Monday, December 30, 2013

2014: A YEAR OF CELEBRATING (HOLLY SCHINDLER)

My debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, will release February 6, 2014.  And, my next YA, FERAL, will release in '14 as well (official announcements regarding the exact release date and a cover reveal, etc. will be coming soon).

2014 is, in fact, looking like a year of celebrations (my last book released in '11, and I'm so, so ready to see a new title on the shelves)!

Since I'm deep in announcement mode, here's a new "official" trailer for my MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY:


My Magi--by Ellen Jensen Abbott



My post this month falls just about half way between Christmas and Epiphany, the day the Christian calendar celebrates the visit of the Magi, or the three kings, to the baby Jesus. So today I want to celebrate my magi—the three women who bring gifts to my writing life.

My first magi is my editor, Robin. When Robin reads my drafts, she sees what the draft can become and gives spot-on advice to help me realize my vision. She always reminds me that this is my book and gives me last say in any changes she suggests. She is sparing with her praise so when she says something is “good” I really believe her. She put up with my extremely long draft for The Centaur’s Daughter and helped me cut 100 pages by cutting words and phrases—not one whole page was cut! (It was just a tad over written….) She feels almost the same level of vulnerability as I do when one of our books goes out into the world, which makes me feel just a little less vulnerable.

My second magi is my agent, Ginger. Of course Ginger does all the things a good agent does: she translates the legalese of contracts and answers my never ending questions about secondary rights, how “export” differs from “foreign rights,” and the difference between unbound sheets, galleys, and ARCs. She stands up for rights I don’t even know I have. She always offers to tell my publisher the things I don’t have the guts to tell her myself, and then she proofreads the e-mail I draft when I know it really should be me who speaks up, guts or no guts. When I wrote to her angsty over the current state of a book synopsis, she began her response to me as follows: “My dearest Ellen, If you were in the room with me, I would speak softly and guide you gently down from the wall--or ceiling, as the case may be.” When a former-mentor read my manuscript and decided not to blurb it, Ginger interrupted taking her daughter to camp so she could commiserate with me.

My third magi is my beta reader, Margaret. Margaret has a PhD in history, specializing in Quaker Women, but she also loves fantasy and scifi. There is no better person than a historian to help a fantasy writer figure out issues of world building. She reads my novels and thinks about economy, demographics, social structure, and sustainability of lifestyle as well as characterization and plot development. When I was concerned that my community of Watersmeet in my first book Watersmeet was too city-like to continue as a hunter-gatherer society, she told me about a Turkish archeological site where a city was indeed supported by hunting and gathering. She is creeped out in the right places and roots for the right characters, while also saying, “Yeah, that part didn’t really work for me.” When I’ve been faced with a deadline, she’s read drafts double time and then Fedexed them to me.

Ginger (see Magi #2) pointed out to me once that success in this business is not just in Amazon rank or starred reviews. For most writers, success has to be found in other measures as well. One aspect of success is a happy, nurturing relationship with your editor, your agent, your readers. That’s what I have with Robin, Ginger, and Margaret. In this month of celebration, I want to celebrate my writing Magi.

(an image of gold, frankincense and myrrh)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Life Is Good, by Brian Katcher






Well, I'd write about my wonderful family, but it seems like that's what every other post of mine is about.  So here's my big fat celebration this year: after a five year drought, I'm going to be published again!

Thanks to my friends at Dark Continents Publishing, my new book, Everyone Dies in the End, will be out on March 15th. Here's a preview:


Sherman Andrews is going places. At seventeen, he’s been accepted in the Missouri Scholars Academy, a summer college program for the academically-oriented. He is determined to become an award-winning investigative journalist. Sherman has had a ten-year plan since he was eight, and is determined to make something of his life, unlike his low-brow plumber father or his absent mother.
While doing some research, Sherman comes across a photograph of four men, dated 1935. When a little digging reveals that three of the men were murdered shortly after the picture was taken, Sherman’s interest is piqued. He soon uncovers Depression-era records of deaths, disappearances, and cover-ups on an almost unbelievable scale. Too late, Sherman realizes that the organization responsible is still around, and they do not appreciate outside interest. They’re prepared to take drastic measures to keep him quiet, even if it means shutting him up permanently.
After narrowly escaping from a well-planned assassination attempt, Sherman must decide if he wants to flee for his life, or risk everything to become the reporter he’s always wanted to be. There are only two people he can trust to help him. One is Charlie, the cute, chubby student librarian at the historical society, who might have her eye on Sherman for another reason. The other is Denton, a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist. He claims that the organization is led by a shadowy man who died in 1966…and 1935…and 1864. The fact that Denton has been forcibly committed to the local mental hospital is just an unfortunate misunderstanding.
As the trio continues their investigation, they uncover things that have been buried for eighty years–often literally. They begin to suspect that something evil is about to reappear. And Sherman, with his dictaphone, his ironed socks, and his ten-page resume, may be the only one who can prevent a tragedy.
Interspersed with flashbacks to the original 1935 adventurers, Everyone Dies is a light-hearted coming of age story about love, growing up, and what it’s like to be buried alive.


