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, May 27, 2011

Teens Doing Great Things: Catch Them Being Good

I read a blog post about teens this week that bothered me. The author was talking about the "attitude of entitlement" that she sees in teens today. Okay, I have teens, I'm around teens a lot, and I was a teen, so I understand where she's coming from. Yes, there are times when teens act like the world revolves around them. (I remember having that attitude myself.)

But as a kind of rebuttal, I wanted to talk about what I saw teens doing just in the last week.

On Saturday my daughter and a group of her friends participated in a walk to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis because a little girl she babysits has CF. I went to Walmart and saw kids and teens bagging groceries for tips. Another group was frosting and selling cupcakes. All the money they raised was going to Seattle Children's Hospital.

On Sunday, teenage boys from my church visited elderly and infirm members of our congregation who couldn't make it to church, to take them the Sacrament, (an ordinance similar to Catholic Communion).

On Tuesday I dropped my son off for scouts and he was greeted by his den chief, the teenage grandson of one of his den leaders who voluntarily comes to cub scout meetings every week to mentor the younger scouts.

On Wednesday I went to our grade school's annual fun run. My oldest son, now in high school, came along (happily), as a volunteer and he wasn't the only teenage, former student, that was there to help.

Yesterday, I heard from six members of the cast of HAIRSPRAY, all thanking me for the review of their performance that I had put on my blog last Friday.

In deference to Memorial Day, I should also mention that all this week, young men and women are far away from their homes and families, serving their country in many parts of the world.

These are just the few examples I saw going about my day-to-day things. I bet you if you looked around, you would see some too.

I know if I looked for it, I would probably be able to find kids and teens doing bad things, but I prefer to look for the good things that they do. All around us are kids and teens volunteering their time to benefit their families and their communities. I'm envious of the energy and enthusiasm that they have. I'm envious of the spirit of youth who still believe, (and rightly so), that they can change the world. These kids lead out in doing good things because they feel invincible, because they believe they can. (At least until someone tells them they can't or someone tells them that they're bad kids.)

If there is an attitude of entitlement it comes from the adults who don't give kids and teens the opportunity to do what they're good at--shaking thing up. They can shake things up for good, just as easily as they can shake things up for bad.

For the adults out there, I challenge you to look for kids and teens doing great things. Then let me know, I love putting that stuff on my blog!!!

For the teens out there, don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't make the world a better place. If someone labels you a bad kid, or a bad generation, do everything you can to prove them wrong. Keep up the good work.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Review: HUSH

I started reading HUSH at about 4:00 this afternoon. I finished reading it at about 2:00 this morning. During that time I had to tear myself away to pick up and drop off kids, make dinner, and help with homework, otherwise I would have finished sooner. HUSH is that compelling of a read.

The story took me to a place and amongst a people that I didn't know existed, a branch of extremely orthodox Jews that live in New York. Although the sect in this book is fictional, it's similar to major Chassidic branches in now living in New York. Their religious practices and culture are still very close to what they were one-hundred to two-hundred years ago, including hats and beards for the men, married women required to keep their hair covered, and marriages arranged by a matchmaker.

The book centers around Gittel, whose narration moves back and forth between her as a nine-year-old girl and then as a teenager and young bride. Gittel witnesses the sexual assault of her best friend, Devory at age nine. In a culture of arranged marriages where sex isn't spoken of at all until weeks before a wedding, Gittel doesn't fully understand what happened to her friend. When she tries to tell the adults around her, she is hushed up and told to forget what she saw. The view of the sect as a whole is that sexual abuse is a goyim, or gentile problem and that those kind of things didn't happen in their community. For Gittel to even witness such an event put her in the position to possibly be "unmarriageable," the worst thing for a girl in that culture to be. Eventually, Devory commits suicide as a result of the sexual abuse she has suffered. In the chapters where Gittel is a young woman she is still consumed by guilt because she couldn't help her friend.

The voice of HUSH is unique. As the story alternated between Gittel as a child and Gittel as young woman, I felt I was reading a middle grade book, a young adult book, and sometimes even a novel written for an adult. Gittel's innocence shown through the whole book, and I could see that in many ways she was stuck back as the nine-year-old child, helpless to save her friend.

