Monday, July 16, 2012

Guilty Pleasures

So, today I made myself a playlist titled "Guilty Pleasures."  It consists of songs (mostly from the '80's, the decade in which I spent most of teenage years) that unabashedly make me happy.  But, they're also songs that I would probably get ridiculed to no degree for loving.  Hence the playlist title.

Sample track:

Now, I can honestly say that I never had a poster of Rick Springfield on my wall, although I did have a "Dirty Dancing" poster of Patrick Swayze - on his knees, crawling towards the camera, wearing those black pants and that black tank top - hanging right over my bed.  YUM.

Back in the days before iTunes, I used to keep a blank tape (a cassette tape - remember those?) in my dual radio/cassette player so that if I heard a song that I loved come on, I could just hit RECORD and voila!  Song recorded.  Yes, that's how we made playlists in the 80's.  This was one song that I remember chasing down for days until I finally caught it (so important to get the opening guitar line):

And of course the ultimate love letter of high-schoolers in the '80's was The Mix Tape.  I got a particularly memorable one from an ex-boyfriend who wanted to get back together (we did, briefly).  He'd written a paragraph for each song, explaining why he'd included it.  For this one, he wrote that one night he called me on the phone...but there was no answer:

 There are several more tracks on the playlist I made today, but these are the only ones I'll admit to including...and I can already hear the teasing coming my way!

So, I 'fessed up - your turn!  Tell me your ultimate guilty pleasure song.  Bonus points to anyone who names one that's on my list!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What Price Are You Willing to Pay?

Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook posted this blog (The Sheila Variations: It's Got to Cost You Something) and it really struck a chord in me.

At last year's SCBWI Conference, one of the speakers said the same thing.  A reader needs to feel that the book they're reading cost the author something to write.  Otherwise, why should they read it?  If the author didn't care enough, why should the reader?

I can tell you that all my favorite books are books that feel like they cost the author something very dear to write.  Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver.  My God, that book came out of someplace deep and personal within her.  I Capture The Castle, by Dodie Smith.  Her heart is sprawled out all over the pages of that book.  And two of my very favorite books, Gone With The Wind and To Kill A Mockingbird, cost the authors so much to write that they never wrote another book again.

On the other hand, The DaVinci Code reads like Dan Brown wrote it with one hand tied behind his back while smoking a cigarette and reading The Times of London.  (Of course, he's laughing all the way to the bank, so that says more about what it cost US to read it than what it cost HIM to write it.)

Sure, we could become authors who blithely write dozens of books a year, churning them out without ever really falling in love with the characters or worrying about their destinies.  And maybe we'd make enough money doing this that we wouldn't care about caring.  I don't know about you, but I couldn't live with myself if I did this.

The thing that I love most about writing IS the caring.  The obsessing over my characters' fates.  The feeling of complete exhaustion and exhilaration I get after I've written an emotional scene.  I want to leave my blood and guts all over the page.  I want to put my heart out there and have every single one of my characters wear it on their sleeves.  Yes, it's scary; terrifying, actually.  But it's the good kind of scary.  It's the emotionally-satisfying kind of scary that comes from creating true, meaningful art.

And that is not to say that prolific writers can't also be the kind of writers who put their blood, sweat and tears into every book they write.  I've never read any of Stephen King's novels - I can't read horror; it scares the absolute bejesus out of me - but I have read On Writing, and I've flipped through enough of his books to know that his heart is pulsating out of every page.  I've read (and met) Anne Perry, the prolific mystery writer, and I know that she spills herself into every character. 

As Sheila O'Malley says in her brilliant blog post, it's got to cost you something.  That is the deal you make when you become an artist.  The best art doesn't look pretty.  (In fact, sometimes it looks horrifyingly ugly, like Munch's The Scream).  It looks like it was dragged out of the artist's soul and splattered onto the canvas or page or stage or film or CD, almost against their will.  That an imprint of themselves is left there, forever.  Forget alchemy; that is how we truly achieve immortality.

