Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Wait!! This is not SPAM!  I really am blogging.  With the New Year I am intending to dust off my space here and get back at things.  I have now finished painting the entire first floor of my house and can once again use my *cough* spare time to write more.

To push me towards this goal, I was tagged for participation in The Next Big Thing by the author of THE PATIENCE TRILOGY- Courage in Patience, Hope in Patience, and Truth in Patience, Beth Fehlbaum. THE PATIENCE TRILOGY is currently on submission to several publishers and she's been working on her 4th book,B.F.D. (Big Fat Disaster).  To learn more about her newest writing adventure check out her blog at 

My friend, Beth Fehlbaum, is an inspiration to me as we have both risen from childhood trauma only to inspire and teach as well as write.  I am honored and strengthened by Beth and the voice she gives to survivors.

Enough of the seriousness.  Let's get on with the fun of The Next Big Thing...

What is the working title of your next book?  It was By the Grace of God originally, but I have since changed it to Gracie's Gift

Where did the idea come from for the book?  Wow.  Well, we were doing a character sketch in one of my classes and all of a sudden I had to step away from what everyone else was saying so I could write down my own character sketch.  Gracie and Kaitlin were so loud and forceful, wanting their stories told.  It was pretty freaky.

What genre does your book fall under? Young Adult Contemporary (Realistic) Fiction. 

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?   For Gracie, I think I would have the actress who played Minny from The Help, Octavia Spencer.  I'm not sure who would play Kaitlin... she's only about 17 through the bulk of the book.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Kaitlin was abandoned as a young child and raised by Gracie.  After 13 years, her birth mother returns to explain herself, however NOTHING is what the artistic Kaitlin imagined.  

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
I have no clue.  I don't know the first thing about the publishing end of things.  I have to finish the book first.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? Still writing... 2 years now, with a divorce in the middle that slowed things down a LOT!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Oh goodness, I really couldn't say.  Maybe... something like The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake

Who or what inspired you to write this book? Well, the book forced itself on me sort of and then one of my students inspired the development of the story.  Anger drove so many of her decisions in school and it wasn't until almost the end of the year that I found out why she was so angry.  I was astonished by her story and it fueled my novel.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? I am writing the book attempting to use African American dialect for some of the key characters.  This is challenging me.  I am also scared to finish the book because of the stark examples of racism.  It hurts me to write some of these things.

Check out all of the following author-friends of mine and encourage them to participate in THE NEXT BIG THING on January 2nd! 

Nova Lovette: A dear friend who I don't get to spend enough time writing with or talking writing with.  Check out her work at  

Trish Stewart, author of  Taking Lessons From Ernest, released in 2011.  She has pushed me to "just get it written" and then go back and fix it.  This is easier said than done.

Megan Messina Bostic who wrote Never Eighteen, a wonderful novel that follows a young man's journey to make life right before he dies.  She has inspired me more than she could know, as I "found" her through a mutual friend at a critical turning point in my life.  

I am supposed to have two more authors to feature on here, but would rather go with quality than quantity during this busy busy time of year.  Have a great 2013 and do 2012 out right!!!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

It's Homecoming Season

I'm taking this moment for a shameless brag session.  I am proud of my son.  He was in the NICU as a newborn and had to survive my inept parenting since he was the first and I was only 22 years old.  Now, he is closing in on 15 and a constant joy in my life.  From asthma to struggles in math, from his amazing sense of humor and his natural inner peace, he has taught me how to love and how to be a parent.  It is for him that I keep my feet on the ground and my head level.  Enjoy your first Homecoming my little Leprechaun!!  I love you!!!

Oh, and thank for letting me help you pick out your outfit...I don't like Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) at all...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Coming to Terms With Being a Pantser in my Crazy World

I'm a pantser. Complete and total, write the story as it comes, perhaps foolish pantser. Writing with no plan but find myself driving down the road, struck with the missing scene I didn't even know was missing kind of writer.

I'm also a divorced, co-parent of two active and involved boys, a full time Communication Arts teacher to an average of about 70 students a year, and girlfriend to an amazing and hard working man.

These many "hats" I wear (not even including daughter, friend, etc.) are proving to be mildly incompatible with my writing style. I'm often time or energy challenged as I attempt to complete my first novel and maintain any kind of blog or writer network. Yet, I refuse to give any of it up.

Recently, I saw this quote about commitment (see picture). While I may be filled with guilt to say I am a writer, while rarely truly writing over the past several months, I am continuously noting scenes, crafting their connections, observing speech patterns in my students so as to replicate these in my characters and reflecting on what I learn from the writing world around me. Slowly, sometimes painfully so, I am morphing and adjusting to the life around me, learning the skills and tricks to keep me writing. And this kind of thinking, has to still count as commitment to my craft on some level. I refuse to let myself believe otherwise and be held back by negative self-talk.

So far, my biggest challenge is letting go of the need to write scenes in chronological order. As a pantser, or perhaps just as a neophyte writer, I want to sit and write the story as it comes to me, in order, beginning to end, despite challenges along the way. Simply crafting a scene as it hits my head really doesn't work for me. Or should I say, I haven't allowed it to work?

Lately, it has struck me that I could craft a scene as it strikes and then later weave the scenes together in the order they should be in. "Revision is precisely for that," as I so confidently teach my students. Yet, I still struggle to make this happen.

Perhaps, now that I have a strategy, albeit one that I'm struggling with because it has no order, I can better utilize or structure my time to include "writing windows" each day. No matter how long this takes me, I WILL NOT GIVE UP THIS DREAM! I WILL FINISH THIS BOOK!

For my fellow writers who also have full-time work outside of your writing lives, how do you balance it all? How has your writing style had to adjust to fit your ever changing life? What skills, tricks or tools have helped you stay on track the most?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Too busy Falling in Like

I am so sorry my dear readers!  I haven't abandoned you.  I have met someone and I am very busy falling in like with him.  He is incredible and I am rapturous.