As much as HUSH compelled me to keep reading, at times I found it difficult to get through. Besides the myriad of emotions this story brought up, I struggled with many of the Yiddish and Hebrew words and phrases that were spread throughout. The book includes a glossary at the back, but I was so focused on the story that I didn't take the time to look them up as I read. Someone who is more familiar with the culture probably wouldn't have the same problems that I did.

Although critical of the Chassidic sect's handling of abuse, HUSH portrays the culture as warm and caring within itself. Gittel's family relationships are loving, and a huge sense of community and service are built into their everyday lives. However, the Chassidic are shown as highly suspicious and prejudiced towards anyone who is not part of their sect.


This is a hard one. I actually went back and forth about whether I should review this book at all, but it came down to whether I should be like the parents in the book who preferred to pretend that these things don't really exist, or if I should be brave enough to talk about them.

It goes without saying that there is sexual content in this book. The descriptions are written simply and not graphically, and told through the eyes of innocence. The scene where Gittel discovers Devory's body is disturbing.

The author uses the pseudonym, Eishes Chayil, meaning woman of valor, and in the book, Gittel's husband tells her she is a woman of valor because she is protecting the children. I thought about this a lot as I read the book. As a mom, I can't afford to pretend that horrible things don't exist. In order to protect my children and the children I associate with, I must actively combat horrible things, by talking about them openly with my kids. I believe a true, Eishes Chayil, or woman of valor speaks up for children and those who can't speak up for themselves.

I would recommend this book for older teens, 14 and up, because there are some disturbing scenes and situations. Use your discretion on the age, but if/when you chose to let your child read this book, READ IT WITH THEM. This is a good opportunity to talk to your teenager about sexual abuse and let them know that they can come to you if they are ever in a situation that makes them uncomfortable. You have to have this talk over and over again, and this is a book that will help you open up that discussion.

This book is not just for the Chassidic people. Sexual abuse happens to people of all religions, races, cultures, and families. I came from a predominantly Mormon community and I saw the same problem with shame and secrecy happen there. Sexual assault is so horrible a crime, especially when it is perpetrated against children, that it's tempting to pretend that it doesn't exist, but that won't make it go away.

I think the ultimate message of HUSH is that sexual abuse is a crime that thrives on secrecy. Pretending it doesn't exist won't make it go away. Although it is written as fiction, the author says she is telling her own story and the stories of others who were victims of, and silent witnesses of abuse.

HUSH was compelling, interesting, and beautifully written. It was at times difficult, but it is definitely a worthwhile book to read.

* Disclaimer* HUSH was given to me by my editor at Walker Books For Young Readers, so the author and I have the same publisher.

As parents and teens, what other books have you found that open up a discussion on hard, but important issues?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Change the Voices in Your Head

I'm the first one to admit that I hear voices in my head. I admitted it in my very first blog post and I admitted it on my website. Those are the the fun voices--the voices that tell me stories; feed me plot and dialogue, and demand that I write them down. I love listening to these voices, (its so much more fun than say, laundry or dishes).

But there are also not so fun voices. These are the ones that comes directly from the deepest, darkest part of myself; the dungeon of self-doubt, the prison of pessimism, and the guillotine of guilt. These are the voices that surface when I can't seem to hear the other ones, when my story is stagnating, or even when my story is going well, but my house isn't clean, or my kids are feeling neglected, or I had a big slice of ice cream cake for lunch instead of going to the gym. (That was yesterday, honestly, I went to the gym this morning.)

From the DUNGEON OF SELF-DOUBT: You're writing is no good. Why would you spend so much time working on a novel no one is ever going to read? You'll never get this finished. You'll never work through your plotting issues. You just can't make this work. You should start take up knitting.

From the PRISON OF PESSIMISM; So you sold one novel? Big deal. It was a fluke. You'll never sell the another one in this economy. And what about the first one? It hasn't even been published yet. No one's going to buy it. It will be one of those books you see at the dollar store or in the bargain bin at Wal-mart, you'll lose your publisher a ton of money, and no one will ever want to work with you again. You'll be laughed at. The world is going to end soon anyway.

(Okay that last one wasn't really me, I mean, the voices in my head RARELY prophesy the end of the world, and even if they did, I wouldn't go spreading it around, honest I wouldn't.)