But the amazing and wonderful thing about being an artist is that for each piece of yourself you leave behind in your art, you gain back by continuing to create more art.  Give, and you shall receive.

Watch the footage of Elvis in the blog post above.  You can literally SEE the price he is paying with each note that he sings.

So the next time you sit down to write, take a deep breath, and pay up.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sound The Trumpets!

When I was a little girl, I used to pick dandelions, make a wish, and blow, watching all the seeds scatter onto the wind.  I truly believed that the wish I'd made would come true.  And some of them did, and some of them didn't.  But all the ones that did had something in common: I made them come true.

Now as an adult, I still believe in wishes and dreams.  But I also know that in order for my wishes and dreams to come true, I have to make them happen.  It's not enough to wish for publication; I have to write the book.  It's not enough to dream about hitting the bestseller list; I have continually work on my craft in order to write a book worthy of the list.  It's our actions that make our dreams and wishes come true.

That's why I've redesigned and renamed my blog Making A Wish & Making It Happen.  To inspire other artists to close their eyes and make a wish, dream a dream...and then go out and take action and make it happen.

And with the big redesign comes big news.  I made a wish, and I (along with some help from my family, my friends, and my awesome agent) made it happen.  I am thrilled to announce that my novel, WINTER FALLS, will be published by Medallion Press in 2014.

As the followers of this blog know, it has been a long, hard road to this moment.  I made the wish a long time ago, and through a lot of hard work, sweat, blood and lots of tears, I made it happen.

And I fervently believe that any writer out there can do the same.

So that's why this blog is here.  Tell me your wishes and dreams, and I'll tell you mine.  And together, we'll make them happen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Night To Remember

I've been obsessed with the Titanic since I was a little girl.  Long before the Titanic was TITANIC: THE MOVIE!, long before there was Jack and Rose and Celine Dion, before there five hundred specials like TITANIC: THE FINAL MYSTERY SOLVED!, on the History or Discovery or Learning Channels.

I've been obsessed with the Titanic before they even found the wreckage of the ship.

For anyone who doesn't know, that was in 1985.  I've been obsessed with it since about 1983.  That's when the brilliant-but-cancelled, short-lived, one-season television show starring now-sadly-deceased 80's heartthrob Jon-Erik Hexum, VOYAGERS, did an episode set on the Titanic.  In that episode, the time-traveling Hexum, along with his kid sidekick, had to set history right by getting the Mona Lisa off the doomed ship.  Kid Sidekick tries to save the ship, but Older And Wiser Hexum tells him that he can't change history.  Sometimes tragedies happen.

I'm not sure exactly what it is about the Titanic that has fascinated for nearly thirty years.  I suppose it's a combination of things: that it was the largest moving object in the world, that it was supposed to be "unsinkable," that it was the most luxurious ocean liner ever built, that it was a floating example of a terrible class system, that it was one of the last bastions of chivalry (I doubt it was women & children first on the Costa Concordia), that the band played on as the ship went down.  Because I'm so far removed from that era, it's easy to see the romance of it (as the box office numbers can attest to).  And at the time when I first learned about the Titanic, they hadn't found the wreckage yet.  People had died trying to find it.  It was largest moving object in the world and no one could find it.

Also, in the early years of my obsession, I checked a book out my school library about ghosts and curses, and in it there was a story about how there was a cursed Egyptian mummy being transported from The London Museum to New York on the ship.  An Egyptian curse?!  It really doesn't get any cooler than that.

So, yeah.  I've been obsessed for a long time.

The backyard is transformed
A few years, it occurred to me that the 100th Anniversary of the sinking was coming up, and that there was no way in hell that I was going to let that date pass without doing something.  Something big.  Something like...I don't know...inviting a bunch of my friends over, making them dress up in costume, turning my backyard into a wonderland of candlelight and recreating the final dinner served in the first-class dining saloon.  You know, something simple.  Ha!
Host & Hostess

So on April 14th, 2012, my most wonderful and intrepid friends indulged this crazy whim of mine and were treated to the most elaborate dinner that will probably ever be served in my house.

