Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Happy Ending

I made real changes in 2015. 

I gave my notice at work in January, telling them that I'd finish out the school year and that I'd be willing to sub for whomever they hired. I loved my teaching job, but it was time to quit. 

I also signed up for a membership with Julie Hedlund's 12x12 in January. 

I have this driving need to write picture books, so I thought I'd better do something with it.  Writing a couple of new picture book stories a year just wasn't helping me master the craft. Julie's challenge to write 12 new picture books in 12 months was exactly what I needed. I wrote them. I revised over and over and over again. I went from getting no response or a form response to my queries to getting compliments from agents. The last half of the year, I stopped querying to just focus on my craft because I could see my writing improving. I even wrote a few rhyming manuscripts, something I haven't managed in over five years. Poems and rhyming picture books are different art forms.

In February, I used Scrivener to revise my MG space opera. I'm still not an expert at using the new software, but after many years of using MS Word, I wouldn't say I know everything about Word, either. I'm like the software, and I'll use it again. I might even be good at it someday. :o)

In March, I had an unexpected conversation with an agent at Writing for Charity. She'd written out a page and a half of fantastic notes for my picture book manuscript, and I went into our session thinking that we'd be discussing picture books. She steered the conversation around to my novels, specifically the YA fantasy that I hadn't touched in almost a year. By the end of our conversation, I knew how to revise it, and she asked me to please send it to her when I finished. Then she sat by me at dinner, and we discussed picture books. I actually met with two agents at Writing for Charity. I wasn't impressed with the second one. It was a valuable experience for me because now I know what I'm looking for in an agent. 

I didn't finish that beastly revision of my YA fantasy until November, but I DID finish it. It isn't ready for agent eyes yet. I did the heavy lifting, and I'll fine tune it in 2016.

Meanwhile, I'm revising the space opera again. Going back to a story after months away makes it so much easier to see what it needs.

Looking back over the year, quitting my job was exactly what I needed. I'm still helping out at the preschool. Next week, I'm subbing for the teacher all week. But quitting that job allowed me to change my focus. I made a lot more progress the second half of the year than I did the first six months.

By the middle of the year, I'd started joking with my husband that I was having a mid-life crisis. Quietly. I'm a quiet sort of person. I told him that I'd rather come out of it with a weight set than a new car, and he played along. He even bought some of the weights and started lifting them with me. Exercising regularly and eating better has done more to combat my insomnia, anxiety, and depression than anything else I've tried. Sleep is my new friend.

If you're interested, I'm following the program outlined in BODY FOR LIFE, by Bill Phillips. The workouts aren't very long. I'm alternating an intense 20 minute aerobic workout with weight lifting for six days a week. You don't have to count calories or starve to follow the diet. It's about eating the right fuel to get the most out of your body. I'm not into before and after photos or anything that makes people feel shame about their bodies. But I do love feeling better. I don't use the author's products because I found better ones. 

If you're looking for great vitamins and protein shakes, Plexus has the best ones I've tried. No added sugar of any kind and they actually taste good. They have free shipping today. They're also running a great deal on membership if you're interested in buying their products wholesale. There's a huge price difference for customers versus members/ambassadors, so that's what I do. If you want to check it out, you can follow this link:
Full disclosure: If you buy or sign up through this page, it will benefit me. 

I will probably never mention this on the blog again because it feels too much like selling, and that's not what my blog is for. However, BODY FOR LIFE and Plexus have contributed to changing the quality of my life (physically, mentally, and emotionally) this year. I work better when I'm healthy. 

Wishing you all the best in 2016! xoxo

Monday, April 20, 2015


Krista Van Dolzer's debut novel (from Penguin Young Readers), THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, releases on May 5th! I love, love, LOVE this one, and I have a signed ARC that I'm giving away to one lucky winner.

Rose Wong's cover art reflects the diverse story within. The jacket copy reads: Twelve-year-old Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin back to life from blood on his dog tags, Ella Mae is skeptical—until he steps out of a bio-pod right before her eyes.