I'm celebrating, baby!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Celebrating Positivity (Margie Gelbwasser)


It's been a tough year writing wise. I'm trying to find a new agent, and I keep getting encouraging rejections saying the agents love my writing (based on sample pages) and to please think of them in the future, but the market is not great for the book I wrote so they're going to pass. Here's the thing. I don't write to trends. I just write what I love and hope someone wants it. Unfortunately, this time, the book I wrote is dystopian. According to numerous blogs and publishing info, dystopian is dead, buried, makes editors want to throw up or curl into a fetal position (I really read this). My hope was that someone would say, “You're an awesome writer, and I don't think I can sell this now, but you have potential so let's make this work.” I know. I know. That's a tall order, but I know people this has happened to, so a girl can dream.

Speaking of dreams. The writing one has always been mine. I have two YA contemps published, but they were FAR, FAR from best sellers, although they did get really good reviews. So that's two strikes, right? Books that didn't do great and a new one that's so scary in this current publishing climate, it makes people want to run away.

I was down for awhile about this and thinking about what I can do. I have ideas like reworking my pitch to highlight the other elements of the book (I feel it's more political than dystopian, but clearly I did not represent this in the query) and moving some things around in the opening pages. I also decided not to give up. Another thing I decided to do is go back to the contemp book I started last year but put aside in favor of the dystop. I will also continue to put my all into the other contracted projects I have—books I am excited about and thankful to have the opportunity to write.

And, above all, I decided to be positive. This is not easy when anxiety and such pull at me, and when it's so much easier to wallow. But positive energy brings positivity. I truly believe this. Besides, letting myself fall prey to negativity and feelings of failure don't help. They don't create a book that will sell. They don't conjure an agent. All they do is make me feel worse.

I'll tell you something else. Making the conscious decision to feel positive and go about life looking at stuff in that light, has made me feel a lot better. It makes me feel like things are possible, like if I put my mind to finishing the contemp, to reworking the dystop, to working on my other projects, good things will come.

                                                                                     


I have a six-year-old son who knows his mommy is a writer, who knows that's what I have always loved to do. I don't want him seeing me giving up. I want him to grow up thinking it's ok to feel sad and want more, but to then keep going. To keep striving. Even when it takes all you have to do so.

So that's what I'm celebrating. Positivity. Determination. The decision to keep chasing my dream, until it's in my grasp again.

Friday, December 27, 2013

December-January transition (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I have always loved the holiday celebrations in December: the parties and gatherings, the quiet days at home, the decorations, the music, the food. Even in years when sad events have intruded, I’ve found the holidays comforting rather than painful.

As of this writing, I’ve been enjoying December with my usual enthusiasm. January is the month that gives me trouble: it seems bleak and boring in comparison. The party’s over, quite literally, and what do we have to look forward to? Months of freezing cold and gray skies. It’s back to the drudgery of regular life, the chores, the alarm clock going off while it’s still dark out. People rip down the colored lights and tinsel that make December so warm. If January had a color, I sometimes think, it would be concrete-gray.

The past few years, I’ve had new books or new editions releasing in January, which at least helped the start of the year feel more festive. That won’t be the case in 2014, but the new year will bring new beginnings in a different way. I’m at a point in my life where I’ve been lucky enough to reach many of my goals, and now I’m thinking about what’s next.

Sometimes the blank whiteness of January is like a fresh sheet of paper, or the screen of a new computer file.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Book Sale that Saved Me - Kristin Rae

This has been one of the hardest years I've ever known. I don't feel like celebrating anything these days. Except for the New Year. Where are you 2014? I need you and your fresh start.

What's weird, 2013 started out REALLY good. I sold my book in February! Just before my 30th birthday, too! I was actually going to be published! This year ROCKS!

Then the world fell apart. I won't depress you all by throwing my woes on you, but I will say I'm still struggling. I became so angry that the year took such a turn that effected so many people I love, then it just kept turning and turning down darker and darker paths. I've dealt with things I never dreamed I'd experience. I've watched our closest friends suffer a terrible loss. I wasn't prepared to handle any of it. But who is ever ready for hard times? Especially the kind that wreck you emotionally through and through. I don't know what I would have done without my family and my most wonderful husband to hold my hand through all of it.