And last, but definitely not least (probably most actually) the GUILLOTINE OF GUILT: Why are you writing when your house needs to be cleaned? Why are you neglecting your children/husband/dog/sister/mother? Why don't you get a real job and do something to help out your poor husband who works so hard?

These are just a few of the horrible things I tell myself--things that I would never say to another person, no matter how much I disliked them. (And really I don't dislike very many people.)

Then one day I was riding in the car with my 13-year-old daughter and Pink's song Perfect (the radio version), came on. There's a line in the song that says:

Change the voices in your head,
Make them like you instead.

That line really struck me, so I asked my daughter if she knew what that meant. She said, "You mean like the voices that beat you up every time you do something stupid? Yeah, I do that all the time."

Hearing her say that made me feel terrible, to know at thirteen she beats herself up like I do. Since I'm supposed to be her example, I decided I needed to change the voices in my head, (and make them like me instead).

It's not an easy thing to do, I mean, pessimism, self-doubt, and guilt have been my companions since I was at least thirteen (probably before). They have served me as motivators;"look how tight your jeans are, how could you let yourself get this disgusting?"excuses, "I can't write today, I have to do laundry," and even as a way to keep myself from get over-confident; "so you have a book being published, don't think that will ever happen again." Ultimately though, none of these voices are doing me any good.

I get really mad at my kids for putting each other down. I like to say, "There will be enough people in the world who will put you down, in our house we build each other up." I forget that the same thing applies to me. Maybe I should say that to myself, something like, "There will be enough people who will criticize and put you down, in your head, you should build yourself up." Yes, I know that sounds conceited, but as a mom, I've learned that praise is a much higher motivator than criticism or guilt.

How can I expect my kids to feel good about themselves if their mother doesn't feel good about herself? How can I expect them to follow their dreams if I'm too afraid to follow mine? I don't think it's a coincidence that Pink wrote the song Perfect for her unborn child. Here's another thought, how do I write stories that offer hope and encouragement to struggling teens if all the voices in my head are negative ones?

How do you change the voices in your head? I've been working at it and for me it comes down to a conscience effort. Every time I start on my downward spiral of self abuse, I think of that one line in Perfect and it really helps. It also helps me to think about what I would say to my daughter or son or husband or a friend who made a mistake.

Its okay to be your own cheerleader sometimes. Its okay to acknowledge your own accomplishments, its okay to forgive yourself when you make a mistake. It's okay to follow your dreams and feel good about it.

I'm a person with a firm belief that we are all children of a Heavenly Father, that we were created to do something wonderful and unique that no one else can do, and that we were put on this earth to learn and grow, (even if that means making tons of mistakes). When I think about it that way, it makes it harder to compare myself to others and to beat myself when I do something wrong.

Life is for exploring and learning and moving forward, so be your own best motivator, be nice to yourself, change the voices in your head. And if that doesn't work, watch this video.

Daily Affirmations, (remember, your good enough, your smart enough, and doggonit, people like you!)

How do you combat the negative voices in your head? How do you keep moving forward when you make a mistake?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Teens Doing Great Things--HAIRSPRAY at Timberline High School

What happens when you take a cast of high school students and ask them to put on an iconic musical that is on its surface a comedy, but with an huge underlying message of racial and size prejudice? If you're the drama students at Timberline high school in Lacey, Washington, the answer is something AMAZING.

As soon as the curtain opened on "Good Morning Baltimore" I knew Timberline's performance of HAIRSP
RAY was going to be something special. Maybe I should have guessed before that, based on the number of people who were turned away at the door of this sold-out final performance. Lucky for me, I had managed to snag the last two advance seats because my daughter HAD to see this musical.

I'm so glad I got the opportunity to participate in this show as an audience member. I say
participate instead of watch on purpose, because this was truly a musical to participate in. The acting, the singing, the music, the costumes, THE HAIR!!! (they literally had wig sponsors for almost the entire cast!), all begged the
audience to be part of the performance. In fact, there were several scenes in which the cast was dancing and singing in the aisles and encouraging the audience to join them. There was even one scene where members of the audience were brought on stage to hula hoop.

HAIRSPRAY director Brenda Amburgy says, "....we try and take the audience with us as the curtain is raised."

