Another Year In the Books

It’s that time again already . . . reflecting on the past year. In preparation, I read my blog posts from last December. 2014 was rather crappy, and I looked forward to 2015 being a lot better. And the truth is . . .

IT WAS AMAZING!!!

It's been a magical year!

It’s been a magical year!

But not for the reasons I anticipated. This time last year I was still really focused on writing. The last installment of my YA trilogy, 18 Thoughts, was getting ready for release, and I anticipated an increase in sales and a fulfillment in my professional life I’d never experienced before.

Except even though I had more book sales this past year than in my previous two years combined, that fulfillment never came. Instead I felt empty and unmotivated in the area of writing. So after my media blitz, I took a break. In the past, if I didn’t have my daily writing time, it’d send me into a FULL DOWNWARD SPIRAL, eating cookies in a corner, nearly ODing on sugar, and making horrible Chewbacca howling noises. Probably not a healthy place to be. But I didn’t write again until mid-July, and then I finished a stand alone novel in a month. In August, school was back in session, leaving no time to edit as I taught eighth grade English for the first time. Maybe I’ll find editing time before 2015 ends (I do have 2 weeks off starting December 18th, but there’s also Star Wars, and NOTHING will take that away from me).

Sooo maybe I won’t.

And that’s okay. I’ve been so focused on writing, writing, writing since 2009 . . . from trying to get a book deal to getting a book deal to honoring that book deal and all it entails. This year, I finally felt like I had my life back. I’ve spent way more time with my wonderful family. I even made my 15yo daughter smile sometimes instead of scowl at me. So yes, this year has been a miracle.

How about you? Any surprises in your life this year? (Good, I hope, not like an unexpected incoming FaceTime or discovering your Starbucks app is empty. There’s nothing more terrifying than that.)

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This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Feel free to join us the first Wednesday of every month! Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

 

Happy, Happy, Happy

Two weeks ago I left on a 4-day cruise to the Bahamas with the cast of Duck Dynasty. It was something I won on the radio last May. If you’ve ever watched the show, you know Phil is famous for saying those words in my blog title, “Happy, Happy, Happy!”

cruise montage

It got me thinking, is that the legacy I’m leaving behind for my own kids? Will they look back on their childhood and think Mom was happy, happy, happy? I try to be a positive person, but if I’m honest, being happy is something I’ve struggled with these last few months. Most of it is stress related around circumstances I can’t control. But the more I thought, the more I decided that if the situation can’t change, why have a bad attitude about it? Might as well be grateful for all the good things I have. And with Thanksgiving right around the corner, then CHRISTMAS, it’s the perfect time of year to change my stinkin’ thinkin. Because make no mistake, your thought life comes out in your real life. Just like if you eat junk, your clothes will get too tight to fit into them (I’m starting my diet on Monday, I SWEAR!). Natural cause and effect relationship (there’s nothing more annoying than a teacher who just won’t stop 😉

I don’t know what struggles you have today, but whether it’s writing related or not, I encourage you to be happy, happy, happy. Then all those positive thoughts will spill out into your life and eventually, YOU can be the change you wish to see in the world (Gandhi).

Oh, and I’d be REALLY happy, happy, happy if you’d download my first YA novel, 18 Things, FOR FREE November 6-7th. Apparently, it’s a Pixel of Ink special, which I’d never heard of until my publisher notified me of the sale. And please feel free to share the good news on social media. THANK YOU!

This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Feel free to join us the first Wednesday of every month! Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

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Fear Not

negativeLast night I met a teen who told me she put up some stories on Wattpad and asked if I could give her some feedback. She then said something like, “I don’t think they mean anything though. They’re probably not even good.”

I swear, if I hear one more soul saying those words, I’m going to repeat Bloody Mary into a mirror just for a break (and because it is October! BOO!)

Thing is, even after publishing three books, I still have those negative thoughts. Especially last month when I didn’t make the top 20 entries in this contest where 10 agents were making offers on multicultural manuscripts. I admit, I felt like I wasn’t good enough to make it and didn’t touch my manuscript for two weeks. Then I realized . . .

Almost everyone I’ve talked with or listened to on panels took five years or five books to truly ‘make it.’ Why, after three books, would I give up? We have to put in the work if we want to reap the reward.

Don’t ever be intimidated to show off your work. Each one of us is unique and has a story to tell. And if we never share, we’ll never get feedback, and we’ll never improve.

There’s a Bible verse I kept reminding myself of every time I hear about another mass shooting, and I realized tonight it applies to sharing our art as well. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7 . . . which is why saying Bloody Mary in the mirror doesn’t frighten me 😉

This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Feel free to join us the first Wednesday of every month! Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

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The Page Is A Mirror . . . Or Is It?

