A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cover Reveal--IF I LIE

Quick note to explain why I haven't been active in the blogsphere lately...

I had eye surgery last Friday to raise up my genetically droopy lids and for some reason it has made my vision wonky. I'm typing this on the big screen of our home computer and still having a hard time reading what I write. (Please excuse any typos.) In the meantime, my daughter just got her tonsils out, so the irony is (as my husband put it) I can't see and she can only communicate by writing it down or through hand gestures. We make a great pair.

The weird thing is that I can read a regular book if I hold it up to my eyes just right, so yesterday I gave up trying to do anything else and finished two books from my "to be read" pile. My eyes hurt and my head was screaming afterward, but it was worth it.

With that note, here's something to ADD to your to be read pile for next year. With all the blurry-vision fanfare I can muster (thought it deserves much better) I present the newly debuted cover for Corrine Jackson's IF I LIE:

Don't you just love it? I love the gray and the red and the couple and just everything about this cover. It says so much with so little. Here's a little about the book:

A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.

Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.

Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.

Fantastic plot, fantastic cover. I can't wait to read this one. Hopefully my eyes will be better by the time it comes out, AUGUST 28th 2012.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Teens Doing Great Things: Tessa the 9th Grade Book Blogger

I'm always amazed when I meet kids who are able to go above and beyond the regular craziness of teen life. I have two teens so I know how busy their lives are. I ran across From the Bookshelf of T. B. when I was sending e-mails out to bloggers about signing up for the Class of 2k12 Newsletter. I was already impressed with the reviews on her blog, then I found out she's a 9th grader! As soon as I read that, I knew I had to feature Tessa on my blog.

It was fun to turn the tables on a book blogger and interview Tessa. I found out that besides school and blogging, Tessa runs cross-country track and she got to run in the Cross Country National Championships in Florida her first year of running. Here are some other things I found out about Tessa:

1. What made you decide to start a book review blog?

My grandpa was actually the one who got me started blogging. I was with him one day and we were talking about how I wanted to get more serious about my writing. He suggested, why not start a blog? I could blog about whatever interested me and it would be a way for me to get to write more. I thought it was a fantastic idea, but I wasn’t too sure if my parents would be okay with it. They loved the idea of starting a blog as well! So, From The Bookshelf of T.B. was born, all thanks to my grandpa and my parents.

2. What's been your favorite part of doing a book blog?
The little notes of thanks I get from people. Every now and then I get a comment from someone telling me how much my reviews and suggestions have helped them, and how much they love reading now. Little things like that have made running my blog worth it.

3. What's been the hardest part of doing a book blog as a teen?
The most difficult thing by far has been the issue of time. Being a teen, school takes up most of my day, and I have cross country practice right after school which can go until late as well. By the time I get home, I usually just want to eat and go to bed. Then I’ve got homework I have to finish and try to catch up with some blog stuff. Ever since starting high school the work load has increased and teachers expect more of you. My blog has definitely suffered because of it, but school has to come first.

4. Do authors take you seriously as a book blogger and a teen?
I think that overall they do. Most of the time people don’t realize that I’m only a ninth grader, and are shocked when they find out. A lot of times the authors enjoy hearing what someone in their target audience thought of their book. A few authors have been very supportive!

5. I have a 15 year old son and a 13 year old daughter and their lives are crazy, how do you find time between homework, school and other commitments to do a book blog? How much time does your blog take up?
It’s tough. I try to catch up on reviews and blog-related things on the weekends, but even that has been hard lately. Sometimes I have cross country meets on the weekends and there just isn’t time to fit in writing reviews. Also, I tend to write reviews that are more on the longer side of the review spectrum, so it’s hard for me to just knock them out real fast and post every day. I don’t know exactly how much time my blog takes up, but it’s definitely a lot.

6. What kind of books do you enjoy reviewing?
I enjoy reading anything and everything. Books are books, whether they’re new or old, fantasy or realistic fiction, traditionally published or self-published. Each has their own story to tell. I especially enjoy reading and reviewing books that haven’t been done before, and have some “x factor” that sets them apart.

7. Do you think YA books do a good job of portraying teens today? What critiques would you give young adult authors?
I think young adult authors are capturing the essence of being a teen very well. There are some books that I’ll read and it feels as if it was written by a teen, because I can relate to the main character so well. Then again, at times it’s hard to place myself into the same situation that the main character is in. They could be in an entirely different world, or have a special power, and I might never know what it feels like to live with that. I constantly wonder if I would have made the same choices as some of these characters do if I was in their shoes. One thing that unites me and the characters within a book is the fact that despite our very different lives, we are both still teenagers trying to survive.

8. What kind of books would you like to read?
I’ve been told I have a very eclectic taste in books, but one of my favorite genres is dystopian, and lately I’ve noticed that I’ve been enjoying a lot of young adult books that are a bit edgy and take on issues that not every author would venture to write about. I tend to shy away from romance a bit more as well.

9. Anything else you'd like to say?
I’ve learned so much from blogging and have gotten to meet so many amazing people that are really passionate about what they do. The book blogging community is more supportive and accepting than I could have ever imagined. Who knew that a love of reading could set all of this in motion?

