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.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I am a Writer

First let me apologize for being lax in getting my blogs up. I have the usual excuses, I've been sick, my kids have been sick, I had a big video project due...yadda yadda yadda. I actually have been blogging. I was working on a post about teens and grieving following the death of a senior at our high school. I couldn't get it right, and I didn't want it to be a rushed post. I decided to shelve that one for a time when the emotions aren't so raw.

The title for this post came from two things. First was from a class that Liz Adair taught at my ANWA retreat. The class was called "Finding Your Inner Matryoshka." Unfortunately I wasn't able to fit in every single class so I didn't get to go to that one, but I heard it was wonderful. I was happy when she put the gist of the class on her blog. The blog talks about the different stages of being a writer as compared to a Matryoshka, (a Russian nesting doll). It is an excellent post, I suggest you read it.

At the end of our retreat, some of members of the group stood up and said, "I am a writer." I thought that was great, but maybe a little superfluous, after all, we were at a "writer's retreat," isn't that the same as admitting you are a writer?

I don't think I got it until last week. I was sick, my kids were sick, I was struggling with revisions and keeping up my blog, and my house, and trying to finish my video project, and I started to wonder if all this writer stuff was worth it. The black cloud of doubt crept into my mind and that little voice inside my head started in on "What were you thinking? You can't be a writer." and "You don't know how to do this?" and "Who is ever going to want to read what you write?" Anyway I have reiterated it over and over on this blog, but I'll say it again...

Writing is hard work!

It's a lot of time, a lot of commitment, a lot of sacrifice, and especially if you want to be published it's a lot of frustration and rejection. AND you may never be published and then no one but your mom/husband/sister/dog/bird will ever read what you have written. Or so I thought...

Then I got this e-mail:

Hi Ms. Wolf - My name is Dwight Jackson and I am currently an editor at English Weekly. English Weekly is a newspaper in mainland China for student who are learning English (the largest of its kind in China). I am in the process of starting a website with content for our readers that is more than grammar exercises. I want to bring fun into the learning equation. I also want to give them some American culture that they don't get from movies or state run TV. Thant being said, I saw the blog post written by your sister about the Juvenile Diabetes walk. It's great. I think its perfect for the site.

This e-mail made me realize two things: 1) Because I blog, people are already reading my writing. (And not just any people, people from the other side of the world!)

2) I'm already a writer.

It's kind of a scary/cool/weird feeling to realize something I posted is/was/will be read by people outside of my little corner of the world. Okay, yes I realize that Mr. Jackson was talking about something my sister wrote (thanks K), but still...

I already have an audience, and it doesn't matter how big or small it is as long as something I write helps/touches/affects someone else. That's why I decided to be a writer in the first place. That's why I write. And that's why I'm THRILLED that Chinese students can read about REAL American teenagers doing good things because of something I posted. It's not necessarily something you would find on a television show, in a movie, or on the news, but it happens A LOT. (I have a stack of "kids and teens doing great things that I'm trying to incorporate into this blog and I would love to have more.)

I'm proud to say that my sister's writing and my blog were able to touch (even in a little tiny way) the perception that people on the other side of the world have about teens in the United States.

I'm proud to say I'm a writer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Online Now! Witness the Birth of a Novel--Cayman Summmer

Yesterday I heard a story about a woman who had "unfriended" one of her best friends on Facebook because that friend had put up some rather graphic pictures of herself in the midst of childbirth.

I've given birth four times so I know firsthand that childbirth is a beautiful, natural and, lets face it... a MESSY process. Not something I would share on Facebook. (My kids would die of mortification if pictures like that existed anyway.)

Most people are aware that childbirth is messy, and most people probably wouldn't share graphic pictures of that process with the world. But what you may not be aware of, the birth of a novel can be just as messy (okay, with less blood).

So I was in shock and awe when my fellow author, mentor, and sister-in-law, Angela Morrison, decided to let the world in on such a private moment...the birth of her novel.

CAYMAN SUMMER--the third book in the TAKEN BY STORM series I reviewed on Wednesday--is going up bit by bit on Angela's devoted CAYMAN SUMMER Blog. She's holding nothing back. You get to see free-writes and handwritten notes, poems and dive logs. Each piece is formed and brought forth--wide eyed and blinking--into the world.

