A writer’s pick me up…

Every once in a while, you need to hear you’re doing a good job. Once upon a time, when I went to an office building every day, I could find fulfillment through working hard and gaining positive feedback from my bosses. Then I became a mom, and through an interesting turn of events and a move across country, I found myself given the opportunity of staying home while my children were little as I wrote part-time and worked on my novel career.

I’ll say one thing. Performance reviews for a mom aren’t the same. There’s Mother’s Day, where the kids and hubby go all out, but most of the other days of the year, I’m just trekking along. Not unappreciated, but no one is checking any “outstanding” boxes either (not that I usually earn an “outstanding,” I realize, as my kids ate ice cream for dinner tonight;). Plenty of times though, the kids cry and whine at me, but it’s the little moments, the hugs and kisses and the “I missed you Mommy,” that are my best indication I’m doing a few things right.

Then there’s writing. My part-time work for various publications is pretty straightforward. I get the job done, and usually it needs to get done quickly. The novel writing? Well, that’s more complicated. Ever since pitching my novel to a small press three years ago, I’ve found that although I started with a good toolbox for writing fiction, I have a lifelong journey of improvement ahead.

But, two Saturdays ago, I got to enjoy one small moment of “Atta girl!” Accidental Mobster, my first published novel (and the second one I’d ever written–the first is floating around somewhere on my computer), won an award from a group of women educators, The Creative Women of Oklahoma Award for Young Adult Book. I had the opportunity to receive the award at a banquet and talk to a room full of women about my writing story. The way I was treated and the response to my books was an overwhelming lift to my spirits.

Awards push me forward. They make me want to get better, to prove I’m deserving of what’s been given. That’s always been how I’ve seen any achievement in my life–a mark that I’m headed the right direction but can always keep striving. I’m excited for the road ahead. I can’t wait to share the stories I have and let the audience into the souls of new characters.

But for just a few moments, I’m going to take a breath. Atta girl.

Cheers.

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Doing my best to form a coherent thought during a brief little speech at the banquet.

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Getting ready to talk. Happy to report the trilogy sold out before the discussion began!

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Husband didn’t get my “House of Cards” reference to my outfit until he took this picture:)

 

The curse of good writing

This past week, I finally got around to reading John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I had high expectations, because of the buzz, of course. And the book met those expectations, except, not exactly in the way I expected.

Here’s the thing. It’s hard for me to love a sad book. But this novel begins without making an apology for the track it will take. It is about cancer, about teenagers struggling with the realities of the disease, especially those deemed terminal. But it is funny. Maybe a little too witty for its intended audience, because even I had to take a pause on some of the vocabulary, and in touring the reviews on Amazon, more than one teen complained of the book being written above their heads. But if you’re an adult (or teen) who likes books with exceptional wording and that tests the mind (and something that is, truly, hysterical), it’s definitely worth the read.

The problem for me is putting the thing down. As when any good book ends, I’m left mourning the characters–a mini funeral in the mind for what Ally Condie once called “paper people.” I want to know what happens, you know, after the last word. But the thing with Hazel and Augustus is that you know how it ends, even if it’s not inscribed on the page. But the mourning, at least for me, still happened.  Even if Hazel and Augustus (and even Isaac) didn’t feel like real teenagers, they felt like people to me by the end of the book.

What John Green has done the best, beside telling an entertaining story, is given many of us a look into the world of a terminally ill young person. And in doing so, he brings our own mortality and the desire to “leave a mark” into sharp relief. With the character of Peter, he proves that a long life led is not necessarily a good life led.

So I guess the only other issue I had was with the dismality (word, right?) of the afterlife. Hazel appears to believe in oblivion, Augustus in Something. As for me, wherever Heaven is, whatever it looks like (and I’m really not into cloud mansions, so I’m not looking for one of those), I’m headed there.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)

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The craft of writing – Always a learning process

I love to write. I always have. In the first grade, I wrote a story about a princess tiger who takes a cloud train back to the zoo. The concept was a little strange, to say the least, and the illustration, was, uh, imaginative. But if nothing else, I like to look at the homemade book to remind myself of one thing:

I have always wanted to be a writer.

And I became one. From a news journalist to fiction author, the range of my writing runs the gamut. But like any human, I am always growing, learning  and changing as a writer, striving to get better at what I do. I will never be perfect, but I can always improve.

My early stuff is really fun, but my newer stuff is better, and in a few years, I hope to be able to continue to say that. I think of it like my ice skating performances from long ago. One of the first programs I ever competed with was an up-tempo classical number from The Marriage of Figaro, in which I wore an ivory dress with gold and green sequence. Yikes, I know, but it was the nineties. The program was simple, but I performed it with much gusto. My most difficult jump at the time was a single Axel, nothing Olympic-level, but the routine is still so much fun to watch on video.