10. What is your wildest dream?

To get to have a job that I truly enjoy and not drag myself to every morning. My dream job would be a news anchor on Good Morning America and a young adult author.

10. Just for fun, pick any "bests" you’d like to share.

Best Ice Cream Flavors (According To Tessa) - Ice cream is one of the staple food groups of my diet. I could eat it all day, if only my parents would let me. These are the best ice cream flavors (according to me):

-Cookies ‘n’ Cream

-Ben and Jerry’s Stephen Colbert Americone Dream: Vanilla ice cream with fudge covered waffle cone pieces and a caramel swirl. Delicious.

-Ben and Jerry’s Jimmy Fallon Late Night Snack: Vanilla bean ice cream with a salty caramel swirl and fudge covered potato chip clusters. Don’t judge it before you’ve tasted it.

-Rainbow Sherbet

-Any ice cream with brownies

Thanks so much Tessa! You can read Tessa's fabulous reviews at From the Bookshelf of T.B. Congratulations on having a successful blog and best of luck for a future full of great things and ice cream!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Blog Contest Winner!!!

It's been a crazy day. I know you don't want to hear the details. Let's leave it at, four appointments with three different offices within a six hour period is completely insane, and apparently if you have any metal surgically implanted in your leg you have to be on antibiotics for twenty-four hours before you can have any dental work done. Information I could have used before I made three of the four appointments.

Also a fortune cookie that says you have a "penchant for perfection" isn't appreciated while eating Chinese food on the road between the first trip to the dentist and the second trip to my daughter's middle school. (Really, that's more of an observation than a fortune anyway right? I mean, it didn't say anything like "you will meet a tall, dark handsome stranger" or "your wildest dreams will come true." It's kind of a fortune without direction or expectation, although I may have gotten a future blog post out of it.)

However, in the midst of the craziness I did manage to chose the winner for my critique group contest. (YAY!) I used the most scientific and unbiased method at my disposal. The highly technical selection process involved a basket, a bunch of slips of paper with the entrants' names printed on them, and a seven-year-old boy who was eating Oreos and watching TV while doing his homework. (Did I mention it's been a crazy day?)

Anyway... without further ado my blog contest winner is:

Bonnie Harris!

Yay! Congratulations! *throws confetti*

I'll be in touch with you to set up your critique with my fabulous critique group for next month.


I'm so excited, this Friday I get to share my interview with Tessa, a ninth grade blogger who has a fabulous book blog, From the Bookshelf of T.B. Check out Tessa's actual teen reviews of actual Young Adult books and then come back here on Friday to find out about her secret life or how she manages to blog and handle high school.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Celebrating the Moment and Being Grateful for What You Have

Three weeks ago my daughter had knee surgery to repair the ACL she tore skiing last January. (We had to wait a year to do the surgery so she would mostly be done growing.) Today was her first day of physical therapy. I watched the physical therapist help my daughter bend and straighten her leg as much as possible. She's doing well, but she's a long way from full range of motion and her usual activities like skiing, soccer, basketball, and volleyball.

After she was finished I dropped her off at school and went to a weight training class at the gym. (I won't tell you how long it's been since I did that.) We did lunges and squats and calf raises, all the things that you would normally do at a weight training class, but for me it was different. Each of those exercises represented something that my daughter can't do right now. It made me think about how grateful I am for basic mobility. It also made me think about how grateful I am that she has a good doctor and good physical therapists, and that she'll regain the full use of her knee within a year.

It reminded me of another lifetime, in another gym, when I was getting three small children ready to go to the swimming pool. While I struggled to get them to hold still long enough to get their swimsuits on and to keep them from running out into the world naked, I was aware of two older ladies. They were slowly getting themselves dressed after a water aerobics class. I remember thinking, "How sad to get old and have to struggle with simple things like bending over to tie your shoes."

Then I overheard their conversation, it went something like this: "Do you see that poor woman over there?" "Do you remember those days?" "Do you remember how hard that was?" Laughter. "Aren't you glad to be past all of that?"

I realized they were feeling sorry for me because I had three small children besides myself to get dressed. They were grateful that they weren't in my position.

This all ties back in to another experience I had a couple of weeks ago as I was finishing up my "first pass pages," one of the last steps before my book is published. At first I was freaked out as I went through the pages. I realized this might be the last opportunity I had to make changes before my story went out into the world. I suddenly wanted to change everything! Fortunately, I'd been warned by my editor that I could only make small changes, like correcting typos. I had to force myself to just read.

As I read the last few pages, something strange happened, I started to cry. Not because the story was that sad, or that good (although it is :)) or because there were so many things I wanted to change. My tears were tears of gratitude. I was overwhelmed with the thought that I had actually reached this point; that somebody (actually a lot of somebodies) believed in my work enough to sell it, buy it, edit it, and ultimately publish it.

It struck me that I've had many opportunities to celebrate during this process; signing with an agent, getting a book deal, getting my edit letters, seeing my cover and my ARC for the first time. As I look back I realize, I never let myself fully enjoy or appreciate any of them. I rationalized with, "Well this is another step, there's still so much to come."