I could go on and on about the acting and singing. Jacob Hoff was laugh out loud hilarious as Edna Turnblad, the John Travolta character in the movie, (how did he dance in those heels and keep his voice like that through the whole show???).

As M
s. Amburgy put it, "if you don’t have an Edna like we had in Jake Hoff you really set yourself up for less than the best."

Makayla Tillman was sweet and spunky as Tracy, Marissa Jacobsen and Alaina Woolsley were wickedly funny as the Von Tussles, Aubrey Taylor, Symphony Canady, Kayla Bridges, and Jasmine Buhain-Slater literally blew me away as the "Dynamites," (the back up singers), along with other amazing voice talents; Stacey Ejim, as Motormouth Maybelle, Malachi Jones as Seeweed and Madi Slyvester as Penny Pingleton, and Imani Cox as Little Inez.

Every part was cast beautifully from Julian Fajardo (Corny Collins), Sam Kegely, (Link Larkin), Austin Tibbits, (Wilbur Turnblad), Hayley Matson who played Prudy Pingleton, the Jail Matron, and the Gym Teacher, all fabulously well, Joe Cheney who played both Mr. Spritzer and Mr. Pinky, and Trevor Shaw who played the WZZT Cameraman and Sara Roundtry as the WZZT assistant. (Yes, I am mentioning everyone in the cast because they were all that good!)

A play like HAIRSPRAY can't be put on successfully without an army of multi-talented actors.The main cast was supported by an ensemble full of incredible dancers, singers and actors, all of whom did a fabulous job.

Of the entire cast, Ms. Amburgy said, "The kids knew all the songs coming in which helped but to dance, sing and act was the challenge…..they rose to that challenge but like an athlete they had no idea how in shape they had to be.

"Our philosophy is 'Trust me' which I say many times in rehearsals. We put the vision of opening night in their heads and try and keep it there with lots of encouraging words."

Of course such a great performance wouldn't have been possibly without an amazing director either. I'm positive that Brenda Amburgy put days and days into this show, and she gives credit also to a wonderful support system:

"It took many talented people to make this happen and I have been working with the same team for 10 years so we are a well oiled machine. Gwen Barnes is the genius behind the dancing and Terry Shaw makes the vocals and orchestra top notch. I have worked with Rick Wehmeyer for over 25 years, and having him joint the team for wigs (and I mean WIGS), make-up and hair on this show was unbelievable.

The musi
c, the dancing, the sets, the costumes, and the acting all had the feel of a professional musical, but what really shone through in this for me was the heart and message in this performance of HAIRSPRAY. I think that having teenagers put on this show gave it a deeper feeling. The part of the play when Stacey Ejim and the other African-American students sang, "I Know Where I've Been," literally brought tears to my eyes. These were kids singing about an era they never lived through and racial and social prejudices I hope they don't ever have to experience, but behind they put their whole heart and voice as well as their own experiences, their energy, and their hope for the future.

Ms. Amburgy put it this way:

"We also are diverse student population at Timberline and we train many students to be in our shows that otherwise wouldn’t be given the opportunity. Performing in a THS musical is a Rainbow experience…..to quote a line from the detention scene. We are lucky to have students of many colors who walk through our doors during auditions and sometimes I have to go out and ask them to come. Many kids just need to be asked."

I know the camaraderie and friendships that are developed when kids work together to accomplish a goal; whether it be a musical, a sports team, or a club, last long after the goal is accomplished. I believe that kids like the ones in this play have the ability to change the future, through their actions, through their voices, and even through performances like HAIRSPRAY.

Thank you to Ms. Amburgy, her support staff and all of the kids who participated in HAIRSPRAY for putting on what was literally the best musical production I have ever seen by a high school.

I would love to hear more from the participants in HAIRSPRAY. Please leave your comments about what it took to put on this fabulous musical.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Review: THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL by Kirby Larson

One of my favorite things about author, Kirby Larson, is her ability to make historical fiction come to life so you feel like you are living in that time period right along with the characters in the book. That's how I felt when I read HATTIE BIG SKY, and Kirby has done it again in her new book, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL.

THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL begins with the creation of Miss Kanagawa, one of 58 friendship dolls that were sent to the United States in a gesture of friendship from Japan in 1927. Through Miss Kanagawa's eyes we meet four young girls; Bunny, Lois, Willie Mae, and Lucy--each living very different lives during the Great Depression. From Bunny's moral dilemma, to Lois' dreams, to Willie Mae's tragedy, to Lucy's triumph over poverty we get a picture of what life was like, especially for children, during a very difficult time in America's history. Their stories are told in a way that makes all the sights, sounds, and feelings of that time period feel very real.


This book is written for kids, (okay mainly girls), between the ages of 9-12. It is heart-wrenching and sweet and true to the time period. This is a good book for middle-graders to learn about the realities of the Great Depression, but also to learn about the strength of the people, especially the children, who lived through it. As the character Lucy was told in a letter"What one has to do, one can usually get done."

I would recommend this book to any girl (or boy) who likes reading about American History, or anyone who likes dolls, or anyone who just likes an intriguing, well-told story. In this case, really four intriguing, well-told stories. This would be a good book to read with your child(ren) to help them get a better understanding of what life was like for kids during the Great Depression. It could also open up a discussion about how a positive attitude can make a bad situation better for everyone involved.

I loved reading the historical notes at the end of this book to find out what pieces of this story were real. I love the story of dolls being exchanged between the United States and Japan in a gesture of friendship. Of course, I had to Google "Japanese friendship dolls" so I could see pictures of the actual dolls and find out more about them. You can read about the real friendship dolls and where they are now at this website.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL. It was a beautiful story sprinkled with historic details, and a positive message throughout. Thank you, Kirby Larson for another wonderful book.

***NOTE: I'm leaving my blurb contest up for the rest of the week, so you can still enter to win THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL, or MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER, or CAYMAN SUMMER.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Panster vs Outliner--What I learned at LDStorymakers from Larry Brooks

Are you a panster or an outliner?

I admit it, I’ve always been a pantser, but after attending Larry Brooks' class on The Six Core Competencies of Storytelling at LDStorymakers I may be reforming into an outliner.

First, let me explain the difference, (at least as I see it), between a panster and an outliner.

A Pantster is someone who writes by the seat of their pants. They sit down with a concept and just write to see where it goes. Stephen King talks about this kind of writing in his book ON WRITING. His advice is to start with a situation and then write, write, write and see what comes out. (A side note, I thoroughly enjoyed ON WRITING and I feel like I learned a lot from it.)

An Outliner is someone who outlines their book from beginning to end before they write it then they follow that outline as they write.

On the surface, being a pantser seems like a very cool, very pure method of writing; sit down, open up your brain to your muse, and let the ideas flow. I remember reading a quote by Ellen Raskin, author of the WESTING GAME, she said something like this, "What fun is writing a book when you know the ending?"

Even as a panster, I can’t imagine writing a novel as complicated as the WESTING GAME or any of Stephen Kings’ novels without some kind of outline to keep the story straight. (Yes, I’ve already accepted that both of these authors are smarter than I am.)

When I started my first novel, I basically had an idea for a beginning, an idea for an end, and a few scenes in between. I sat down and let the ideas flow, and flow and flow and flow. What I ended up with was an 87,000 word “fun story,” (according to my husband), that had some elements of plot in it, but often waxed episodic. I wrote scenes and situations that I loved, but some, (maybe even many), of those scenes took the story nowhere. Several drafts later I still love my story, but I’m not sure I’ve refined it down to a basic plot yet.

Even with all my struggles, I'm glad I pantsed my first novel. I was able to get it out on paper without over thinking the process too much, I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot.

I did almost to the same thing with my third novel, the one I actually sold, BREAKING BEAUTIFUL. I started with a situation, had an ending in mind and wrote as fast and furiously as I could to get the first draft out. I revised a few times (okay a lot), queried, found an agent, and she sold the book. YAY! (Okay, not quite as easy and straightforward as all of that, but you get the idea.)

I pansted both stories, but between the time I wrote my first manuscript and the sale of BREAKING BEAUTIFUL, I had taken writing classes, read books and blogs about writing, and I had written another full manuscript. Through all of that, I learned tons about the basics of plot.

