Sunday, December 16, 2012

Each Day a Gift

Photo courtesy of Free Artistic Photos

"Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve." - Earl Grollman

Today is the one year anniversary of my father's passing. I miss him every day. But this month, there are so many  reasons why his absence will be more deeply felt: birthdays only two days apart that we always celebrated together, Christmas mornings at his house, and the New Years Day gathering that he always hosted before he got sick.

As I grieve this year, I am painfully aware of all of those who grieve the unbelievable tragedy in Connecticut - so many beautiful lives cut short. And I am thankful for every year, every day I had with my father. I treasure the memories that I have and the opportunity to be with family, share stories, and feel his presence in the impression he left on all of us.

"What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us." - Helen Keller

This year, is the first Christmas since our oldest daughter bought her own house. She has been working hard to make it a home and she will be following her grandfather's tradition, taking over the New Year's Day celebration. There will be new memories made and an abundance of blessings to be counted. My hope is that each time I feel the prick of grief anew in my own heart,  it will be a reminder for me to lift up in prayer  the families of those lost at Sandy Hook

"She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts." - George Eliot

Photo courtesy of Free Artistic Photos

Wishing you all a blessed holiday and a happy new year!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Genre Immersion

Last month I posted about books with male MCs. As I was revising my own novel with a male MC I had been reading lots of these books. And I received some great recommendations in the comments. Thanks, Suze, for telling me about The Cardturner by Louis Sachar. I read it, loved it, and have been hesitant to bring my copy back to the library because I want to read it again!

The project I'm working on now is a humorous contemporary YA romance. Sometimes I find myself loosing the thread of the story and becoming too serious. That's when I need to immerse myself in lighthearted reading. Some of my favorites so far have been Eileen Cook's, The Education of Hailey Kendrick and Janette Rallison's, Just One Wish.  Do you have any recommendations for me?

How much of what you read is in the genre you write?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Savoring the Silence

"Stillness is the native language of creativity, yet it's astonishing how we try to avoid silence."
-Kevin Kaiser

Silence is hard to come by. With black Friday, begins the season of busyness; a time when most of us get caught up, at least to some degree, in a whole array of activities that can easily lose their meaning if we're not careful.  Yet for something so rare, I don't think we value silence like we should. We're quick to fill quiet moments with music, television, or even conversation. But that calm is like a little bit of treasure unearthed in the midst of a hectic day. Next time you find yourself in a quiet moment, think before you fill it up. It could be within that stillness you'll discover an idea or find a connection within yourself that's even more valuable than one of those black Friday deals.    

Do you have trouble savoring the silence?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pleasantly Surprised

I'll admit it: I am woefully guilty of being swayed by a book's cover. Not only will I buy a book I know nothing about if I love the cover, but I'm also a bit of a cover snob. A bad cover can really turn me off. (Admittedly, good and bad are in the eye of the beholder.)

A few weeks ago I read The Upside of Ordinary, an MG novel by Susan Lubner. Honestly, based on the cover alone, I wouldn't have picked it up. But I had read the first page over at First Page Panda and was impressed by the strong voice and humor. So when a friend offered to loan it to me, I snatched it (quite literally, I'm afraid) right out of her hand and read it in one sitting that evening.

It's the story of a girl who is obsessed with becoming famous and hatches a plan to film her own reality show staring her family and friends. But when she starts to fear that their lives are too ordinary to draw viewers, she intervenes in some hilarious and alarming ways to amp up the drama.

While I'm still a sucker for a breathtaking book cover, I'm an even bigger sucker for a really great read, and this book qualifies.

What book has pleasantly surprised you lately?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane-force ideas

Some of you already know how I feel about trees. (See this post.) So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at how mesmerized I was by watching them dip and sway under hurricane Sandy's influence.

After the electricity went out last Monday afternoon, I sat on the sofa with a notebook in my lap. Though I made minimal progress on my writing project, much of my time was spent simply watching the trees move. It made me think of how we move forward with a story when under the power of a new idea. Those hurricane-force winds rushing through the leaves made me long for the momentum of a new idea.

