Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gratitude of the Non-Daily Variety

If you know me and follow me on social media, you know I don’t save gratitude for this one time of the year.

I love Thanksgiving. Always have, since I was a kid. (Well…I remember having tantrums when forced to wear a dress to dinner, but that’s another story for another blog post.) I liked it because I felt it was right—no, more than right, essential—to focus on what we have. It’s human nature to take all we’re given and focus on what we still want, but it’s not the best of human nature. It’s a tendency worth counteracting.

Because of that, I find something to be grateful for every day. Usually in the morning. And I post it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, MySpace and LinkedIn. I use the hashtag #DailyGratitude.

Now, the part about the social networks might sound odd. It might even sound like an idea that doesn’t mesh with gratitude. I can picture you asking yourself (I’m a novelist, I have a vivid imagination) “Why online? Why not just be grateful?” I tried that. It worked fine. Until I forgot. Which I always did. But then I started to be publicly grateful. And within a few days, people were telling me that they liked my #DailyGratitudes. That they followed them. Looked forward to them. Not scads of people, just a handful. Just enough to create accountability. If I slacked off, someone would notice.

I thought I’d been doing this since the beginning of the year, but I just reread an essay on gratitude I wrote for the AOL News site in early December of last year. In it, I was clear that I had been doing the #DailyGratitude thing for some time. So I guess I don’t know how long it’s been. But I do know what I’ve learned.

You see, I set out to focus on a specific type of gratitude. Not because I already knew what was most important, but because I didn’t want to seem “braggy.” I might think, “I’m glad I own my home instead of renting,” or, “I’m glad I’m published as an author,” but I would never use those for my #DailyGratitude. Because I didn’t want people to react by thinking, “Sure, I’d be grateful too if I had that.” (Not that I have a lot. Just that I have a lot compared to some. Almost everybody has a lot compared to some.)

Instead I looked for the kind of gratitude that almost anyone can find. The kind that just involves shifting my focus—looking and listening in a different way. I still remember the first time I lay awake in bed and listened to the birds singing at dawn. I honestly didn’t know if it was something unusual, or if they did that every morning and I just hadn’t thought to listen. And I never looked up much when I was outside, until one day I noticed the clouds looked as though they’d been painted on. I felt like I could see the brush strokes. So I started commenting about the “Painter of the Clouds.” And now I notice the clouds all the time. And they are so often amazing!

Here’s what I learned from my Daily Gratitude: the blessings I decided to focus on just coincidentally happen to be what really matters. In the great scheme of life, it’s not about whether I own or rent, whether I’m published or not published. What matters is the way the birds sing at dawn, and the amazing way the clouds are painted on the sky.

But I had to be grateful first. And my gratitude led me to a better understanding of what to be grateful for. Funny how that works.

Monday, November 28, 2011

ThankFAIL

I am thankful that it took me 15 years and 10 manuscripts to get published. In other words, I am thankful for all my failures.

No, really!

Now, admittedly, part of this is self-preservation, making myself feel better. I am a master of this. If one of my books wins an award, I say to myself, "This award is very important and means a lot!" If, the next year, another of my books does not win the same award, I say to myself, "Nobody has ever heard of that award anyway, and it means nothing." Attitude is everything in this business. You have a boss, sort of, in your editor, but you might not hear from her but twice a year, if that. If you miss a deadline, it's nobody's fault but yours. Your only co-workers are other writers--in my case, writers I communicate with online but hardly ever see. If you let yourself get depressed about anything related to your career, who is going to fix that for you? Rose-colored glasses are your friend, I say.

So when I encounter someone who wrote a book in six weeks, got an agent in two, and sold it in another two--and these people are out there, believe me--of course there is part of me that seethes a little bit and then keels over with an aneurysm. But the other, better part, the part that knows I need to maintain a falsely elevated mood in order to stay motivated to get my writing done, feels sorry for this hot shot, and here's why.

I have bags of rejection letters for my first nine novels. BAGS OF THEM. Manuscript #10 sold, but manuscript #11 did not initially. It was not what my editor wanted. Hot Shot might have put it in a drawer. I did not. I shook my bags of rejection letters at everybody and sold it to somebody else, and it is called Going Too Far.

In my six-year career, I've had lots of lulls. I still have two completed manuscripts that I wrote AFTER I finally sold a book that have never found a home and probably never will, but it never occurred to me to quit writing.

I've endured lots of editorial changes. As Joy says below, staff changes at your publishing house are generally not your friend. But I have not let this very common occurrence in my writing career get me down. I have tried to make my own opportunities, and when that has not worked, I have played with the hand that I have been dealt. I am very happy to report that my eighth novel for Simon & Schuster, The One That I Want, is coming out on Tuesday.