Since my last post, I have submitted both a short story and a poem for publication to the Everyday people.  As of right now, the poem has been upgraded to in Process and the story is still in slush.  I am excited about having a second round at the In Process rank.  I know it isn't publication, but it still means someone is seeing SOMETHING in my writing.  I just have to figure out if I polish it up to meet what they want over there at Everyday or do I go with my writer gut and pursue other venues.  I mean, if they saw something at one place at one level, there is a chance someone else will see something as well.

I have created a timeline for my novel, but in all honesty, I am in too happy a place to get into character enough to write the scenes I am on.  Do any of you ever have this problem?

What do you do when you lose interest in finishing your work because your real life is so damn good and distracting?

I know I will get back on track, but how?  I'll keep you posted about the Everyday submissions.

See ya for now.  Stay groovy!!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Matched [Book]

Like many reviewers, the gorgeous cover of Matched pulled me in. I've had quite a few students say they kind of, sort of liked the book but that it was slow. Still, I had to read it. 

Personally, I enjoyed the book very much. The Society fascinated me and the energy and spirit of Cassia inspired me as well. The concept of choices and being led to believe that your life is ideal when you don't have to make them is curious. How many times have we all felt that way when we were overwhelmed and exasperated? Condie's use of that feeling to build a Society where you get exactly that is unique and well done.

In the beginning, I was so upset with Casia's grandfather for planting the seed of doubt about the Society in her happy, young mind. What really makes him any different from the Society--manipulating her thoughts and feelings through suggestion? 

When you step back and look at the interactions between all the characters and Cassia, you begin to think about our own society--how "free" are we really? Are our thoughts and actions truly a result of free will, or are we all unknowingly "going gently"? 

The love triangle is compelling (using a bit of the law of "bad boy" attraction that so many women understand). I haven't yet decided if I'm team Ky or team Xander. 

Well done Ally Condie. You have definitely made me think while entertaining me as well!!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Review: Taking Lessons from Ernest by Trish Stewart

Taking Lessons from Ernest is a tale of disappointment and reclamation. Trish Stewart does an eloquent job bringing the emotions of "hitting rock bottom" to life through her characters Eric and Oliver. Through her words and the appearance of Hemingway's ghost, she has crafted a tale of true healing as we follow Eric on his journey to fulfill his father's last wishes. This is a must read for anyone who feels like life has settled into a pit and they do not have the strength to climb out and fight for happiness.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

BuNoWriMo and Changing my Stars

Wow!  I have come such a long way.  As of now it is midnight.  Officially June 1st.  I am now going to start my first WriMo Challenge.  And, of course, because it is me, I am being a rebel right off the bat because I already have 26xxx words written.  The challenge is to write 50xxx.  Here's where I stand with that:  I am finishing the rough draft of my first novel this month.  Whether that means writing another 50k or not really doesn't matter.  And I am OK with this.

I've done some sprints with my friend and writing buddy, Nova Lovette and loved it.  I also found a Facebook group that is set up just for sprints.  Perfect.  Nova clued me in on a webinar type thingy...and I watched an author go through her process of outlining using post-it notes.  I LOVE her ideas and have bought my post-its, so I am ready to go--as soon as I go back to Wal-Mart and buy the whiteboard I knew I should have bought today :-(

I've found my voice, my spine, my grit.  Had a poem rejected from Everyday Poets.  Well, their loss.  They seem to prefer a tighter rhyme and meter and I'm more of a free verse style poet.  No loss to me.  I have other poems that fit what they are looking for.  But, unlike my previous rejection, I am not set back or really all that disappointed.  I know my poem is good and will fit somewhere.  Just not there.  And I am OK with that too.

This trend of finding my voice in my writing and publishing adventures, is translating into my personal life too.  I have always been the type of person who accepts everyone and excuses their mistakes even when they are "crimes against me".  I don't like to call people out for doing things that hurt or bother me.  It makes me feel guilty for hurting them even though they were in the wrong.  This has landed me in more than enough sticky situations as you can imagine.

Well, this week alone, I asked a dear friend to please try and refrain from drunk dialing me if at all possible, told my ex that I was not discussing something that was none of his business and did not let someone else's inappropriate decision bring me down with them.  (I swear, reading this it sounds like I have some great people in my!  Just one of those weeks I guess.)  Guess what.  The only one who was offended was the last one, and that is because he was called out for his decision and embarrassed--and not someone I ever wanted in my life, but we can't choose all of those who impact us.  Everyone else was respectful about my space and privacy.  I didn't have to compromise myself and didn't have to be mean.  I just had to express what I wanted and let it go.  It feels so good to be finding myself.

I wouldn't be in this position without my writing.  As my character is experiencing this same phenomenon, it seems we are growing together.  Writing truly can be a healing process.  That being said...can't wait to see who I am at the end of this month...after I have changed my stars and become an author who has "finished" a novel.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Project Management

Tuesday I debuted on YA Warehouse and, so far, I am pleased with the responses on my social network platforms.  I've seen several RTs on Twitter and some Likes on Facebook.  I also gained a few followers on my personal blog here.  Thank you to you, my supporters!!  You all truly encourage me to continue.  And, just so you know, unlike on this blog, I can't see the traffic over at YA, so unless you leave a comment, I won't know you visited.

One visitor left me a bit of her amazing story of how she deferred her dreams in fashion design until just recently.  One can tell from her story, she is an incredible soul.  And reading her comment really got me thinking, I wonder if I could collect stories like her's from around the world--through social media channels--and create an anthology.  Off my mind went, spinning like a child just learning the joys of making yourself dizzy.

Just as the dizzy set in, I remembered motion sickness and stopped mid-spin.  See, I read/watched the vlog one of my counterparts, Nova Lovette, posted on YA Warehouse last night.  She was discussing "shiny new ideas" and maintaining focus on your current WIP.  I started thinking about that, then I thought about Bird by Bird from Anne Lamott:

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?” 
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I had to think about Nova's question: What does a writer do with "shiny new ideas"?

