Monday, December 31, 2012

Breathing in a new year beneath the sun and moon and stars

"Every breath is a second chance." I saw that on Pinterest and thought, I need to remember, I need to not let that knowledge be lost to petty spats, old resentments, horrific news of the day, anxiety and fear. Easier said than done, but resolutions aren't meant to be slam-dunks.

How to do it then? Perhaps thinking before speaking--taking that breath and considering first--even if someone pushes the buttons that make me angry or sad. Perhaps making someone else's day a little brighter  with a smile for a stranger, a thank-you, a helping hand, because, although I already do these things, there is always a short supply in our world. Perhaps not allowing despair to derail the things I dream of accomplishing.

So that's my goal for 2013 to listen to my breaths and make them count.

And now I give you some more pretty pictures from the holiday-lit canals in Venice Beach.
A lantern tree to light our way.

A magical bridge. How do we get from here to there?

Lovely lights in the darkness.

And, finally, my wish to us all for the New Year: May we find the golden pathways of the sun and walk into mystery and wonder, beauty and light.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays from Venice, California

Most people know Venice, California isn't the average beach town, so why would we have the average holiday boat parade?
Crowd favorite: three surfboards with a Barry Manilow sail, which was lowered to go under the bridges.
Residents adopted pedestrian bridges and decorated them.

It was a rainy evening, so I'm sure that's why the reindeer slipped on the rooftop above. Ho. Ho. Ho.
A bike float before setting sail.

Here's a long shot of the canals, originally built in 1905 and put on the National Register of Historical Places in 1982. After decades of severe deterioration, the canals were dredged and rehabilitated in the 1990s. If you study the above photo, you'll see saltbush barriers that serve as guardrails between the water and pedestrian walkways.

I wish you all joy and peace over the holidays. May you find adventure and good cheer wherever you may go.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The truth about living and dying

I put off reading THE FAULT IN OUR STARS despite the glowing reviews, despite my loving everything John Green writes, despite knowing I would love this one, too.

The thing is it’s about kids with cancer. I’ve had cancer. I’ve had loved ones with cancer. Some survived, some did not. And this year involved a scare for my daughter and another one for me. So, yeah, not wanting to wallow in it.

But I changed my mind and picked up a copy. I’m so glad I did.

  My reaction in the opening pages was to laugh out loud at the biting wit that is always part of Green’s voice. I love, love, love Hazel Grace as narrator. Like this: “Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying.”

Gallows humor, perhaps, but it serves a purpose when one is faced with possible early demise. A friend of mine who died of the same cancer I’ve fought told me once that he’d accepted an abbreviated version of his life. It was an elegant thing to say, but I realized with time, with experience, with grief and with terror that we never really accept it. There are moments of grace and moments of rage. We sail through it as best we can.

As do the characters in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, who feel like real people to me. That’s how authentic Green’s voice is.

Here Hazel responds to Augustus, a boy in her cancer support group who says he fears oblivion. She gives quite a speech that concludes with: “There was a time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”

Did I say how much I love John Green? Did I say how wicked smart he is? Need I say he encourages readers to be smart, too?

The tale becomes more bittersweet as Hazel’s friendship blossoms with Augustus. I love this thought of Hazel’s as he reads to her: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.”

They use his cancer-charity Wish to travel to Amsterdam to follow a dream. While there they make a physically and emotionally difficult visit to the Anne Frank house. A scene when they’d struggled upstairs to the top of the house brought tears to my eyes: “ ‘Augustus Waters,’ I said, looking up at him, thinking that you cannot kiss anyone in the Anne Frank House, and then thinking that Anne Frank, after all, kissed someone in the Anne Frank House, and that she would probably like nothing more than for her home to have become a place where the young and irreparably broken sink into love.”

By the last third of this book, I was crying. Not surprising. But I want to emphasize that this book is not maudlin.

Thank you, John Green, for the laughter and the tears and the truth about living and dying.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Just hangin

My online horoscope tells me to avoid travel today. There was a car vs bus tangle this morning at the end of my block. (cue the spooky music or skeptical eyebrow lift) It also tells me to stay in and indulge in scientific and metaphysical reading. Oh! I'll write a post on what everybody's saying about 12/12/12, the last such triple calendar date in our lifetimes.

 There's symmetry and mystery connected with this date, hence me choosing the Tarot's Hanged Man, which is No. 12 of the Major Arcana.

No, I'm not betting that this is the apocalypse or Mayan end of days. Look at how calm his face is and how the tree is growing. The illustration seems more like the Norse god Odin hanging upside down for nine days to seek enlightenment. When he did discover the mystery of life, he died but was immediately reborn.