In short, I do sometimes wish that I'd been on the fast track to publication. I think my 20s and the first half of my 30s would have been a lot happier that way. But oh, when it finally happened for me, it was so, so sweet--a lot sweeter than it would have been if publication had come easily. I truly am thankful for this career, and that in itself is a blessing.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In Which I am Thankful for my Crazy Writing Journey

So much has happened since that day in 2005 when I finished the book that would become Dreaming Anastasia. So many pieces of my life are different. I have made many, many new friendships, been blessed to find many mentors. Some things on my gratitude list have nothing to do with publishing and I'm thankful for those, too.

My path to publication has been a bit, um, rocky. Many writers can relate. My first agent left before DA was published. But I got a new agent and I love her. My first editor left before DA was fully edited. My second editor left before Haunted was edited. Let me not underestimate the potential disaster that comes from losing the editors who acquired your work. No matter how much the rest of the team likes you, it’s still a problem. I am grateful for Sourcebooks project editor Kelly Barrales-Saylor who stepped in both times and postponed many other projects to work with me. Just as DA started doing well, I got diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to have surgery and radioactive iodine treatment. I am thankful for brilliant doctors and am currently cancer free. My publicist – the guy who had clicked with me and championed me – left just as we began to publicize Haunted, which also happened to release on February 1st, the day Chicago, where Sourcebooks is located, had a mega-blizzard and everyone ran for their houses. I celebrated anyway. Just quietly. The Sourcebooks marketing team awesomely readjusted. I got a third editor – who I love – and a contract for the third of the Dreaming Anastasia series. So far editor 3 is still here! (If she leaves, I will track her down and tie her to her office chair and feed her cupcakes)

Despite the craziness, I have two books out in the world and two more on the way. My gratitude knows no bounds!

These days my non-family/friend thankfulness gets divided between three people. The first is my agent, Jennifer Rofe. She is smart and funny and fierce and quirky in all the right places. She kicks me in the butt when I need kicking (which is often), reminds me that I really am good enough on the days I stop believing, and negotiates and plots and plans and dreams big dreams with me. I spoil her rotten because of this. She deserves every Sbux card.

The second is my current Sourcebooks editor, Leah Hultenschmidt. I recently described my adoration of Leah here. It is not easy to take on an author with the third book of a trilogy which you neither acquired nor previously edited. But Leah has done so with grace and enthusiasm. She has a sharp eye and a generous and kind heart and I know that the newly titled Anastasia Forever is in very good hands.

The third is my editor at Soho Press, Dan Ehrenhaft, for whom I am finishing The Sweet Dead Life, a contemporary and humorous paranormal mystery which arrives in 2013. I think of Dan as my ‘brother from another mother.’ His editorial letters and comments are a thoughtfully philosophic conversation. He digs deep with me and when he talks about my characters, he sees them as real people just as I do. He reminds me that less is often more and not only tells me when he loves something but also isn’t shy about saying, “you can do better.” Plus he’s damn funny, plays in rock band, loves Led Zeppelin, Spinal Tap and Monty Python and writes amazing books of his own. My favorite is called The After Life.

So there you have it. I say thank you a lot. I know how lucky I am and how quickly that kind of luck can change. I am thankful to be writing, and following my dream.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

10 Reasons to be Grateful, Even on Bad Days (Tara Kelly)

1. I have people in my life I can call and/or write to when I'm going through a rough time. They listen. They comfort. They encourage. They don't tell me to stop complaining or try to point out how their situation is worse. They might be few in numbers, but they have a big place in my heart.

2. My cat. Some people think I'm crazy, but I consider him family. I love him as much as I do any human family member or friend. We get into debates over the benefits/consequences of carpet scratching or chewing on books. We tease each other all the time--I call him goofy names, he sits behind me and smacks me with his tail. He sits near me while I write, silently encouraging me to keep going. He crawls into my arms every night and snuggles with me, calming my mind and helping me sleep better.

3. My imagination. How could I be an artist without it? Art IS my life.

4. Having two published books. Even if I never traditionally publish again or have widespread distribution, I accomplished a life-long dream. One I never thought possible growing up. And my readers...the people who have supported me through both books. Who write amazing reviews. Who tell me never to stop. You are the reason I write.

5. I inherited the musical gene. I can play by ear. Melodies and entire songs just come out of me--although some songs make me work for them. And I admit...I love that I can do this. I love that I can pick up the guitar or sit in front of the piano and just start playing, no plans or sheet music necessary.

6. My music studio. It took us years of savings and slowly buying things to piece it together, but I have an amazing place to record. I have my dream guitars, those that call to me and sing for me just the way I want them to. I have a master sound designer for a bf, so he makes all kinds of fun synth sounds for me to play with. Really, it's one big playground for me that I wish I had more time for.

