Closing Out March with a Bang – a #writemotivation check in

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To say that I had a positive experience at our SCBWI OK spring conference would be quite the understatement. One of the first things that happened before our speakers took the stage was the winners of the face-to-face critiques were announced. Each speaker chooses two manuscripts from their selections and those lucky souls get to sit down and discuss their writing for ten whole, uninterrupted minutes. I had not one, but two separate manuscripts chosen.

That was a first.

I was beyond thrilled, beyond honored. (Thankfully I was not beyond speech.)

The two speakers who chose my MG and YA manuscripts were both so fantastic. They gave me insightful suggestions that fit right along my vision for each story – neither thought I had to scrap the entire thing a rewrite either as, say, a paranormal/historical dystopian/time-travel piece. I can’t wait to get back to revising. Is it any wonder I had such a hard time concentrating on the rest of the conference? Once I made my way back into the main room, I did my best to stay focused. The speakers were all so brilliant, so diverse and amazing. It was just an all-around wonderful day. A recap of the rest of the conference will be coming later this week.

For now, let’s take the final look at this month’s #writemotivation goals:

  1. Make progress on new YA project (Pretty Vacant) including plotting out new story arc and starting on first draft with word count goal of 30K. I fell short by 10K, but this story did get off to a good start. I’m happy with the progress made.
  2. Submit first YA manuscript to at least 15 agents. Only sent out to about one-third. Lame, lame, lame.
  3. Read at least 6 books this month. Done! By the skin of my teeth. (That is a weird saying.) Good thing I brought some more books home from the conference; I was almost out – ha ha ha! I can’t even say that with a straight face.
  4. Get back into exercise routine slowly – at least three times week. No comment. (I did dance on stage during the conference while killing time before a bit, but I’m not sure that really counts. And sorry for those who saw that. For some reason, having my back turned made me think I was invisible.)

I hope you all had a productive March.

I am one of the few NOT participating in the A to Z challenge during April. (A themed blog post every day all month long? Those guys are crazy.) I will however, be setting more #writemotivation goals since I have some serious (and exciting) work to do.

If you want to join in all the fun, pop on over and sign up for #WriteMotivation April! 

Book Review – Wintergirls

bc-wintergirlsI love Laurie Halse Anderson. She is a fearless author who writes emotion so beautifully. I first read her novel SPEAK years ago and I still can’t get that book out of my head. I heard Anderson speak for the first time last summer at the SCBWI LA conference and got to tell her how awesome she was in person. Her keynote speech was one of the best of the conference and I was so inspired by her, I can’t even tell you. On top of that, she writes this story like she herself suffered through anorexia and had the words of a poet to make the reader know exactly what it feels like to be at war with your own body and to not be able to see yourself as you truly are. She has woven eating disorder pathology and effortless character voice masterfully into a story you just can’t put down.

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.

“Tell us your secrets,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.

I am that girl.

I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.

I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl’s chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

In her books like SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS, Anderson writes about scary topics and has her characters say out loud things that teens are thinking way down deep inside. She gives voice to the nightmares and the rages we may all have experienced and then helps her characters (and readers) see a way through to the other side. I could keep fangirling like mad or just let her words speak for themselves. Here’s a passage from the very beginning of WINTERGIRLS, on the morning Lia learns her former best friend is dead  – body found in a motel room, alone:

...When I was a real girl, with two parents and one house and no blades flashing, breakfast was granola topped with fresh strawberries, always eaten while reading a book propped up on the fruit bowl. At Cassie’s house we’d eat waffles with thin syrup that came from maple trees, not the fake corn syrup stuff, and we’d read the funny pages…

No. I can’t go there. I won’t think. I won’t look.

I won’t pollute my insides with Bluberridazzlepops or muffins or scritchscratchy shards of toast, either. Yesterday’s dirt and mistakes have moved through me. I am shiny and pink inside, clean. Empty is good. Empty is strong.

But I have to drive.