Using that logic you can rationalize the joy out of everything from raising kids; "I'll be happy when my kids can feed, dress, drive, support themselves," to writing a book; "I'll be happy when this book is finished, sells, is made into a movie, makes a million bucks, lands me a spot on Oprah's." (I know, she quit before she got the opportunity to interview me, how sad.) Anyway, my point is you can't base your happiness on the "what ifs" in life, it has to be on the NOW.

Through this whole journey I should have been celebrating every step. The way I celebrated all of my kids' first steps, the way I celebrated my daughter's first steps after her surgery, the way I celebrated the completion of the three novels I wrote that so far no one wants.

There are so many quotes about happiness being a journey and not a destination, but it's not a cliche, it's true. Today, (I know it's a week late for Thanksgiving) I'm grateful for my knees that bend. I'm grateful that all four of my kids can now dress themselves (and that I still don't have to struggle to tie my shoes). I'm grateful that I have a supportive family, that I have a book coming out next year, and that I have the time and ability to write.

I'm even grateful for the little trials and the moments that remind me how blessed I truly am.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Opportunity Knocks

If you aren't a writer (and maybe even if you are) this post is going to sound insane. I'm hoping that since you've overlooked the whole 'voices in my head' thing, you'll chalk this one up to my writerly eccentricities and let it go. If not, you'll probably want to skip this post.

It all started with me setting a thousand word a day goal for this manuscript I have that should have been done by now. I started writing it fast and furiously in early April. Then around June I was derailed with family vacations, my exchange students, then school started, then I got involved in other writing projects. But this one has always been there in the back of my brain.

While I'm waiting on some other things, I decided to finish it. The other manuscripts I've completed have all been finished in about ten weeks, so I didn't think it would take any time at all to throw the last 20 or 30k words on this puppy and get it out of my brain. Somehow I convinced myself (and this is a MYTH) that writing would be easy.

It's not.

I ran up against a HUGE brick wall with this. I couldn't get beyond a certain scene. I knew how I wanted the story to end, and I had other scenes in mind to move on to, but somehow nothing was coming. When people would ask how it was going, I would say, "Great," even though it wasn't great. (Sara if you're reading this, I was lying, I'm sorry.) It got so bad that I actually started cleaning my house instead of writing. It got so bad that I almost decided to shelve this one, unfinished.

But despite my brick wall, I still believed in the story so I made this goal, 1,000 words a day until it was finished. The first day I got around my roadblock by writing a previous scene that I decided needed to be inserted. The second day I tried to move on, but only got about 300 words written before I was stuck again.

After all my kids and my husband went to bed I went back to my computer with my goal in mind. I was tired so I tried to rationalize; I had written that day, just not anything on this story. But I had made a goal and I decided to stick to it.

The first thing I did was delete the scene that I couldn't move beyond. (Okay, delete is such a harsh word. Really I copied it into another document, a sort of writing graveyard I like to keep for my brilliant ideas that don't quite make the cut.) The second thing I did was start to free write.

A note on this particular manuscript. Up to this point I have pansted everything I've written, but I always end up spending a lot of time revising and restructuring the plot, so I outlined this one. After I deleted the brick wall scene I started another one that wasn't in my outline, even so, I thought I knew where it was going.

I was in the middle of an important moment between my main character and her mother when someone started pounding on the door. (In the story, not in real life.) I didn't plan for someone to disrupt the moment, but there it was. I continued to write, thinking I knew who was at the door and what he wanted. (Here comes the crazy part, feel free to stop reading at any time.)

I was wrong. And I was completely blown away by what this character had come to say.

This isn't the first time my characters have done something that surprised me, but usually I'm pretty in control of what they do. I've even (at least in my mind) criticized other authors who say, "But that's what my character wanted to do." Isn't it your story? Aren't you the one in charge?

In this case I wasn't in charge, and I'm glad. The person who showed up at the door removed the block and opened the floodgates. Today I've written 3650 words. The end to this story is so close that I can taste it.

If you've stayed with me, here's your reward; the moral to my story and my advice. There will come a time in every writing project when you want to give up, when another story looks better, and/or this one seems impossible. I like to call it transition, like transition in labor, (the really painful part just before delivery especially it seems if you're delivering a vampire, but that's another story). My two pieces of advice to get beyond your transition point in writing are:

1) Don't be afraid to delete (or cut and paste to another document if you're a wimp like me) a scene that isn't working.

2) Even if you have a 'set in stone' outline, allow yourself some freewriting time to see what your characters have in mind. Their ideas might even be better than yours.

Sometimes opportunity knocks.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Books for Veteran's Day

Today we honor veterans of past wars and those who are currently serving our country. I live about twenty miles from Joint Base Lewis McChord, a combined Army/Air Force Base, so I have a lot of military friends. I've seen a little bit of the sacrifice those in the military and their families have made for this country.

That sacrifice hit me hard nearly seven years ago when my friend Riika lost her husband, Bill in Iraq. Riika and I worked together in the Primary, the children's organization in our church. Before he was deployed Bill had been the Sunday School teacher for the nine-year-olds. Riika and Bill had four children, almost the same age as mine. Before Bill was killed , I thought I understood a little of the sacrifices of war, but I really didn't. Even now I don't. Even now I forget.