7. Dark chocolate. I'm thankful for all varieties of chocolate, but dark chocolate is a guilt-free treat for me. I have a square every day and call it health food :)

8. The ocean. I grew up living about a half hour from the ocean, and every time I've lived more than a drive away I've ended up moving closer again. The ocean has always helped me put things into perspective. It allows me to let go and enjoy life.

9. Writers, musicians, and other artists who make my world brighter and more exciting. Who inspire me. Who have me at the edge of my seat, waiting for their next story or album. I wouldn't be the artist I am today if it wasn't for those who inspired me growing up.

10. A roof over my head. Food on the table. A warm bed. Plenty of water to drink. These might seem like simple things, but I never forget that a lot of people don't have the basics. Whenever I fret over how broke I am, I remind myself of this.

Friday, November 25, 2011

an artist's daughter - Alisa M. Libby

I am grateful that, from a very young age, I had art in my life. And by art I mean magic.

When you are a little kid and you watch your father carve a cat's head out of a block of stone, or a herd of horses from a block of wood, then you grow up believing that magic is possible. Magic, transformation - the stuff of mythology and fairy tales. It takes a lot of time and effort and sweat and tears and blood, this type of magic. It is not for the faint of heart. There is discouragement and disappointment along the way, but if you keep chipping away, you just might get there. And when you do, all the work was worth it. And isn't it the work itself, the act of creation, that keeps us coming back?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Murmuration--Sarah Porter

It's quiet, at least by New York standards: the velvety mutter of the computer, a bass guitar softly grinding in the next apartment, a distant thump of construction. If I listen, nothing alludes mermaids or publication or writing--or to me. We finished watching Game of Thrones last night. It was enchanting and appalling, beautiful and utterly persuasive. I started reading The Magicians. There was a video circulating of a murmuration: the sinuous involute dance sometimes performed by a flock of starlings, which I've seen in real life but never knew the name for.

I'm grateful, of course, that I have an actual career as a writer now. For so, so long I didn't have one; it's a nice change of pace. I'm grateful that I'm close to finishing my trilogy, though it's still a bit of a struggle. But thinking about those things is like quicksand. It's much too easy to get sucked in by ego and triviality.

So I am most grateful today for everything in the world that forgets me and renders my efforts irrelevant: the thumps and starlings, the worlds imagined by others, the words that are the same no matter who speaks them, and the light quaking on the trees that is the same no matter who sees it.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

I am
grateful for
heat from the sun
the curl on my cat’s tail,
water coming out of the faucet
a car that hasn't broken down yet
family, friends, generous people
my son performing in a play
clawfoot bathtubs
mountain air
jellyfish
Nutella
writing
books
music
l
o
v
e
general
nutiness
and fun

Saturday, November 19, 2011

TOTAL GRATITUDE (Danielle Joseph)




This has definitely been a busy fall, days whizzing by me--super mom by day and night and author in between. Sometimes I can't tell the weekdays from the weekends. So I'm glad our theme this month is gratitude because it makes me take a pause and ponder everything that is going on.

I am thankful for many family members and friends in my life for supporting my writing career. My number one supporter is my husband. He is my rock and sounding board. My kids provide me with great inspiration and for that I'm very thankful for too. And of course all my friends that attend my author events and ask how the writing is going.

I also couldn't live without the amazing writing community. I love how we can provide support for each other and bounce ideas off of each other even though we are not physically getting together.

Readers are amazing and every time I hear from one it's insta-smile.I never get tired from hearing from teens and talking to them about writing. I did an author visit at a school yesterday and talked anout passion. After my presentation a girl ran up to me and told me that she had so much passion for witing that she couldn't live without it. I told her I felt the exact same way she at her age and feel exactly the same now twenty plus years later. So I am thankful for being able to have a career that I'm passionate about. I love writing!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Hope you are filled with health, happiness and passion!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Impure Gratitude, by Emily Whitman

It's Thanksgiving, time to go around the table and say what we're grateful for, and I find myself balking. Those moments of clear, unadulterated, welcoming joy that I think of as pure gratitude are rare things. My father didn't die on that operating table. That sunset is absurdly, heart-openingly beautiful.

Maybe gratitude is more achievable if we don't need it to be pure and absolute. Let's call it impure gratitude, or sullied gratitude--thankfulness that's no less thankful for being complicated by the mix of emotions also known as life.

For example, I'm grateful for my parents. I'm especially grateful that they've lived long enough for me to get past some of the crap I carried around for so long. My gratitude is tangled up with guilt for the ways I made distance, and sadness for needing to; with fear of what the future holds, and worry I can't do enough from afar as they age. All these go together with admiration, enjoyment, laughter, respect. It's a muddle. It's gratitude.