Not only is Angela throwing the doors open for everyone to view this process, she's allowing and even welcoming criticism and comments about her new baby. Honestly, I don't have that much courage.

Writing in serial isn't a new idea. Charles Dickens did it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did it. Even Stephen King and Orson Scott have done it. Magazine and newspaper serials were how many great 19th century novelists got their start. Now with e-books and the Internet, it's happening again, but Angela's take on the idea may be unique. She isn't presenting CAYMAN SUMMER as a complete work--serialized into segments. She's presenting it as a "work in progress" and allowing everyone to be a part of that progress.

My hat is off to Angela. I have to revise a chapter 3 or 4 times to take it to my critique group, actually posting it raw and asking for comments would be too hard for my delicate ego to take.

For anyone tackling the writing process, I would encourage you to stop by Angela's CAYMAN SUMMER Blog. Poke around, read the writing, check out the rough drafts, browse the comments, leave your own comments, feed the fish, (that's one of my favorite parts!), and learn. Angela has an MFA from the prestigious Vermont College of Fine Arts. She's an excellent writer and a great teacher. I owe so much of my writing ability to her mentoring. You'll learn a lot from watching her process unfold. And it's encouraging to know that even great writers make mistakes and have to revise.

For everyone else, I'd encourage you to visit the site and READ because it's a GREAT story. (And did I mention it's fun to feed the fish? Just hover over them with the mouse and then click and they eat the little virtual food pellets. How cool is that?)

I'm not going to miss a post because I love watching the process and...well...I'm dying to know what happens to Michael and Leesie. (And I like to visit the fish.)

So fellow writers...I want to know, how many of you would be brave enough to post the birth of your novel this way?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Review Wednesday: Unbroken Connection

Sometimes a story haunts and you can't let go. That's how I felt when I read TAKEN BY STORM, debut novel, by Angela Morrison, (Razorbill, 2009). The ending was satisfying, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like there should be, or at least there could be more to the story. Since Angela is my sister-in-law, I asked her about it. I was thrilled to find out that there was more to the story. I was even more thrilled when she let me see a sneak peak of the story as she was finishing the final draft the sequel to TAKEN BY STORM, UNBROKEN CONNECTION.

A little back story...TAKEN BY STORM (the first book in the series) is the story of Michael, a seventeen-year-old player and avid diver, and Leesie, a devout Mormon, (Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints) who has always played by the rules. Michael and Leesie are set on a collision course when Michael loses both his parents when a hurricane hits their dive boat and he's sent to live with his grandmother in Tekoa, Washington--Leesie's home. Leesie is the only Mormon in her school and has her sites set on BYU (Brigham Young University) and an escape from Tekoa. Then she meets Michael. His parent's death has left him shattered and he needs her like no one has before. Despite her reputation as the Mormon "Ice Queen," Leesie finds that she need him too. The story of Michael's grief and healing, Leesie's moral conflict and conviction, and their love is told in dive logs, chat logs and in Leesie's poetry.

It's hard to write a review of a sequel without spoilers--I'll try, but If you haven't read TAKEN BY STORM, I'd recommend that you do that now. (Go ahead, I can wait.)

UNBROKEN CONNECTION picks up where TAKEN BY STORM leaves off. Leesie is living her dream at BYU. Michael is living his--working on a dive boat in Thailand. They parted ways, but time and distance haven't severed their connection:

The wifi, thick in the air,

pulses with him

revealing that

his far away fingers drum

as he stares at a screen.

Dim light,



he needs me.-- Angela Morrison, Unbroken Connection

UNBROKEN CONNECTION has all the elements that made TAKEN BY STORM such a great read--beautiful poetry, heartfelt longing, a great love story, and...okay it's hot. (In a clean way, think TWILIGHT.) The story made me laugh and cry. (I read it for the second time on a field trip. I won't even mention how hard it is try to hide the fact that you're crying when you're on bus with a bunch of 7th graders.) Through both books I was rooting for Leesie and Michael--an unlikely couple trying to live with and without each other.