How do you manage your writing projects?  (um, yeah...cause we all know we're really the ones in control of our projects, right?  ;-D ) Do you keep a writer's notebook so you can let the shine glimmer onto the pages, get out of your system as an infantile glow and then wait there maturing until you are ready to guide it?  Do you bottle it up and hope like heck that it'll still be there when you're ready?  How do writers deal with the onslaught of ideas when they actually do come?  How do we become the proverbial ants who stock up our "food" so we have it when the weather turns and there is none to be found elsewhere?  And, is this management, or lack thereof, truly the cause of those idea droughts we all fear?

Typically, I have cycled when it comes to my idea management.  Mostly, as an adult, I have not taken my ideas seriously and given them the time and respect they deserve.  I stuff them in the corners of my abyss and count on those ideas to come running back to me when I need them--to still love me after being carelessly rejected.  Less often, I have stopped, honored the thoughts, jotted them down in a safe place and taken the care to let them flow as they intend from my inner creator.  Even though I find I am more creative, productive and positive when I'm in the latter cycle, I still don't set myself up to practice getting the ideas out.

Now that I'm taking my writing more seriously, maybe it's time that I honor my thoughts.  Let the "shiny new ideas" sparkle in the sun a bit before gently placing them into a safe writer's notebook for another day.  Even the controversial rapper, Eminem does this--sort of!  No more games or self-detriment.  I want to be a writer.  I want to publish my heart and soul in ink.  It's time to manage my projects...

How do you manage your projects and your "shiny new ideas"?

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Payoff of Taking a Chance

I have always been one to play it safe when it comes to making important decisions.  Not the “What should I do this weekend?” kind of decisions, but big decisions like “What should I be when I grow up and how much education will I need for that?”  For as long as I can remember, I have been scared of feeling pigeon-holed in a job or career I couldn’t stand or one that leaves me unable to support my family.  (I mean, choosing the wrong path is not a small mistake!)

Choosing a career path costs time and money, and neither are refundable.  This is not something I felt I could afford to screw up.  Just out of high school, I thought I might want to go into nursing.  I got a job at a hospital while pursuing my general-ed courses.  Thank goodness too, because about two years in, I saw this 10 year old boy who broke his arm skateboarding.  His arm zigzagged in the most unnatural way and I almost got sick.  It was the weirdest thing.  After all I had seen, (blood, guts and mucus) nothing had bothered me yet, but this kid and his twisted bones had me dropping my entire course load for the next semester.

I had no Plan B, so I enlisted in the Air Force until I could figure out my path in life.  My parents' marriage was falling apart and so were my morals as I quickly approached my 21st birthday.  My hope was the military would finish raising me.  And raise me it did, until Plan B dropped itself right into my heart and I felt an inclination to start a family.  Since the military didn't fit with my new family plan, I sought a medical discharge— I was pregnant— and pretended I was a real grown up.

The problem was I still had no career.  I also didn't like the idea of leaving my baby with strangers.  My extensive babysitting experiences led me to explore working in daycare.  After a few years there, one of the parents said to me, "Why not go to school?  Time is going to pass you by no matter what.  Where do you want to be in two years?  Here, with everything unchanged except your age or here with a raise and an associate’s degree in education?  No one can take knowledge away from you."

I thought about the risk involved in picking one degree area.  Scary stuff to think about.  What if I tried, spent all that time and money and found out I wasn't smart enough to teach?  Then I realized, I was already teaching.  I was teaching at daycare and I was teaching my son.  So, I took the chance; going to school could only make me better.  While I was there, I learned a few things about myself:  I am excellent at teaching.  Writing brings pure bliss—even papers for school.  And, hey, I like to read this YA stuff.  Taking this opportunity is how I found my Plan C (C for calling).  Teaching middle school reading and writing just feels natural. 

But I have since learned that taking chances can't apply only to choosing a career path.  Taking chances HAS TO translate into everything you do in life.  Every venture that comes your way has to be honestly explored with self-confidence.  That's where you find happiness.  That's where you find the people who are most like you and who will support you.  

I am taking a new chance now thanks to those wonderful supporters and a little bit of faith in myself.  I'm taking a chance with my writing.  I can be something with it.  I can make a difference.  In taking that gamble, I find myself with a new opportunity: I am becoming a member of the YA Warehouse blog, sharing my experience with you.  Please join me there on Tuesdays.  Share with me in return?  What is your journey?  What dreams are you deferring?  

I will also maintain this least to the level I have so far eh-heh-hem... but on Tuesdays, you will find my posts at YA Warehouse with 3 other fabulous authors.  Please click on the banner below to follow me in both places.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Zombie-hood Awakened my Inner Unicorn

My boring, day to day life has changed drastically in the past 4 months.  I have become a divorced parent, single again for the first time in 16 years and a zombie.  No, not a zombie because I am so tired from being the custodial parent to two rapidly growing boys and a puppy.  Not a zombie because I am a middle school teacher in the last trimester of the school year when EVERYTHING seems to happen.  And not a zombie because I have decided that in my “free time” I am going to explore my latent writing talents by maintaining a blog and actually finishing the book I started to write.  I mean, I literally became a zombie extra on the set of an 88mm Productions film titled The Sound of Nothing.

A little venting on Facebook was the catalyst to my plunge into the world of the undead and self-acceptance.

“So tired and crabby!!! Definitely more zombie than unicorn today!!!! Ugh! Cold weather not helping.” 