And then there's writing. I'm grateful for my writing life. How, then, to explain the roller coaster of feelings when the writing surges ahead one day, and the very next it struggles to climb a few feet only to rattle back downhill. The glow of compatriots, and the bleakness of days when I have to go out for coffee to see a human being. The initial spark, the hacking and hewing, the crumpled pages--and the story told. Simple? No. Pure? Absolutely not. Gratitude? Yes.

For years I had this quote taped to the inside of my kitchen cabinet: "The best is the enemy of the good." When you expect perfection, nothing is ever good enough.

So today I'm enjoying the little things I'm grateful for: smoky black tea, meeting a new friend for lunch. And the smudgy ones, like my gratitude for the cat who sleeps next to me, even if she keeps me awake by repositioning herself near my face. Nothing is perfect, including me. Especially me. And maybe that's something I can be grateful for.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gratitude (by Wendy Delsol)

I suggest all authors have our own small version of the Slumdog Millionaire happenstances that brought us to writing, kept us at it, and led eventually to a book deal. With the kind of hindsight that life—or a movie script—offers, even our trials can be viewed as strengthening.

From this perspective (and from one who is a week away from her fiftieth birthday), I value the following:

Family.

I credit my family for a strong work ethic. My father worked in the auto industry all his life. My formative years, the 70s, were not the car companies’ heyday. There were several layoffs which plunged us into financial straits. He also died young, following two years of medical-related leaves. My older sister was seventeen, I was sixteen, and my younger sister was fourteen. My mother, reinventing herself at age forty-seven, found a job, her first in over eighteen years. My sisters and I put ourselves through university. My nickname at college was the urchin, which summed up my financial situation rather accurately.

The uptick to going without is that you become resourceful. I’ve long described my mother as a can-do individual. If she wanted a new couch, she learned how to reupholster our old one. To save money, she sewed and knitted our clothes. And she always encouraged us to travel and study and dream big.

As an adult, I’m grateful for a kind and loving husband and two good kids. We’re a fairly drama-free household, where individual interests (including my late-in-life writing career) are encouraged and respected. I’m lucky in this, I know.

Mentors and partners.

I have a great agent in Jamie Brenner of Movable Type Management; she is smart and enthusiastic and hungry. I trust her editorial opinion as well as her business advice.

I’ve worked with three very talented editors at two different publishing houses (in both the YA and adult genre). Many writers, I know, prefer to work with a single editor. I think the experience has given me perspective and valuable experience.

Although there wasn’t an individual teacher who I could dedicate as my mentor, I attended Warren Woods High School, where many fine teachers worked hard at preparing us for college and beyond.

Travel and life experiences.

I’m a big believer in travel. It’s no coincidence that my mother also placed a great deal of value in travel. She herself was English and emigrated first to Canada and then the U.S. If I didn’t inherit a wanderlust gene from her, then I mimicked it. I grew up in Detroit, studied and lived in France on two occasions, lived for twenty years in the Los Angeles area, and now reside in Des Moines. And before writing, I worked in the travel industry. While I’m no all-continent trekker, the observations afforded me when traveling and relocating were valuable. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see this wonderful world from various vantage points.

Health.

My writing career was prompted by years of debilitating migraines. Chronic pain is a dark and terrifying place. The goal of plotting a first novel and carrying the project through propelled me through some tough times. It also keeps me at it on good days because there’s no guarantee that another will follow.

Friends.

I’m lucky here, too. I have high-school friends, college friends, L.A. friends, and now Des Moines friends who are golden. When creating a protagonist, I borrow from their kindness, grace, and humor. And maybe an idiosyncrasy, or two.

I know I will take a moment next week to contemplate life in all its fullness. I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving. May you grow from your slumdog experiences and savor a few millionaire moments. And pass the stuffing, please.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gratitude For the Gifts (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

Like Stephanie, who posted yesterday, I've been going through some tough times personally and professionally. And like April, I try to take time to remind myself of all the blessings in my life for which I am truly grateful. But here's what I've been trying to accept: I may need to find gratitude for the hard times too. In the western world we tend to judge and label everything immediately: This is good. This is bad. And there are some elements of life for which it's hard to see any upside at all. I continue to struggle with that. But sometimes, when hard things are happening, I try my best to identify the gifts that come with the pain, and I take time out to appreciate those.