Most of you have seen the Twitter storm surrounding the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign within the past year. At GeekyCon last month, I attended a panel titled The Page Is A Mirror, and authors spoke on the power of representation, and how we see or fail to see ourselves reflected on the page, and what we want from YA moving forward . . . more diverse books!

Now Lee & Low, the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the US, started an information-collecting tool: a diversity survey for all publishing companies.

“It’s quite clear this data is essential, and the fact we don’t have it…problematic. This lack of information blinds diversity initiatives.”

Why do I want the big five to sign on? I teach English Language Arts to mainly eighth graders. The first day of school we discussed why as children in elementary school, they LOVED reading. Then they got to middle school, and they are in a FULL DOWNWARD SPIRAL when you ask them to read a few pages.

Holy Howling Dogs!! What went wrong?!

Many claimed they didn’t have time to read anymore. They have more responsibilities, more activities. To that end I asked how many watched reality TV and played video games on a regular basis. Almost all raised their hands. I told them they still had time to read.

But one class in particular got real. We spent 45 minutes discussing how they DID NOT see themselves reflected on the page in YA literature. They’re tired of seeing the same story over and over again. It’s the end of the world and another white girl or white boy is saving them all. All of whom are extremely good-looking. Most girls are skinny. Most guys have six-pack abs. Sure, some are poor, some live in a violent area. Maybe a few are gay. But where are the heroes with learning disabilities, physical handicaps, the ones who were physically abused by their parents, or molested by a creepy uncle, the ones who self harm to escape the real pain, the girls who weigh 150 pounds or more, the boys whose faces are covered in acne?

And I felt their pain. The first two novels I TRIED to publish? Number one was about a sixteen-year-old girl who cut herself to escape her horrific childhood, most notably a rape by a family member (*written in 2010). The second was about a biracial ballerina dealing with the prejudices of a hick town when she was forced to move there the last semester of high school (*written in 2011).

Responses from agents? Most often along the lines of, “Though these stories are important to tell, they’re hard to sell.”

Okaaay . . . so I wrote a YA romance with a paranormal twist and a love triangle. Guess what? Harlequin Teen, Sourcebooks, and TOR (a division of Macmillan) all requested the full. While I waited to hear back, I submitted to a contest on a whim and consequently, offered an immediate contract with a small publisher called Curiosity Quills.

In January 2013, CQ released the first novel in my trilogy, 18 THINGS. Two and a half years later, I feel we live in a different world. Change is in the air, and I hope the publishing industry changes with it. I hope we don’t miss this opportunity to create books teens want to read, pages that reflect them like a mirror, that speaks to THEIR experience. Imagine a world where teens rushed home to read a book instead of watch reality TV or inhale violent video games. Wow . . . what a place that would be. I’d want to live in that world.

Oprah quote

This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Feel free to join us the first Wednesday of every month! Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! 🙂

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*This was also my post for the #BigFiveSignOn bloghop . . . it’s a busy time of year for me with the start of school, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. You can sign up for that bloghop at SCWrite’s website.

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What YA Authors Can Teach Us About Writing

This past weekend my teenage daughter and I made our second pilgrimage to GeekyCon in Orlando for their YA Lit Track. Some of the authors we listened to were Veronica Roth, Maureen Johnson, Leigh Bardugo, Jenny Han, Marie Lu, Tahereh Mafi, Stephanie Perkins, Jason Reynolds, Ransom Riggs, Adam Silvera, Holly Black, Courtney Summers, Robin Wasserman, and Sabaa Tahir!!

GeekyCon

Today I’ll share some notes I took during the panels. I tried to give some order to my convulted thoughts, but I’m going through Con withdrawals, so bear with me.

Page Is A Mirror: Authors talked about stories that inspired them, and in some cases changed the way they saw themselves and the act of writing. They addressed the power of representation, how we see or fail to see ourselves reflected on the page, and what we want from YA moving forward.

Some Notes:

A lot of books portray diverse characters, but that’s the whole storyline & not just a person who is going through something who happens to be Asian, Puerto Rican ….