Course Five: Beef, Lamb, Duck
Guests arrived at eight, and entered the Grand Saloon, aka the backyard, which had been set up with an elegant table and soft lighting.  Period-appropriate music filled the air (via an iPod; sadly, the budget did not allow for the live string quartet I originally wanted).  Champagne flowed all night.  Six courses were served.  Oysters, cream of barley soup, poached salmon, duck, filet mignon, lamb, eclairs, peaches in chartreuse jelly and French ice cream.  A different wine for each course.  And champagne.  Did I mention the champagne?

It was one of those nights were time stops and nothing matters but good friends and good food, the stars above and the laughter around the table.  At 11:40 pm, the exact time the Titanic hit the iceberg, we played "Nearer My God to Thee" (the hymn the band supposedly played while the ship was sinking) and had a moment of silence.  I'll be honest, though, we were all extremely, uh, merry by that time and the moment of silence was rather giggly.

I've never lost sight of the fact that over 1500 people lost their lives that terrible night 100 years ago.  Part of my fascination with the ship comes from the incredulous question How could they let this happen?  How could they put lifeboats for only half the people on board?  How could the Californian, less than ten miles away, ignore the distress calls?  How could they lower lifeboats, built to carry eighty people, with only twelve people aboard?

The Wreckage
But oh, it's hard to think about that when you're sucking a delicious oyster out of its shell.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Happy Book Birthdays!

April showers bring May flowers, and with the flowers come books!  I want to highlight three book birthdays today from three wonderful debut writers:

STRUCK by Jennifer Bosworth

Mia Price is a lightning addict. She’s survived countless strikes, but her craving to connect to the energy in storms endangers her life and the lives of those around her.
Los Angeles, where lightning rarely strikes, is one of the few places Mia feels safe from her addiction. But when an earthquake devastates the city, her haven is transformed into a minefield of chaos and danger. The beaches become massive tent cities. Downtown is a crumbling wasteland, where a traveling party moves to a different empty building each night, the revelers drawn to the destruction by a force they cannot deny. Two warring cults rise to power, and both see Mia as the key to their opposing doomsday prophecies. They believe she has a connection to the freak electrical storm that caused the quake, and to the far more devastating storm that is yet to come.
Mia wants to trust the enigmatic and alluring Jeremy when he promises to protect her, but she fears he isn’t who he claims to be. In the end, the passion and power that brought them together could be their downfall. When the final disaster strikes, Mia must risk unleashing the full horror of her strength to save the people she loves, or lose everything.

HEMLOCK by Kathleen Peacock

Mackenzie and Amy were best friends. Until Amy was brutally murdered.

Since then, Mac's life has been turned upside down. She is being haunted by Amy in her dreams, and an extremist group called the Trackers has come to Mac's hometown of Hemlock to hunt down Amy's killer:

A white werewolf.

Lupine syndrome--also known as the werewolf virus--is on the rise across the country. Many of the infected try to hide their symptoms, but bloodlust is not easy to control.

Wanting desperately to put an end to her nightmares, Mac decides to investigate Amy's murder herself. She discovers secrets lurking in the shadows of Hemlock, secrets about Amy's boy-friend, Jason, her good pal Kyle, and especially her late best friend. Mac is thrown into a maelstrom of violence and betrayal that puts her life at risk.
CHAINED by Lynne Kelly
After ten-year-old Hastin’s family borrows money to pay for his sister’s hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt. He thinks it will be an adventure, but he isn’t prepared for the cruel circus owner. The crowds that come to the circus see a lively animal who plays soccer and balances on milk bottles, but Hastin sees Nandita, a sweet elephant and his best friend, who is chained when she’s not performing and hurt with a hook until she learns tricks perfectly. Hastin protects Nandita as best as he can, knowing that the only way they will both survive is if he can find a way for them to escape. 

Congratulations to these three authors on their debuts!  All three books are in stores TODAY!