Since the summer, one of my children has been ill. This is one of the most brutal pains in existence: watching your child suffer and being able to do nothing about it. And as horrifyingly bad as this whole thing feels, I know that there are gifts there too: It has brought us all closer to one another. It is making her strong in ways she's never had to be strong before. It is reminding us of what matters and what doesn't. I would never wish this on anyone ever. But given that we have no choice, I'm trying to view the illness as a guidepost. What is it showing us? To where is it directing us? About what is it reminding us?

There are so many things I'm grateful for every day, like my immediate family and my extended family, new friends and old, our home, our community, our ability to afford medical care, our health insurance. The list goes on and on. But the really tricky part is to feel grateful not only for the parts of life that are easy to love, but to try to find gifts of gratitude in the difficult/ugly/"bad" parts of life as well.

They say that which you attend to grows. So by being grateful, we nourish the parts of life for which we are grateful. When life is difficult, it can be hard to focus on the positive. It's so easy to focus entirely on what's going wrong. But if we can find the gifts of gratitude in the mess, and spend a little focus on those, maybe they'll outgrow the hard parts and we'll end up with a wild overgrown garden where there may be some thorns, but there will be a whole lot of beauty, too.


Happy Thanks Giving <3

Monday, November 14, 2011

Being Grateful in Tough Times (Stephanie Kuehnert)

The past two years have been hard for me. Really hard. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. A lot of you may be struggling to make ends meet, frustrated with your job or situation at school, feeling like you aren't good enough to do what you love, worried about loved ones who are sick or in really bad situations of their own, having either major or minor spats with friends, significant others, family members. You might tell yourself like I always have "Well, bad things happen in threes," but then have a spell like I did over this summer where bad things were happening in nines and twelves and eighteens. If like me, you've struggled with depression, the darkness may begin to swallow you whole. You may be pissed and sad all the time and begin to lose yourself to pessimism. This has definitely happened to me both when I was a teenager and recently. The end of August through the end of September made me more hopeless than I have been for years. Everything that could go wrong did, especially in terms of my writing career. Some things that I never imagined would go wrong did, like I found myself worrying over the family member that had always been my stable rock and a friend of mine died--the fourth in four years, not something you expect when you are in your early thirties.

But when those last two terrible things happened, it put all of the other stuff into perspective. I took a step back, thought about what was most important to me, and remembered that if I could survive the scary stuff I'd just survived, I could do anything. Then I decided to focus on the good things in hope that more good would follow. Interestingly enough it did. Is everything roses, butterflies, and fresh-baked cookies now? No. But it's not all grief and fear either and the more I focus on that, the better I feel.

Now, I'm not saying that you should *force* yourself to be positive. I tried that over the summer. It only made me feel worse. Fortunately I had some wise friends and family members who told me that pretending things were hunky-dory, acting like the strong, stoic one and taking more on in the process was only making things worse for me. I also am lucky and extremely grateful that I have some truly amazing friends who will be there when I need to break, who will not turn away because it's inconvenient or turn around and talk about what a downer I am behind my back. I had two total breakdowns where I cried my heart out to two of my closest friends. One stayed up all night with me on the last night of our vacation together. A month later, when the really bad shit happened, my best friend put her very busy life aside and talked to me on the phone as long as I needed it. Then I had other friends who via email, Skype or in person, who helped me talk through my ideas to get myself back on the right track. You see after I purged all the bad emotions, I could start to see the good, starting with the faces and voices of the people who were there for me and even though life is still rather stressful and insanely busy, I've been trying to focus on the good in my life to draw strength and energy.

I like April's post about writing down three things she's grateful for every day. So I'd like to take this opportunity to write down the things I'm most grateful for right now, so that on a really rough day, I can take solace in them. These are in no particular order because they are all very important to me.

1. As discussed above, I have amazing friends. I'm lucky enough to have some that I've known since I was a teenager or even earlier, who I've been through hell and back with. In some cases, we've fought, lost our way for a while, but found our way back and gotten know each other again with great appreciation and admiration as adults. I also have newer friends. The girl I was on vacation with who stayed up all night with me, she and I met when I was in my mid-twenties, but she's become like the little sister I've always wished for.

2. I also have brilliant writer friends. When I get stuck on my story, I have multiple people I can hash it out with. When I get down about myself about my career, I have multiple people who know exactly what I'm going through and will help me get perspective and find my way again. In fact one of them helped me do this:

3. I recently signed with a great agent who really gets and believes in my work. This is probably a whole blog post in itself, but to summarize, over the past year, my career has been in a huge transition. The huge transition was kind of like starting all over. It was terrifying. But it ended well because

4. I finally finished revising and tweaking that book that I was cursing last year at this time. Yes, the damned "Bartender Book" was given a final polish late last month and thanks to the advice of the brilliant new agent and brilliant writer friends, I was totally proud, pleased, and in love. It's out on submission now and hopefully an editor will fall in love too. This of course is a very scary stage, but I think I'll be okay thanks to the last three things I mentioned and this next thing:

5. I have an incredibly supportive family. My mom and my husband are probably the two people I'm most grateful for in my life. My mom has never stopped encouraging me since I was the little book loving girl who dressed up like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Also since she is a nurse and an avid reader herself, she doesn't mind me calling her up and saying things like "So someone has been pulled out of a pool after drowning. What happens when the EMTs arrive?" Or "I want my character to have a twin who is either stillborn or died in the womb, here's my scenario, what do you think..." My husband also listens to endless plot talk and puts up with the many incidents like this:
At five to 8, Stephanie pads out of office and says, "Honey, we will have to watch The Walking Dead when it reairs at 9 because I'm not done editing yet."
At five to 9, Stephanie pads out of office, looking guilty. "Still not done, 10:30?"
And then you guessed it, Stephanie pads out of office looking really really guilty at 10:15. "We'll have to record it and watch it tomorrow, I don't think I'll be done until midnight."
And then I'm not done until 2 am and he's already sound asleep. In other words, due to my hectic writing and work schedule, he gets neglected a lot, but still he does awesome things like repainting the cozier room in our house and moving all of my writing stuff in there so...

6. I have the coolest new office ever. Instead of just being a room where I jammed in all of my crap along with my dresser and other random stuff, it's a space that is specifically devoted to me being creative and is being decorated with images and tchotchkes that draw out my muse. It's not totally done yet and when it is I will certainly post a big blog entry about it on my blog, comparing it to my old office, but for now, here is a sneak peek:


The color, not captured perfectly in this photo, is this gorgeous blue green that reminds me of my favorite place on earth, the Pacific Northwest. It's also inspired by the art piece above the desk that Holly Cupala gave me and another painting (which is not picture) that my friend Kasia did. As you can see I also surround myself with images of my dearest friends and family. And since I really want to move to Seattle but can't yet, I've got the Seattle skyline above my window so I can at least pretend I'm there--and I can keep working on that new book that I hope will make me enough money so I can move ;)

7. The office is the perfect place to work on my new book idea. Yes, I have one. It's YA (unlike the bartender book) and I'm starting to get really excited about it.

8. Also keeping me busy in the office is ROOKIE magazine. I started working for this new online magazine for teenage girls that pretty much fulfills the dream I've had since I was a teenager making 'zines. I write a couple things a month for it, but the energy of the other women (and 2 guys!) that I work with has been so inspiring and it has taught me all sorts of things. Working with people more visual than me has added a visual aspect to way I think about my books, which has been really helpful. But it's also just a great feeling to be involved in something so cool that I think will really reach a lot of teens. I dunno quite how to explain it (but I imagine I will try to do so at length on my blog at some point), but it's basically as exciting to me as when I first sold a book because writing fiction and writing these kinds of pieces for 'zine with a big audience are dual dreams for me.

9. Last but not least on my gratitude list is my readers. I'm so grateful for each any every one of you who take the time to read what I write whether it is on ROOKIE, on blogs, or in my books. I can't say how much it means to me every time I hear from readers or they find new ways to spread the word about my writing. There is a group of bloggers spotlighting contemporary YA fiction this month, which is really awesome and one of them, Ashley, was kind enough to blog about both of my books BALLADS OF SUBURBIA and I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. She did an interview with me where she asked some of the best questions I've been asked and therefore got some very honest and in depth answers. Check it out here if you are interested. You can also enter there to win your choice of either of my books.

What are you grateful for?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Characters and Gratitude - Jenny O'Connell


This month's theme is gratitude, and while there is a lot I am thankful for, I thought I'd take a different twist on this topic. Because something I always question when writing characters is whether or not I'm making them too unlikeable by making them appear ungrateful. Nothing is as unappealing, or unlikeable, as someone who is ungrateful.

Many teen stories have characters who have a chip on their shoulder - they've experienced something that has changed them as a person and perhaps that change isn't always so great. In my book RICH BOYS the character Jay has lost his mom to breast cancer. He is on the verge of flunking out of college. His relationship with his father is bad. Not a very happy guy. BUT, he comes from a family with money, he's spending the summer in their gorgeous house on Martha's Vineyard, his dad pays for college, he can basically do whatever he wants. The guy has a life many would envy. Still, he's pissed (for various reasons). But it's very difficult to have sympathy for someone who is ungrateful for all that they DO have, nobody wants to spend time with someone wallowing in thoughts of what they DON'T have.

Making Jay make sense as a character, without having him come off as just a whiner (which ungrateful people often are), took a lot of thought and I was always worried it wasn't working.