…I drove last year, windows down, music cranked, first Saturday in October, flying to the SATs. I drove so Cassie could put the top coat on her nails. We were secret sisters with a plan for world domination, potential bubbling around us like champagne. Cassie laughed.I laughed. We were perfection.

Did I eat breakfast? Of course not. Did I eat dinner the night before, or lunch, or anything?

The car in front of us braked as the traffic light turned yellow, then red. My flip-flop hovered above the pedal. My edges blurred. Black squiggle tingles curled up my spine and wrapped around my eyes like a silk scarf. The car in front of us disappeared. The steering wheel, the dashboard, vanished. There was no Cassie, no traffic light. How was I supposed to stop this thing?

Cassie screamed in slow motion.

::Marshmallow/air/explosion/bag::

When I woke up, the emt-person and a cop were frowning. The driver whose car I smashed into was screaming into his cell phone.

My blood pressure was that of a cold snake. My heart was tired. My lungs wanted a nap. They stuck me with a needle, inflated me like a state-fair balloon, and shipped me off to a hospital with steel-eyed nurses who wrote down every bad number, In pen. Busted me.

Mom and Dad rushed in, side by side for a change, happy that I was not dead. A nurse handed my chart to my mother. She read through it and explained the disaster to my father and then they fought, a mudslide of an argument that spewed across the antiseptic sheets and out into the hall. I was stressed/overscheduled/manic/no-depressed/no-in need of attention/no-in need of discipline/in need of rest/in need/your fault/your fault/fault/fault. They branded their war on this tiny skin-bag of a girl.

Phone calls were made. My parents force-marched me into hell on the hill New Seasons…

Cassie escaped, as usual. Not a scratch. Insurance more than covered the damage, so she wound up with a fixed car and new speakers. Our mothers had a little talk, but really all girls go through these things and what are you going to do? Cassie rescheduled for the next test and got her nails done at a salon, Enchanted Blue, while they locked me up and dripped sugar water into my empty veins…

Lesson learned. Driving requires fuel.

This is such a phenomenal and important book. It will move you; it will change you.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

Follow Laurie on Tumblr here.

Shining a Light in Dark Places – a #writemotivation check in

Spring GrassAh, spring!

It’s only a few days in and already I feel your magic. The trees are budding, the days are warmer, there is more sunlight.

I love springtime.

You saved me from the dreariness of winter in the nick of time.

That’s why I couldn’t believe this story I heard on NPR about this village Rjukan, in Norway that spends half a year in darkness. People living in darkness on purpose.

What?

That country’s first cable car was built in the town for the sole purpose of transporting villagers up to the light for their health. (My first question would be, if you have to do something that drastic, why would you ever, ever live there?)

Finally, one of it’s residents had a brilliant idea (no pun intended) to shed some light on the matter. (Yes, he was an artist.) Many people thought the idea was crazy and a waste of money, but apparently those same people are the ones you’ll find now standing in the town square basking in the warm sun, transported down from above by the fantastic combination of art and engineering. Computer-controlled mirrors now reflect the sun’s light and beam it down to the grateful people below. Brilliant, right?

My point? Just when you think you’re stuck in six months of never-ending darkness, maybe step back and reevaluate your surroundings, your plight. There  could be another way to look at your situation that you just haven’t thought of. I don’t know, I just found it creative as hell and hopeful.  Human beings are amazing, sometimes.

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Now to check on my #writemotivation goals for the week:

  1. Make progress on new YA project (Pretty Vacant) including plotting out new story arc and starting on first draft with word count goal of 30K. Steady progress made. I’m closer to 18K than 30K, which isn’t bad. Might just make this goal.
  2. Submit first YA manuscript to at least 15 agents. I’m behind on this goal, but I do have some potential agents narrowed down. I feel confident that I can meet this goal by next week.
  3. Read at least 6 books this month. (I’m a little behind on my yearly reading goal already!) This one is going well. I have finished five books already. I’m currently TheGraveyardBook_Hardcover_1218248432reading Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. It has a great opening line: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” And this is accompanied by such an ominous illustration that the mood is perfectly set.
  4. Get back into exercise routine slowly – at least three times week. Meh progress. Two times. Next week comes the dreaded return of the elliptical. I know this helps me have more energy and helps me fight of the depression uglies, so do it I must.