BREAKING BEAUTIFUL went through several phases of revision; with my critique group before I queried, before submission with the help of my agent, and then after it sold, with my editor. And yes, I had to kill a lot of my darlings.

When Larry Brooks said he had the formula for writing a story that would be good without rounds after round of revision, I was skeptical, but curious and hopeful enough to take his class. I’m glad I did. In a very clear way, Larry outlined six core competencies of writing, and the tools you need to create a viable story.

Here are his Six Core Competencies of Story Telling:

1. Concept

2. Character

3. Theme

4. Story Structure

5. Scene execution

6. Voice

In addition to the six core competencies, Larry talked about the tools that drive a story forward:

1. Dramatic Tension

2. Pacing

3. Vicarious Empathy

4. Inherent Interest

When I compared what he was teaching us in his class to what I had learned while revising BREAKING BEAUTIFUL, I realized something important. My critique group, and my agent, and my editor, weren’t telling me to cut things because they hated me or they didn’t understand my vision; they were telling me to cut things because they didn’t work or move the story forward. No matter how touching, no matter how incredible the writing was, (oh and some of it was incredible), no matter how much of a "darling" a particular scene was to me, if it didn’t contribute to the story, if it didn't move the plot forward, it had to go.

I took extensive notes in Larry’s class, but since he explains all of this way better than I can, I’ll refer you to his book STORY ENGINEERING and his website Storyfix.com for more information about this process.

I’m offering myself up as a guinea pig to test Larry Brook's core competencies. I will (cringe) outline my current work in progress based on what I learned from his class, his book, and his website. I’m hoping it will mean less revision, less cutting, and yes, less killing off of my “darlings.” (Maybe even before they're written.)

I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, I'm curious about how you feel about this. Are you a pantser or an outliner? A little of both? What works for you in the creative process?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Blog Post About Blogging

Yesterday I was at my niece’s wedding, so first let me express my congratulations to the happy couple. I’m so glad I was there to celebrate with you. Second, because I missed it, I want to give a shout out to Kirby Larson. Her new book, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL released yesterday. I bought my copy today and will post my review next Wednesday. There's still time to post a blurb for my blurb contest and to win a copy of THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL or MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER or CAYMAN SUMMER.

Now to the blog post at hand, which, ironically, is a blog post on blogging. I was lucky enough during the LDStorymaker’s conference to attend a class taught by one of the queens of book blogging, Elana Johnson. Elana's blog has 1986 followers. She also blogs at The League of Extraordinary Writers (884 followers), and is one of the organizers of WriteOnCon. Her debut novel, POSSESSION, comes out June 7th.

I went to Elana's class because I enjoyed blogging, but I didn’t feel like I was having much success at it. After listening to Elana I realized I've been going about it the wrong way.

What I didn’t understand was that BLOGGERS ARE A COMMUNITY. You can’t use the Field of Dreams attitude about blogging--"if you build it they will come." You have to build it, make your blogs interesting and entertaining, and then you have to PARTICIPATE in the blogsphere. (Duh, why didn’t I think of that?)

For over a year I have been blogging in my little box, wondering why I don’t have many followers, basically; I built it, why aren’t they coming?

This is what I learned from Elana’s class:

1. Consistency: Your followers need to know what to expect, so pick a day (or two or three or five or seven) every week and then make sure your blog is up when your followers expect it to be. If a blog by yourself is too much, blog with other people.

2. Participate in the Blogging Community: Check out your follower’s blogs, post comments, enter contests. Follow a blog the way you would want to be followed. Not only will you gain followers, you’ll gain supporters, friends, and glean industry information.

For me I think this was my biggest mistake. I resisted the idea that I was an author blogging for authors, then I realized, other authors support each other, they buy books, they read books, they talk books to their friends. Since I started writing I have read more and people ask me all the time for book recommendations, especially for their teens. Besides, how better to learn the industry than from other people involved in it?

3. Be Yourself. Your blog is a tool to get your name out there, so use your real name, share your quirks, your likes and dislikes (without whining or ranting), your dreams and goals, let your readers get to know you.

4. BUT...Don’t make your blog a commercial. People go to media (like TV), for entertainment and information, not to read a two page commercial about themselves. It’s okay to talk about what you are doing, but if your blog is just about you and your books, (or whatever you’re trying to sell,) no one will be interested in what you have to say.