My current work in progress has me concerned with the same thing - this time a main character who has a lot to be thankful for (after all, she was diagnosed with myocarditis, a heart condition, but instead of dying she receives a new heart from a donor - so what's she got to be ungrateful about?). However, stories without conflict, without problems that need to be addressed and resolved, either externally or internally, aren't that interesting to read. So I'm walking a fine line between creating a character who realizes how lucky she is, while also giving her license to be screwed up in other ways.

Is this something other authors struggle with? Characters can often (and easily) come off as being ungrateful whiners ("woe is me") just for the sake of creating conflict. Are there stories where you just wanted to slap the character and say, "Get over it! Your life is pretty damn good! Be grateful instead of whining!" What do you think?



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thanks to You

Anyone who’s climbed the slippery mountainside to publication has stood on the shoulders of an army of cheerleaders and helpmates. Here are a few of the people I'm especially grateful for:

I’m grateful for my mother Roberta and her mother Eva who taught me to love reading by example. Our house was filled with books that they passed back and forth to each other and then on to Eva’s sisters. They never said, “Reading is fun,” or “You should read.” They simply took joy from reading, and so did I.

My parents’ work ethic was off the charts. Whether my dad was building an addition to our house, repairing his car, or sharpening the lawnmower blades, he didn’t quit until the result was perfect. Mom was the queen of organization. Her checkbook was always balanced, her office files were in order, and she knew where to find that receipt from two years ago. When my first seven novel manuscripts fell flat, their models of hard work and perseverance kept me from giving up. I regret that neither of them were here when I finally succeeded.

My eighth grade English teacher Mrs. Russell shared her passion for literature and good writing with me. In high school, Mr. Meis was the gatekeeper for all things grammar and punctuation. (He’d hate that sentence!) My college speech teachers, Mrs. Noyse and Mrs. Smith encouraged my fascination with expressive language. Their inspiration was priceless.

I’m grateful to every author who wrote a book I couldn’t put down, who set the bar for excellence higher than I can ever hope to reach. Thank you for your imagination and knowledge of your craft. When I’m stuck on a plot point or tempted to call a revision “good enough,” the quality of your writing drives me to do better.

My writing group is at the top of my gratitude list for the thousand and one ways they’ve helped me pre- and post-publication. The young adult writing community—and children’s writers in general—is a welcoming and supportive group. When I joined the original MTV blog, Jenn Echols patiently answered all my naïve rookie questions. If she was rolling her eyes, she didn’t let on, and I couldn’t see it. Thanks, Jenn!

I’m endlessly grateful to my agent, Rosemary Stimola, for taking a chance on an unknown from Iowa. And thank you to my editors Jennifer Heddle and Ruth Katcher whose comments—positive and not-so—helped me become a better writer.

Last and first on my list are all the teens and adults who’ve read my books, recommended them, and handed them to their sisters, friends, and cousins. You make me smile!!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Grand Delusions (Holly Schindler)

When I got my master’s in ’01, my mom invited me to stay home and devote my full-time efforts to getting a writing career off the ground (my lifelong dream). I figured it’d take a year or so to write a novel, then it’d sell (I was lucky enough to have placed poetry, short fiction, and literary critique in journals when I was in college, and was under the grand delusion that selling a manuscript would be a breeze for me), and in oh, two years or so, I’d have money in the bank, and I’d be off and running.

Okay, seriously. You can stop laughing now.


The truth is that it took seven and a half years just to get my first acceptance. In that time, my friends from college finished up PhDs, started teaching, doing research, became professionals. I often felt like all I had was a deep gash in the drywall where I’d spent months upon months banging my head against it.


And, let’s face it: I had guilt.


I cringe at the stereotypical portrait of the kid who’s living at home: the slacker who lies on the couch, playing video games, letting Mom do laundry, mooching, no sense of direction to speak of. That certainly has never been my life. I feel that your family is your family, regardless of what it consists of: your spouse and your children, or your siblings and parents. I participated in everything going on in my home: the upkeep, the repairs, the lawn, the floor-laying, the painting, the grocery shopping, the meal-planning…My office butts up against the laundry room, and, yes, I’ve always done my fair share of the laundry, as well.


Still, though: the guilt. You aren’t a responsible adult without feeling the sting of not contributing financially (I did teach piano and guitar lessons, and everything I made went to paying off what few bills I had—I got out of college with no student loans). Still, though, no matter how much I contributed, I often felt it wasn’t enough. I butted heads with my mom about finding work out of the house (she always talked me out of it). Instead, I worked, as we’d agreed, on my manuscripts: I created a floor-to-ceiling stack of them in those seven and a half years.