Today I’m also posting over at The Great Noveling Adventure blog. I’m discussing craft books that have helped me stop totally sucking at making amateur mistakes and I’m looking for some more suggestions to stop making the even bigger mistakes. If you have a book on writing that you’ve found invaluable in your quest to be the best writer you can be, hop on over and share it with us.

Next weekend is the SCBWI OK spring conference! WOOHOO! I will be tweeting about the conference throughout the weekend at #SCBWIOK14 if you care to follow along. I will, of course, give you all the highlights and my favorite takeaways from the great speakers we have lined up in future posts, so stay tuned!

Hope you are taking command of your goals and bowing them to your will.

Keep writing!

Book Review – The Gods of Second Chances

cover-art-by-gigi-littleI met the editor of this book, Laura Stanfill, out in the blogosphere while we were both mutually admiring each others blogs. I found her just delightful and followed her progress as she bravely ventured out to start her own publishing house, Forest Avenue Press. Founded in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, Forest Avenue Press started with the mission to publish quiet novels for a noisy world.

This book is their first fiction release and debuts this month. I am delighted have read one of the Advanced Reader copies. This book was well chosen. The writing is solid and the pacing moves the story along well. Author Dan Berne brings the Alaskan scenery to life effortlessly as he weaves the tale of a broken family trying to reunite, missing one of its members, and struggling to fit the pieces back together.

Family means everything to widowed Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft, raising his granddaughter while battling storms, invasive species, and lawsuit happy tourists. To navigate, and to catch enough crab to feed her college fund, Ray seeks help from a multitude of gods and goddesses – not to mention ad-libbed rituals performed at sea by his half-Tlingit best friend.

But kitchen counter statues and otter bone ceremonies aren’t enough when his estranged daughter returns from prison, swearing she’s clean and sober. Her search for a safe harbor threatens everything Ray holds sacred.

Set against a backdrop of ice and mud and loss, this debut novel explores the unpredictable fissures of memory, and how families can break apart, even in the midst of healing. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Berne evokes rich sensory details of life on Yatki Island, Alaska, and the people there who live and die by the sea. It anchors the reader firmly in the world so well you can almost smell the creosote, diesel fuel, and gutted fish in the air and taste the elk stew Muskeg Sally has cooking down at the Blind Dog Tavern.

Here’s an excerpt from the first page:

Mud and rain invaded my dreams after Donna’s death. In southeast Alaska, where I’ve lived for half my life, we have precipitation 310 days out of the year. All those nights with the skittle-skattle of wet pellets against the windows, you’d think that rain would have formed the base molecules of my sleep a long time ago. And the mud. It’s everywhere up here, omnipresent and brutal. Until my wife died, my dreams were waterproofed, sealed against the elements. Maybe it was feeling her back against my chest as we lay in bed, her leg draped over my thigh. My arm around her waist, breathing in the scent of her skin, listening to her breathe. Twelve years she’s been gone, and I seldom sleep without the rain beating on the walls of my subconscious, the sludge seeping up through the decks of my memory.

Standing on the aft deck cabin of my crabbing boat, I read the letter from my daughter for the third time. She wants to come home. Jenny, who together with the rain and the mud, murdered my wife.

Powerful and tactile. And it doesn’t let up. I raced through this book; I couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t just the great pacing that kept me reading, though. I cared about the characters who were flawed and scarred and kept making the wrong choices just when you hoped they wouldn’t. It was a beautifully written story that I enjoyed to the very end.

About the Author:DanBerne1

Dan Berne owns a market strategy consultancy and lives with his wife Aliza in Portland, Oregon. His short stories and poetry have been published in literary magazines. This is his debut novel.