As I sat there in the dimming light, not yet needing to light candles, every so often my husband would glance over at me. "Why aren't you writing?" he finally asked. I decided not to try to explain how sometimes writers are most productive when we're working things out in our heads. Instead, I picked up my pen and made myself write. And once the ideas got going, they picked up momentum, until finally I found myself caught up in the power of a hurricane-force idea (okay, maybe more of a tropical storm idea) and let myself be swept away!

Have you been able to lose yourself in your writing lately?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I'm Back (until the power goes out)

Hello Friends! I'm back from a lovely and productive stay in my revision cave and eager to start visiting your blogs again. I look forward to finding out what you've been up to!

While I took my blogging break these past five weeks, I completed revisions on my YA verse novel and sent it back to my agent 8,000 words stronger. I attended NESCBWI Encore! 2012 and was grateful for the opportunity to learn from authors Karen Day,  Mark Peter Hughes, Jo Knowles, Mitali Perkins, and teacher Cindy Faughnan.  I also finished reading Geoff Herbach's, Nothing Special, and Mitali Perkins' Bamboo People.

I've been gravitating to books with male MCs, since my own novel is written from a male perspective. Nothing Special is the sequel to Stupid Fast, and is told in the quirky voice of Felton Reinstein. He seems like such an authentic kid. His honest voice made me laugh, kept me reading, and has me looking forward to the third in the series, I'm With Stupid.

Bamboo People is told from the point of view of two teen narrators: Chiko, a fourteen year old Burmese boy who is forced to join the Burmese army, and Tu Reh, a Kerenni boy whose home was destroyed by Burmese soldiers.

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books.

Now, while I take a few days before I try to get my head into my next project, I hope to get around to all of your blogs (provided Sandy allows it.) I've stocked up on water and batteries, but other than that, I'm trying to be optimistic. Wishing well to everyone in her path!

Monday, September 17, 2012

My First Visit to the Revision Cave

I've often heard other writers refer to their revision caves. Although I've never felt the need for one myself, this week I started considering the idea. I'm currently revising two projects. The PB can be tackled in small clutches of time, I think because the story is short and manageable and I know the characters well. I can easily slip in and out of their world. The novel, however, is quite different. I feel like I'm dragging my feet on these revisions. I'm making some major changes, so I'm getting to know my characters in a whole new way. It's harder to re-enter their world each time something pulls me away. So I've decided to take a little blog break. I've picked out this lovely cave for myself.

What do you think? Isn't it pretty?! And the sound of the ocean - could there be anything more inspiring than that?! So while I'm away for a little while, picture me here scrawling endless pages, with my toes in the sand and the sea breeze in my hair. In reality, I'll still be behind a rather unmanageable pile of papers at my desk, letting the dogs in and out, fixing dinner, and trying to tune out the television from the next room. But, I won't be blogging, because that's one time commitment I can trim out for a short time. Although I will miss you all and I hope to make swift progress and be back visiting you all soon.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Novels in Verse Reading Challenge Update & My Take on a Star Rating System

I've been remiss over the past few months in posting my progress in the Novels In Verse Reading Challenge. While I have been reading, I've failed to write and post my reviews. Here are my abbreviated thoughts, and my take on a star rating system, for  The Firefly Letters, All the Broken Pieces, What My Mother Doesn't Know, What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know, and Waiting.

Photo courtesy of George Schick
The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba
by Margarita Engle
When Fredrika Bremer visits Cuba from Sweden in 1851, Cecelia, a young slave who longs for home, becomes her guide. She introduces her to the people, the customs, and the magic of the island. In a time when women do not have the freedom to roam, the journey they make together creates a bond that breaks cultural barriers.
This book is beautifully written, with characters and setting that are richly drawn. I give it this gorgeous purple, finely textured starfish.