I've thought a lot about how I could teach my kids about war and about appreciating the sacrifices that have been made for their freedom. I never want them to have to experience war first hand, but I don't want them to forget that their freedom was purchased at a very high price. I don't think they're going to learn about war and sacrifice by playing games like Call of Duty where there's always a reset button.

When my son was in fifth grade he read "My Brother Sam is Dead," as part his study of the American Revolution. I decided to read it with him. At first I was horrified that my 11-year-old was reading something that was disturbing and violent to me, but as I finished the book I realized that my understanding of the cruelties and sacrifices of war had increased. I didn't live the life of the colonists during the Revolutionary War, but somehow I felt like I understood them better. I appreciated more what our forefathers had to survive so we could have the freedoms we have now.

This is the power of books. More than any other media, books give you the chance to get inside a character's head and experience what they have experienced. Since "My Brother Sam is Dead" my son has read, "Fallen Angels" by Walter Dean Myers, about the Vietnam War, and I have read "Sunrise Over Fallujah." My daughter is currently reading "Riffles for Watie," as part of her study of the Civil War. All of these books paint a real picture of what war is like for the men and women who fight them.

When I Googled children's books about war I found a long list, ranging from "The Butter Battle Book" (Dr. Suess' criticism of the Cold War), to "The Diary of Anne Frank," to "Across Five Aprils" to Eve Bunting's "The Wall." Each of these stories gives the reader a chance for deeper understanding about the sacrifice of war and how it effects the people fighting, the people who are living with war, and those left at home.
As part of your remembrance this Veterans Day. I encourage you to take the time to read books and stories that will help you and understand the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. Share them with your kids, at whatever level they're ready to receive them. If we or our children forget the sacrifices, the consequences, and even the mistakes of war, then we may have to repeat them.

While you're at it, thank a Veteran for fighting for our Freedom of Speech, so we have the opportunity to read these stories, both the good and the bad.

Thank you to Bill Jacobsen and your wonderful family for your sacrifice. Thank you to my Grandpa Kenneth Clayton Shaw (pictured above) and my father-in-law, Bob Wolf. Thank you to Remi Harrigton, Nathan Tiemeyer, Charles Spieth, their families and all the other men and women who are currently serving our country.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Firsts--THE CAR

Twice this week I put my life in the hands of my fifteen year old son as he learned to drive a stick shift. He's learning so he will be prepared when we turn over borrowship (NOT ownership) of his first vehicle, a Honda Accord that's the same age as he is. We've already started the countdown, T-minus 73 days until he has that all-important piece of plastic that says he's a legal driver.

Besides teaching my son (or just hanging on) I've been working on a car story. Naturally, all of this reminds me of my first car.

First let me give you a little backstory. My Dad was a mail carrier. There was a woman on his route who was blind and she owned two cars that had hardly been driven. One was an ugly bright blue Ford Maverick, and one was a red and white 1970 Cheville Malibu. Since she couldn't drive the cars anymore she sold them to my Dad. He bought the Maverick first, so that car went to my older sister. Then he bought the Malibu. For some reason, that neither my sister or I can explain (at least not in civil terms) I got to drive the Malibu.

It was a nice car and it was in pretty good condition when I got it. Not so much (as my brothers like to point out) when I was finished with it. But it was still a very cool car.

I have some great memories of the Malibu. Like the time I tried to follow a guy who was driving a truck into the sand dunes and I buried it up to the axles (statue of limitations is over on that one, Mom). Or when the heater got stuck on high for an entire summer. Or when there was a short in the horn, so whenever you touched the brakes it would honk. My boyfriend got pulled over for honking at a cop when he had to stop at a stoplight.

My mom still has the Malibu. My brothers won't let her sell it even though it doesn't run anymore. Whenever I go home I have to take a moment to visit my old car and reminisce.

Clunker or souped-up hot rod, I think we all have fond memories of our first car.

Now it's your turn, I know there's a story in there somewhere. Tell me about your first car.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Critique Contest!

As promised, I'm holding a contest to win a critique from me and my fabulous critique partners. To give you some idea of what you'll be getting, let me introduce my critique group members and what role they play in our group.

Val Serdy is the tough one. She's a freelance editor with her own editing company, Egg and Feather, and she KNOWS HER STUFF. A critique with Val may leave you feeling like you've been run over by a truck, but if you survive, you've somehow figured out the meaning of life and you have what you need to move on. If you have any research questions, go to Val. For example, if you need to know what year the phrase "okay" became widely used, Val will find out. If you need a book that's similar to what you're writing, Val knows what that is.

Joan Wittler, with her background in art and theater, is the master of all things visual. If a scene doesn't work on a visual level, she'll tell you, and then act it out for you. Joan is the calm voice of reason when things get crazy (and they do).

Blessy Mathew has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. She's very detail-orientated. She's great at sentence structure, fantasy, and multicultural characters. She always provides a clear, calm, and precise critique.

Sarah Showell deserted our group for adventures in Africa, but she stays in touch via e-mail and still exchanges critiques with our group. She'll give it to you straight if something isn't working, and before she left she played opposite Joan in many a scene reconstruction. She's good at reminding you to up the stakes.

And then there's me. I'm the kind of person who likes most of what I read, so I play cheerleader. Thanks to what I've learned from my editor, I know when the pacing of a story is off. I'm always around to tell you when you're letting your characters off too easy, or they aren't solving their own problems.