But the boy is not her cousin—he’s Japanese. And in California in the wake of World War II, the Japanese are still feared and despised. When her aunt refuses to take responsibility, Ella Mae and her Mama take him home instead. Determined to do what’s right by her new friend, Ella Mae teaches Takuma English and defends him from the reverend’s talk of H-E-double-toothpicks. But when his memories start to resurface, Ella Mae learns some shocking truths about her own family and more importantly, what it means to love.

Ella Mae's voice grabbed me from the first sentence. The family dynamics (especially interactions with her parents and between her mom and her aunt) rang true. This book made me laugh aloud in many places, but it also made me go find a box of tissues.

Krista and I have been reading each other's manuscripts for about five years, and I've read this story more times than any other manuscript I've critiqued. For anyone. It has changed dramatically from draft to draft, but the scene with Takuma and Ella Mae that makes me cry has been there since my first read. And it makes me cry (tears leaking down my face) every. single. time.

If you have a U. S. mailing address and would like to be entered in the drawing, please comment below before Thursday, April 23, at 10:00 pm PDT. I'll give an extra entry to anyone who shares an interesting historical fact or even their favorite time and place in history. :o)

If you need a less biased review, here's one by Publisher's Weekly.

And if you're interested in reading more Marvelous Middle Grade reviews, Shannon Messenger has the links on her blog.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Resources for Picture Book Writers

I'm just popping in to share some picture book resources that I've found helpful. Most of them are things I've discovered recently, and most of them are free.

The biggest thing I'm doing this year actually did cost money. It's Julie Hedlund's 12x12. You commit to writing 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. She has three levels, Bronze, Silver, and Gold. I signed up for Silver because it means I can watch the monthly webinars (mini-classes by other writers, Jane Yolen for example) for free. Many of the other 12x12 members have already sold picture books, and they're willing to answer questions and advice. I'm only a month in, and I already know I'll be doing this again next year. It's less expensive than taking an online class or going to a conference, and it gives me access to mini-classes and manuscript feedback all year. Registration is open until the end of this month. If you don't want to invest the time or money this year, you can still subscribe to her website for free. That's how I started last year.

But I have two brand new picture book manuscripts already, and the 12x12 material Julie sends to my inbox is fabulous. This video that I watched today made me realize how I need to revise my current query, and Julie gave us permission to share it. It's the first in a three-part series that you can watch for free. I think the videos are only available for 10 days, so if you're interested, don't put off watching it.

I've been subscribing to for a couple of years. Everything that she does is free, and she has a lot of great resources for picture book writers. One of my favorite things is this post on picture book layout. I've come up with some of my best picture book ideas by participating in her PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) the last two Novembers.

KidLit411 is an AMAZING resource that I just discovered last month. They interview writers and illustrators every week, but the best thing they do is round up links to other relevant information and opportunities. Totally free.

And something new I'm going to try next month is Carrie Charley Brown's Reading for Research Month (also free).

Let me know if you end up checking any of these out. :o) Also, if you think I'm missing out on something, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Second Draft of MG Finished!

I saw a tweet from Shannon Hale not that long ago that compared writing a first draft to shoveling sand in a sandbox so that she could build a castle with it later.

For me, writing a first draft is more like sketching a picture I'm going to paint with a pencil. That first sketch is limited, and I put in things that I know will have to change, even before I start layering paint. The eraser is my friend.

The last couple of first drafts I've written have been in notebooks. I haven't transferred Nightingale from the notebook to the computer yet, but tonight I finished my second draft of the MG space opera I wrote in the fall. At 20,998 words, it's slight, but it's longer than the 75 written pages it started out as.

It may double in size.

Some people write a lot of words in the beginning, cutting them later. I spend the first draft finding my characters and plot. Then I add layers. Either way, a lot of words get deleted or painted over.

This draft was my first experience with Scrivener, and I'm going to keep the story there for one more draft. Then I'll switch over to Word. I'll blog more about learning how to use Scrivener later. But at this point, I'm sold; I'll be typing Nightingale into Scrivener later this year.

What have you been up to this month?