My friend and fellow teacher, Carol Eubanks-Riccardi responded to my status update with information about a movie production in which her daughter was participating.  They needed volunteers for zombie extras.  Before continuing, I have to tell you a bit about my previous acting and zombie experience.  Other than my day job (every teacher is an actor of sorts) I have no acting experience.  I avoid cameras unless I have put effort into make-up and hair.  Even then, I avoid anything other than a headshot.  My body is a sore subject for me.  My experience with zombies involves half watching TV shows and movies that my ex-husband wanted to watch.  I hated them.  They were gross, predictable and pointless.  Plus, he liked them.  He would have died at the chance to play a zombie and now I had that very opportunity.  This bit of revenge and the chance at meeting new people, while redefining myself, fueled my decision to join the cast.

I didn’t ask anything but when, where and can I bring a friend, which made the first shoot a bit of a surprise, but no less memorable.  I threw insecurities aside and thrust myself into an abandoned YMCA in Granite City, Illinois at 7am in below freezing weather.  The building had no heat, no running water and the electricity consisted of extension cords run from the few working outlets.  Zombie-hood was not starting out pleasant, but it quickly grew on me.  From the moment we arrived, everyone was welcoming.  We were given a bloody, shredded wardrobe and make-up from a professional make-up artist.   Then we explored the creepy, decaying building and learned what to expect from the day.  We were fed and watered and even taught a little bit about the film making process.  The day was long, but pretty incredible despite freezing.  But that is not why I came back three more times.

Something about becoming a zombie is addicting.  Maybe, it’s the fact that you spend a day looking your absolute worst and being proud of it.  Maybe, it’s the fact that you have to throw your inhibitions out the window, make inappropriate noises and walk like an injured drunk along with a group of strangers doing the same.  Maybe, it was the fact that we had to go to McDonald’s, QuikTrip and the library to use public restrooms while in costume (and sometimes character).  I’m not exactly sure what it is, but if I had to bet, I would say it is the people and the relationships built with those people during my zombie-hood.
My fellow zombies and the cast and crew for The Sound of Nothing couldn’t have been a more incredible group of people.  Despite the unaccommodating conditions of the abandoned building, everyone was kind, compassionate and hilarious.  Facebook friending was on the up and zombie jokes flying.  We sat, huddled on an old couch in the lobby of the building, sharing bits of our lives with one another in between takes.  We were interviewed for behind the scenes (while in character) and asked about the secret lives of zombies; a task that I found difficult on that first shoot due to my lack of confidence when it came to zombie knowledge.  Pictures were taken at every interval of the day both informally on camera phones and formally on high resolution cameras.  The day was so much more than I could have imagined.  I had to do it again to make sure it was real.

It wasn’t.  In fact, returning to set, alone this time, was even better than the first.  The cast and crew knew my name.  They were happy to see me return.  Despite the flurry with which they worked during my first day on set and all the filming they had done in the three months since, the people from 88mm remembered me and took the time to greet me with smiles.  I was floored at their ease.  Between shots, we connected over inclinations of supernatural happenings in the building, hobbies, histories and even writing.  This time, when interviewed for behind the scenes, I felt comfortable.  I became more confident as I realized acceptance didn’t come from my common knowledge of zombies, but how I could uniquely characterize them.  This freedom to be myself led to my declaration of the guidelines for building a zombie army as well as the embrace of my imagination’s return.  During the shoots, there was dancing between takes, watching out for each other’s safety and celebrations as we got the shot the director was going for.  Sharing the experience of turning an imagined world into a real one somehow bonds people together.

I participated in filming a total of four times.  Despite long days of shooting, the whole experience went way too fast.  I found myself wanting to know more about what this movie making business is all about.  What drives someone to bring the world of make-believe to life?  Whatever that element is that propels them forward, that desire to persevere even when something goes wrong with the shot, is an inspiring mindset to observe.  Everyone should take the opportunity to experience film making, even just once, to see that passion in action. Watching others take a script and turn it into something distinctively visual, inspired me to continue to tell my story, build my world, despite the hindrances I encounter both on paper and in reality. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Burning Tulips

I put tulips under all the pillows, and then I set fire to the house
Please don't ask me why, as I am not at liberty to say one word

It's better this way, the perfect love will protect my soul
and get us across the river for a cheaper fare--and a smile

I swear to you now, all is just fine. No crying, No, please
Our fame with the devil was worth the song in your heart

Come quickly to the playground and jump on a swing
We can tease the heavens, dragging sweet wind with our feet

I know exactly what I'm doing with the gift of eternity
Cycling back and forth, corrupting the family with love

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lucky 7 Meme

I have been furiously working on my WIP and slack in my blogging as of late.  So, you can imagine my surprise when the lovely and supportive S.E. Lane from Writing Belle left me a flattering comment about being tagged.  According to her, "This is a different kind of meme which requires you to go to page 77 of your current Manuscript, go to line 7, and copy 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs. Then you're supposed to tag 7 more bloggers!"  Well, I can sort of do that.  I suppose if I formatted my current WIP as a more book like format rather than the standard Word document default I would have a page 77.  I can definitely choose 7 other bloggers (and then some) upon which to bestow this honor.  

What I fear is becoming hopelessly addicted to sharing parts of my WIP and hearing what you all have to say.  That, or, finding myself so caught up in everyone's wonderful blogs, searching for my 7 victims (er...honorees) that I never finish this post and no one ever shares in the talent that I so enjoy reading.  This being said, it's with no further ado that I present to you 7 lines from "Gracie's Gift" my current WIP.  In this scene, Miles (the love interest) comes to check on Kaitlin (the MC) who has been home for the week.  (I can't say why yet.  Oh, and yes there are hints of dialect, but it's not heavy.  That pattern is in the whole manuscript--depending on the characters.)

"Miles, what I’m gonna do?  They won't let me stay here and even if they did, I can't afford it.  Can't go to New York with Brandon and Sharon.  My life is here."

 "First of all, you can do anythin' you want.  Second, you have no life."

"Shut up!  If you're trying to cheer me up, you need to work on your skills."

"Oh, I got skills."  Miles set my plate on the coffee table, grabbed me by the wrist and stood me up.  He spun me around again.  I was too defeated to resist him.  "Dang, girl!  You are a hot mess!" 