This is your chance to win a critique of up to 15 pages from these fabulous ladies (and me). Here's how it works. You get an entry for each comment you leave on my blog, Val's blog, Blessy's blog, or Sarah's blog. You also get an entry for each time you become a follower on one of our blogs, on twitter, or if you "like" my facebook page. If you tweet or facebook this contest you also get an entry. (Use @jenniferswolf in your tweet or tag Jennifer Shaw Wolf author.)

The winner will be taken from a random drawing of all the entries, then will be announced on December 6th. The critique will happen in January (or any time after that's convenient to the winner and our group). If you live in the Seattle area you're invited to join us in person for one of our critique sessions, we'll even buy you something to drink from Starbucks. If you don't live close enough, your critique will be on-line.

Enter early, enter often, and good luck. I promise the critique will be worth your time!

***ONE NOTE we all write Middle Grade or Young Adult so those are the genres we're most qualified to critique. We're willing to do chick lit, sci fi or fantasy, but not erotica. ***

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On (Critique) Group Therapy

Recently I read a tweet that kind of shocked me. It went something like: Writers, when you finish writing something you love, what makes you go back and make changes?

My response to this was: The second time I read it. (Or the third or the fourth.)

I got this message back: So it's not as good when you read through it again?

To which I answered: If can't find problems with your writing, you need a critique group.

I think a lot of writers write in a box, they think what they've written is perfect and wonderful and then they ask their spouse, parent, sister, and/or friends to read their work and then say, "Tell me what you think. Honestly."

The response is usually like, "It was good, I liked it. (My sister and I have a running joke about this.)

The point is, your friends and family are usually not going to be able to tell you what's good or bad. They probably love you too much to tell you the truth, they may not know, or they may just not get it.

For me, my early feedback people were my husband, my sister (also a writer) and my sister-in-law, a published author with an MFA from Vermont college. Between the sister and the sister-in-law I thought I had pretty good critiquers. And I did, but they were still family. Finally after reading draft after draft of my writing and really needing to spend time on her own stuff, my sister-in-law said, "Get thee to a critique group."

So I did.

I joined Val, Sarah, Blessy, Michele, and Joan in a group called In My Opinion Issaquah. Somehow the planets aligned and I ended up in the perfect group for me. (Even though Michele and Sarah deserted us to go on their own adventures in Costa Rica and Africa respectively.)

As perfect as it is, it takes me over an hour to get to our meeting place, I've shed more than a few tears during our critiques, some days I have left swearing that I will never come back, and most of the time I wonder if I'm helping these ladies anywhere near as much as they're helping me.

But I keep going back.

For me my critique group is both book therapy and group therapy. Every writer knows, when you write you aren't just making up a story, you're leaving a piece of yourself on the page. Sometimes it's painful to bring up the memories that inspired your character. Sometimes you need to talk about what brought about the story. Sometimes you just need to talk about how crazy and heart-wrenching this industry can be with someone who gets it. Sometimes you need to be pushed to keep writing. Sometimes you need to be told to reach deeper into your story. And as painful as it is, sometimes you need to be told that the perfect story you've written, isn't perfect.

Because you're going to hear that at EVERY SINGLE STAGE YOU REACH AS AN AUTHOR. Hearing it from a group of people who are just as nervous about what you think of their work is the best way I know to prepare yourself for the inevitable REJECTIONS you WILL receive as a writer. Every critique, whether I agree with it or not, helps my story and/or helps me personally and as a writer.

I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn't been in a critique group before I received my first edit letter. I would have probably been reduced to a quivering pile of Jello and quit on the spot. But, because I was used to helpful and even painful critiques of my work I could take what my editor said and know that it would make my story better. I also knew I could push back and say, "But what about this?"

Of course, I'm positive I wouldn't have reached the point where I would ever get an edit letter without my critique group.

For every writer out there who thinks their work is perfect. (And everyone who knows it's not.) I'm going to pass along my sister-in-law's advice,


Whether it's on-line or in person, find someone who is willing to spend time with your writing in exchange for you spending time with theirs. If the first group doesn't click, try another one. (But make sure the fit isn't bad because you aren't willing to hear what's wrong with you writing.)

To give you a taste of what a critique group is like, I'll be offering up my own. My wonderful critique partners have agreed to be part of a blog contest. Stay tuned. Next week I will introduce my critique partners and let you know how to enter our contest. The winner will receive a critique from all of our members and something to yummy to drink at Starbucks. Details to follow next Wednesday.

In the meantime, what do you think about a critique group? If you belong to one, tell me about it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Do Kids Still Read? Or When Rick Riordan Comes to Town

A couple of years ago I reviewed the Percy Jackson Series and talked about the war it created in my house. I had one set of books and three kids trying to finish the series at once. Somehow, we survived. In the end all the kids had read the books, so we were all winners, and my third child was hooked on reading


My kids still love Rick Riordan I was at the bookstore picking up SON OF NEPTUNE for my daughter (the day it came out), and the clerk asked me if we were going to the Rick Riordan book signing event, I was thrilled. My kids were giddy. (Someday I aspire to inspire giddiness.)