Seems to me that we all get reborn many times during our lives. We rise from the ashes of tragedy. We get tempered by defeat. We hire a plastic surgeon (haha, I haven't yet).

A little blood rush to the head is a good thing, Hanged Man. Sorts things out.

So today we consider the No. 12:
12 months in the year
12 signs of the Zodiac
12 Apostles
12 gods of Olympus (and, um, Dec. 12 is National Ambrosia Day, so make of that what you will)

And 1+2=3. I was once going to write a post for my 333 blog follower. I never did, but I did collect some Three images, so let's contemplate No. 3, too, as 12 is neatly divided into four threes.

For the party folk, lots of abundance and cheer, along with creativity and art.

For the warriors, it is what it is

I don't know if any number or date or prophesy makes a difference, but how people let their imaginations spin, how they explore ideas and suggest possibilities matters. This is how we create.

And, besides, it's fun.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Shadow Girl, haiku mask poem

swish, hiss--the gray sea retreats
draws itself in, waits
for the moon to shift, release

sunlight seeps through clouds,
settling like pewter
beaten beneath us

I walk in Suzanne’s shadow,
hungry, eyes open,
ears attuned to hers

Ever heard of a mask poem? I hadn't until I read this guest post by Robyn Hood Black on Janice Hardy's blog.

In simple terms, it's writing a poem in the viewpoint of someone/something else, so you can get under the skin, into the heart and soul of a character. Since I already love writing my version of haiku, this seems like a fantastic tool for me--both as exercise with photo images and as character development for stories.

When I shot the above photo, I could see that one woman was active, doing what she pleased, and the other was following, there for the ride, for the excitement her companion generated. Even their body language shows that. Of course, I don't know these people, I am extrapolating for use as character development. In the poem, the shadow woman sees the world more clearly through her friend.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A bit of drabble

On her hazel-wood broom, Nannog swooped though a pine forest following her sharp nose to the sweep of the Pacific Ocean.

She could see the curve of earth where water met sky and smell sweet brine in the freshening breeze. She fell in behind a formation of pelicans, dropping into an elegant lineup skirting the lip of a rearing wave.

One dipped a wing tip into the mirror surface of cresting water. Nannog did the same with her broom. But the ocean knew not the witch. It swallowed her whole then spit out her long, orange braid upon the shore.
Drabble: Flash fiction in precisely 100 words.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Make your stories sing, a guest post by Laurel Garver

Do you know Laurel Garver? She is a wonderful writer, blogger and editor. With the debut of her novel, NEVER GONE, she asked if I'd like a guest post about using poetic technique in fiction writing. As you know, I love poetry and lyrical writing of any kind so I'm really pleased to give you Laurel's guest post:

Make your stories sing: The benefits of poetry training for novelists by Laurel Garver, author of NEVER GONE

These days, poetry has been largely shifted to margins—the lofty ivory tower of academia and the mean streets of urban poetry slams and hip-hop. If you can’t make sense of John Ashbery or get nervous in the presence of bling and graffiti, you might encounter poetry only in its commercialized form, between the folds of a greeting card. But poetry is as diverse as fiction. Like fiction has genres, poetry has “schools”—ways of approaching content, form, tone.

Surprisingly, studying the wide, wild wonderland of poetry has helped me become a better fiction writer.

I fell hard for poetry while taking a contemporary poetry course as an undergrad. The prof began the class by lining us around the perimeter of the room and having us shout random portions of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” at one another. This was a universe away from the precious ponderings of Wordsworth and a game changer for me creatively. Many scenarios I would’ve previously thought unpoetical became grist for the mill—my janitorial work-study job, memories of Dad slaughtering chickens, a weedy patch in a slum—because truth is beautiful, no matter where you find it. That mental shift helped me think more broadly about what warrants description in fiction, and what evokes our deepest feelings.

Taking poetry courses also pushed me hard to develop my vocabulary, to delve deep into the world of words. A poet must look not only at a word's definition, but also its connotations and connections. A poet must hear the tones and feel the textures of words. For more on that topic, see my post Making Words Your Playground []

Studying poety has made me especially aware of the power of sound devices: assonance and consonance. Assonance is a repetition of vowel sounds; consonance, of consonants. Alliteration is sometimes used as a blanket term for both, though it is often applied only to repeated initial sounds. Assonance and consonance are repeated sounds anywhere in a word—beginning, middle or end. I believe these devices can make anyone’s writing more musical.

