Ronan as both sexy and summery.

The Gray Man hated his current rental car. He got the distinct impression it hadn't been handled enough by humans when it was young, and now would never be pleasant to be around.   

...the buildings tired but tidy as library books.

So you see, Stiefvater's vision is amazing. Similes and metaphors grace nearly every page. I'm truly glad that none were left on the cutting room floor, and yet... sometimes they slow down the narrative. It feels wrong to complain about too much of a good thing. But I guess maybe I'd find these descriptions even more precious if they were more rare.

My goal for the rest of the month is to step back and see things as they are, on their own merits.

Music for today: Love is Blindness by Jack White 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Break time is over...

Well, hello 2014. Nice to meet you.

The second half of 2013 chewed me up and spit me out like a stick of Juicy Fruit. In 2014 I am determined to find my way back to the things that make me, well, me. Some health issues have made it difficult to read and write these past few months. I tried listening to audio books, but as a fast reader, I just didn't have the patience. On top of not feeling well physically, it's crushed me emotionally to not be doing the things I love. But by the grace of God, I improved during Christmas and New Year's.

 Ravenous for words, I needed to read before I could start writing again. Michelle Hodkin's The Evolution of Mara Dyer has been sitting in my closet for months, along with Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin.

Hodkin's blend of gripping characters and haunting plot turns were the perfect fuel for my fire. I just can't believe I have to wait six more months for the next in the series! 

 And Maberry's take on the land of zombies in Rot and Ruin wasn't new or different from all the others, but his character growth and relationship development were. He communicates through action more than dialogue, and I connected with his main character, even though I didn't find him likable. That is a hard talent to master.

And now I'm off to dive back into my revisions on the WIP. Here's hoping this wave of energy continues, and if it doesn't, that I'll find the strength to keep reading and writing anyway.

Happy New Year!

Music for today: Revolving Doors by Metric