5. Other Ideas to get your blog out there: Participate in blogfests (which Elana is not a fan of, so call them blogging experiments instead). Guest post on other people’s blogs, have other people guest post on your blog.

6. Make it easy to read, follow, and comment on your blog.

· Keep it short, use short paragraphs, make sure there is white space so the look isn't overwhelming.

· Use a big font and a light background with dark writing.

· Adjust settings so you readers don’t have to jump through hoops to leave a comment. I allow anonymous comments and then monitor comments via e-mail myself. I’ve gotten spam once, and no inappropriate comments.

· Watch how fast your blog page loads no one wants to sit around waiting for it to come up.

7. Have fun with your blog, your readers can tell if this isn’t fun for you. If you absolutely hate blogging, don’t blog.

Thank you Elana for a wonderful class! If you want to learn more about blogging, queries, or anything else publishing related, check out Elana's blogs, and look for Elan's book POSSESSION out next month.

Do you have any advice about blogging? Is there anything that drives you crazy about blogs or blogging?

Monday, May 9, 2011

What to Look for in an Agent (And why I know I found it.)

Last week I got the chance to attend the LDStormaker’s conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was especially excited to go to this conference because my wonderful agent, Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency was going to be there. I was looking forward to meeting Sara in person for the first time, to attending classes that would sharpen my skills, and to meeting other authors. As a busy mom, I was also looking forward to having a few days to myself. I'm happy to report that I got everything I was hoping for out of the conference and more.

This week’s blog posts will be about what I learned from the conference; from the classes I took, from having one-on-one time with my agent, and from meeting with other authors. I'm taking a brief break tomorrow to celebrate the release of Kirby Larson’s new book, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL. (There’s still time to write a short blurb about your favorite book and enter to win Kirby’s book).

***NOTE: I learned so much that I might extend my conference posts into next week. ***

What to look for in an agent and what it was like to meeting my agent:

I was lucky enough to have a choice of agents to represent me and meeting with Sara in person confirmed to me that I made the right choice.

Here are some of the criteria I was looking for in an agent and how I know I chose the right one.

1. I had to be able to talk to my agent about ANY concern I had. I didn’t want an agent who intimidated me, or who I felt was too busy for me.

From the first conversation with Sara, I felt like she was someone I could talk to, someone I could sit down to dinner or lunch and talk about anything with. That was exactly what I got to do on Thursday night. Over dinner, Sara and I talked about our kids, our husbands, about skiing, and of course, about the business of writing. She answered my questions about marketing myself—among other things, BLOG, at least twice a week, (see Sara, I was listening), and where I needed to go with my next project. I wasn’t afraid to ask her any questions or to send her my messy first draft. She gave me good advice and direction and I value her opinion.

Since I signed with Sara, I’ve felt like I was her only client. I know that most, (if not all), of her other clients feel the same. Sunday night on Twitter a couple of Sara’s other clients were tweeting about what they would do for Sara--rob a bank, smuggle diamonds, etc.--she’s that wonderful. (If you're with the FBI, I'm sure they were just joking.) The week my book sold, another one of Sara’s clients, Miranda Kinneally, also sold her book. I had no idea that Sara was selling two books that week. The whole time I lived on the edge of uncertainty, I felt like I was the most important thing she had to worry about.

As the conference went on, I constantly had people tell me how impressed they were with Sara’s down-to-earth attitude. The people who went to her classes or had a pitch with her, said they felt like she was approachable, because she is. That's a big deal when you're entering a relationship were you're trying to sell something as intimate as your writing.

2. I had to have an agent who was knowledgeable about the business and especially the marketing aspect.

I hate selling myself, HATE IT. I would much rather spend time talking about my favorite author or book, (or my amazing agent), then I would talking about my own book. Not because I’m not absolutely excited about my own story, but because I don’t want to come off as self-centered. Having an agent who not only knows how to market, but is my biggest advocate and adviser in marketing my book is HUGE for me. Sara told me she was a walking billboard for her authors and I saw that was true. I appreciated how much she talked about me and my book at the conference. I appreciated how much time she spent gleaning information from the conference specifically to market my book next year.