I've been working on this piece since summer of 2010.  I had to stop to finish my Master's and to get divorced.  Dust has settled, I am happier than ever and writing like a fiend.  I hope to finish the first draft no later than the end of June.  Stick around...maybe I will share more sometime.  

In the meantime, here are some other amazing bloggers you can check out:

Les Floyd from Lesism- who has recently re-explored his short story skills beautifully.

Molly O'Keefe from Drunk Writer Talk- who has inspired me to give this next one a go and see if I can finish a first draft over the summer this year.  I have already been researching and will be working an outline before then.  I'll let you know how that goes.  Thanks Molly for the honest expression about the process of head down writing.

Author Pete Hautman- who, in case you haven't read his work, is freaking hilarious.  Plus, his new book, The Obsidian Blade, is releasing on my birthday!  I can think of no better reason to honor him other than for being funny and for having a kick ass release date!  (The fact that he has won awards might have nothing to do with my selection.  Nor the fact that my students love to read his work--cause those things are not as important.)

Widow Dyer- who has overcome sickly computers to rise up again and continue on her quest of "aspiring" (however, she is writing like a machine which sounds like much more than aspiring if you ask me).  Check her out ans she what she has cooking in her writer life!

R. Mac Wheeler- who ranted recently to his fellow Indie authors about the quality of the work they are producing.  His point was made clearly without singling out any one particular author.  I found this compelling as a newbie for so many reasons that I just don't have time for now.  But, also, because I had an Indie send me a book for free and ask me to review it...good or bad...I'm torn.  This is a blog post in the making.  While I finish reading the book I was sent, read what R. Mac has to say and let him know what you think.  

AJ Humpage from All Write Fiction Advice- whose recent post on the difference between imagery and feeling as well as seeing the words and how they fit in the scene really struck a chord with me.  I tend to be a method writer and get extremely into my work.  Then , when I read aloud for my writer's group, I can not help but have different tones to my voice as I read the different characters.  Each word is considered carefully as I revise and edit.  Check out what she has to say and her tips on feeling the depth of the words.

Morgan Shamy-is somewhat new to me.  I've clicked follow on her blog, but somehow rarely manage to catch a post.  (I really need to reach out to all of these wonderful resources more often.)  Her recent post about Beta Reading caught my eye though.  As I connect more to other authors and experience greater depth with my writing group, I am learning more and more about what it means to be a Beta reader or to use a Beta reader.  Morgan poses great questions and advice about beta reading that I hadn't yet solidified in my head.  Check her out.

So, there are my 7 Memes for this round of shout outs and awards.  I hope I have connected you with some people that will help you grow as a writer just as they have for me.  What do you think about their ideas?  What do you look for in a good blog?  

I also hope you enjoy my 7 lines of manuscript.  Have you ever used dialect or written in a character voice that is so different from your own?  What resources did you use?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book Review: The Kite Runner

I have read very few Afghan books. In fact, other than this one, Three Cups of Tea is the only other book I have read with Afghanistan as a setting (and I have little to nothing I care to say about that one). The Kite Runner is, for sure, on my list as a favorite. 

Amir, a young and wealthy Afghan boy, describes life growing up in the Afghanistan of the 1970's and 80's. He grows up with his distant father, his family's servant and the servant boy, Hassan. The close age of the boys and the absence of their mothers are what bond the two young boys together. Despite their closeness, social norms still play a strong role in their relationship and Amir often toys with the lines between Hassan's friendship and servitude. Life for them is very simple and typical, with strong customs and traditions until one of these traditions leads them into a tragedy that brings forth doubt, secrets and fractures the tightly bonded group of men both young and old. 

A few short years after the boys share this secret, Russia invades Afghanistan and brings destruction to the country. Amir and his father escape to America and join many other refugees in the community where they begin to rebuild their lives. We see an adult Amir and his father discover one another as they grow older together and share the memories and the secrets of their Afghanistan and their lives. Amir discovers secrets of his father that will forever change his life. 

Khaled Hosseini writes such beautifully descriptive prose, bringing readers into the foreign world of the past. I was gripped by the former beauty of a country that I have only seen as a desolated war zone on television. These descriptions not only exposed the warm hearts of the characters, but of a people so misunderstood and misrepresented by the extremists shown on the news today. This is a crafted tale of humanity, love and courage that should be read by everyone. 

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Well heck...Rejection...What was your first time like?

Despite the post title, there is no pity party here.  I have been living life to the fullest over the past week and a half and haven't been blogging.  While there was some definite task avoidance going on, there was some serious growth as well.  See, on the 13th of February, I received my first rejection letter.  Now, despite the crappy timing...Valentine's eve...this wasn't an entirely bad experience.  Within that notice of nonselection came some effective and ineffective advice.  See below:

Hello Christine Benson,
Thank you for your submission to Red Fez. We know that you put a lot of time and effort into your submission, so we appreciate you thinking of us. Right or wrong, we have decided against using your work in our next issue.
 (Polite, direct and to the point.)

You indicated you wanted to receive feedback on your submission. Since you put the effort into submitting to us, we feel you deserve an explanation for our decision. There's nothing worse than submitting to a publication and learning nothing from the process. Here is the raw feedback from our editors: (Standing by their word)

Feedback from 2 editors:

Discovering invisibility
 1) in the first 2 paragraphs, there is a serious overabundance of the words: flames, brats, beds/bed, and grease. I think some synonyms would do wonders for the redundant use of said words.(Fair enough, I tend to overuse words and I should have caught that.  Rookie mistake.)   it's a somewhat confusing how many people are involved here because she refers to everyone involved as the boys, she and marie e.t.c. this sentence in particular could have been better: (Too many pronouns.  Ok, well this is probably also valid as I struggled with identifying the speaker a bit due to the personal similarities that brought out embarrassment.  Lesson learned: Go for it.  Don't hold back.  Readers don't automatically think the event happened to you when it is labeled as fiction.  And if they do think that, then you must have a strong protagonist.)