Jason Reynolds said he was looking for a character in books that did fit all his cultural codes but couldn’t find it. He found it in music and movies instead.
Authors also discussed if they feel the pressure to write about their own “group” . . . Impossible to portray everyone in the culture, & we have to swallow readers expectations or it becomes a different book, but we also have to remain sensitive. We want to write what we want to write but feel a responsibility to reach out. For instance, there’s enough images of poor, scary black teenagers, so it’s important to change that. Another stereotype is Pakistan being considered as part of the Middle East and people there speaking Arabic when it’s really part of South Asia and the official language is English. We can learn a lot from another culture who isn’t our own & it’s important to have these discussions so we do learn. There is a call for white authors to make their books more diverse but important to understand the culture so it’s absorbed into the story & it feels organic. It’s hard because there’s this Internet Witch Hunt whenever an author gets something wrong & people calling them out with a vengeance (used Mosquito Land by David Arnold as an example)… But you can’t write colorblind because our country isn’t colorblind so if we do, it feels cheap.

Let’s Make Out & Explode: The Art of Creating Love and Fight Scenes

Notes on Love Scenes: It’s hard sometimes when writing romantic scenes to distinguish between what’s real & what’s wish fulfillment … and then sometimes we include things in books that did happen in real life, but it ends up sounding psycho on the page. Other times, it sounds so cheesy you think it’ll never stick but readers eat it up. Think of ‘And so the lion fell in love with the lamb’ line in Twilight or Okay? Okay. in TFIOS & how it became so romantic. The simmer became a beautiful boil.

Keep in mind when writing YA, it’s going to be awkward for a teens first time. Certain body part words are jarring in YA so be mindful of that. Make sure you include the other person in the scene too & what’s going on with them- not just the POV main character. Scenes need strong emotional core readers can relate to & characters who can learn from their mistakes, except learning a lot faster so our readers can learn from them in return. Ambiguity isn’t really rewarded in YA. As kids we want the happily ever after, but many of the panel authors also feel obligated to not have full closure in their books because that’s not life, and it’s also comforting to know others aren’t certain either. Always keep in mind, what’s the end result you want from a scene?

Notes on Fight Scenes: It doesn’t matter if we blowup the building if we don’t care about the people inside. Think of Wes Craven Scream & how every single character in a scene has good lines & you want all of them to live. Think of It by Stephen King & caring so much about the kids. For fights, you’ll most likely be writing scenes you’ve never experienced, so do a lot of research. Yes, there’s Google, but also talk to people- they’re usually very eager to talk about their jobs, lives, etc… Be willing to accept help.

Funny side note, when Veronica Roth (author of Divergent series) was asked about her weapon of choice, she answered wasp spray. Check out an article here about using it for self-defense. Turns out, it was a pretty good answer!

Plot Hospital: Holly Black and Leigh Bardugo helped diagnose problems in people’s manuscripts.

Some notes:
*Think about what the character wants vs. what they need.
*Think from a readers POV & what they want to happen from the end & would be disappointed if it wasn’t there.
*The hardest thing about writing is being at the crossroads & making a decision about where to go.
*Retelling an old story like a fairy tale & stealing the structure is a great idea if you’re struggling with plot.
*Have to know who your main antagonist is and think, what makes a villain a villain? Read MG story The School of Good & Evil for a good example or watch Orphan Black- that show doesn’t save plot; twists that you think will take multiple shows to resolve takes 20 minutes. They are very brave in their storytelling.

There was lots more, but I’ll save it for another day as this post is getting quite long. Incidentally, my only motivation in life after leaving this Con the past two years is to be successful enough as an author to get invited to a GeekyCon panel! Did you hear that Maureen Johnson? That’s the sound of me coming after you *growls, throws pokeball, and utilizes death stare*

This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Feel free to join us the first Wednesday of every month!

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Enjoying the Journey

Today my baby graduated from elementary school. HOLY CRAP! How’d that happen? Wasn’t she just starting kindergarten YESTERDAY?!

When I considered this post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, I thought of how my writer’s journey has flown by in its various stages too. From vomiting ideas onto paper in 2009, to attending my first writing conference in 2010, to getting involved in critique groups in 2011, to querying & entering a contest & winning a contract in 2012, to publishing my first book in 2013, my second in 2014 & waiting, waiting, waiting on sales . . . to finally selling over 25,000 books so far this year after the release of my third novel, 18 Thoughts.

I worked hard toward my goals, just like my daughter did during her formative school years, just as I’m sure you do now and always! So let’s take a moment to be grateful for the journey, to recognize how far we’ve come, no matter how far we still have to go. The start of June is the perfect time to do so with vacations, picnics, barbecues, and that feeling of happiness and nostalgia and carefree attitude that only summer seems to bring.

Which brings me to an announcement . . . You won’t see much of me during the next two months. Thanks to my buddy, Kyle Prue (who gave me the idea), my girls and I are having a “Summer Unplugged.” Quite simply, we’re going to enjoy each other’s company instead of our electronics. I pray God would help us see the blessings right in front of us during this time, because sometimes the busyness & shiny objects of life has a way of obstructing our vision.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” ~Henry David Thoreau

This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Feel free to join us the first Wednesday of every month!