Years later, I skated at the junior level at the National Collegiate Figure Skating Championships. In this program I landed a double Axel as well as several difficult jump combinations. My spins were centered, fast, and complicated. I skated to the haunting waltz from Khachaturian’s Masquerade, outfitted  in a beautiful periwinkle dress with small crystals inlaid in the sleeves and bodice.

These were very different points in my skating career, and obviously, my skating (and fashion sense) had matured and improved by the time I reached the collegiate Nationals. But both performances have merit, both won me a gold medal, and both were enjoyed by the audience.

All that to say this: writing is the same. Our early stuff, whatever level we start at, will always be new and exciting. Sometimes it will need a great deal of work to get published, sometimes not, but even if it could be improved, it doesn’t lessen the value of it. Any writer–all writers–should realize they have room to grow. No one is an expert in this business, and while some may have extensive knowledge to share, approaching the table with humility and an open mind, no matter the level of expertise or success, is a must in my book.

So, until next time, write on.

My next big thing – or rather, two things

Generally, I like to play my “next big thing” ideas close to my chest, but I was asked to join this blog hop by the talented Paulette Rae, so I decided I’d tell you a little bit about the two books that will complete the Teen Mobster Series. If you haven’t read Accidental Mobster, well, you should. I mean, that’s if you like nail-biting situations that involve the Mafia and high school. AND, it’s only $2.99 for the electronic version, which is way, way cheaper than that Starbucks non-fat vanilla chai I gulped down today.

Anyway, here’s the scoop on how the rest of this YA series is going to shake out.

1: What is the working title of your book(s)?

The second book is called Undercover Wiseguy, and the third is Covert Criminal. Those aren’t really working titles. They’re just titles;-)

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve always loved crime drama. I’m probaby the only twelve-year-old who was addicted to Law and Order. I have also scarfed down anything to do with the mob (I could sing you the intro to the Sopranos, if you were so inclined.) I also have a number of family and friends in law enforcement, which makes me pretty sympathetic to the enforcement of justice (with the exception of the random speeding tickets I keep getting on the same stupid road. Forget a breathalyzer for your car–I need enforced cruise control)..

LSS (you know, long story short), I was destined to combine my love of writing teen fiction with my obsession of crime drama.

3: What genre does your book come under?

Teen fiction. More specifically, teen crime fiction, with a heap of action, a dollop of humor, and a sprinkling of romance.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmmm.  If this was made, like, next year, I think Spencer Walsh from Good Luck Charlie would be great for the role of Danny, my protaganist, Elle Fanning for love interest Portia, Dayo Okeniyi from Hunger Games for best friend Reggie, and David Henrie and Lucy Hale for Danny’s semi-siblings, Vince and Julia Vigliotti. I think Gabriel Macht from Suits for Danny’s mobster godfather, Gino Vigliotti, and Alex O’Loughlin from Hawaii Five-O for everyone’s favorite FBI agent (see pics below).

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When teenager Danny Higgins goes to live with a mob family, he finds that keeping secrets and using his “street smarts” is the only way to survive.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

Published by the most awesomest independent publisher, Bluewood Publishing Ltd.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Six months. I wrote both books in the early morning hours and during my daughter’s naptimes in 2011.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

For the series: think Mario Puzo’s Godfather got cleaned up and went to high school.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My respect for law enforcement and my value of family greatly influenced this series.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s not like most of the young adult novels out there. These books are not ooey-gooey romance or paranormal craziness. If you like shows like Castle, Criminal Minds, or the Sopranos, you’re probably going to enjoy this series. And even though the series is appropriate for readers as young as 12, I have had many adults email me to say how much they enjoyed Accidental Mobster and look forward to the next two books.

Now, if you are looking for some more great fiction, you should definitely check out these other authors.

Paulette Rae – This sizzling romance author has an exciting new project with, gasp!, a hitchhiker. Check out the details here.

K.D. Berry – This fantasy author team is responsible for the award-winning Dragon’s Away.

L.M. Fry – For a fun read with a sassy thirteen-year-old protagonist, check out L.M. Fry’s Soul Seer. Major plus is the hilarity that follows with having a large family.

My dream cast for the Teen Mobsters Series:

harper

Shane Harper as Danny

 

Fanning

Elle Fanning as Portia

 

Okeniyi

Dayo Okeniyi as Reggie

 

Henrie

David Henrie as Vince

 

Hale

Lucy Hale as Julia

 

Macht

Gabriel Macht as Gino

 

OLoughlin

Alex O’Loughlin as Special Agent —- (don’t want to spoil the first book for you!)

 

 

Eight reasons you should go to that writers’ conference…

Last weekend, I attended my first writers’ conference in a while. Let me tell you, it was a good experience, and it taught me the value of meeting with other writers, as well as taking advantage of listening to and chatting with editors and agents, people who often seem so far away from my little neck of the woods in Oklahoma (okay, maybe it’s less woods here and more fields, but you get the picture).

Here’s a few reasons you should consider attending a writer’s conference (assuming writing is something you like to do)…

1. Editors and agents are nice people. Who knew, right?

2. You learn that everyone has recieved rejection. In fact, people are pretty proud of the drawers holding all their letters.