For years they had been all getting together and drinking and nothing like this had ever happened before.

get rid of the all, no need for that. i haven't even mentioned how generic some of these metaphors are:

She robotically, handed him another beer, pausing to watch the cold tear of sweat running down the bottle; the slight tremble of excitement causing it to drip on her hand.

robotically? like mechanized? ugh, me no likee. (Ok, I have to admit, this one hurt.  I especially liked that line, I felt this line.  So why did I like it?  I've had to think about this one a lot.  This has been a big part of my task avoidance and self-doubt.  My peer group gushed over this line and the imagery.  I felt it, because at this point, I was going for it, mixing the real experience with the fiction.  However, because I hadn't gone for it before, hadn't let the reader SEE my protagonist and how much the proceeding experience affected her, the reader couldn't feel what I felt.

2) Not terrible, but it doesn't seem like a fit for the Fez. (Fair enough...this happens.  I need to get better at analyzing the places I am submitting.) This reminds me of the submission about a group of middle aged couples awkwardly watching porno movies together. In fact at first i thought it was the same piece. Is my mom sending these in under different pen names? (Really?  Is this comment necessary?  How am I learning from this?  This genre was a risk for me anyway.  I have to admit, I am now gun shy about sharing anything like this piece again.  Any ideas on how this can help me grow?)

Having said that, we're just one publication with one opinion. In the end we can't help but publish what we like. We could be wrong about your piece and it wouldn't be the first time. We thank you for giving us the opportunity to look at this piece - we appreciate it - and wish you best of luck in finding a suitable publisher for your work. (In fact, check out our Friends of Fez page for a list of other publishers that may be interested in your work!). We hope you'll continue to consider Red Fez in the future. (Thanks for being open and honest.  I appreciate the way they left the door open for me.  That makes it all feel honestly does, no sarcasm at all.)

Artistically yours,
The Red Fez Editorial Team 

Over the past week, I have contemplated this letter and reread it many times.  I went back over the piece of writing I had submitted and made some corrections based on their feedback.  I even took some time for myself to feel the sting and disappointment of being rejected.  Once I was ready to stop crying in my orange juice, I had to work my way back on track.

5 Things I did in response to my rejection...

1. I didn't stop completely.  I wrote some poems for myself.  I wrote about 400 words on my WIP (admittedly with the creep of self-doubt).  I scribbled an idea here and there from my dreams.  

2. I shared my experience with friends, family, writing peers and even my 7th grade students.  Talking through the rejection helped me bring perspective to it.

3. I read a book, for fun.  Not a trade book about improving my writing, just a novel.

4. I opened my blog several times, knowing I wasn't going to write but needing to remind myself how new I am and how much I want this.

5. I read tweets, blogs and status updates from fellow writers, published and aspiring.  We all struggle sometimes.  How we respond to that struggle seems to be what separates the successes from the failures.

So, here I am.  Feeling like somewhat of an embattled veteran and picking myself up to carry on.  I have great supporters out there (and more clearly identified them by sharing my struggle).  I still have the drive to move ahead and work for my dream.  I'm putting myself back on my ROW80 goals.  Writing will go on and I will grow from this experience.  Now, what I'm wondering...what was your first time like? 

Monday, February 6, 2012

I'm Learning...

ROW 80 Goal Progress

Write 1,000 words on days I have no kids.  I've written about 2500 or so words in the past week!  I have to say, if it weren't for a mystery Tweep telling me to get my ass off of Twitter and write...well, my Zombie friend, let's just say thank you!  I am not only getting the hang of sitting down and letting the story flow, I am learning about my own process.  I learned that I can write one story line and research ideas and facts for the next.  I have also learned that I am more of a method writer--inserting myself into my characters when I write (see link later in post).  This makes it more difficult for me to write in small bursts because getting into and out of character is challenging.  Therefore, writing when I do not have the kids is even more important because then I am less likely to be interrupted.  Also, because of the way I write, having a second project going on is also important.  Sometimes, my characters get emotional and I can only write one or two scenes and then I need to quit.  If I have a second project...that I can research for or work out character sketches or some other planning or revising, then I can take a break from the writing but still be productive towards my goals.  Understanding that this is how I work has helped take so much pressure off.   

Attend Writer's Group on a regular basis.  This hasn't happened, but it hasn't happened for anyone in my group.  Meetings just haven't worked out.  I am meeting with the newly published author, Trish Stewart,  on Saturday at my hometown library for her book signing.  While there, the two of us are planning to discuss starting a writer's group there.  If that were to work, I would be so happy!  

Select/Revise/Submit entries on days I have the boys.  I have been working here, but mostly on researching for my next book idea.  I am waiting to hear about my first submission.  For some reason, I don't feel I can move forward until I know one way or another.  I know I will get past this feeling, but it will take a time or two before I jump into the publishing deep end.  Right now, I feel I am still developing as a writer and embracing the fact that I am finally allowing myself to be happy and do what it is I have always dreamed of.

Blog on Wednesdays.  At least it is once a week, right?  Oh, I did write a book review for the YA novel, AWAY by Teri Hall on Goodreads.  

Read one post on improving craft and develop my platform for an hour everyday.  This learning was fun this week.  I learned that I am a method writer from Derek Flynn at his blog, Rant, With Occasional Music   Then, I realized some harsh truths from my friend and fellow author, Shelli Johnson (Small as a Mustard Seed) as she blogged about numbers on her website, Shelli Johnson.  I have been using the numbers as both positive motivation and a distraction from the actual act of writing.  Now I am not competing against anyone but myself, but it is like some strategist game...if I unfollow this person and then follow this one, will I be able to get more followers?  I don't think there is anything wrong with this, except for the fact that I let it take away from my writing time.  I will be setting a timer for any Twitter or Facebook time during my work hours.  This way, I can't waste precious writing time.