Sponsored by Timberland Regional Library, the Rick Riordan event was the biggest event for a single author that I've ever seen. There was live music and art projects and booksellers and tons and tons of people standing in line to get Rick Riordan's signature. In total there were about 3,000 people who attended the event.


During the event, the librarian for my kids' school and I were talking about whether kids still read. After all, kids are busier than ever, and there are all sorts of other distractions with things like TV, internet, and video games, but if the crowd gathered at this event is any indication, I think we can answer that question with a resounding YES!

Thanks to Timberland Regional Library and Rick Riordan for putting on an amazing event. Thanks to Rick Riordan for inspiring my kids and so many others to read and read and read!

What author or authors inspired you to be a reader?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Class of 2k12 Launches!!!

Today my Class of 2k12 officially launched!!!



The Class of 2k12 is a group of 20 young adult and middle grade authors whose debut novels come out in 2012. We've joined together to combine marketing efforts, book and speaking events, and to give back to the book community. (Also it's great to have so much support from people who are going through or have gone through the same things that you are.)

You should come check us out. You can find out more about us on:

our fabulous website,

our blog,

our newsletter (put "add me to newsletter" in the subject line),

our facebook page,

and our twitter account.


As part of our launch we're giving away 17 books from the Class of 2k11!!!

If you know of a library that's in need of some great young adult and middle grade books like POPULAR and THE FAERIE RING, please join the discussion on facebook to nominate them.(I have a library in mind, but unfortunately I can't enter.)

I love being part of the Class of 2k12. I can't wait until next year so I can celebrate each launch with some fabulous authors.

For a preview of all of the Class of 2k12 books, check out our group trailer.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday Firsts/Friday Favorites--Halloween Costumes

As we head into October my thoughts always turn to Halloween. More specifically, who or what will I be this year. Yes, I realize that I'm in my upper 30s, yes, I realize that I have four kids who need costumes, but I still love to dress up.

Maybe it goes back to my dad. I remember him putting on a sheet, a wig, and sheet rock stilts and terrorizing the neighborhood, (long after he was too old to trick or treat). Or the PTA carnival when my mom, (the PTA president) realized with horror that the ugly woman walking around was my father. I guess I got the dress-up gene from my dad.

The first Halloween costume I remember wearing wasn't spectacular. In fact, looking back on it, it was pretty pitiful, (but I was too young to realize that). I don't remember exactly how old I was. All I remember was that I wanted to be a witch and my sister wanted to be a clown.

My guess is we didn't have extra money for costumes that year, so my mom spent the day decorating paper bag masks for each of us. It didn't occur to me that it was cheap, or that I might have looked silly walking around with a paper bag on my head. I thought my mom was the best artist in the world and I knew she loved us. Because it was October in Idaho, I'm sure the rest of my costume consisted of a huge winter coat, long pants, and maybe boots, but that didn't matter. In my mind, I was the wickedest witch ever.

That Halloween, (though I didn't realize it until much later), my mom taught me that money didn't mater if you had a little imagination and a lot of love.

I asked my friends on Facebook about their first or favorite Halloween costume and these are the comments I got:

Stacey Shaw I think mine was a snow suit and snow boots. (Yes, he's my brother, so he was trick-or-treating in Idaho.)

Rebecca Blanton My favorite was going as the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. Hung out in the West Village in NYC and took photos with tourists all night!

Marissa Meyer The first costume I can remember was a jester - my mom made it for me out of all different colors of shiny metallic fabric, bells on the hat and all. (strike up the chorus of AWWs)

Ashlee Patterson Thomas I was a toilet on year, and a skunk another. I always tried to think of different things.

Karen Adair Each of my kids were a cow for their first "walking" Halloween. It started when we had no money to buy a costume and we used a cow print vest my sister had sewn for me. We found a bell to hang on a ribbon around their neck, cut out foam ears attached to one of my headbands, and a pair of ug boots to complete the ensemble. My older ones always looked forward to when the younger ones would wear the costume next. It became a special moment for everyone as they thought about their time wearing it and passing the torch (so to speak). :)

Love the comments! I want to see pictures!

What about all of you? What was your first or favorite Halloween costume???

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Northwest Bookfest--It's Raining Books!

Last weekend I went to Northwest Bookfest, in Kirkland, Washington. I sat at the SCBWI- Western Washington booth to promote that great organization.

Since this was my first real author-type event, I had my teen daughter help me pick out an outfit. I tried to dress nicely, from my satiny blouse to my open-toed high heels.

Nobody told me the event was going to be outside.

It turned out that Northwest Bookfest's title, "It's Raining Books" was aptly named. Sigh. My nice outfit was covered by a jacket, (which I had grabbed as an afterthought on the way out), and my shoes were made fun of by everyone who saw me walking across the waterlogged lawn. (In the nicest possible way, of course.)

BUT... I still had fun. I met some great local authors, some great local teens, and two great local teen authors, Marta Stahlfeld and Tiffany Leahy. Both said they would let me feature them on my blog, so you'll get to hear more about them later.

I also gave away a signed ARC. (It made me feel all giddy and authorial, even if I had no idea what I should write when I autographed it.)

And of course I bought books!!!

