Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Clearer Focus


I've been lacking it in my writing and in my life. Of course, recognizing that is only half the battle. I lay part of the blame squarely on the internet, Facebook and Twitter. I can click thru on an email or Twitter link and surface 45 minutes later not even sure where I started. (You'll notice I refuse to incriminate blogging!)

But I realize that the internet isn't the problem, just the symptom. The problem is me. And my lack of focus.

Before I had children I made lists, new ones every day. I remember a mother of two seeing my list on a counter and commenting, "You won't get through half of that once you have kids."

"What a *#&!@" I thought. "My life is not going to change once I have kids."


Don't worry. I'm not blaming my lack of organization on my kids. I'm the one that stopped making the lists. I've started making them again. But I don't expect to make it through a full list these days. It might take me a few days to finish. And that's okay. Even if I don't follow them to a "T", they help me focus on what I need to do, and really, the focus is what I need.

Scheduling is helping too. The day planners that have languished on my desk for years are getting used again. Now I'm not wasting an entire day on research, or reading or cleaning the house (yuk!). It feels good knowing I have time for everything if I just make the time for it.

Focus gives me peace. It allows me to be a better wife, a better mother, and a better writer. I still have my days where I'm frazzled, where nothing works out the way I planned. But at least I'm giving myself a chance. And focusing on what's important to me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tale of a Different Kind

Last year when she turned six, one of my daughter's friends gave her a "Create Your own Storybook" kit, which is kind of like a big scrapbook with fairy tale clip art. Both my kids enjoy writing stories so Jasmine was thrilled when she saw it.

We've spent a lot of time cutting and pasting the illustrations, but I have to say, when she showed me the story she had written, The Magical Mirror, I had no words. I just hugged her. Because even though the story had a princess and a castle and the princess was captured by an evil knight, Jasmine's princess is strong. And smart. She doesn't wait for a prince to save the day. She reaches out to her friend, a fairy princess, who saves her from the dungeon.

Now I have nothing against Prince Charming (I'm married to him, after all!) but I love the idea of friendship saving the day. And I really LOVE that this is my six-year-old's world view of how things work. Like I said, at the rate they're going, my kids are probably going to be published before me!

(I thought about putting the whole text in this post, but it's actually more than 850 words -- she's a PB author in the making!)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shaun Cassidy, Endings and Beginnings and a Book Trailer Too!

Did you have this poster hanging in your room? It's okay. You can admit it if you did. My friend Melissa did, or at least one like it. I didn't know her when she was a teenager, but apparently she was very in love with Shaun Cassidy.

She turned 40 last week. So on Saturday night her family threw a party for her and her 250 closest friends. The party was more lavish than my wedding. Really.

Funny thing is, somewhere between teen idol dreams and 40, Melissa's sister became friends with Shaun Cassidy. He came to the party. And serenaded my friend with the song, "Sweet Melissa." (That's her holding the microphone for him and blushing.) It was a surreal moment (made all the more impressive since Shaun had to catch a plane at 4am to fly to New York and be on Good Morning America Monday morning)!

I know I don't get out much, but still. This was just ONE of the dessert tables. Then there were the TWO open bars, the caterers, the dj, and did I mention the 250 friends? Servers met us at the door with these drinks (vodka, seltzer, lime and a rock candy swizzle stick). Yeah. It was a good party.


Tuesday night I participated in part of the Twitter #kidlitchat hosted by Greg Pincus and Bonnie Adamson. One of the questions they floated out to the group was this: "How do you know when your book is done?"

I've been struggling with that very question. I feel like every time I read another book on writing, I wonder if I've done enough, especially with my beginning. Am I starting in the right place? Have I hooked my readers?

My MG novel is going through its final critique and then I'll start subbing it again. Which leads me to another series of questions: Do I write the people who asked for a full and haven't responded and tell them it's changed? Do I just send them a new version? Or should I do nothing and just send it out to new people?

When I wasn't writing (and rewriting!) my opening chapters, I blew a few hours on a book trailer. Here it is in all it's glory ... or not!

NOTE: The trailer is now gone. Sorry if you missed out. But just think of how much better it will be to hold the actual book!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Author Spotlight on: Cindy Pon

I'm thrilled to be featuring debut author Cindy Pon. Her book, Silver Phoenix, caught my attention with it's stunning cover. But Cindy's writing kept me turning pages late into the night.