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Two Wolves

There is an old Cherokee tale.  A father tucks his son into bed, and the son asks for a story.  The father tells him, "Inside everyone there are two wolves.  One is ugly and bitter, full of anger, jealousy, spite, and hate.  The other is beautiful and good, full of humanity, equanimity, loving, generosity, and contentedness."

The son asks, "Which wolf wins?"

The father answers, "The one you feed."

Our world feeds the ugly wolf.  TV and magazines tell us we should be younger, thinner, prettier, richer.  We should drive this kind of car, eat that kind of food, use this kind of shampoo so that our hair can be shinier.  All of it sending the message that we're less than we are.

So it becomes doubly important to feed the beautiful wolf.  Feed it nourishing food and give it plenty of exercise.  Take it for long walks on the beach and read your favorite books to it.  Give it your favorite coffee from your favorite coffeeshop, and do one lovely thing for it every day.

I'm reminded of these two wolves every day when I leave yoga class (which, incidentally, is where I first heard the story of the two wolves).  My yoga studio is next to a Popeye's Louisiana Chicken.  I have never, ever eaten at a Popeye's, but when I leave class, I'm usually starving, and that Popeye's smells so freaking good and all I want to do is order a bucket of Cajun fried shrimp.

But I've just spent an hour and a half on my mat, feeding the good the wolf, and fried shrimp is exactly what the bad wolf wants.  Just like it wants to sit on the couch and watch television all day instead of writing.  Just like it wants to let my inner critic have free rein, instead of silencing it with all the sweet words the good wolf has.

Being on submission for the past few months, feeding the good wolf has been a struggle.  And I can't say there haven't been days when the bad wolf has taken over my house, sitting in the middle of my living room floor and feasting on all the negativity I've fed it.

But with constant vigilance, the good wolf has come roaring back, nudging the ugly wolf into a corner, and feeding on a steady diet of good thoughts and positive attitude.  It takes work, though.  It takes effort.  The world around us - full of inauthentic people, flashing negative messages, and criticism about our choices from every direction - wants to feed the bad wolf.  So it is up to us, ourselves alone, to keep the good wolf fat and healthy.

Inside you there are two wolves.  Which wolf will you feed today?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I'm Still Here

Has it really been over 2 months since I last posted on this blog?  YIKES!  Never fear.  This blog has not been far from my thoughts.  I am in the process of redesigning the blog to better reflect where I am in this crazy journey of being an artist.

In the meantime, let me direct you to these other fabulous blogs:

I've just joined this blog; my first post will be April 26th.  Catch up on past posts and check back on the 26th for my first one!

I co-founded this blog and though I haven't been a regular poster since last fall, I'm still a member.  They've had some really wonderful posts over there lately - check them out!

If you're dying to get your butt into shape, this is the blog for you.  Ginger Calem is a dear friend and crit partner of mine, not to mention a CrossFit trainer and all-around fabulous writer/blogger/goddess.  Check out her regular Wednesday WritersButt posts!

And check back here to see my shiny new blog coming soon!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Keep Your Muse Happy

Last summer at the SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles, Laurie Halse Anderson gave a fantastic keynote speech in which she said we should treat our Muse like a small child.  "You wouldn't beat up a small child for not writing a thousand words a day, would you?" she asked.  "So why are you doing that to your Muse?"

I've been thinking a lot about this comparison since I started doing The Artist's Way two weeks ago.  For the last couple of years, no one could say that I wasn't a diligent writer.  I wrote or revised nearly every day.  I met my writing goals.  I made every single one of my deadlines, whether internal or external.

But what I've realized that although I was writing - although I was doing what I love - I completely neglected my Muse.

I never let the poor girl have any fun.  I chained her to a desk in a windowless room and fed her only bread and water (and maybe gruel if she wrote a thousand words every day for a week).  I ordered her to "BE PRODUCTIVE!" and then I slammed the door shut and left her in the dark.