It was well worth venturing out on a cold, rainy, Washington day, but next time I bring a warmer jacket and leave the heels at home.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

UPDATE: Walking and Writing

First a shout out to my friend and fellow SCBWI South Sound member, Kiki Hamilton. He book, THE FAERIE RING released on Tuesday and I can’t wait to read it! I’m also very excited to attend my first ever launch party for THE FAERIE RING at the Olympia, Washington Barnes and Noble, Wednesday October 19th from 4:30 to 6:30. (If you’re in the neighborhood you should come). There will be door prizes and a drawing for a Nook. But the best part is you’ll have the chance to meet the amazing Kiki Hamilton and get a signed copy of her book.
Now about me…
Today I decided to give an update on my battle against writer's butt and my walking and writing progress, (and yes, this might just be an excuse to show a funny/cool treadmill clip at the end of this post).
After a summer of neglecting both my writing and my body, I decided to buy a treadmill. Through Craigslist, I got a great deal on a nice used treadmill, the Epic View 550. It has a strong motor and a long deck, both necessities when you are using it as a walking/writing desk. (Also important if you like to run on it when it’s rainy outside, which I do.) Also, it has a built-in TV, a feature I wanted to entice my kids to use it. (We haven’t hooked it up yet, but my kids like the treadmill anyway.)
I’m still using my Surf-Shelf, but honestly, it was easier for me to attach it to the treadmills at the gym. Right now, (and yes, I am writing this from my treadmill), my Surf-Shelf is jerry-rigged with a towel behind it to keep it from bumping against the front speed and incline controls on my treadmill. It took a couple of unpleasant moments when my leisurely walk turned into a heart-stopping full-incline run, with my laptop hanging in the balance before I figured out that I needed to keep the shelf away from those controls. I also have a rice bag sitting under the keyboard to stabilize it, because I’m worried about how the vibration will negatively affect the life-span of my Precious.
My husband has offered to build a more permanent desk to sit on the treadmill, but I come from a long-line of jerry-riggers, (I once saw my dad fix a potato digger with scrap metal that had been dug out of the field), so I’m pretty confident in my design. Also, a permanent fixture on the treadmill might discourage my kids from using it.
So the BIG question everyone is asking…Have I lost any weight???
I’m going to have to answer that truthfully, No I haven’t… BUT remember I’m just getting back to this. AND since I started walking and writing faithfully at the beginning of this month, I have noticed that my pants fit better, I have more energy, and I just feel better.
How has this affected my writing?
Walking and writing has been great for my writing. I made a play list of songs that inspire me for my WIP, and every day I plug into my headphones, jump on my treadmill and walk and write for two to three hours a day. (With breaks in between to let my treadmill cool off.) On a good day I can write 1,500 words and burn about 600 calories. On an average day it’s probably closer to 900 words and 400 calories. And because my treadmill is now at my house, I can walk and write any time of the day, and I can check e-mail, surf the web, (strictly for research), and even update my blog from my treadmill.
My back still sometimes hurts and my knees still sometimes hurt, but for the most part, walking and writing has made me more productive, and I definitely feel like I’m taking better care of myself.
I’ll let you know how the weight thing goes.
In the meantime, as promised, here is the funny/cool treadmill video. How long do you think it took them to choreograph this???

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Are You Willing to Give Up to Follow Your Dreams?

First a guilty confession, once in a while, I read SlushPile Hell. For those of you who don't know, SlushPile Hell is a (self-proclaimed), grumpy literary agent who pulls out the worst queries from his slush pile, posts an excerpt from them (with no identifying features), and answers them. So when I ran across this post, it got me thinking:

Query excerpt:

I recently quit my job to become an author. As a result, I am happy to say that I now have a manuscript for your review.

Snarky Response:

Congratulations on an incredibly wise move! I always advise my new clients to immediately quit their day jobs and to go ahead and put down payments on Italian sports cars and villas in the South of France. Anything else is a negative, defeatist attitude that, quite frankly, makes me want to vomit.—Slushpile Hell

I think most of us get why quitting your job to be a writer might be a bad move, we understand that Stephanie Meyers or J.K. Rowling success is a HUGE rarity in this business. In fact, most of the published authors I know still have their day job.

Having said this, I refer to my previous post, “Do you have to be organized to write?” in which I said I was organizing my house so writing can be my “almost” full time job. I also said I was lucky that I can do this. And I am. No, we aren’t independently wealthy. Yes, I clip coupons and shop sales, and drive an eight-year-old suburban. With four kids and only one income there are definitely things we can’t afford. (We’ve never been to Hawaii.) And yes, I’ve considered the idea that I should take my college degree and start looking for a “real” job now that my kids are all in school. It might still happen.

For now, with the loving support of my husband, I’m devoting myself to my dream, but there are definitely sacrifices involved.

All of this, and the SlushPile Hell post has me thinking, What am I willing to sacrifice to fulfill my dream of being a writer? How about sleep? How about time? How about a family trip to Hawaii? How about, (and this is where it gets harder), time with my kids? And harder still, if I was working full time instead of writing, could I be putting money away for my kids’ education?

Then there’s my loving husband. He’s an awesome, artistic photographer. He took the photo for my cover. Check out his website here. But he’s relegated that dream to a hobby so he can support our family’s eating habit. In fact, he’s worked hard for all of our eighteen years of marriage, and most of that time I've been a full-time mom.