3. Some writers’ ideas are way crazy. So don’t be afraid to let your crazy out of the bag.

4. Writers are an eclectic bunch. So your degree is in electrical engineering and you want to write a picture book about a fastidious grasshopper? Go for it.

5. Hotel banquet food generally sucks, but the cookies are always awesome.

6. The projects that editors are working on are really exciting, but they’re always looking for more.

7. Editors and agents are nice people. Did I say that already?

8. Authors with big publishing houses work hard. Really, really hard. If you want to do this for a living, you better not expect a cakewalk.

So sign yourself up for your next writer’s conference (I recommend SCBWI if you write for the twenty and younger crowd). Worst case, you learn a little something, and best case, you come home inspired.

Ready, set, write – A few short steps to start a novel

You have it! That killer, awesome, super cool, totally-going-to-get-you-a-literary-award-and-movie-deal idea for a novel. So what are you waiting for? Get those little fingers moving.

Okay, so maybe it’s not that easy. We all have some pretty good story ideas. But how do you take a big, fat, fabulous idea and streamline that baby into a can’t-put-it-down-or-I’ll-die kind of book. Well, I’ve got three solutions to help you get started. Of course, once you get rolling, the real work is ahead. Finishing a book and then taking the time to really rip it apart and put it back together (otherwise known as the revision process) is the super hard part of this. Then again, maybe getting started really is the biggest challenge. Because often, when you get something moving, it’s just a matter of keeping it going, am I right?

Step one: Figure out who your story is about. People don’t care about what is happening unless they care about the people it’s happening to. Who is your protagonist? Your antagonist? Who are the supporting characters–love interest (I’m sorry, but you’ve got to have one), friends, marginal enemies, etc.? Make up a cast list as though you’re casting a movie. Who would play your characters and why? What are their strengths and weaknesses (a hint here–usually what makes a character strong can also make him or her weak).

Step two: Know where you’re going. You wouldn’t take off on a road trip without an intended destination, right (unless you have tons of money and no one who depends on you, in which case, I really don’t know what to say to you)? Well, writing is the same way. You don’t need to know the tiny weeny details (such as, where are we stopping to stay/eat/gas up/etc.), but you do need to know where you want to end up and maybe have a rough map of how to get there. I’m not a big outliner myself, but I do plan out my book when I start and as I go along. Otherwise you may find yourself running in mental circles.

Step three: Word count. Oh yeah, this is important. You must set a weekly goal of how many words you want to write and have an idea of how many words the book will be. Note to prospective authors–writing novels over 100,000 words may give you some heartache when it comes to selling the thing. Also, many book genres have more specific word counts, so pay attention to those. When you become a super-duper big time writer, you can write how many ever words you want, but for the time being, get an idea of what is publishable. Next, decide how many weeks you want to take to write a first draft and what’s feasible for you to write on a weekly basis and set a word count goal. Then stick to it and reward yourself when you hit certain milestones.

And that, my friends, is a quickstart plan for you and that awesome book sitting in your head. Just remember, writing a novel is easier said than done. And read, read, read in the genre you want to write. There’s nothing wrong with studying success:)

Finding the Write Time

Hey! Just let it go, alright? I can hear you groaning over my poor pun of a title. Whatever.

The thing is, you know exactly what I’m talking about here, right? How can the not-quite-full-time novelist make more time for writing?

The answer is she (or he) digs around in her day and finds a few spare moments. I’m telling you, it’s no easier for me than it is for you. In fact, it’s really, really hard.

Here are the facts. I have kids. Little kids. As in, a baby and a toddler. Moments of silence are as rare as a clean diaper around here. Also, I train for half-marathons and blog about it here. Finally, I just released the first book in a new series, and promoting it takes some serious time. I’m talking serious look-at-me, look-at-me social media time.

But I still get the job done. I’ve completed two new manuscripts this year, as well as a full edit of some past work. It works like this: my husband’s alarm goes off, and I roll out of the bed. Before I even have my legs firmly beneath me, I head to the kitchen, rev the laptop, and get the fingers moving. That’s discipline, baby, and nothing else.

A question I often get at my writing workshops is as follows: “What inspires you to write?” The answers to that question are endless–people, music, news stories, my own crazy past–they all inspire stories. But here’s the answer to the question they don’t ask–the question about whether I’m always inspired when I write.

The answer is no. Sometimes it takes three cups of coffee to write a paragraph. Sometimes I stare at the screen and wave my arms, waiting for magic to happen. Sometimes I stare at the baby monitor and pray for a baby intervention.

Because writing is hard, hard work. It’s awesome I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-do-it work too. But if you think writing comes naturally, think again. Sometimes you push your story out, sometimes you pull it. And even though it’s the coolest job in the world to write books, the job always takes some effort.

And coffee. Lots of it:) I should seriously invest in Foldgers.