And I had no idea how much I would cling to the memories of celebrating my book sale. My dad and grandmother and I went to Orlando for my birthday (my mom has been ill for nearly two years, so she couldn't go), and partied with Harry Potter, drinking pumpkin juice and butterbeer and riding everything at both Universal parks multiple times over three glorious days (yes, my grandma still rides roller coasters! She just can't scream with her mouth open or her teeth will fall out).

Hogsmeade at night - iPhone and some Instagram filter

Selfie with Grandma Rosie in front of the Despicable Me house.

Each time I dipped back into my dark place, I was due for another round of edits, or I got to see my cover for the first time, or some blogger would randomly find out about my book and send me a gushing email about their anticipation. Something to focus on. Something to look forward to. Something good. This book kept me from completely losing it this year.

I celebrate the coming New Year, 2014, and the hope of healing, moving forward, talking less, loving more, and, of course, a book launch!
 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Smiles in a Tiny Cookie by Patty Blount

This month, we’re blogging about celebrations. Appropriate, right?

I think so, too. That’s because this year, I’ve learned to celebrate the things worth celebrating instead of the ones that are not.

It began at my mom’s memorial service, last spring. For the past 26 years, I’ve been baking rainbow cookies every Christmas, those Italian green, yellow and red layered ones? After she passed, my sister and I decided to serve her favorite foods at the memorial service so I made rainbow cookies because she always used to tell me how much she loved the way I made these cookies.

The recipe was hers. I baked my first batch when I was twenty-one years old. And every year, she would say my cookies were so much better than hers. They were lighter, moister, stayed fresh longer. She’d grill me on the steps I followed and every year, I assured her I was following her recipe exactly as written.

Then, one year, she watched me make them and noticed I used almond filling instead of almond paste.

Oops.

We had quite a laugh over this. I continued making the cookies my way and she made them her way. This perplexed me since she’d always said she liked my version better. I attempted making them with almond paste once but burned the batch so never tried again. So here we are, at the memorial service and my sister dropped this bomb:

“Mom  never really liked your cookies. She just said that.”

To say I was stunned would be the understatement of my lifetime. This recipe mistake began when I was twenty-one years old. I’m in my mid-forties now, so had I been deluded for over half my life? The impact this remark had on me was profound – I know this sounds ridiculous, but it was worse than learning she’d died. I’d expected that. She was in hospice care; we knew her end was near. But this? This was a blow as sure and as deep as any wound.

I cried great volumes of tears over this revelation. And I vowed I’d never bake those cookies again. And so, Christmas last year was empty, devoid of any meaning because I’d not only lost my mother, I’d lost the warm fuzzy feelings so many of our shared memories once held. I don’t pretend to know my sister’s reason for sharing this news and to her credit, she did try to backpedal and assure me Mom still loved my recipe version but the damage was done.

How can you unhear something like this? Or unknow it?

It sent me into a tailspin. I didn’t go to church, I didn’t decorate the house, I didn’t bake, and I didn’t acknowledge Mom's birthday. I obsessed – how many other memories are tainted because she lied to me? How many other things did I fail at?

My attitude adjustment came from the most unlikely of sources – my son, Rob. Rob assured me he loves my cookies and even cajoled me into baking him a batch on Christmas Eve. Then he reminded me of all the requests for that recipe that I’ve received over the years. I’ve brought them to parties, mailed them to Twitter friends, and even brought a batch to a book signing once. He pointed something out that now seems so obvious, I’m ashamed to tell you I never considered it. He said, “If all those people were just humoring you, they wouldn’t keep asking you to make the cookies. They’d try one and never mention them again. Why can’t you count the smiles instead of the tears?”

Is there anything more gratifying than a wise child who can counsel his not-so-wise Mom?

I made him the cookies. And I made them several more times throughout the year – even mailed a batch to one of my favorite writers, who’s a big fan. I’m not ‘over’ the hurt my sister’s comment caused – I don’t know that I ever can be. But with my son’s wise words, I’ve learned to stop dwelling on the tears and look for the smiles. I hadn’t noticed how much my own little family connects those cookies to Christmas time, or how they’ve brightened someone’s celebration. So here’s my recipe for Italian Rainbow Cookies. I hope you’ll bake them and add to my smile collection.

Note: You may find baking with waxed paper triggers your smoke alarm.