Photo courtesy of Mary R. Vogt
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
Born in war-torn Vietnam and then living with a loving adoptive family in the United States, twelve-year-old Matt Pin cannot forget what he left behind: his mother, his brother, and a terrible secret. But Matt learns through the people around him - his piano teacher, baseball coach, and his classmates at school, that everyone has been affected by the war.
I give it this lovely star that illustrates what we can do if we come together.

What My Mother Doesn't Know
What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know
by Sonya Sones
Although I enjoyed the author's writing, these two stories weren't for me. A lot of "lusty crushes", raging hormones, and very little else. I've heard plenty of good things about these books, so I imagine teens can relate. Perhaps I'm just too far removed from those teen years to appreciate these two. I'm giving each of them this sparkly star shoe, because they obviously appeal to others, they just weren't a good fit for me.

Photo courtesy of J. Durham

Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams  
Photo courtesy of Scott Liddell
This is the story of a missionary family shattered by the tragic death of a beloved brother and favorite son. After distancing herself from her friends and boyfriend, sixteen-year-old London finds herself broken and alone, trying to cope with the loss while living with a mother who ignores her, a father who is distant, and a house full of blame.
I love Carol Lynch William's writing. Her previous novel in verse, Glimpse, is one I've read and re-read. She really knows how to make readers feel. I cried my way through this book and I'll probably read it again.
I give it the starfruit because there was a lot below the surface in this story, and once you've taken one bite, you can't stop. 

What was the last novel in verse that you read?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Closing Out Summer on a High Note

The last couple of weeks have been good writing wise. I discovered the hook I needed for my novel and pumped out 3,000 new words on the revision.Yay! This is big for me. It felt like this:

 When my usual pace is more like this:

And I was able to meet with my good friend three nights this week to write (and chat.) I always feel motivated when I get together with other writers to talk about our progress or even our obstacles, because talking them through can make them easier to overcome.

Another highlight was a visit to the local independent bookstore where authors Huntley Fitzpatrick and Kimberly Marcus were speaking. I've never been to a writers conference and I'm not much of a traveler, so unless they appear right in my backyard, I don't have many chances to meet with other YA writers often. So this opportunity had me pretty excited.

Huntley Fitzpatrick, Me, and Kimberly Marcus

 It was great to hear about Kimberly's experience writing Exposed,

 her first novel in verse. (Some of you know I'm currently revising my own novel in verse.) Kimberly was very gracious, and encouraging, answering all of my questions and showing genuine interest in my project. I may have talked her ear off. *cringe* I actually woke up in the middle of the night thinking "Oh no, was I obnoxious?! I hope not.

 And though I haven't yet read My Life Next Door,

Huntley seemed like such a sweet person that I wanted to read her book simply because I liked her so much. Added bonus: her book sounds amazing - and realistic contemporary is my all-time favorite.

 The format of the talk was great with each author asking the other questions before opening things up to the audience. Although my TBR pile is a bit overwhelming right now, I'm moving My Life Next Door to the top of the stack. And I'm already re-reading Exposed, because reading novels in verse always helps me to move forward with my own verse project.

What's at the top of your TBR pile?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Guest blogger, C. Lee McKenzie

I'm delighted to host the lovely, C. Lee McKenzie today as a part of her Swamp Hop. 

You may know Lee as the author of YA books such as Sliding on the Edge and The Princess of Las Pulgas, but she also writes for middle grade audiences with her new title Alligators Overhead.

Welcome, Lee!

"Thank you so much for helping me out with the launch of my first middle grade book. I really appreciate your support and it's great to be here on your blog today."

Alligators, witches and a spooky mansion aren't your average neighbors unless you live at the edge of the Ornofree swamp in the backwater town of Hadleyville. The town's bad boy, Pete Riley, may only be twelve, but he's up to his eyeballs in big trouble, and this time he isn't the cause. This time the trouble arrives when a legendary hundred-year-old mansion materializes next door and the Ornofree alligators declare war to save their swamp from bulldozers. Things only get worse when Pete's guardian aunt and several of her close friends vanish while trying to restore order using outdated witchcraft. Now Pete must find the witches and stop the war. He might stand a chance if his one friend, Weasel, sticks with him, but even then, they may not have what it takes.