The thinking behind sound devices is often onomatopoetic; the sound and meaning are linked. If you want to convey a sense of something sliding, for example, you'd choose hissing, sibilant words containing “s”, “sh” and “sw.” For example, “In her rush, she slipped sidelong, smearing grease along one sleeve.”

Have a character in pain? Choose words with lots of O sounds (both short and long) to make the passage seem to groan on the page. For example, “John groped for his coat in hopes the Tylenol bottle hadn’t dropped through the hole in his pocket.”

I like to quietly work these devices into my writing during revision—there to be found by those who look for it, but I hope not so jarring that it draws attention to itself. Here’s an example from chapter 2 of my novel Never Gone:

Snippets of my life appear between arty shots of hydrant rainbows and sullen subway riders. A wide-eyed child watches a huge Snoopy balloon soar past in the Macy’s parade. A skinny kid with braids pokes puddles in Prospect Park. A so-serious teen perches on the Public Library steps and sketches lions.

I paired “child” with “wide-eyed” and “kid” with “skinny” rather than the reverse because of the shared vowel sounds. The Macy's parade balloon could have been any cartoon character. I chose “Snoopy” for the double blessing of the “oo” assonance to match “huge” and “balloon” and the “s” consonance to match “soar”, “past” and “Macy’s.” The last two sentences in my example pop with a plethora of “p” repetitions (as did that sentence. I can't stop myself!).

I’m not always so calculated about how I choose sounds to achieve a particular effect. It’s very easy to overdo it. But I do find that playing around with word choices can yield a more aurally pleasant experience.

Is writing like this crazy time-consuming? I suppose it could be if you aren’t attuned to the sounds of words. And if you push the technique too far, you can end up with incoherent sound experiments that seem like bad James Joyce parodies. (Does the world need another Finnegans Wake or Ulysses?)

  If you’d like to try incorporating sound devices in your prose, here’s what I recommend: ~Study the greats (Plath and Ginsberg are two who come to mind).
~Go lightly.
~Choose lingo that’s natural to your character.
~Find ideas in a rhyming dictionary (especially for assonance).
~Play. See if some word choice changes can make a plodding passage begin to sing.

Do you read poetry? Why or why not? Have you ever used poetic techniques in your fiction?

Laurel Garver is a magazine editor and author of Never Gone, the story of a grieving teen who believes her father has come back as a ghost the help her reconcile with her estranged mother. Her poetry has appeared in Ancient Paths, Poetry Pact Volume 1, Rubber Lemon, Daily Love, Drown in My Own Fears, About Such Things, and is forthcoming in Everyday Poets. An indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. You can find her on Facebook at and on Twitter at She blogs at View the trailer:
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Two shadows

After I took this shot of an egret, I noticed it was casting two shadows. What does that mean?

My best guess, since the sun is the light source, is that one of these shadows is reflected light. But it's also fun to think one is a ghost or the spirit of the bird aside from its body. Which is the real bird?

As a writer I like to think what that could mean in creating characters. The most complex characters have layers, which might reflect differently, be perceived in alternate ways by other characters and the reader.

I just read an interview, which tied in to this in a way.

From Shelf Awareness interview with Herman Koch, the Dutch author of THE DINNER, a tale told by an unreliable narrator.

"Instead of a character who reveals himself in the course of a narrative, I was thinking of Paul as a man who has something to hide. In the beginning we think that he is just protecting his privacy, and the privacy of his family, but in the end we find out that he has been hiding his "real self" from the reader--like most of us do, I think."

That's pretty interesting to consider when crafting a novel. Do we all have shadow selves? What do you think?

P.S. I've got a guest post Monday, Nov. 19, from author Laurel Garver about using poetry techniques in fiction writing. Please drop in!

Another P.S. This is amazing! Agent Sara Megibow is offering a 50-page critique just for commenting on Natalie Bahm's blog (random winner to be picked). The offer is meant to promote sales of THE SECRET UNDERGROUND, an MG novel whose proceeds benefit the family of a sick little boy. It is such a worthy cause and such an opportunity. Please check it out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The thing about sunsets and something important

We all love a good sunset.
Everybody with a camera or cell phone tries to catch that ephemeral moment.
And I thought I'd share some of mine right now, because things have been sooooooo intense for all of us lately, what with contentious elections and superstorms. So here's to joy and beauty and that sense of wonder a sunset can give.