Ingredients:

4        large or medium eggs, separated
1        can of Solo Almond Filling (Note: Other recipes call for Almond Paste, but I have found the secret to success is using almond FILLING.)
1½ cups (3 sticks) of butter, softened in microwave
1        cup sugar
2        cups all purpose flour
¼   teaspoon salt
Green and red food coloring
1        jar of apricot or raspberry preserves
2        ounces of semi-sweet chocolate (either squares or chips) for glaze, or use preserves
1 ounce of cream or Crisco to soften the chocolate


1        Grease three 13 x 9 x 2 inch pans; line each pan with wax paper and then grease the paper. Hint: Let wax paper over-hang short edges of pan to use as ‘handles’ when removing baked layers. Set out three sheets of wax paper on heat-proof surface to receive baked layers when removed from pans.

2        Beat egg whites with electric mixer in small bowl until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

3        Break up almond filling with a fork. Add butter, sugar, egg yolks. Beat with electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Beat in flour a little at a time and salt until blended.

4        Fold beaten egg whites into mixture with wire whip.

5        It helps to tint one batch at a time. Remove about a cup and a half of batter; spread evenly into one of prepared pans. This will be your yellow layer. Use a spoon to force batter to coat bottom of pan and reach the edges. If you find there just isn’t enough, remove a scant spoonful at a time from the bowl and add to the pan until the pan is covered.  Use another bowl to divide the remaining batter in half; tint one half green and LEAVE THE REMAINING HALF YELLOW UNTIL NEXT STEP. Spread the green batter in the second prepared pan. You may add a spoonful of untinted batter, mixing carefully in the pan, until the pan is completely covered. Finally, tint the remaining batter red; spread into last prepared pan.
6        Bake in moderate oven (350º) about 15 minutes until edges are lightly brown. Center should not be sticky or shiny. Note: layers will be very thin; less than a quarter inch.
7        Immediately upon removing pans from oven, invert each layer onto the waxed paper you laid out in Step 1. Peel off the baking liner paper carefully, trying not to tear layers. Cool completely.
8        Heat preserves; strain. Use the waxed paper to carefully lift the green layer onto a jelly roll pan or other flat pan that will fit into a refrigerator. Spread a thin layer of preserves onto green layer; spread to all edges. You may remove any remaining lumps, if desired.

Use the waxed paper to carefully lift, align and flip yellow layer on top of preserves-topped green layer. If you do not align edges properly, CAREFULLY try to slide layer into place without tearing. Spread another layer of preserves on top of the yellow layer; spread to all edges.

Use the waxed paper to carefully lift, align and flip the red layer on top of the yellow layer.

9        Cover tightly with plastic wrap; weight with large book (phone book or textbook) and refrigerate over night to encourage the layers to adhere.

10    Next day: Melt chocolate in microwave until smooth. Add cream or Crisco to keep the chocolate from re-hardening. Spread chocolate over top of assembled cake. Smooth to all edges. Let set in refrigerator, about 30 minutes. Optional: Top with ice cream sprinkles or nuts.

11    Trim the rough edges from cake and discard. Cut trimmed cake into 1 x 1 inch squares with a very sharp, non-serrated knife. (Serrated knives ‘saw’ the cake, grinding the fragile layers.) It helps to cut a length off the cake and flip it on its side to slice into squares so the chocolate layer is not ruined.


12    Enjoy! 


Monday, December 16, 2013

A Celebration Tradition by Jody Casella

I am not good at the celebrating part of celebrations.

I'm the planner, the preparer, the checker-offer-of-the lists, the run around the house picker upper, the thrower together of multiple casseroles. And after the celebration is over, I'm cleaning it all up and on to planning the next thing.

The part in the middle, the part where you actually stop and enjoy the celebration--that's the part I am not so good at.

There is one time of year, though, that I do pause. I don't write. I don't read. I stop making lists and worrying about to-dos and simply enjoy my company. For one week every year, after the Christmas guests have left, another set of visitors descends upon our house to celebrate New Year's. We've been hosting this gathering--basically an extended, three-family slumber party--for 12 years.

The tradition started the way many traditions do, not realizing it was going to be a tradition. The three families met when the kids were in preschool and then one family moved several states away. That was the year 9/11 happened, and by New Year's, we were all missing each other and wanting to reconnect.

The kids fell back to playing as if they'd never been apart. The adults caught up. We made tons of food. We played games. We went on a hike. Shopped. Watched football. And toasted in 2002, vowing to do it all again forever after.

And somehow we have.

We play.



And make messes.


And eat tons of food.

We go on hikes.

Every year it is the same.

We watch the New Year's Rockin' Eve Countdown on TV and play a marathon game of Phase Ten. Deb records everyone's resolutions and reminds us the next year what we resolved to do the year before.

The fathers (miraculously) win the father/son football game.