One of my favorite things about this series is the portrayal of Leesie as a Mormon young woman. Teen aged girls (Mormon or not) will identify with the angst Leesie goes through as she tries to reconcile her beliefs with what she feels for Michael. Leesie's character is real and this is a real portrayal of the Mormon culture. Leesie tries hard, but she isn't perfect, her BYU roommates aren't perfect, the Mormon missionaries aren't perfect. If you're looking for a book that portrays members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints (Mormons) neither as absolute saints or absolute sinners, this series is a good one to read.

On that note, here is my

Mom Review

I love these books and as I said, they are clean. HOWEVER... I haven't let my daughter (12) read TAKEN BY STOR
M or UNBROKEN CONNECTION. (I haven't let her read the last two TWILIGHT BOOKS either.) Sexuality and abstinence (or not) are big themes in both of these books, including some discussion about the sex trade and child prostitution in Thailand. Honestly, I don't think a twelve-year-old (or at least my twelve-year-old) is ready for some of the mature content presented in this book.

I would recommend this book for 14 or 15 year-olds on up. At that point I would say to read these books with your teens for the Discussions they can bring up, like:

  • Your family's beliefs and values pertaining to sex before marriage.
  • How to maintaining a respectful friendship with someone who doesn't share your beliefs.
  • How to dealing with guilt and grief after someone close to you dies.
  • How to deal with conflicts with roommates (or siblings and friends) constructively (hint, no tainted brownies allowed).

This story might also bring up a discussion about the sex trade that goes on in many parts of the wo
rld and even conservation and protecting our oceans.

I loved both UNBROKEN CONNECTION and TAKEN BY STORM and would recommend them to anyone who loves a good love story, who is interested in Mormon beliefs and Mormon culture or
who is interested in diving.

Like TAKEN BY STORM, UNBROKEN CONNECTION leaves you wanting more. I'm happy to announce there is more to the story.


For my next post write about the third book in the series CAYMAN SUMMER, and the unique way Angela is presenting it to the world.

Monday, October 11, 2010

ANWA Northwest Writer's Retreat


That was the first thought I had when I arrived at the ANWA (American Night Writer’s Association) Northwest Retreat. The retreat was held at Walla Walla University's Marine Research Facility in Anocortes, Washington. We were right on the water, where the passageway of Puget Sound opens up to the San Juan Islands and then on to the Pacific. It was the perfect place for a writer who loves the mystique and metaphors associated with the ocean and the rocky islands and cliffs that rise up out of the Puget Sound. As soon as I got there I wanted to plunk myself down on the front porch of one of the little gray cabins facing the water and write to my heart’s content.

Unfortunately, in the hurricane of preparation it takes for a mother of four to leave her home for three days I left my laptop cord at home, and it was already dead (*Sigh*) by the time I got there. I suppose I could have written long hand, but reading my handwriting (especially when the ideas are tumbling over each other) requires the equivalent of a Rosetta stone, even for me.

In many ways I’m glad my laptop was dead. I couldn’t work on my blog, or on revisions, or even obsessively check my e-mail. I was forced to focus on the sessions I went to, and to interact and socialize with my fellow writers. And that was inspirational.

ANWA is an association for writers like me who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I belong to two chapters of SCBWI that I love, and I have a critique group that I wouldn’t trade, (unless maybe you threw J.K. Rowlings, Stephanie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins into the mix). But there is something wonderful about being in the company of people who not only share your craziness and your dreams, but share your beliefs--including the belief that writing isn’t something that just happens, but is something that flows through us from a divine Heavenly Father who loves us, and wants us to develop and share our talents. (Even if it means the house isn’t always clean or our children have to dig through a pile of laundry in search of clean clothes to wear to school.)

All of the women who attended the retreat are balancing their writing with taking care of kids, households, volunteer work for our church, volunteer work for their communities, and many had jobs outside of the home. The name Night Writers describes us well—we often only have time to write in the late evening hours--after the house is finally quiet. As a recovering vampire and night writer, I fit right in.