The sun will come up tomorrow. We can count on that. Unless, of course, you're writing dystopian and have decided to scare the bejeebers out of us. Love you all! We're good here.
And for those of you who write or are teachers or librarians there is an amazing online auction to raise money to benefit the Red Cross relief effort for people devastated by Sandy. The project is hosted by Kate Messner and the Twitter hashtag is #KidLitCares. Some of the authors, agents, editors putting up critiques, Skype visits, phone chats, books and more are Laurie Halse Anderson, Veronica Roth, Cheryl Klein, Ellen Hopkins, Linda Sue Park, Mo Willems, Jennifer Laughran. Oh, there are so many more. Check it out, put in a bid. Such a good cause.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

You owe it to yourself: Vote

I am humbled by this right made possible by the founders of the United States of America, by the women who suffered ridicule, abuse and even incarceration to ensure the 19th Amendment, by soldiers who fought to defend our country, and by fighters for civil rights.

And, so, today I voted. Early and with conviction. To my friends in other countries, I hope you are able to exercise the same right.

I knew which man had my vote for President (when will it be a woman, I wonder?), but I spent hours studying the pros and cons of propositions and measures on my ballot. I hope I chose wisely, but I did, at least, make considered decisions.

It is my duty. It is my right.

I hope you made it yours, too.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Day of the Dead

Fern O'Brien as painted by Mary Guggenheim. This Day of the Dead post is simply in loving memory of two extraordinary women who made a huge impact on my life and many other people's, as well. They were smart, creative, outspoken, always curious and fiercely in love with what the world had to offer. My life was greatly enriched by knowing them.

 In fact, their influence in literature, art, theater, travel and good food is with me still. What a legacy, is it not, to bring wonder into some one's life, to spark new ideas, to open doors to places of discovery?

So this post is made with gratitude and love.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A'pumpkin carving I go

Every Halloween I carve a pumpkin.
Faces only I can love.
Such dreams are made of this...

Monday, October 22, 2012

In which I gush book love

SERAPHINA, you stole my heart (and a few hours of sleep).
Dragons to die for. Yes, this book has some of the most intriguing dragons ever written. But there is so much more. Rachel Hartman has written a smart, breathtaking, funny, poignant and fresh story with a heroine so full of heart she shines like a candle in the dark. And the love interest? His heart is just as huge.

 I read a lot of YA and some MG. Much of it is really good, but SERAPHINA is fabulous--a page-turner that has both substance and style. I hadn't been in a hurry to read this debut, expecting it to be a fun, lightweight fantasy that had something to do with dragons that I'd enjoy but not a story that would carry me off into an intriguingly developed and complex society.

What makes it so wonderful is the deeply-layered world building that includes cultural ramifications, such as religious beliefs and bigotries that feed into the political and personal landscapes. The main character, Seraphina, has something terrible and illegal to hide, but her astounding musical talent puts her in the spotlight and leads her into fascinating and dangerous territory.

Her father warns her to not draw attention to herself, never to play music in public, but when the flute soloist can't play at a state funeral, she has to. Here's her perspective as she sees the grieving royal family:

They needed Heaven's peace. I knew little of Saints, but I knew about sorrow and about music as sorrow's surest balm. That was comfort I could give. I raised the flute to my lips and my eyes toward the vaulted ceiling, and began to play.
I began too quietly, unsure of the melody, but the notes seemed to find me and my confidence grew. The music flew from me like a dove released into the vastness of the nave; the cathedral itself lent it new richness and gave something back, as if this glorious edifice, too, were my instrument.
There are melodies that speak as eloquently as words, that flow logically and inevitably from a single, pure emotion. The Invocation is of this kind, as if its composer had sought to distill the purest essence of mourning, to say, Here is what it is to lose someone.

In Seraphina's world there exists an unlikely truce between dragons and humans, but there are those on both sides who plot against it. Fear, distrust, resentment, hatred ripple through the population. Dragon-fighting knights of old have gone into exile, not willing to forget the wars they'd fought. Dragons, who can take human shape, walk among humans but they never are quite human enough, and are not trusted.