When I did The Artist's Way the first time around five years ago, one of the things I really reveled in was being given permission to play.  Sure, writing a thousand words a day is a wonderful way to serve our artist.  But so is taking an afternoon off from writing to paint.  Or writing one hour less a day to take a long walk.  Or spending a Saturday cutting up magazines and creating a collage.  All of these things are just as productive as writing because they are filling the Well.  One of the things I've forgotten in the last couple of years is that writing is not the only way to fill the Well.

Now that I'm immersing myself in The Artist's Way, I'm realizing how depleted my Well is.  That thing is dried up, my friends.  And my poor little Muse is leaning over the edge of it, peering inside, trying to find a drop to quench her immeasurable thirst. 

So I'm giving myself permission to play again.  And I challenge all of you out there to do the same.  Even if you're on a deadline.  Take an hour to paint, draw, collage.  Take a half-hour and go for a walk.  Take fifteen minutes and sit outside and watch the clouds.  Take five minutes and listen to your favorite song.  Keep your Well filled.  And let your Muse dance in the sunshine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's Brewing

It's Wednesday, which means it's time to check in and see what's brewing this week!

Ginger Calem, my critique-partner-in-crime, has another WritersButt blog up today!  For those of you who tuned in last week, hope you had fun peeing and squatting.  For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, that probably sounds really wrong....

Another week, another bunch of Apocalypsie debuts!  This week we're welcoming:


Congrats to these amazing debut authors, and check out their books today!

And now I leave you with a little gift...a beautiful reminder that although Nooks and Kindles and iPads are wonderful things, there's nothing quite like a real, flesh-and-blood-and-paper book.

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 9, 2012

What Defines Us

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Henry David Thoreau

Years ago, when I was an acting major in college, I studied with a Belgian movement teacher.  As part of our final, we had to do several minutes of purely improvised movement.  In her review of my work, my teacher told me (imagine this with a Belgian accent), "There was a moment, when you were in the corner of the room, that you just became huge.  And that's the way you must live, you know - huge."

Every once in a while I remind myself of her words.  Am I living huge?

Throughout our lives, we make mistakes.  We have failures.  We suffer loss and disappointments.  And over time, we allow those mistakes and failures and disappointments to start to define us.  We give more weight to the downs of our lives than the ups.

So instead of living huge, we make ourselves smaller than we really are. 

What if, rather than being defined by our mistakes and failures, we choose to define ourselves by our successes?  We would start to spill over the boundaries of ourselves, instead of being so contained.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be?" - Marianne Williamson

I love this quote.  Who am I not to be all that I can be?  Who am I not to be brilliant and amazing?  Why am I making myself small?  Is it to make someone else feel better about themselves?  Is it because someone, long ago, told me that I wasn't worth all the space I deserve?  Whatever the reason, it doesn't serve me anymore.

So here's my challenge to you: Live huge.  Fill up your space and spill over the edges.  Sing your song out loud and let the world hear it.   

Friday, January 6, 2012

It's A Practice, Not A Perfect

So in yoga class this morning...

...and yes, I'm about to quote my yoga teacher again.

Seriously, the woman is a genius.  There's always at least one quotable nugget of wisdom she gives us in each class.  Today she said, "Yoga is a practice unlike any other.  There is no end result."

That really stuck with me.  (Obviously, because I'm blogging about it!)  And I thought, "I can apply that to writing."

Remember my resolution for 2012?  Fall back in love with writing.  And I think one of the keys to that is to be less fixated on the end result (publication) and focus back on the practice of writing.  It's the process where I find the joy.  It's the process that I fell in love with to begin with, way back in third grade when I wrote my first story.  (It was about a unicorn.  Yep.)

I think it's really easy to lose focus on the practice of writing when we're busy chasing a book contract.  We become convinced that it's only through publication that we'll be happy.  But if we don't love the process, the end result won't bring us happiness. 

Photo: Everett Harper
In yoga, there is no end result.  There's only what you feel in the pose at any given moment.  There is no perfect.  You may be able to hold a headstand for an hour one day, but the next day you'll fall out after a minute.  The practice of yoga is always changing and evolving.  No pose is ever perfect.  That's because we are never perfect.