Monday, January 30, 2012

ROW80 Check in: What exactly does failure look like??

I'm trying to decide if I've done well or not lately.  I've decided that this check in is a chance for me to get feedback from you all.  Here's what I've accomplished, you let me know what you think.

  • Write 1,000 words on days I have no kids. FAIL!!  I have not made much progress on this exact goal, however I have written out several ideas and structures for new work.  I have toyed with the idea of marrying two of my OLD short stories into a new novel idea.  This has given me lots of hope.  I have also looked into the free trial of Scrivener and am considering a purchase there.  Any thoughts on this product?  I have written some poems and done some actual out of the house life living which is always good for getting the creativity going.
  • Attend Writer's Group on a regular basis. I did miss one this past week because I thought I was going to New Orleans this past weekend and I wanted to spend as much time with my kids as I could before I left for four days,  Turns out I didn't go, so that means I do get to go to writer's group this week.  I missed it so much the one week I didn't get to go.  I did, however exchange a short story with a member from the group and we gave each other feedback before submitting to a publisher.
  • Select/Revise/Submit entries on days I have the boys. This is where I have been very successful!  I have revised a great deal AND I submitted my first piece to Red Fez for their next issue!  I am so excited to hear what they think!  This will be my first experience with anything like this since I started taking my writing more seriously.  Wish me luck!!
  • Blog on Wednesdays. Well, who am I kidding?  I have been working on a blog post for about a week.  I don't know why this one has been so hard to write.  I am working with it a little everyday and intend to finish it today.
  • Read one post on improving craft and develop my platform for an hour everyday. This one I have been putting overtime in on.  Now I know this is fruitless if I don't have anything to share with my social network because I haven't spent enough time writing.  I am obsessed with Twitter and the connecting that is possible there.  I have watched my blog grow in numbers and enjoyed the feedback from supporters.  I have loved reading the work of others and listening to how they stay focused and develop their craft.  I had this personal goal of reaching 1,200 followers by the end of this month (which is harder because I have reached a follow limit and can't follow new people).  I made it and then some with a day to spare!!  I think a goal of 200 new followers a month is something I want to aim for.  I realize that in order to do this, I have to contribute something of value.  So, the pressure to write more and blog regularly is really on now.
So, for real, if you see me hanging out on Twitter or Facebook too much, please ask me how much writing I have done that day.  I think that is where the time suck is.  This past week or so has had me distracted, but I'm not completely disappointed with what I have accomplished.  I just need to sit down for that regular daily writing.  The ideas are there...   

Monday, January 16, 2012

ROW80 Check in and thoughts on Writer's Groups

I'm really doing this!  Wow, what a week I have had.  My blog was nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award and one blog post was picked up and given a shout out by another Tweep.  I have felt motivated and successful this week!  Yes, as Julie said on the ROW80 blog, things are trying to get in my way.  I'm doing my best to stay on track though.  One distraction I can do little about is my puppy.  She has decided she loves to run in the mud, come inside for an hour (so I have to towel her down) and then go back outside and do it again.  She must want me to join her because as she does this over and over all day long, she jumps on me and runs in circles around the table when she comes in!  I wish she would understand that all of this, while wildly fun and entertaining, is disrupting my writing flow.  Alas, she is only 7 months old and a dog, so I think I'm out of luck.  Other than that, I have done well.  With no kids this weekend, it was a big writing time for me.  Much of what I wrote was character development with some progress on my WIP.  I'm just shy of my 2,000 words for the two days I was sans kids, but well set up for Wednesday when I'm at it again.

I went to my writer's group (I'm fairly new to this particular group) and witnessed some critique challenges and writing insecurity.  This is not a pretty thing when you are in a group and can make for some tense moments among the group members.  For this reason, I found this Kristen Lamb's article both timely and thought provoking.  (I loved her book, We Are Not Alone.  If you have not checked out either her blog or her book, I strongly recommend both.)  While I do not believe I will leave the writing group (I need the accountability right now), I do think there is some balance that needs to be had as you consider the value of your particular group as well as your personal reason for attending a group.  Proceed with caution and a clear intent.

One article I would like to find is one about submitting your work to various places and how to decide which is the right place for each piece.  One of my goals is to select.revise and submit entries.  Well, today I looked at various sites that have contests and publication opportunities and I am feeling lost.  I have a few short stories, poems and flash fiction pieces that I would like to submit but have no clue which should go where.  What if I send it to one and it's rejected, but if I had only sent it to another one it would have been accepted?  How do you decide?  Where are the best places for beginning writers to submit their work?

Best of luck to all my fellow ROW80ers and #staygroovy

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'm so Excited: The Versatile Blogger Award

Wait, what?  Hey read this e-mail for me.  Am I reading this correctly?  Are you serious?!?  My infant blog has a nomination?!?!  

I truly struggled to understand how this could have happened while I was still learning about how to create my platform while also working on developing my writing skills.  Then I took a look at the blog of Writing Belle, S.E. Lane and was struck with a kindred connection as we both seem entrenched in the YA world. I have to give a great big thanks to Ms. Lane and I highly recommend her blog as you look for some excellent reviews and great YA reads.