Along with the gripping tale, Hartman's writing soars and sings. Here's another sample of her style near the beginning of this 451-page novel:

He declined to tell me goodbye, as was his usual custom; he turned without a word and took off toward the cathedral. Its facade blazed red with the setting sun; Orma's retreating figure made a dark hatch mark against it. I watched until he disappeared around the end of the north transept, and then I watched the space where he had vanished.
I barely noticed loneliness anymore; it was my normal condition, by necessity if not by nature. After today's stresses, though, it weighed on me more than usual. Orma knew everything about me, but he was a dragon. On a good day, he was friend enough. On a bad day, running into his inadequacy was like tripping up the stairs. It hurt, but it felt like my own fault.
Still, he was all I had.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The sky is everywhere, oh yes

I wouldn't cope well with the crap we all step in from time to time if it weren't for this world giving me stunners like this:
When nature is glorious my spirit soars. I put my feet in the sea, reach for the sky and drag in the air. Have you ever gone flying in your dreams? It feels so right. Like we somehow in daily life forget how natural it is to let go and just be.
And, yes, I titled this post using a phrase that popped in my head but is also the title of a brilliant novel by Jandy Nelson. I'd reviewed it some time ago but never forgot the story of a girl upended by grief at the sudden death of her sister. Here's the unforgettable last line of the first chapter: It's as if someone vacuumed up the horizon while we were looking the other way. I know that empty, lost feeling too well. I think I need to read the book again, to remember how this story, which is also funny and passionate, never forgets the grief but discovers purpose--a place to flourish in this world.

We've all been buried by grief. We've all cowered from our demons or learned to stand up to them. We've all been betrayed by someone we trusted. We've all lost confidence at one time or another. Or, at least, I believe these things are universal.

But there is healing. There is beauty. There is hope.

The sky is everywhere.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Seizing the moment

Several times a year, large, well-shaped waves fire up in Venice Beach. When they do, professional surf photographers show up ready to snap pictures of pros repped by companies selling boards, clothes, etc. Look closely and you'll see there's a guy in the curl of that wave.

It's all about seizing the moment, being ready for opportunity and willing to take a chance, which is useful no matter what you do. My life has been stressed and chaotic of late, so I'm trying to carve out time here and there to write and keep up with all you lovely people.

There is a great quote attributed to Thomas Edison: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

I intend to get out my tools (I have a new book THE PLOT WHISPERER WORKBOOK that will be a lot of work, without doubt, but also may take my rewrite to a new level.) That's what I'm striving for: the big wave.

Lastly, please check out my last post about the release of THE SECRET UNDERGROUND by Natalie Bahm if you haven't and consider buying a copy to help the family of a very sick little boy. Jayden, poor wee thing, is back in the hospital again. Thank you.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Natalie Bahm is da bomb

Author Natalie Bahm unearths the excitement of exploration in THE SECRET UNDERGROUND, a novel with lots of dirt and blisters to accompany danger and adventure as a group of sixth-graders dig forbidden tunnels.

One of the fabulous things to know about Natalie is her heart is so big she is donating all proceeds from the sale of this book to the family of a very sick little boy. In this post, I interview Natalie and add a mini-review at the end, along with some significant links to learn more about this extraordinary publishing tale.

So for this Q&A, I had to ask Natalie about her personal relationship with shovels and got a surprising answer.

Me: So, shovels?

Natalie: To me shovels mean only one thing: yard work. When I was ten my family moved to a new house with a big weed-filled yard. I can't even tell you how many hours I spent with my parents and brothers digging up weeds and laying sod and planting plants. My brothers and I always joked that the only reason my parents had kids was so they could have cheap yard laborers. :) By the time I went to college the yard was amazing. Seriously. It was full of thick green grass and colorful flower beds and big pretty trees and a big playhouse that we'd built with dad. The next year they moved again and had to start all over.

Me: (taking that a shovelful deeper) Where did the idea about kids digging underground tunnels come from, and did you need to consider safety issues when tackling it?

Natalie: My dad used to tell us stories about him and his buddies digging tunnels in a vacant lot by his house. It was obviously an EXTREMELY dangerous thing to do, and he made sure to tell us about the scary stuff that happened because of their digging. In the book I tried to show that tunneling is treacherous. The kids build supports to make them safer, but they aren’t ever really safe. I really don’t think it would be possible to dig tunnels like the ones in the book in real life (thank goodness!)

Me: What is it about writing for middle grade readers that excites you to write?

Natalie: Middle grade is such an interesting time in kids’ lives. I love trying to capture that transition between being a kid and being a teenager. There’s still sort of a dependence on parents and family, but there’s also a longing for freedom. I also love writing about the changing dynamic between girls and boys at that age. When I was that age I only liked to read things that had a bit of a love story, so I make sure to include one in all of my books.

Me (looking over shoulder and listening for creeping sounds): The villains in this story are scary and dangerous how did you decide how far to go with them?

Natalie: When I first wrote the book (three years ago) the villains weren’t nearly so scary. Then I started reading some scarier MG, like Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK and Suzanne Collins GREGOR THE OVERLANDER series and realized scary is good.  The story got a little scarier every time I revised. I hope that it’s just scary enough now, but I suspect it will be too scary for some kids and not scary enough for others.