Here's part of the *Starred Review* from Booklist:
First-time novelist Pon has a screenwriter’s talent for producing a sweeping saga, and in this, the first of two books...17-year-old Ai Ling faces demons, monsters, and gods as she tries to fulfill her destiny...the story sometimes takes a backseat to the action, but Pon doesn’t stint when it comes to her characters. Ai Ling is a clever and determined heroine...Pon’s writing, both fluid and exhilarating, shines whether she’s describing a dinner delicacy or what it feels like to stab an evil spirit in the gut.

Cindy has been hard at work on the prequel/sequel, but she was gracious enough to take a break and answer some of my questions.

There seem to be a lot of books coming out with really strong, physical female characters (Katniss in The Hunger Games, Katsa in Graceling). What do you think makes Ai Ling a unique protagonist?
ai ling isn't physically strong. she's definitely an ordinary girl by those standards--other than the ability she had been given. i think she's unique as a heroine because she is unique to me as a character. katniss and katsa are all girls influenced by their environment and upbringing--by the worlds that their authors created for them. and ai ling is definitely shaped as a character by the xian culture.

Ai Ling is not a traditional female character in any country. How did you come up with her character?
she sort of told me who she was as i wrote the story. i knew that she was stubborn and could be headstrong, but was also influenced by her upbringing and shy on a certain level. other than her ability, i actually find her quite ordinary. haha! =)

You have a lot of historical realism mixed in with fantasy elements. How did you create that mix?
the setting and story is definitely inspired by ancient china. but other than the use of certain mythical figures, everything within the world was made up by me. i did what came naturally to me, to have a world to refer to so i could ground the reader but also have the freedom to use my imagination which is one of the best parts of writing fantasy.

You reference a number of ancient texts (The Book of Making, The Book of the Dead, The Book of Lands Beyond). Do these books have similar real world versions?
not that i know of. i did read that often, there would be sexual images put into embroidered shoes for new brides.

I’ve read that you queried 121 agents before signing with Bill Contardi. How long did your query process take and how did you keep your spirits up throughout?
i queried from the end of january through early april, when bill agreed to represent me. i feel for anyone who is going through the process but s/he must realize that nearly every published writer that they read and admire has gone through the same process of rejection. i approached querying like a sort of personal war that i needed to win. and in the end, if i couldn't get an agent, i considered going to publishers who would be willing to accept manuscripts from unagented writers. it was simply a matter of loving my story and asking myself, have i done enough? if no, i'd keep going.

How long after you signed with your agent did you sign a contract with HarperTeen?
about five weeks. which is pretty fast. i was fortunate in that i had multiple edtiors interested in Silver Phoenix.

I have to say, Silver Phoenix has one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen. As a first time author, how much input were you given?
i'm so fortunate. thank you. my editor consulted me on costume, hairstyle, her necklace, etc. we also looked at models together. so i was part of the process almost from beginning to end.

Do you outline beforehand or do you just plunge in?

as i said in a recent interview, i'm an "idea jotter downer". ha! i have a document just filled with various scenes, phrases, reminders, dialogue, etc. whatever i think of that needs to go into the novel. i cannot outline, as i find it restrictive. but neither can i face the page without having an idea where i'm going.

NaNoWriMo helped you finish the “dreaded middle” of your book. What was the hardest part about writing the middle?

it's the longest part of the darned thing. haha!

Do you still make yourself write a certain number of words each day (ala NaNo)? Describe a typical writing day.
i did for the debut. i averaged about 1200 - 1600 words between 40 - 60 minutes of writing. i think i wrote five days a week during nano. six on a good week.

the sequel didn't come as easily. i was very engrossed and distracted with the release of Silver Phoenix and trying to promote the book. so i'm writing a lot slower, with a lot more "stuff" going on in my head that is non-writing. since my bubs are in school now (i wrote after they went to bed at night with Silver Phoenix) i try to write in the mornings. i usually don't write for more than 2 hours, but have been increasing that to 3 hours when i can now that i've got a deadline hanging over my head. ha!

I've heard the follow-up book called a prequel as well as a sequel. Which is it?
the sequel is actually a "pre-sequel". there will be two storylines, one involving silver phoenix and zhong ye taking place three centuries before my first book, and the other following ai ling and chen yong across the seas to jiang dao.