Now on to the rules of response when nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award:1 
1. Nominate 15 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award.
2. Add an image of the Versatile Blogger Award.
3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
5. In the same post, include this set of rules.
6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

In the spirit of versatility, here are my nominees:
1.JaseR75 for his blog, Resurrected Writer
2. Chris Naffzinger for his blog, St. Louis Patina
3. Darrah Michelle for her poetry blog, Darrah Michelle
4. Fake Steph for her blog, The Fake Steph Dot Com
5. A.F. White for his blog, St. Louis Scriber
6. Widow Dyer for her blog, Widow Dyer
7. Dawn for her blog, Absolute Forest of Words
8. Alex for her blog, Diaries
9. JC Piech for her blog, Things Which Burst Out of My Brain
10. Michael K. Rose for his blog, Myriad Spheres
11. Paul Maitrejean for his blog, A Writer's Journal
12. AJ Humpage for her blog, All Write - Fiction Advice
13. Gary Taaffe for his blog, Gary Taaffe
14. Bridget Bowers for her blog, Rants 'N' Ramblings
15. V Furnas for her blog, Life 4 Me by Me

In the spirit of randomness, here are seven things about me.
1. I'm only five foot tall.
2. I'm addicted to fruit snacks.
3. I could sit in an empty grassy field for hours and stare at the sky.
4. I love trance and techno music.
5. I want to vacation in Maine and New York City
6. I love Ewan McGregor and all of his movies.
7. I'm scared and excited every time someone reads my writing.

Once you have your nomination, pass on your own nods of Versatility, it is a great honor.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I'm Making Progress

WOW!  I am so excited about how I am doing on my goals.

  • Write 1,000 words on days I have no kids. --I wrote an 800 word blog post, worked on the my current chapter and revised my 3rd chapter enough that I think I have made this one, today, the first day I had no kids.  I also made a contact that I can interview for character and plot development for my novel.
  • Attend Writer's Group on a regular basis. --I went to WG last night and am planning to go to another one on Saturday.
  • Select/Revise/Submit entries on days I have the boys. --I have a poem selected and a flash fiction as well.  I will be working on these tomorrow and choose where I want to send them.
  • Blog on Wednesdays. --Here is where I have cheated a bit.  I have combined my word count for today with my blog writing.  This, people is why your goals have to be specific.  I implied that my 1,000 words would be work on my novel, but never said it had to be.  Eh, details and loopholes...I'll get there!  I have also done some book reviews on my blog, so those count too!
  • Read one post on improving craft and develop my platform for an hour everyday. --I have slowly watched my Twitter followers increase, it's harder once you hit a follow limit.  Because of this, I have been focusing on building my Facebook platform.  I read a piece by Anne Lamott this week and a few other blog posts from fellow ROW80 writers.  This goal has proven to be the easiest to fulfill so far.  I also believe that my blog post for the week as well as my reviews on the YA books I read, help to establish my platform as a YA author.
Click here to read the Anne Lamott article about making time.

The feedback from everyone at ROW80 is so helpful.  I am trying to get to other participants to comment or at least follow their blogs for support.  Keep it up all!  We can do this!

Create your Pinocchio: Building a Person from Ideas

I don't know if it was because he was a boy or because I was creeped out by his growing nose and foolish mistakes, but as a kid I never liked Pinocchio.  So, I could never understand why Giuseppe would want him to become a real boy.  I mean who wants to deal with a pain in the ass, dishonest little kid who doesn't listen? (Thanks for putting up with me Mom.)  Giuseppe, much like a parent, did see something in Pinocchio; he saw a chance for his ideas to come to life.

Since committing to the transformation of my writing from hobby to career, I am beginning to understand Giuseppe better and wish Pinocchio could be truly real.  Because if he could be real, then my Kaitlin and Gracie could be real and we could hang out and talk just once.  I spend so much time developing them in my head and on my computer it's as if they are my children.  As I write, I can hear their voices and see through Kaitlin's eyes.  I feel their emotions and understand their thoughts.  Now, there is the chance that my meds quit working again, but I like to think I have gotten good at developing my characters.  At least that's what the people in my writing group let me believe (and that has nothing to do with the fact that they are with me in a small room at the end of a long hallway as they critique my work).

Last night, at writer's group, I was asked what I do to develop my characters.  I tried to answer this on the spot, but I was drowning in the flattery and really couldn't think about my process clearly enough to explain.  It seems I remember reading an article or chapter about character development that talked about interviewing your characters.  I am sure that works great...if you are good at asking questions.  I am not.

I tend to work more on intuition and this character sketch lesson I have taught to my 7th graders.  What are the habits of my characters?  Habits you wouldn’t explicitly write into the book, but that make them more human.  My character, Kaitlin, for example, is a Diet Coke addict.  It's a little thing, but anytime food is mentioned, you know she will have a Diet Coke--just like you know what your best friend would have to drink.  These little habits help readers connect to the characters more and brings fictional people to life.

Another way character can be developed is by writing notes on their back story and items they own.  My character, Kaitlin, was abandoned at the age of four, yet we know her birthday.  How is that?  I was going to brush it off as YA literary magic and hope my readers never wondered.  This deception kept me awake and I decided to ask the question myself.  Immediately, I found myself jotting notes about the items found with her in a backpack.  There is information in these items that give us her birth date.  However, these items also began to tell me who Kaitlin's parents were and in turn who she is.  Suddenly, I could see her as well as my own kids.

Finally, I think about what the characters look like and then I watch people when I am out.  I still haven't "seen" Kaitlin, but her adoptive mother I have seen.  I was sitting in a class one Saturday morning when instructor came in and it was clear, she was Gracie.  I knew it as soon as I saw her.  I don't think I could tell you much of what I learned in this class, but I have copious notes about her mannerisms and belief systems.

When building your characters, the best thing you can do is spend time with them.  Look for them in your day to day interactions.  During typical encounters ask yourself, what would my character do in this situation?  Then, weave these mundane daily actions and habits into the fabric of your fiction to add depth to who your character truly is.  Create your Pinocchio.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Review: Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Hush, Hush (Hush, Hush, #1)
Something as simple as a change in seating charts and a new Biology lab partner, sends Nora's average teenage life into a confusing spiral as she tries to determine what is real and what is imagined.  She can no longer trust her feelings or her actions, especially where Patch is concerned.  Will she get a handle on her life, or is she perfectly sane and truly being followed by a violent psychopath?  Fast paced snappy dialogue drives the reader through this supernatural romantic drama. Experience the frustration of the protagonist as she tries to figure out why this new biology lab partner sends her senses for such a mental loop!