Me: Do you have a favorite line in the book?

Natalie: This is sort of a random one, but it’s always been one of my favorites. The main character, Ally, is home alone when the doorbell rings. She expects to see a door-to-door salesman and has a speech all ready for him. “Sorry, we are vegetarians who would never think of killing bugs and have nothing worth stealing. Our vacuum works fine, we just bought knives, and all of our charity money goes to Greenpeace.”

Me: What do you want kids to take away from this story, especially from the actions and relationships of your characters?

Natalie: For me, the story is about friendship and loyalty. I hope that shows through.
This is Natalie, a mother of four and children's book author represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency.

This is an excerpt from my Goodreads review: A mystery is brewing in Grantsville. Ally thinks it odd that her younger brother, Eric, is digging in the backyard every free moment, and the boys at school all have dirt caked under their fingernails. They whisper and pass notes. Something is up, and Ally decides to snoop.
THE SECRET UNDERGROUND by Natalie Bahm is a fun, spooky middle-grade novel about the adventure and also trouble kids dig themselves into when they sneak around behind their parents’ backs, trying to gain access to the secrets and wonder of a long-closed steel mill. Ally has more to worry about than tunnels. She likes Paul, the cutest boy in her sixth-grade class and the one who the most popular girl, Taylor, has called dibs on.
Ally is also plagued by nerves ever since she witnessed a bank robbery by the dangerous and not-yet-apprehended Gauze Men (they cover all but their eyes with gauze).
Ally’s curiosity and fearlessness gets her admitted to the all-boy, secret-tunnel project, but they get in over their heads digging to a place where real danger lurks.
 There is mystery, intrigue, mortifying middle-grade moments, best-friend fights, mean-girl betrayals, and the wonder of friendship, loyalty and family love in this story.

Natalie is donating the proceeds of this book to help the family of a little boy who's had the odds stacked against him since before he was born and still puts up a mighty fight to survive. Meet Jayden in his Mr. Cool Spidey mode:

Natalie's blog
Help Baby Jayden blog
Roni Loren's interviews with Natalie, Sara Megibow about publishing

Where to buy (eBooks and print books available Sept. 28, check Natalie's blog for additional sites):

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book winner and many musings

The winner of a copy of the wonderful new release THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET by Shelley Moore Thomas is Laurel Garver, who if you've never met her is a Hobbit-loving, grammar-loving author/editor/blogger. I drew the winner the old-fashioned way from slips of paper in my hat. The paper was recycled from my WIP, so on the back it read, "You'll wake everyone." There you have it: A very good morning to all.
Here are some good moments I found recently:
On a trail in the Dana Point highlands, searching for a songbird.
a questioning tweet
above, from a bird as small
and gray as a mouse
Dozens and dozens, perhaps hundreds of these odd, tiny jellies washed ashore. They look like pretty paperweights, but I wouldn't dare pick one up. Watched my step, as well.
The space shuttle Endeavour flying over my neighborhood! I loved how the pier was packed shoulder-to-shoulder and the beach dotted with people holding cameras and cell phones, waiting, then cheering. It was like magic came to call, and, for a moment, we were transported.
So many pretty sunsets. And because we started with good morning, here's a shot of dawn on my block:

PSA: Later this week I have a Q&A with Natalie Bahm, author of THE SECRET UNDERGROUND, and one of the nicest people on the planet.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

For the love of Trinket and a giveaway

Do you remember the first time someone told you a story that gave you shivers or that lived in your head for days? There can be such power in a story well told, and a gift in finding stories in the world around us.
In celebration of the release of THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET by Shelley Moore Thomas, I'm giving away a hardcover copy (I'm keeping another for myself, by the way!) and posting a little review:

What do you do when your father’s disappeared, your mother’s died, and all you’ve got is an old map and faint hope? Go on a quest, of course. I love Trinket—an eleven-year-old girl who discovers her talent and courage and never lets a challenge defeat her.
 THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET is an old-timey story that weaves Celtic folklore into Trinket’s journey of self-discovery. Trinket and her young friend, Thomas, earn their way and sometimes make their escape from gypsies, selkies, fairies, ghosties and more. From each experience, Trinket creates new tales and songs, which encourage her dream of becoming a bard.