The main speaker was Janette Rallison, author of many young adult novels including MY FAIR GODMOTHER, IT’S A MALL WORLD AFTER ALL, and HOW TO TAKE THE EX OUT OF YOUR EX BOYFRIEND. Janette talked about “Finding Joy in the Journey: The Road Toward Publication, “Reliving High School Forever: Writing for the Young Adult Audience”, and “Escaping From the Slush Pile.”

The workshop classes were skill related. I took classes on self-editing and plotting and I participated with a critique group. I learned and relearned skills that I know will make me a better writer. Between sessions we had writing prompts and activities, including a coffee-shop style reading of the shortest poems ever (title as long as possible, poem as short as possible while still being a complete thought.) Here are the two my poetic partner and I came up with:


Write right.



To be read before dead.

We also took breaks for “grammar quickies” and door prize drawings. (The prizes were books, of course.)

The retreat was two nights and two days. My friend and fellow writer Sarah Hyatt came with me, and we had four other roommates. True to the “Night Writers” in us, we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking about plotting, writing, and our kids. (That’s what moms do, no mater what the situation.)

I left the retreat refreshed, inspired, and ready to move forward with my writing. More than that I had made valuable friendships and connections with thirty-five women who are just as crazy as I am.

Thank you to all the ladies who worked so hard to make our ANWA retreat so wonderful!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Teens Doing Great Things--Sacramento Walk for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (Guest Post)

***Hi, I’m Jennifer’s older sister (by 14 months) Kristin Amrine. She and I started out sharing a room and arguing over toys, but growing up on a farm in Idaho, we soon found other things to fight about--whose turn it was to milk the cows, who got to take the car out on the weekends, and boys. Yes, we were that close--best friends in fact. It’s no wonder we share so many of the same interests, (like writing), but our lifestyles are a little different. After we left home, she chose to raise her family in the wet, eternally green Western Washington Area. I’m perfectly happy to live in a warmer, much drier (and browner) area--the Sacramento Valley. Though we are far away, modern technology has kept us close. She is still my favorite (and only) sister.***

My sister uses this blog to talk about the "amazing things" teens do, but she likes to focus on Washington teens. I had to let her know that Washington State does not hold a monopoly on good kids (does anyone sense the sibling rivalry?). After telling her about an amazing experience I had last weekend, she agreed to let me have a guest spot on her blog

Sunday, October 3, the city of Sacramento hosted a 5 K walk for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Liberty Ranch High School Freshman and quarterback on the JV football team (4-0 winning record), Ranse Gale and his family, got involved in this cause three years ago when his brother, Michael almost died. Michael was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes. Ranse, along with friend and fellow classmate, Katlin Hibbard (also diagnosed with Diabetes) were key in getting together a team of over 250 members to raise money and walk for the foundation.

For the Gale family, the walk is the main fund raising event of the year, but just the icing on the cake in their campaign to support the JDRF. Michael and his mother have been to the California capitol, speaking with members of congress. Earlier this year, 6-year-old Michael was chosen to go Washington, were he met President Obama. But his biggest thrill came in June where Michael, his mom, and eleven-year-old sister were invited back stage to meet Nick Jonas (who also has Juvenile Diabetes) and the rest of the Jonas brothers.

Weeks prior to the JDRF walk in Sacramento, emails and Facebook messages were sent out to let everyone know about the walk, Katlin and Michael, and the many other children living with Juvenile Diabetes. Friends and classmates became actively involved in fund raisers leading up to the walk. Sunday morning (before 9:00am), they doned in matching t-shirts and pirate gear (Michael’s trademark—a cure is the only treasure). Katlin, Ranse and other teens lead the way, raising over $20,000 dollars for Michael’s crew, part of a $100,000 effort.

Hundreds teams of walkers wore matching shirts, held signs, and walked proudly in honor of a child they knew and loved, but the teens representing Michaels Crew were at the front of the pack. Liberty Ranch High football players were joined by there families and became the cheerleaders; raising enthusiasm and unity among the walkers, attracting so much attention that television crews stopped the Gale family and interviewed them. With tears in her eyes, Michael’s mom Shelley, told the reporter about her families struggle, but how grateful they were for the support of the community and especially the teens that were part of the team.