During those years, I learned to balance my writing with the comings and goings of a household. I can fix a lawnmower with one hand and outline a novel with another. I also learned that my greatest first reader is also the same person who insisted I stay home to write in the first place (Mom’s a great titler, too—she was the first to suggest the titles for both my published books). And when the triumphs finally arrived—selling a book, seeing my first book on a store shelf, getting the starred review, receiving a few lit prizes—my mom and brother, who had been my support, my sounding board for project ideas, my first set of eyes, took pride in it, too. They had a hand in it.


Come on—getting started is beyond rough. Everybody has to have some sort of help when they set out to forge a writing career. Now, when I step inside a library or a bookstore, I think there’s not just one person behind each of those titles, but a whole group of them—in addition to the writer, there’s some combination of parent, sibling, partner, spouse, etc., who supported that writer as they got started. It’s pretty incredible, when you stop to think about it…


Below: the trailer for my latest book, PLAYING HURT—a book that would never have made it to store shelves, without those years...and years...and years...of help.



Saturday, November 5, 2011

It only took 11 years...

by April Henry

For 18 years, I worked in PR and marketing for Kaiser Permanente. For 11 of those years, I was also writing a book a year (not all of them got published) and parenting. (And trying to exercise, floss, and keep the house sort of clean.)

For a lot of those years I was discouraged. Sure, I was making money writing, but it wasn't quitting money. It was vacation money. Furniture money. Once, car money. But never quitting money.

And I longed to quit. I was happy every time I read about someone who had successfully quit and upset when I read advice that said authors should never quit their day jobs. I wanted to reclaim my life. I didn't want to have a manager any more. During one four-month period, 13 people from my department were let go. I kept hoping I would join them (severance package!) but instead I was told to "channel" the CEO's vision. And then the next CEO's.

Then in the fall of 2007, I was approached about partnering with someone to write a mystery series. We ending up getting an offer for multiple books. While it wasn't a lottery-winning type amount, I also knew I would never have that much money at any one time again.

So I quit.

I quit before we had even signed the contract.

Now it's nearly four years later. And here's what I've learned in the last four years:

Money that you counted on sometimes doesn't happen.

Money that you didn't know about sometimes does.

And it all basically works out. And I am so much happier, especially if I let go and don't stress about exactly how it will all work out.

Here are two things that help me stay grounded and grateful.

Every night before I go to sleep, I think of three things I am grateful for that day. They can be really small, like a passage that turned out well or a cheerful conversation I had at the gym.

And for the bigger things, I keep a gratitude journal. If I see a blue heron, I write it down. If Girl, Stolen is the number one best seller for Scholastic Book Clubs in the month of October (which it was), I write that down.

Do you have any ways you use to keep your gratitude muscle exercised?


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Guest Post: Jean-Marc Superville Sovak (Julie Chibbaro)


For the last fifteen years, and for the rest of my life, I will be grateful to this man. A brilliant artist, a kind husband, a silly father, Jean-Marc Superville Sovak has a beautiful body of work: supervillesovak.com He also did the great illustrations for our novel Deadly.



GrAttitude by Jean-Marc Superville Sovak

I am grateful to be a guest blogger for my creative partner, Julie, and that unlike the main character of Deadly, I am not a healthy carrier of communicable disease. I am grateful that I was only without power for two days during a freak snowstorm, and that the 6 to 8 inches of wet snow did not bring a tree down onto my house or car. Now that I have power again, I’m grateful that the computer I am sitting at here is doing what I want it to do, that the little words in my head are appearing on the screen and are (hopefully) being saved somewhere and that I will (hopefully) be able to retrieve them at a later date. I am grateful to be a native English speaker and that a large percentage of the world will at least pretend to understand what I am saying, except, maybe, for the French, which is why I am also grateful to also speak French. I am grateful I was born in a country that does not have a mandatory military service because I really don’t like guns, or rather, I’m quite afraid I might like guns way too much. I’m grateful I live in New York which has some pretty tough gun control laws. I’m grateful to have had a chance to spend some time in Oklahoma (thanks to my sister) and meet some really nice people, even though their gun control laws are much looser. They really were very nice people. I’m grateful my wife is Jewish: I knew there was something vaguely Jewish on my father’s side, and now that I’ve actually had the chance to build a sukkah, I feel I’ve fully legitimized it. Really nice people. I’m grateful I live in a country where people who feel disenfranchised by the political process can go into the streets and voice their dissent without being brutalized by cops without having to rely on the financial backing of billionaire donors drumming up popular support for bogus grassroots movements. I’m grateful I live in a little town that still has clean drinking water, and that my daughter goes to kindergarten in a public school where her teacher has a classroom website set up with an email address she uses. Often. Except when there’s a snow storm or a failed power transformer. I’m grateful I remembered to hit control “S.”