There are people can to do both, but not without sacrifices. I have one friend who wakes up at 4:00 am so he can write 800 words before he has to go to work, and then stays up after his family goes to bed so he can write 800 more words. I know of an illustrator who passed up a three figure job offer to continue his dream.

Ultimately, though, we only get one shot at life. My question for everyone out there, (not just the writers), is: What are you willing to sacrifice to see your dream come true? What is reasonable? What isn’t?

***NOTE: The picture at the top of this post was taken by my husband and copyrighted by him.***

Friday, September 16, 2011

I HAVE A STORY TO TELL: A Special Girl, A Special Song, and A Night to Remember

I've always had a soft place in my heart for special needs kids. When I was seventeen I started working with Jason, a little boy with cerebral palsy. I was his home health aid, so I spent nearly every day after school and some weekends with him. Jason was seven at the time. During the years I worked with him, I fell in love with Jason. His family became my family. I still keep in touch with them. Jason inspired one of the characters in my book, BREAKING BEAUTIFUL.

I'll write more about Jason later, because today I wanted to share another story about another special kid. I met Brianna about eleven years ago through my church. Her older sister was in my girls group and I was friends with their mom. After they moved away, I lost track of them for years. Thanks to the magic of Facebook I've become reacquainted with her family. I was really touched by this video of Brianna's prom, made by her step-mom. I wanted to share it as my first I HAVE A STORY TO TELL.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Do You Have to Be Organized to Write?

There's this image of the truly focused writer; driven, haunted, the kind of person that sits in front of their keyboard night and day, slaving away over their art as if nothing else in the world existed. (Um, I've been that person a few times, ask my family.)

And then there's reality:

Even when you're writing, life happens. For me that life includes a husband, a house, four minions (my kids), a dog, a tortoise, a guinea pig, and a whole lot of outside activities.

In order to keep up with it all, I'm battling my right-brained, seat of my pants style and trying to get organized. Usually, there are two times in the year when I get really organized. One is around January 1st and the other is around now, when my kids go back to school and my life settles back into a routine.

This year, I approached my organizing with a concrete goal in mind. I wanted to organize my household in such a way that I could be a nearly full-time writer and not have to deal with the guilt and stress that comes when I neglect my house in favor of my writing.

I know I'm lucky. My husband is gainfully employed and all of my little minions (my children) are in school. I can (theoretically), be a full time writer. BUT (and there's always that but,) my kids still need to have food and clean clothes and a house that won't end up on a reality television show.

I'm not saying you have to be perfectly organized to be a writer. In fact, I find that a little chaos in my life spurs my muse along and makes for more interesting narratives. After all, doesn't conflict make the story? But I find when my mind is clear of other distractions (like a visit from the bill collector or the Health Department), the ideas flow better.

So this year, in my never-ending search for balance and organization I've decided on jobs for the minions, I'm trying to stick to a schedule, and (this is for my critique partners) I'm learning to say "no" to things I don't have time for. However, I know there will still be times when I'm on deadline or just really caught up in a story and the rest of my life will suffer. But that's okay too. (How can we write conflict if we never have it?)

As one of my favorite authors, Janette Rallison says in her top ten reasons to be a writer:

#2. (When you're a writer) You have an excuse to be cluttered: you have no time for cleaning; you're creating ART.

So, I want to know, do you think a writer has to be organized? Is an organized person a better writer? And how do you make time for writing in the midst of your crazy, busy writer?


Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday Firsts: The First Day of School

To begin my new feature and start things off, here is one of my "First Day of School" memories.

On my first day at South Fremont Junior High in the little town of St. Anthony, Idaho I was a little excited, but mostly terrified! My best friend from grade school had deserted me, (or so it felt). Our little school didn't have an orchestra program, so her parents sent her to a bigger school down the road that did.

I remember everyone milling around in front of the building, waiting for the first bell to ring. I was looking at the different groups and trying to decide where I would fit in. In one cluster were the kids that I had gone to grade school with for the past seven years, in another were some girls I knew from church, and in yet another was my sister's best friend's little sister, a girl I kind of knew. None of them openly tried to include me, and I was too shy to just join them.

I didn't know who I would walk to lunch with (our junior high didn't have a cafeteria so lunch was at a grade school a few blocks away). I didn't know where my classes were, and I didn't have one close friend to "hang out" with. Eventually, I just stuck with my eight grade and one-year-older sister, (probably to her mortification.)

I don't have many concrete memories about my first day of junior high, mostly I just remember feelings. However, a two things are firmly ingrained in my mind. My locker number was 118, (18 was and still is my lucky number), and when I bent over to put my things away in that bottom row locker, a boy, (and I still remember exactly who that boy was), pushed me headfirst into it. Not my finest moment or my finest memory.

In the end I survived the day (and the rest of junior high, but just barely).

From the standpoint of an author the first day of school has endless story possibilities. Maybe you started a new school. Maybe someone new caught your eye on the first day of school. Maybe you transformed yourself over the summer. Maybe your best friend moved and you're on your own for the first time since kindergarten, (like I was). Maybe you're mourning the loss of a summer love that didn't quite go the way you had planned.

Whatever it is, I would love to hear about it.