When I signed with Sara, I got all of her knowledge about the industry, as well as the knowledge and advocacy that came with an agency like Nelson Literary. In an industry that is CONSTANTLY re-inventing itself, that's something that's vital to consider when choosing and agent.

3. I wanted an agent who would help me sell my work, was informed about what was selling, but at the same time respected my morals and my need to write what was in my heart.

Sara has been by my side in all of these aspects. She’s been willing to say what she thinks will and will not work in my writing. She respects my values. I know if I was asked to do something to my story I wasn’t comfortable with, she would support me.

4. I needed someone who understood that my most important responsibility is to my family.

Sara is a mom, and I know she makes sacrifices for her job, but I feel her commitment to her son and her husband come first. I appreciate that because I know she understands when I have to take a step back and concentrate on my family. As she and I discussed over dinner, we’ll might get many shots at our careers, but we only get one shot with our kids.

I appreciate everything Sara has done for me. I appreciate how accessible she has been to me, through e-mail, phone calls, and especially at the conference. For me, for where I want to go with my writing, I couldn’t have a better agent than Sara Megibow.

Sara, thank you for everything!

(See, I blogged and I even kept it short, (kind of).

What do you think are the most important qualities to look for in a literary agent?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I Have Blurbs! (And my first ever blog contest!)

Sometimes you can write a story, you can get an editor to like it, you can even have a publishing contract and still not be sure that you have written something good. I've struggled with the "What if no one likes it?"syndrome many times as I look forward to the day when BREAKING BEAUTIFUL comes out. So it was with fear and trepidation that I sent my manuscript out to some of my favorite authors, (meaning authors I idolize and admire), in the hopes that they would give me a blurb for the book.

I nearly wept with joy when I received the replies from Kirby Larson, Janette Rallison, and Angela Morrison saying that they would read for me. I literally cried when they e-mailed me back their blurbs and expressed how much they liked my story!

(Insert moment on cloud nine here. We might be here a while, it was a long moment.) Nothing thrills me more than to hear people I admire like what I've done.

Kirby Larson is a master of story weaving. Her book HATTIE BIG SKY, won a Newberry Honor Award in 2007, picture books NUBS and A TALE OF TWO BOBBIES both warmed my heart and brought me to tears, and I am looking forward to reading THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL when it comes out next week.

Janette Rallison is funny, and charming, and writes the kinds of books that I love to recommend to my daughter and her friends. (And my daughter has read almost all of her books.) Check out our mother/daughter review of ALL'S FAIR IN LOVE, WAR, AND HIGH SCHOOL. Janette is one of the presenters at the conference I'm attending this week. I have marching orders from my daughter to buy Janette's new book MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER and get it signed. We are looking forward to reading it and pretty much anything else that Janette has to write.

Angela Morrison is a master of words and poetry and romance, she can write a clean, story that sizzles every bit as much as the TWILIGHT books. If you don't believe me check out the TAKEN BY STORM series or SING ME TO SLEEP. I am continually in awe of how well she can paint a picture with her words. In the interest of full disclosure, Angela is my sister-in-law and mentor. I know from lots of personal experience, how tough of a critic she can be, so when she told me she liked BREAKING BEAUTIFUL I knew it was a sincere compliment. I have read her latest book, CAYMAN SUMMER, as it appeared on her blog. I can't wait to read it again in one sitting as soon it comes out in paperback. ***PRESS RELEASE: It is now out in paperback YAY!***

Since I am so grateful to all of these authors and because I really want to share their books with all of you. AND because they all have books coming out now, I am pleased to offer...


Simply give me a blurb for your favorite book, put it in the comments section, and I will chose the ones I like the best (top three). Each of the winners will receive either, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL by Kirby Larson, or a singed copy of CAYMAN SUMMER by Angela Morrison, or a signed copy of MY UNFAIR GODMOTHER, by Janette Rallison.

And while we are on the subject of blurbs...in a few weeks I'll announce my second contest. The winner of that contest gets an Advance Reader's Copy of BREAKING BEAUTIFUL and a chance to blurb it for my website. So stay tuned!

Thank you again to the wonderful authors who blurbed BREAKING BEAUTIFUL! Their blurbs are there for all to read (SQUEE!), at the top right of my blog.