Alligators Overhead is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

About the author:
A native Californian, C. Lee McKenzie lives on the edge of a redwood forest with her husband and assorted cats. When she's not writing or blogging she's hiking or practicing yoga. She usually writes young adult fiction that deals with contemporary, realistic issues. In Sliding on the Edge (2009) she dealt with cutting, and in The Princess of Las Pulgas (2010) she wrote about a family that loses almost everything and has to rebuild their lives together. Alligators Overhead is her first Middle Grade novel. Lee blogs at The Write Game and you can learn more about her and her work here.

Thanks again for stopping by. Wishing you all the best with the launch!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thank You for Being You

A big thank you (followed by a deep sigh) to Katrina Delallo for presenting me with the Thanks for Being You Award. Keep reading, you'll see what I mean.

The rules of this award are:

  1. Thank the person who gave the award to you.
  2. Post eleven facts about yourself. (Thus the first of many sighs.)
  3. Answer eleven questions I will make up for you, and make up eleven of your own for the people you tag. (Another sigh, accompanied by slouched shoulders.)
  4. Tell seven more things about yourself. (A sigh during which I slump forward, my forehead hits the desk and I ever so slightly lift my head and hit it again, and again, and again, ad infinitum.)
  5. Lastly, tag as many people as you want and let them know you’ve given them the award.
Okay, so here goes:

Over the past couple of weeks I read this book which made me think, 

this book, which made me cry, 

watched this video which made me laugh

and this movie that warmed my heart.

I was inspired by this and disappointed by this.
I'm delighted to be going swimming tomorrow (first time in two years.)
I was uplifted by a church service I attended on the beach Sunday evening
I was relieved that watching the Olympics every night meant never having to channel surf.
I was exhausted, because watching the Olympics every night meant never getting to bed on time.
I was frustrated by Blogger when it refused to save my changes in continual attempts to fix the spacing problems in this post =/
I'm secretly more grateful than annoyed by this (very time consuming) award because I had no idea what to post this week. (Thanks again, Cat.)

Now, I will answer Cat's questions.
  1. What’s the first book you ever read? I have no idea. Do most people remember this?
  2. What’s a movie you saw as a little kid, forgot about, and when you saw it again as an adult you remembered the whole plot in a sort of gosh-I-know-what’s-going-to-happen-next kind of way? Again, no idea. 
  3. If you weren’t what you are now (such as a writer, mother, accountant) what would you want to be? A painter (fine art, not house painting)
  4. What’s your favourite hobby? Crafting
  5. What looks grayer to you? THIS spelling of gray, or this spelling of grey? Grey
  6. How do you pronounce tomatoe? Toe-mah-toe or toe-may-toe? Actually, I say it more like tah-may-toe
  7. Do you secretly wish you were a hobbit? Umm, no.
  8. Would you rather be an elf? Not even for a minute.
  9. Do you prefer British or American spellings of the words honour/honor, colour/color, tyre/tire, laser/lazer, aluminium/aluminum? Honour and colour look more sophisticated to me. I've never even encountered the British spellings of the others until now.
  10. What’s your idea of fun? Spending time with my family.
  11. How many times can you say the words, “Irish wristwatch?” Not even once.
And now, seven more things about me (at which point I totally understand if you skip to the end and leave a disgruntled comment about the ridiculous length of this post.) I can hardly stand all this "me" talk myself. But for the sake of following the rules, here goes:
  1.  A glass of Coke and a handful of M&Ms make me disproportionately happy.
  2.  I've learned to overlook dust and dog fur if it means more time to write.
  3.  I can't wait for the new seasons of Merlin and Once Upon a Time to begin.
  4.  With all of the hours I watched the Olympics, I somehow still missed the synchronized swimming =(
  5. I bought three dresses at the beginning of the summer, but haven't worn any of them yet. I'm more of a cut-off jeans kinda girl.
  6. When given the chance, I opted for a desktop computer over a laptop. I usually like having to show up at my desk to work.
  7. The choice of a desktop came back to haunt me when I had to choose between making a blog post on time this week or watching the closing ceremonies. (Thus, the day-late post.)
And here are my the eleven questions for the bloggers that I've chosen to tag.
  1. Did these Olympics make you appreciate a sport you hadn't given much attention to before? Which one?
  2. Would you rather attend a rock concert or a sporting event?
  3. If you had to get one song stuck in your head for a week, knowing you would absolutely hate it by the weeks end, what song would you choose?
  4. Would you prefer pineapple on your pizza or on an upside down cake?
  5.  Do you prefer to swim in the ocean or in a pool?
  6. What is the last book you read that you think you'll re-read someday?
  7.  Does your beach towel have a cartoon character on it? If so, which one?
  8. How many songs are on your ipod right now?
  9. Are you more likely to overspend on groceries or on clothes?
  10. What's your favorite fast food?
  11. Do you watch reality T.V.?
And now, although I will not be pointing fingers and naming names, anyone who has read to the bottom of this post has, in my opinion, earned the right to grab this award for themselves and sacrifice several hours of their time in the making of the required post. Godspeed dear friends ;) 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Guest blogger, Anne E. Johnson