Oh, good. The ending of the last book left me wanting to know more about Ai Ling and Chen Yong so I'm glad you aren't done with them yet!

Do you have a critique group? If so, how did you find them?

i have two wonderful crit groups. i met one in a novel writing class and the other at a local writing conference. the book would not have sold without their help.

How involved are you in promotion or do you leave it all to your publicist?
i'm pretty active in promoting myself online, mostly. it's where i feel most comfortable and easier for me since i'm also a stay at home mom--i can't travel often or far. but i'm also doing local library visits throughout the summer as well as school visits in the fall. i'm very excited about that!

also attending various conferences when i can. i just returned from ala chicago, will be at san diego comicon and then scbwi in los angeles!

Excellent -- I'll be at SCBWI, too. We'll have to touch base there!

What is the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?

read widely, in different genres and keep challenging yourself in your craft. you must write to improve and find your voice. believe in yourself, keep a positive attitude and always be professional when you begin to query agents. be confident enough so you can survive querying and going on sub to publishers, but humble enough to know that there is always so much more to learn.

thanks so much for having me, sherrie!

Thank you, Cindy! And congratulations on your fabulous debut.

You can read more about Cindy by visiting her website: Be sure to check out her blog where you can read about her fangirl moment with Neil Gaiman at ALA :)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Non-Fiction Monday

My children like to write almost as much as I do. We can spend an entire morning writing stories or journaling together and never get bored.

Most of the time we’ll work on our own ideas, but sometimes we enjoy doing the exercises in Gail Carson Levine’s “Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly.”

Even though it’s written for children ages 9 and up, I’ve been using it for years with my kids (currently ages 9 and 6). They like using her writing prompts to spark their own creativity and her conversational tone makes the book a great teaching tool. I’ll read through it myself when I need inspiration or a gentle reminder of how to make my characters sparkle.

I’m hosting Non-Fiction Monday for the Kidlitosphere today, so if you have a related post, leave the link in the comments.

Shirley at SimplyScience writes about Plate Tectonics

Recently on INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids

"The Inconstant Moon" by Cheryl Harness, "Both Sides of the Story?" by Marfe Ferguson Delano, "When Reptiles Had Whiskers" by Loreen Leedy, "Lots of Kids Who Think they Hate Reading are Actually Avid Nonfiction Lovers" by Linda Salzman, "How Amazing is That?" by Susan E. Goodman, "An Unexpected Hero" by Barbara Kerley, "Don't Take My Word For It" by Richard Panchyk, and "Pouring on the Salt" by Rosalyn Schanzer.

Roberta continues her quest to find nonfiction for older readers with a review of "Tools of Timekeeping" at

Heidi Bee Roemer reviews "Why Are Animals Blue?"
at the Wild About Nature blog:

Bookends Blog has a post about the Bob Marley picture book biography, "I and I"

Nonfiction Monday review at 100 Scope Notes

"Sandy's Circus," a fabulous picture book bio on Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone

"Discover the Oceans" over at
A Patchwork of Books

See art from Brian Floca's MOONSHOT today:
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

As everyone assesses President Obama's 6 month term, Lori Calabrese is assessing the Barack Obama picture books by Nikki Grimes and Jonah Winter.

Obama's Performance in Children's Books

Abby (the) Librarian has a review of Remember Little Rock

I'll keep adding links to great non-fiction for kids throughout the day. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

19 Days and Counting

I registered.

I really have to go now since I paid for it and all. No more waffling. I've been marking up my schedule and researching presenters who will be leading workshops. I'm a bit overwhelmed but incredibly excited.

This cartoon from Debbie Ridpath Ohi just cracked me up because, sadly, I totally identify with it. If you see me hiding in a corner talking to myself, come up and say hi. I promise I won't turn on you ;)

Countdown #3

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Star Struck and Stupid

Our family went out for lunch yesterday to a café we don’t usually visit. We ordered our food and my husband took the kids to find a seat. I waited at the counter for my iced tea. As I turned around to join my family, I came face to face with Gerald DiPego.

Even if you’re not familiar with his name, you know his work. He has written five novels including "Cheevy" and "Keeper of the City". His screenplays include The Forgotten with Julianne Moore, Instinct with Anthony Hopkins, Message in a Bottle with Kevin Costner and Phenomenon with John Travolta. Yeah. He’s pretty big time.