When I wrote to Shelly to tell her about the opportunity I had been given to be part of Jennifer’s blog, she wrote back and told me: “I've added up the money for this year and we are just shy of $20,000!!!! Yes, that's right $20,000! Just for this year and over $46,000 since Michael was diagnosed. I was blown away with the total. Never in a million years did I think we could raise that much money in such a terrible economy. Guess it just goes to show that when you share your passion about something and it's for a worthy cause people's hearts will open and be willing to help those in need. We are truly blessed by everyone that supports us. This is a tough disease to deal with day in and day out and to arrive at the walk each year and see the swarms of people there for Michael, gives us that drive to work that much harder.”

What a way to sum it all up, and goes to show that we, both young and old, can do great things if we just make the effort. The young adults in our communities are enthusiastic and ready to work for a cause. I think the future looks bright!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday Book Review Postponed

I'm getting ready to jet off (okay I'm driving to this one) to the ANWA (American Night Writer's Association) Northwest Writer's Retreat in Anacortes, Washington, so I don't have time to do the book review I had planned for this week. And I certainly don't want to short-change this one, so next Wednesday I'll be reviewing (with some admitted bias) my sister-in-law, Angela Morrison's new book UNBROKEN CONNECTION. (Review spoiler alert, I loved it!)

Lucky for me, writing skills run on both sides of my family. My sister and fellow writer Kristin Amrine has agreed to fill in for me as a guest blogger for my "Teens Doing Great Things" Friday feature. (She seems to think I focus too much on Washington area teens.) She has a great story to share, and I know that my blog is in good hands while I'm gone.

I'm off to refuel my writing. I promise a full report of my conference on Monday.

Monday, October 4, 2010

SCBWI-AZ Conference Report, Part Two

Back to the land of the sun and the Arizona SCBWI conference...

The fourth speaker was Eve Adler, associate editor for Henry Holt. She listed some things that will draw her to acquire a manuscript. Her list included:

  • voice--emotional pull
  • quality of writing, especially dialogue
  • plot structure
  • characterization
  • an interesting topic that is original and fresh

She talked about the relationship between an author and editor and said the most important characteristic that an editor is looking for in an author is willingness to revise. (There's another blog post perculating on this subject, but that will have to be for later.) Other advice that she gave us was "trust your editor", and "take your time" (editors prefer writers who put a lot of thought into their revisions).

Eve gave away the secret to becoming your editor's favorite author, 1) patience, 2) eagerness to revise, 3) obey deadlines, 4) show appreciation (COOKIES!) and 4) be willing to market yourself.

Her last bits of advice were, "Come up with a great idea," "be aware of what's out there" and "write what you love."

Jill Cochran, from the Herman Agency was the only agent at the conference. She talked about how an agent chooses a client. She finds clients from the "slush pile" (unsolicited manuscripts), from referrals, and at conferences. She said she picks a project because she loves it, not just because she feels like she can sell it. One of her biggest bits of advice was:

Don't vent on-line!

Before she acquires a project, Jill said she searches the Internet for anything about the writer and anything the writer has put on-line.

She said that it's important to remember that rejection can be a good thing. A writer doesn't want someone who doesn't love the book, and personal tastes vary. And an agent and a client are a partnership--one doesn't work for the other. They're meant to work together.

Amelia Anderson, who is Senior Designer at Chronicle books spoke on "Book-Plus Publishing." She showed examples of illustrations that went beyond books into things like paper dolls and children's toys. It was very fun to see how a picture from a children's story book or an artistic style can be translated into so many different things. It was cool to see how artistic a book can be.

Once the speakers were done we broke into workshops. I wish I could have gone to all of them, but I had to chose two. I went to Eve Adler's "A Guide to Your Voice-Finding Journey" and Francesco Sedita's "Stop Over-Thinking and Just Write it Already."

In Eve's class we were asked to write the same scene--riding a bus--from three points of view. The first was from a kindergartner riding the bus for the first time, the second from a teenager-- "too cool to ride the bus" and the third from the bus driver. It was fun to see how a room full of writers interpreted each of the voices.

After we shared our writing, Eve showed examples from books like HUNGER GAMES and CATCHER IN THE RYE, that illustrated voice . We talked about how voice can immediately let you know what the character is like and even what the story is about.