“My mother’s last breaths begin this story, for each story has a beginning. That is the first thing a storyteller must learn.” Trinket learns not only beginnings but endings, of which there may be more than one. More importantly, she finds that the truth can be both painful and healing.
I enjoy sharing small samples of an author’s writing, so I’ll give you a taste of Shelley’s style:
The king said nothing. He turned to leave, gesturing with his hand, and all of the Gypsies stepped back together, as if in a dance. ‘Twas strangely beautiful as they all faded into their caravans and tents, leaving Thomas, myself, and the Gypsy girl alone together.

There were bones on the shore. Bones of large sea beasts called whales. Whiter than the clouds, they rose from the rocks like the ghosts of old tree branches.
Thomas made me think sometimes, which was a good thing and a bad thing. True, ‘twould not be the smartest course to follow a woman the village regarded as deranged. Follow her into the ocean, no less! And yet, I felt in my blood that there was a story to be found among the selkies. My mother once said that the secret to a good story was to listen to the hum in your veins.

In the back of THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET, Shelley wrote Author’s Notes about the folklore she used in the stories, such as this tidbit she shares about The Harp of Bone and Hair: “Harps made from bones and hair have appeared in folktales all over the world. More often than not, the bones used are human. However, there is an old tale of a babe stolen by faeries and a mother who bargains with a harp made of sea creature’s bones, which is the basis of this story.”

One of my favorite moments in this book comes in the Acknowledgments when Shelley tells her daughters: “My stories are always for you, first and foremost. So is my advice: never be afraid to live your dreams and tell your tales.”
And that is the heart of THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET.

Shelley’s blog StoryQueen’s Castle features her life as a professional storyteller, schoolteacher and author of ten children’s books, including the popular GOOD NIGHT, GOOD KNIGHT series.
Two launch parties are planned for Thursday, Sept. 20—one on her blog and one at the Barnes and Noble in Oceanside, CA at 6 p.m. where you’ll find Trinket swag, Shelley the StoryQueen and Irish dancers!

If you'd like to win a copy of this wonderful book, leave me a comment. In the spirit of Trinket, if you can, tell me a little anecdote of an early memory of a story that made an impression on you. And be sure to leave your email address so I can contact the winner chosen by random draw. I'll let this contest run through the weekend. If you want to Tweet or post, just let me know you did and you can add an extra draw for each.

To purchase Shelley's books:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Kids and books and dirt, oh my

This kid's abandon makes me grin as he plays in the water near Marina del Rey, CA. Behind him looms a barge and dredging machine. In this post I'm going to link kids and digging and books. Trust me.
This multi-million-dollar dredging project has been going on for months. The dredger lifts up buckets of sediment to clear the boat channel, and the barge gets hauled miles south to dump the sand at other ports where its needed.

When I first saw that tall rig, I couldn't figure out what it was, so I walked a mile or so to the marina for a closer look. I was even baffled the first time I saw the barge being hauled to sea. Eventually, I put all the puzzle pieces together (and looked online for an explanation!). There are so many projects and jobs in this world that are discoveries to me.
Here's someone watching the barge being tugged out to sea by a smaller craft.

Anyway, I promised kids and books and digging. Yesterday as I walked the shore, a boy yelled, "Dig faster!" to his friend. They were trying to beat the tide as they burrowed into wet sand. Their energy and enthusiasm were contagious, and again, I had to smile. This time I was thinking of a middle-grade adventure I just read, THE SECRET UNDERGROUND by Natalie Bahm, which captures the excitement of kids digging tunnels, the problem of where to put the dirt so they go undetected, the dark secrets they uncover, as well as the value of friendship and loyalty.

I'm not going to give away more than that today, because I have a fun Q&A with Natalie planned for the week of Sept. 28, the release date. Natalie will talk about why she likes to write for middle-graders--that transition period between being a kid and a teenager. If you haven't heard that she's donating all proceeds from the sale of this book to the family of a sick, little boy, she explains why here. *
More heads up: There's another middle-grade book I'm going to highlight, THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET by Shelley Moore Thomas. I plan to review it this coming week, because Shelley is going to hold a launch party Sept. 20 with all kinds of Trinket-swag. You don't want to miss her party or this delightful book.
UPDATE: Shelley is hosting two parties on the 20th--one on her blog and one at 6 p.m. at the Oceanside Barnes & Noble in Southern California. If you're anywhere in that neighborhood, it looks like it's going to be really fun.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Retreat, retreat!

Hey, how was that writer's retreat, you might ask? I'm not posting tell-all pictures of round table discussions or people belting out Queen's "We are the champions," although that did happen (and I'm sure photos will surface...). Lyrics custom-made for writers, right? Karaoke night rocked. Agent Abigail Samoun put the cool into "Mack the Knife," and former stand-up comedian Karen Soliday sizzled Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight." What a night.