It is my pleasure today to host my very first guest blogger here at Out on a Limb, Anne E. Johnson. If you know Anne, you've likely been awed by the whirlwind success she's enjoyed lately. This summer marked the release of her noir sci fi novel for adults, Green Light Delivery (Candlemark & Gleam), as well as the release of her tween paranormal mystery, Ebenezer's Locker (MuseItUp Publishing), and now the launch of her tween medieval mystery, Trouble at the Scriptorium (Royal Fireworks.) See what I mean - whirlwind success!

Trouble at the Scriptorium

Synopsis: Harley is a twelve-year-old servant boy at a castle north of London in the thirteenth century. Lady Margaret, also twelve, is the daughter of the castle's lord. Together they must puzzle out a message hidden 
in a book of Gregorian chant. There's something very suspicious going on at the scriptorium where the book was made, and people's lives are in danger!

The Magic of Reality 

I wrote Trouble at the Scriptorium for two main reasons: 

1) I have a master’s degree in medieval music, and I wanted to share some of that fascinating information with kids by presenting it in a fun, exciting story. 

2) It was the height of Harry Potter obsession (about four years ago), and I was tired of “medievalist” ideas always being presented as fantasy. 

And so, I plunged into my first historical novel. I decided to set it in 13th-century England. I invented a protagonist, a twelve-year-old servant boy named Harley, who lives in a castle north of London. He needed to have a natural interest in music (his father’s a jester and his uncle is the choirmaster at a monastery), but not be a musician himself, so he could learn along with the reader. 

I had no idea how to write a mystery, but I knew I wanted to focus on Gregorian chant. The crafting of books is a wonderful topic, so I combined those two ideas: Harley discovers that a newly-made book of Gregorian chant has one of its painted illuminations missing. 

At first, Harley assumes this is a most unfortunate error, but he’s especially concerned about it because the book is a name-day present for the lady of his castle. (A “name day” was the special feast day for the saint a person was named after; this tradition is still practiced in some parts of the world.)  

Lady Ursula has also just had her family jewels stolen, so she’s already upset. This makes Harley desperate to cover up or fix the problem with the chant book. But the more he learns about the book, the more problems he discovers in it. Eventually he realizes it contains a hidden message, which he cracks with the help of Lady Ursula’s beautiful, brilliant daughter, Lady Margaret. 

I tried to make Trouble at the Scriptorium accurate and detailed, yet also an entertaining mystery that would appeal to intelligent kids. Creating it inspired me to continue writing historical fiction specifically for the middle-grade market (I’ve already written a sequel to Trouble at the Scriptorium!). I enjoy the special challenges it offers. 
* * *

Here are some fun links about Harley's world.

You can learn more about Anne E. Johnson at her website.

For updates on Anne’s publications and appearances, like her Facebook author page.