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#ReadOrWriteAnywhere Monster Giveaway!!!

 

Summer is about to begin! 

But just because it’s summer doesn’t mean we should stop reading and writing. I’ve teamed up with the YA Chicks and many participating authors on a global campaign to encourage readers, writers, students, and teachers to share pictures all of the places—both ordinary and extraordinary—where they are reading and writing. This is open to all readers/writers of both middle grade and young adult books!

You can also take part in…

A MONSTER GIVEAWAY! 

32 Readers Will Win A Book!

32 Readers Will Win A Book!

I’ll be giving away ONE PAPERBACK EACH OF 18 THINGS, 18 TRUTHS, & 18 THOUGHTS!!!

That’s my ENTIRE TRILOGY!

And there’s more! Authors participating in this campaign aren’t just giving away books, but critiques, swag and/or Skype visits, too!!!

So are you ready?

Drum roll….

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Can you guess where I am?

Here are my 5 clues:

*It’s adjacent to the Caloosahatchee River

*There are lots of bamboo trees around (extra hint: used in light bulb filaments)

*One of the most visited historic home sites in America

*You’ll find the Botanic Research Corporation Laboratory on the property, which was constructed to help discover a rubber tree plant that could grow more quickly in the U.S. (extra hint: think tires)

*Open to the public since 1947, visitors can tour the gardens, the lab, the estate, as well as the museum, which features lots of inventions!

Once you’ve figured out where I’m reading, head over to the YA Chicks site and:

  1. Officially enter the giveaway by inputting each author’s name and your guesses about our locations. Every author location you guess correctly increases your chances to win.
  2. For even more chances, post a picture of yourself reading or writing on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #ReadOrWriteAnywhere (must have the hashtag).

For writer prize packs:

  1. Post pictures of yourself writing in a fun location on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #ReadOrWriteAnywhere. Then follow the directions on the Rafflecopter giveaway to let us know you did it.
  2. For even more chances, gather your writer friends together and post a group shot with the hashtag #ReadOrWriteAnywhere (must have the hashtag). And hey, since you’re already together, why not host a write-a-thon?

For teacher prize packs:

  1. Post pictures of your class reading or writing on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #ReadOrWriteAnywhere (must have the hashtag).
  2. Then let us know you did it when you enter the Rafflecopter. If you don’t have a Twitter or Instagram, you can email your picture directly with the picture pasted directly into the email (no attachments–we won’t open them) AND the subject, “Read or Write Anywhere.”
  3. You can also check out the YA Chicks Read or Write Anywhere lesson plan, available on their site.

We will keep the giveaway open from 9 am on May 22nd– 12 pm on May 31st so entrants have plenty of time to hunt for clues.

And I also have an exclusive giveaway here on my blog today! 4 complimentary copies of my 18 Thoughts audiobook! You need to be registered at Audible/Amazon to redeem your prize – if you aren’t, you’ll be prompted to register prior to redemption – but you do not need a paid membership plan.

How do you claim your prize?! Just make sure you like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, then leave a comment below . . . first 4 people to do so get the prize 🙂 (If you’re already a follower, please share this blog post and tag me). Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

Now, what are you waiting for? Get out there and READ OR WRITE ANYWHERE!

 #ReadOrWriteAnywhere

Wholehearted Thanks

For those who have spent a good amount of time writing, editing, researching, polishing, marketing, querying, emailing, networking, sweating, crying, hoping, praying . . . one thing is abundantly clear: Being a writer is not a job for the weary.

Despite the massive amounts of coffee and chocolate I consume on a daily basis to combat tiredness juggling being an author & an English teacher (not to mention a mom and wife), I have moments of absolute cartwheeling, unicorn-over-the-rainbow joy, and one of the them came this past weekend.

It’s not nice to boast, and please don’t think I’m trying to do that. I’m here to say THANK YOU to those who’ve supported me since I first started writing in 2009

Thank-You

. . . and to give encouragement to those who think they’ll never sell any books. I’ve been you.

Soooo imagine my surprise when I discovered I sold a total of 25,679 books sold in ONE MONTH! WHAAAT?!

I know many authors wouldn’t ever think of that number as being a big deal, especially when one considers it’s the result of sales from 18 Things, 18 Truths, and 18 Thoughts combined, not just one novel. But honestly? It’s more sales in one month than all two years of sales combined for me, and it’s a lot better than selling eight copies a month (my all-time low).