I took a workshop with Gerald a couple years ago and I appreciated his quiet sense of humor, his wealth of knowledge and his gentle guidance. He lives here in the Santa Ynez Valley with his wife who is a brilliant artist. They’re the perfect couple: talented, generous, unassuming.

Anyway, Gerald remembered me from class and asked if I was still writing. You’d think I could string together two sentences, tell him what I’ve been doing, thank him for the nudge he gave me. But no. That only happens to people in books. Real life isn’t nearly as impressive.

I stuttered, I blushed (He remembered me! Of course I blushed!) I mumbled an embarrassed yes. LAME! After we said goodbye I immediately started kicking myself. Why didn’t I mention my novel winning 3rd place in a contest? Why didn’t I mention I was submitting? Why didn’t I ask a word of advice? Why did I stare and blush until the man had to turn his attention away from my adoring face?


Now I’m really not sure if I should send in my registration for SCBWI. It’s bad enough to make a fool out of myself on a small scale. But with that many people around to go fangirl on, I just don’t know.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bloggers, Books and Push Ups

Not so long ago I blogged about books that I’ve bought after reading about them online. Of course, once the post was up, I realized I’d left some off! I hate to leave anybody out, so here are some additional titles that I’ve bought and enjoyed from other bloggers.

Hop! Plop! by Corey Schwartz
I’m a sucker for a good picture book, even though my kids are getting beyond PB age. When I started blogging last fall, I found Corey's site, thought the book looked cute and ordered it from Amazon. Corey is one of those lucky people who got published on her first try. I'm still waiting for that charm to rub off on me :)

Magickeepers by Erica Kirov
I heard about this book when Sarah hosted Erica on her blog. The premise of the book fascinated me so I got it from the library. I liked it so much, I bought it. Warning for impatient people like me: there are two more in the series. But at least the ending on this one is satisfying enough that you're not frustrated at the end :) Erica has a good blog too, and she's giving away prizes this week to celebrate her 1000th post.

Writer Mama by Christina Katz

Freelance writing and graphic design help pay the bills around here, so this book interested me because I want to write for more than my local publications. Christina has built a successful platform (I know, the word makes me shudder, too!) around being a mom and writing. She writes, teaches and has another intriguing title I've considered buying, "Get Known Before the Book Deal."

A New Job for Dilly by Rena Jones

I interviewed Rena last month when Dilly debuted. Because it's printed by a small publisher, I don't know if I would have found this book without Rena's self-promotion work! I'm taking some notes from her for when my book gets published (I'm thinking positively, here!).


And for those of you who are counting, this is week six of the Push Up Challenge that Carrie Jones got me started on. Unfortunately, Carrie got injured (I don't think it was from the push ups!) and others have slacked off. I, however, have stuck with the program, sweating through more than 100 push ups every other day (in sets of like 25, 30, 20, 15, 40 -- but still!!)

I'm still not convinced that I'll be able to do a hundred push ups without stopping by Friday. I think it's more of a mental block than a physical one. I'll let you know...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

To Pay or Not to Pay

Book doctors seem to be the hot topic these days. Author Helen Hemphill blogged about it last week on Through the Tollbooth, Moonrat wrote about it a couple weeks ago on Editorial Ass and agent Rachelle Gardner referenced them in this post and in the comments.

But for every experienced freelance editor, plenty more are there to take a writer’s money and give them little in return. It seems like the kind of thing you'd read about in Editors and Predators, yet it seems like a lot of authors are going this route in the endless quest for publication. We pay for books, classes and conferences to help us with our craft. Is hiring a book doctor the next logical step?

If so, how do you find a good editor? Should you pay for a freelance editor before you send your work out? No one is going to promise publication after a good editing. Can a critique group offer the same benefits for a lot less money? Have any of you ever paid for a freelance editor and how did that work out for you?

So many questions! I'm eager to hear your answers!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Here Comes the Parade

People in the Santa Ynez Valley love a good parade. We have parades for Christmas and Danish Days, Old Santa Ynez Days and Los Olivos Day in the Country. When Independence Day rolls around, Solvang hosts the festivities.