My phone camera came out, though, in reflective moments, which happened, too. Like this morning walk around a duck pond with a few other early risers.

dabbling ducks jockey,
spreading frothy trails across
the olive-green pond


This weekend event was held by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators on the grounds of a religious retreat, which had the perfect blend of quiet areas and up-to-date facilities. Our four-person critique groups moderated by agents and editors were intensive and inspiring. Most of us did revising between sessions, coming out with stronger work before we went home.
Letting my mind wander in the non-intense moments was restorative:

web invisible,
spider huge as an acorn
against the pale sky

A grotto Mary
prays for eternity
in her rock cave
The early-morning clouds shifted from pale pink and gold to white-against-blue quilts. On the eastern horizon one stark white thunderhead fist-pumped.

So what's the take-away? I'm still processing, but some immediate thoughts:

Inspiration: It's hard to beat pros discussing your work with you, giving insight into what they think will make it better. Great advice was given by author/agent Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency, Abigail Samoun, who was a children's book editor for ten years and now is an agent at Red Fox Literary and from Judy Enderle and Stephanie Gordon of Writers Ink. Heather Alexander, assistant editor at Dial Books for Young Readers, gave such substantive suggestions to each person that it was the buzz of the conference. Agent Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency came only for the final first-pages readings, so her comments came as one who hadn't heard earlier and longer versions.

Notes on writing and revising:
Learn to love revision. It's a time to explore.--Abigail
Look at every sentence and ask if it's developing the plot, the character, the world. If not, change it. --Heather

Fun: People had a good time despite the terror of reading their work in front of strangers and the horror of finding out how much work they still have to do if they hope to sell that work. Yeah, baby, no one said this is easy, so take a deep breath and try to enjoy the ride.

Deep breathing: Speaking of. The event included several stretch moments with Lynette Townsend, a certified Jazzercise instructor, who helped get the kinks out, not only for conference time but with tips for everyday desk work.

Organization: This almost deserves its own post. Every thing from check-in to meeting spots to meals was spot-on. I've rarely attended anything that ran so smoothly and was so well-planned in advance. Besides pre-event emails of our schedules and on-site print-outs, our name-tag holders included a little slip of paper with our individual schedule on it, so we'd never be clueless on where to be next. Just wow. On top of that, the organizers are all volunteer. I don't know everyone who helped out but here are some super-deserved shout-outs: Sarah Laurenson, Lee Wind, Nutschell Windsor, Marilyn Morton.

Would I go again? In a heartbeat.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The good things

I've had a terrible year as some of you know, but good things have happened, as they do, and I want to do a happy dance for some wonderful moments this summer.
Is this not the happiest little typewriter you ever saw? This bright watercolor surprised me when I opened an envelope with a note from writer/artist Faith Pray at Sacred Dirt, which read in part: "I offer a teeny bit of book swag and a very small painting I did to fuel your writing muse."

And there I was with a smile painted all over my face.

I admit my writing muse has been MIA, most likely due to the stress and grief I've been through, but I hope to keep working around that. In September, I'm attending the SCBWI's working retreat for a few days in LA. Anybody going?
I've decided to leave this next photo as mysterious to you as it was to me: Easter Island comes to Venice Beach.
Not only giant heads but a carnival hit town that weekend. Except hardly anybody was on the rides, which looked time-shifted from the 1970s. It felt like something Ray Bradbury could've turned into a spooky story.
We had a block party on our walk street, too. Venice Beach has residential streets that are pedestrian-only, with vehicle access in alleys behind homes.

It was fun, chatting, watching kids run about, eating. The food was amazing. I made these strawberries filled with cream cheese (just a tad of vanilla and sugar added) and sprinkled with sliced almonds. Big hit--easy, pretty and like healthy cheesecake.

I met this colorful, friendly lady who vacations on her yacht in the marina during summer and lives in the desert Southwest other times of the year. Like me, she's had bouts with skin cancer, so she walks with this gorgeous purple parasol.
I love when someone turns an obstacle into a celebration.
And, look! A guy reading on the beach! Doesn't this make your writerly, readerly hearts flutter?
I hope everyone had a happy summer. May fall bring us a cornucopia of goodness.

And I have to mention a couple of book releases coming right up:  THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET by Shelley Moore Thomas and Natalie Bahm's THE SECRET UNDERGROUND. Two fantastic writers who will make the middle-grade readers in your life happy when you buy these books.