So throw your virtual hands up in the air and have a dance party with me, knowing we CAN succeed if we never give up, never lose hope (and maybe consume an unhealthy amount of caffeine). And with my whole heart, I thank you for your support. ❤ ❤ ❤

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This has been a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, the brainchild of Head Ninja Alex J. Cavanaugh. Join us the first Wednesday of every month and post your own thoughts!

We’re All Mad Here

There’s one movie release I’ll be counting down the days to all year . . . it’s just 9 months away (274 days). Can you guess what it is? I’ll give you a hint: I make multiple references to it in 18 Things, 18 Truths, & 18 Thoughts!!!

Force Awakens

It even comes out on my favorite day . . . the 18th!! And some people think there’s no such thing as fate! Blegh.

Today I learned that for those who don’t know a thing about basketball, there’s now a fun little play on March Madness for the geek in all of us! This Is Madness: The Star Wars Character Tournament! You can check out the details here. I’m too late to make my own bracket, but you can bet I’ll be ready to win some awesome prizes next year! Plus, if you’re late to the game like me, you can still vote daily for your Light & Dark Side matchups! Seriously, how did I not know about this before? Apparently the good people of Wookieepedia have done this for the past two years!

One more movie I’m mad about is Insurgent, which features my three favorite words in the English language: Theo James Shirtless!!! And this one comes out this weekend!!

 

Of course, the preview looks like they’ve completely swayed from the book, but as we know, the BOOK IS ALWAYS BETTER! So I’m putting my stick down because that horse is dead. I’ve already bought my ticket to see it tomorrow at 8pm (the AMC here always shows it a day early, which is very nice of them). Besties, Popcorn with sprinkle cheese, and Theo James Shirtless?! What more could a girl ask for?

Do you feel me? Are you counting down the days till the Force awakens? Will you see Insurgent? Does the sight of Theo James make you swoooon?

Teshelle Combs Is Here! (And my book playlist)

 

Today I’m switching blogs with another YA Author, Teshelle Combs. You can check out my post about the songs I chose for my 18 Thoughts playlist here.

Before Teshelle takes over, some introductions are in order:

Teshelle

Teshelle Combs is the YA author of the Core series and The System. She’s one of those crazies who majored in English in college and works as a full-time writer. She grew up in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and currently lives with her composer and voice actor hubby, Nate Combs, and their new baby boy, Jaxter, in Cape Coral, FL. Their house is generally filled with epic film themes, video game scores, and the sound of chattering keyboards.

Hi to all Jamie’s wonderful followers and fans! First of all, congratulations to Jamie on finishing her awesome series with her final book, 18 Thoughts! I feel very privileged to know such a cool, warm, and colorful person. If you haven’t read her work, you should!

 

Today, I’m going to talk to you about my Core Series! It’s about dragon shifters, it’s YA, and it’s filled with thrilling and emotional character development.

core-new-ebook-cover-page-001

But just as important as who my character are…is what my characters are wearing! Let’s have some fun! I want all of you to pick your favorite outfit. Who would you want to look like if you were going out for a night of partying at the best dragon hangout spot, the Cave?

 

Onna – It’s all about bold colors and sophisticated fashion for this red dragon. She’s in a skintight red dress with killer heels. Literally. Right inside her heels are six-inch dragonblades. No one, not even a siren, dares pick a fight with Onna.

 

Ava – Ava could not care less about what people think of her. She wears a white tank top that just happens to show off her chiseled arms, and a tattered pair of skinny jeans with her faithful pair of black and white chucks. Ava is always ready to throw down, human…or not. Don’t cross her.

 

Myra – Dark and edgy. Myra is quiet red dragon, but she’s fierce. She wears leather skinnies and a matching top and heeled combat boots that could put someone’s eye out. Her platinum blonde hair is pulled into a high bun and her makeup is smoky to the max.

 

Juliette – A sweet and sophisticated red dragon. Juliette wears hand-carved beaded jewelry and a summery white dress that’s cut to show off some of her soft back. She wears dragon-forged brown leather boots. Her hair is in a simple side braid. She seems innocent, but she’ll do anything for the people she loves.

 

Ima – Luxury and elegance is all Ima cares about. Her long shimmering dress is slit high enough to reveal perfect thighs. The back swoops low and the fabric of the dress is infused with diamond and ruby dust. She powdered her silver hair and pale skin with the same dust. Her heels are made of real crystal and her jewelry is twisted from marbled rose thorns. Think Elsa, if Elsa was cold-hearted grey dragon.

 

So, tell me who you’d rather be! And please take a look at my Core Series! Book 4, LACE, comes out in just a few weeks!