Thousands of people line the streets, locals and tourists alike. Highway 246 through town is shut down so that we can celebrate the holiday in our own unique style. This isn’t Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or even Pasadena’s Parade of Roses. Instead of beautiful animatronic floats covered with roses, we have a truckload of Vikings towing a wooden statue of Odin in their wake.

We’ve got bikers on Harleys and Trikkers with babies on their backs. Our parade features Boy Scouts, belly dancers and obstinate cows leaving patties behind. Here you’ll see a Danish Days Maid followed by cowboys, stuntmen and Mexican folklorico dancers. While children dive for candy as it’s thrown in the street, tractors, fire trucks and classic cars roll by. In the background, bounce houses, game stands and cotton candy carts come to life on the grounds of the Old Mission Santa Inés where the masses will converge for barbecue, raffles and a concert before the main event: the fireworks.

The street sweeper signals the end of the parade. Sucking up candy wrappers and horse dookie delight, it cleans the pavement for the crowd that follows behind. Our family has been in the parade before. This year it was nice to just sit on the sidelines, wave to our friends as they went by, and collect a bit of candy. After all, any holiday that doesn’t require formal clothes, presents or lots of money is a good celebration.

God bless the USA!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Books by Bloggers (and Friends!)

Ever wonder if your web presence sells books?

Well, I can't speak for the masses, but I've read a growing stack of authors who I never would have discovered in a book store. Some of these books do break out from the pack and reach a wider audience, but many of these titles I never would have read if I hadn't seen it on a blog. For instance:

Tips on Having a (Gay) Ex-Boyfriend
by Carrie Jones

I visited Carrie's blog for months before I read one of her books. I got NEED from the library (GREAT book!) and because I enjoyed it, I bought this earlier book. I love
Carrie and her writing!

The Emerald Tablet
by P.J. Hoover

Because this book is from a small publisher, my local book store was unable to order it. I got it from Amazon and read it from cover to cover the day it arrived. P.J. is another talented writer with a fun blog to visit. I'm so glad I found her blog or I would never have heard of her!

Nothing but Ghosts
by Beth Kephart

by Beth Kephart

Beth is an amazing writer who I stumbled across on the web. She crafts words so beautifully and her blog is always a regular stop for me. She has become a friend and an inspiration.

Take the Reins
by Jessica Burkhart

I "met" Jessica after I responded to a nasty comment someone left on a blog about NaNoWriMo. She appreciated my support and we started emailing each other. If you enjoy tween fiction, you should read her Canterwood Crest series. This woman is on the rise!

by Valerie Hobbs

Letting go of Bobby James, or
How I found Myself of Steam

by Valerie Hobbs

I first heard of Val through Patti Palmer's blog. I was lucky enough to get into one of Val's workshops and make huge progress on my current WIP. Val has become a friend, too.

Silver Phoenix
by Cindy Pon

I saw the cover for this book on The Shrinking Violets blog and then I saw an interview with Cindy on another blog. The cover alone grabbed my attention, but the interview made me want to read the book. I was not disappointed. I'll be posting an
interview with Cindy in the next week or two. This is her first book.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
by R.L. LaFevers

I won the sequel from Mary Hershey's blog so of course I went out and bought book one to read first! Robin's blog has great tips and information for writers that I enjoy reading as well.

Paris Pan Takes the Dare
by Cynthea Liu

Cynthea Liu has a great blog that focuses on helping wannabe writers
and promoting new authors. Red Light Green Light anyone? And this woman knows how to throw an online launch party for her books!

The Passion Flower Massacre
by Nicola Morgan

Nicola's bitingly funny blog made me want to read her books. This is in my TBR pile and if it's anything like her voice on the blog, it will be a great read.

I So Don't do Mysteries
by Barrie Summy

How could I resist a main character named Sherry? I've enjoyed reading Barrie's posts about San Diego, writing and the family's pet iguana! I'm looking forward to reading this novel which is first in a series.

These are just books that I've bought because of blogs. It doesn't include books I've been given or borrowed from the library.

I realize that I may not be the typical reader. I'd sooner spend money on books than on clothes or a nice dinner. But if your blog is reaching just a few people like me, and I tell a few friends about your book, and they tell a few friends, well, that's worth something isn't it?

I hope you'll check out some of these author's blogs and their books. And if you have a chance to tell them, just say you heard it from a friend :)
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