Franscesco Sedita started his class by reading an excerpt from Sandra Cisneros' book THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, where the main character talks about her name. Then we had ten minutes to write about our name. I wrote about how having a common name like "Jennifer" (I had the same three Jennifer's with me all through grade school) made me want to try to be unique.

When we read our work out loud, the pieces ranged from funny, to poignant, to odd. Everyone had something to say about their name.

Franscesco's point at the end of the exercise--it was easy for us to write about our names. There were no blocks or inhibitions. "No one put down their pens until the end," he said. "When was the last time something caught you and you were able to write like that?"

He went on to talk about what blocks a writer, and what happens when we over-think our writing, and forget that we do it because we love it. For me this message was inspirational and just what I needed.

A first-look panel finished off the meeting. Brave writers and artists submitted their work to be evaluated by the faculty in front of the entire group (I was no one of those brave writers). It was interesting to see what the panel picked out, and what would have kept them from requesting a manuscript or art sample, based on the first page.

The only complaint I had about this conference was that the faculty was kept pretty separate from the "conference goers." I know that overzealous writers have been known to corner an editor in the bathroom or slip a manuscript under the stall door, but I think most writers are respectful enough to "pitch" only when it's appropriate.

I learned a lot from the conference and left feeling like I had recharged my "writer's batteries." Thank you to all of the staff for their presentations and for SCBWI-Arizona for organizing the conference. A huge thank you to Angela Morrison for letting me be her guest for the conference.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Teens Doing Great Things--Happy Birthday BSA

A few days ago I was standing in line at the cutting counter of a local fabric store, when I overheard two ladies talking. They were discussing "kids today" and how they don't do anything but hang out, play video games, and get into trouble. One of them said, "Whatever happened to Boy Scouts?"

The irony...I was waiting to buy fabric to make a Den Flag for my Wolf and Bear Cub scout group. (*Note, I sew occasionally, dangerously, usually only costumes, pajamas or crafts--stuff that doesn't have to be perfect*)

I didn't butt into the ladies' conversation, but I wanted to say, 1) "Kids today" do a heck of a lot more than get into trouble and 2) Boy Scouts is alive and well. In fact it's alive and 100 years old this year.


My dad and my three brothers were all avid scouts, my husband is an Eagle Scout, my oldest son is soon to be an Eagle Scout, and (as I said), I'm a Cub Scout Den Leader, so you could say that scouting is big in my family.

I was thinking about what the ladies said as I attended a scout Court of Honor on Wednesday night. The Court of Honor was a family event, held at the camp where the boys attended scout camp in July. The meeting started with a barbecue and a chance to see what the scouts had accomplished. Thanks to the scouts the camp (Camp Nisqually in Lacey, Washington), had improved significantly since the last time I was there. There was a brand new Archery Range--an Eagle Scout project by Dallin Carlson. And a new playground area--an Eagle Scout project by Caleb Anderton. I know both of these projects represented a significant amount of work from Dallin and Caleb and from the scouts that helped them.

The awards portion of the evening was amazing. There were well over 100 merit badges awarded to boys from the four troops who had participated in the camp. The scouts received merit badges in traditional areas like fishing, camping, and wilderness survival, but they also received badges for things like aviation, financial management, and cooking. For the 100th anniversary of Boy Scouts some of the old merit badges were brought back, so the "Stalking" (now more accurately named "Tracking"), merit badge was awarded along with Signaling and Path Finding.

As a mother of a Boy Scout, I have some idea how much time and energy went into each of these merit badges. Several of the Scouts also received rank advancements--the culmination of several merit badges and fulfilling other requirements.

Needless to say, I was impressed.

I want to note that none of the merit badges were earned for "hanging out," "playing video games" or getting in trouble. Although I'm sure that all of those boys have probably been guilty of one of all of those at some point (the ones I knew certainly have). Through Boy Scouts of America and their own hard work these boys and many others like them are making a difference in their communities and in their own future.

Thank you to Boy Scouts of America, thank you to the leaders that make it great, and most importantly, thank you to the boys who are showing the world that they can do GREAT things to improve themselves and their community.

I love talking about kids and teens doing great things. If you have an idea of a kid who deserves to be recognized, please let me know.