It was only after I was able to give up the idea of being perfect in yoga that my practice truly deepened.

And it was only after I realized that my life would never be perfect, that I would never be "finished," that my life really got good.

I'm still hoping and dreaming and wishing for a book contract.  But I'm giving up the idea that it will bring me the joy I seek.  So I'm going to look for that joy in the daily practice of slipping into my character's lives and getting lost in the fantastic maze of a good story.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's Brewing

2012 is only five days old but it's there's already awesomeness brewing.  Here's what I'm excited about this week:

My book, now retitled WINTER FALLS, is back out on submission!  And that's the last I'm going to say about it until I can announce that it's been resold.  I'm a pretty superstitious person so I'll be keeping mum as it makes the rounds.  But if you have any positive vibes to spare, send them my way!  Thanks!

My good friend and long-time critique partner Ginger Calem has launched an awesome program called WritersButt.  Not only is Ginger a fabulous writer, she's also a Crossfit trainer and one of the biggest bundles of energy I know.  WritersButt is designed to not only whip our butts into shape, but also get our minds healthy and active so our creative juices can flow.  Follow her blog every Wednesday for the weekly activity, and join the conversation on Twitter under the hashtag #writersbutt.
The good folks at Penguin obviously love me because they decided to release Sara Wilson Etienne's debut novel HARBINGER on my birthday, February 2nd, 2012.  And Sara's giving me an early birthday present by releasing the HARBINGER book trailer today!  Check it out:

Seriously, could a book trailer be more awesome than that?  I'm actually reading HARBINGER right now because I was lucky enough to get an ARC.  (I don't review books on my blog but I'll just say this: you'll want to put this at the top of your TBR pile.)  I'll be interviewing Sara on the Lucky 13s blog on or around her release date so stay tuned for that!

Five days later, Jessica Spotswood's debut BORN WICKED will be released, on February 7th.  I'll also be interviewing her for the Lucky 13s blog.  There are so many wonderful books coming out to sink our teeth into this year!

With the start of 2012 came a handful of Apocalypsie debuts.  CRACKED by K.M. Walton, THE CABINET OF EARTHS by Anne Nesbet, CINDER by Marissa Meyer (check out the LA Times review here), THE BOY PROJECT by Kami Kinard, and UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi were all released this week.  Seriously, I don't know where I'm going to find the time to read all these amazing books!

And that's what's brewing this week.  Now go out and read!

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Year of Transformation

2012 feels ripe with possibility.

More than any recent New Year, I feel like 2012 is a clean slate, a true starting over.  I have no idea what this year will bring, and that's exciting.

I'll be honest: the last several weeks of 2011 were some of the worst of my life. 

So when December 31st rolled around, I was more than ready to put 2011 to bed.

And that's what I did.  I put the year to bed.  I tucked 2011 gently under the covers, thanked it for all the lessons I learned from it, turned off the light, and quietly shut the door.

And now I'm standing in the full daylight of 2012, ready to take it on.  I know a lot of people think this is the year the world will end, but I've never believed that.  Rather, I've always believed that 2012 will be the year of transformation. 

Source: Aruna at ml.wikipedia
My transformation starts with falling back in love with writing.  I need to return to why I started writing in the first place.  It wasn't to get published (although that is my goal).  It was because I had stories inside me that I had to tell.  My job is to put those stories on paper.  Let my agent worry about selling THE TWIN WILLOWS TRILOGY.  That's her job.  Mine is only to write.

In the coming weeks, I'll be keeping you updated on how Project Fall In Love With Writing goes.  And I'll also be completely redesigning this blog.  Stay tuned.  2012 has just begun.

Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to Terri Dion, who won my Season of Reading book giveaway!  Terri will receive beautiful hardcover copies of WINGS by Aprilynne Pike, THE SUMMONING by Kelley Armstrong, and WONDROUS STRANGE by Lesley Livingston.  Happy reading, Terri!