You can buy Trouble at the Scriptorium directly from Royal Fireworks Press.

This just in: Anne has signed a contract for the sequel to Trouble at the Scriptorium! Harley and Lady Margeret have another adventure in their future: The London Hurdy Gurdy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Regaining Your Creative Focus

There's been a lot going on these past few weeks. My oldest daughter is moving out. A sixteen-year-old nephew moved in. My husband took a second job. I've been stressed, agitated and unsettled. Even during the times I would usually write, I've been distracted by negativity. As I look back over the week, I recognize some old patterns I've fallen back into, and though I didn't realize it at the time, I think I was trying to find comfort.

I re-read a favorite novel:

I listened to this beautiful song on repeat:

I've even been closing out each day with a favorite childhood bedtime snack:
I also decided to revisit a comfortable writing habit: writing flash fiction and short articles. With my lack of creative focus, I wasn't getting much accomplished on my novel anyway. So I decided to concentrate on several shorter pieces. I wrapped up some projects I had started long ago and I submitted a handful of poems, articles, and essays to magazine markets - something I haven't done since committing to my novel over a year ago. It felt good. I felt productive. And the whole process was like slipping on a comfy old pair of sneakers.

 Which was just what I needed.

A big part of moving forward in life and in this writing business, is about breaking out of our comfort zones. But there's something to be said for revisiting those comfort zones as needed. So right now I'm giving myself permission to take another week off from novel writing. And hopefully I'll emerge calmer, stronger, and more focused as a result.

What do you do to regain your creative focus?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Books with Hooks

How do you feel after you read a really good book? Inspired? Entertained? Satisfied? Depressed? I guess in some ways, it depends a lot on the particular book.

I used to get down on myself after reading a particularly good book, because it made me realize how far off the mark my own writing was. I’d have to go through a bit of a recovery period before I could write again. Thankfully, nowadays, I’m much more inspired by good writing. I can look at it with discerning eyes and find lessons to take away and employ in my own writing.

I’m reading with “hooks” in mind this week. I’ve read When You Reach Me (MG) by Rebecca Stead, and feel lucky to have gotten my hands on Meant to Be (YA) by Lauren Morill, (thanks, Amanda!) I loved both of these and I’ve also started Time Between Us (YA) by Tamara Ireland Stone – another great “hook” book.

I thought my own novel had a hook. But I was settling for this:  

When what I really need is this:  

Or even this:   

Although I consider myself pretty dreadful at analytical thinking, I’m doing my best to learn from these authors. And though I feel like I’ve stretched and pulled my brain like an overworked wad of clay, I think the hook for my own YA novel is starting to take shape. 

Here are some articles on the subject that I found helpful this week:

Do you have trouble coming up with the hook(s) for your book(s)?

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's Awards Time

I received a number of awards this week. Thank you to C. Lee McKenzie for thinking of me for The Booker Award and The Fabulous Blog Ribbon. Thanks also to Laura Sassi for passing along the Kreativ Blogger Award. You've made me smile (and given me something to blog about this week - I was totally blank.)

To receive The Booker Award the blog must be at least 50% about books (reading or writing.) And you must list your five favorite books.

My Five Favorite Books:

Villette by Charlotte Bronte
The Book Thief by Mark Zusak
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata

The Fabulous Blog Ribbon is also about fives.

Five Fabulous Moments:

Becoming a wife
Becoming a mother (twice)
Watching my daughters graduate from college (with honors) after homeschooling them K-12
Celebrating with my husband our 25th wedding anniversary.
That magical moment when a story takes on a life of its own.

Five Things I Love:

Spending time with my family
Sunny Days
Laughing till it hurts
Game Night

Five Things I Dislike:

Making Dinner
Getting Up Early
Form Rejections
Cleaning house when I'd rather be writing

For the Kreativ Blogger Award, I'm supposed to list seven random things about myself, but I think you've heard enough about me for one post.

These are the five people who I want to share these awards with:

Victoria Lindstrom
Ruth Donnelly
Patricia T.
Theresa Milstein
Anne E. Johnson