Learn more about Dan Berne here.

March #writemotivation Bring on the Spring!

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Why did mention that I was feeling about 65% back to normal  – ALMOST FREAKING HEALTHY!!! – on my last #writemotivation check in? It must’ve sounded too much like a brag or something because the gods of health decided to slap me with one more wave of the sickness. Of the dreaded sinus infection variety.

Blech!

Oh yeah, but they couldn’t let me be completely done with that lingering cough that kept me from ever getting a good night’s sleep. You know, the one that started at the beginning of February? So the was fun. Brain exploding with sinus pain while still coughing until I wanted to take a power drill to my head and open up some breathing holes. I am so done with coughing, sneezing, aching, etc. I think I’ve eaten my own body weight in cough drops this year already. I loathe the taste of tea and honey after the oceans I’ve consumed. I’ve blown through so many boxes of tissues I should replant a small forest on the next Earth Day to decrease my carbon footprint.

Godfather Gif

This week, I’m throwing caution to the wind and stating that I’m over the worst of everything. I may have sacrificed a pomegranate in the light of a full moon while singing a medley of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus tunes. I think that appeased the gods of health. Either that, or they were afraid I’d sing again. Either way, my voice has finally returned to normal and I haven’t had to take any cold medication for several days. No more Emma Stone voice, but I’m grateful that things can start returning to normal.

This month always brings so much more promise. March, don’t tell February, but I like you more. Our SCBWI OK spring conference is at the end of the month and it’s always fantastic. This year it’s in Oklahoma City so I get to run away from home for the weekend and spend it with my favorite writing friends. It’ll be a smorgasbord of literary goodness and I can’t wait to gorge myself.

In the midst of all this healing and fruit sacrificing, I have finally been able to get back to the work of writing and related things. Let’s take a look at this month’s goals to see the damage progress made thus far.

Here are my #writemotivation goals:

  1. Make progress on new YA project (Pretty Vacant) including plotting out new story arc and starting on first draft with word count goal of 30K. The smallest of starts, but progress has begun. I am so excited about this project, I can’t even tell you. The only hint I’ll give this early is that it will deal with gender politics and the riot grrrl movement.
  2. Submit first YA manuscript to at least 15 agents. Two is better than zero but far from my goal. Need to ramp this up next week with more submissions sent out.
  3. Read at least 6 books this month. (I’m a little behind on my yearly reading goal already!) Three books finished already and another one halfway done. Looks like IMG_20140315_221040there’s one goal I will actually make. What’s really surprising is I just finished reading my first YA book of the year, and it was phenomenal. WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson. It was a little more special because it was my copy I had autographed in LA this past summer. I love Laurie Halse Anderson and not just because she write so damn well.
  4. Get back into exercise routine slowly – at least three times week. This was the most painful goal to accomplish. After not exercising for over a month, I did manage  to go for a walk three times. My pace was horribly slow, and I felt like death after the first two times, but goal accomplished. yay. (hack, pant, moan.) I have no idea when I’ll even attempt to get back on the elliptical.

How are your goals coming along this month?

Do you have any exciting spring break/writing conference plans in your immediate future?

Guest Blog Post Where I Talk About…Cooking?

No, you haven’t landed in an alternate universe.

And for God’s sake, stop laughing. On second thought, I’m no tyrant, laugh if you must. It is rather funny.

I was asked to contribute a guest post by the lovely Brandi Barnett for her virtual potluck series about soups. “Sure!” I said. I may not be a domestic goddess by any stretch of the imagination, but soup I can handle. So hop on over to her blog of wonder and see what’s cooking. No doubt you will be surprised.

The Creative Soul and Depression – A TGNA Post

Hi All!

We’ve had some scheduling changes over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’ll now be posting over there more often – every other Sunday. Here’s my latest post where I discuss the relationship between artists and depression in The Creative Soul – Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Libba Bray’s recent blog post Miles and Miles of No-Man’s Land inspired this post. Stop by and share your thoughts. tgnalogorevamp