Tim brings a yard o' beef.


And Marianne creates some kind of matching outfit deal for the kids.


Things change too and we marvel at it. The oldest of the kids is now twenty. The baby is in middle school. We've moved houses and changed jobs.

Time marches marches marches on.

Every year we wonder if this will be the year the kids don't return home, we all go our separate ways and the celebration peters out.

Maybe that will happen one of these days.


But not this year.








Sunday, December 15, 2013

Celebrating Secondary Characters (Amy K. Nichols)

This month we're talking about celebrations, and I am all about celebrating right now. On Friday, I sent the manuscript for my second book, While You Were Gone, to my agent and editor! 



But I'm not only celebrating the fact I made my deadline. I'm celebrating something else.

Secondary characters who become something more.

In the initial drafts of my first book, Now That You're Here, I wrote a very minor character who walked into a scene in the third chapter and then never returned. My editor loved that minor character and suggested I find ways to expand her role in the story. By the time the final revisions were done, she'd become a linchpin of sorts, with her actions snowballing into major problems for the main characters. It was very cool to see her change and grow. 

As I reached the end of While You Were Gone, I realized it had happened again. A secondary character had gone through a complete transformation. 

Now That You're Here is the story of a boy named Danny who jumps to a parallel dimension, taking the place of the Danny who originally lived there. When I first wrote the book, I knew the Danny who was displaced by the arrival of the boy from the parallel dimension wasn't a very likable person. His parents had died when he was young, and he was a product of the foster system. Living in an abusive foster home, this boy turned around and abused others. Not a nice guy. Which is why others are so surprised when the new Danny shows up and is suddenly so different. 

While You Were Gone is the story of the Danny displaced in book one, the unlikable bully who finds himself in a parallel universe where he suddenly has everything he's ever wanted. Parents. Friends. A home. The world he's arrived in brings a slew of problems he has to overcome, but for the first time in his life, he has a chance at happiness.

As a writer, I can't even begin to express how satisfying it was to see this minor character from the first book evolve into the hero of the second. When I understood what had happened, who Danny the Bully had become, I sat back and cried.

That, to me, is the magic of writing. The surprising moment when some small thing your subconscious threw into the first draft because it was funny or cool or felt right becomes bigger and more important than you ever could have imagined. It's why I like Neville Longbottom's story better than Harry Potter's. And it's definitely something worth celebrating.

Have you experienced that kind of transformation in your writing? Tell us about it in the comments!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ghostwriting for Santa (by Nancy Ohlin)

When I was a child, my family wasn’t much into celebrations.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  My mom was usually in a Jack Daniels stupor, holiday or not.  My dad lived far away and never sent presents or even cards.  My step-dad’s annual Christmas gift to me was a shoebox filled with pencils, tape, and other office supplies because he claimed that I always borrowed his and never gave them back.   

Sad, I know.  But I more than made up for this deprivation by becoming a total celebration-aholic as an adult.  Here is a quick rundown:

*I make a HUGE big deal out of birthdays—mine, my husband’s, and our childrens’.  I insist on celebrating birthday weeks and, on occasion, birthday months.  Half birthdays, too.   Jens knows to check in with me long before my actual birthday to find out what I’d like on the day of:  a party, an intimate dinner with close friends, a cake made by our five-year-old, or a romantic evening out.  Or all of the above spread out over the month of April. 

*When it comes to gift-bearing immortal beings, we not only have Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny in our house, but the Valentine’s Day Fairy and the Birthday Fairy, too.  They all leave notes in curly, old-fashioned handwriting that looks nothing like mine, and presents wrapped in unfamiliar paper that looks nothing like the paper on the other presents.

*Weeks before a major holiday or the like, our five year-old, Clara, and I decorate like crazy.  Emphasis on “crazy.”  I once swore I would never shop at A. C. Moore, but that ship sailed long ago.  Included on the list are birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  I’m sure that at some point, we’ll be adding Groundhog Day and Arbor Day.

*I love to organize Easter egg hunts!  When our son Christopher and his friends got too old for candy-filled eggs, I used folded-up dollar bills instead.  They were pretty into that.

*Over the years, our family has adopted lots of Christmas traditions.  Every December, Jens, Christopher, Clara, and I go out and each choose one new ornament for the tree.  (I got this from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.  Of course, Clara has learned to scam us by claiming that our cats need an ornament, too … and so does our bunny … and so does her stuffed bear …)  We hide a pickle ornament in the tree for the children.  (Whoever finds it gets an extra present.)  We read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.  We always watch White Christmas as a family.  Jens being Swedish, he makes a holiday smorgasbord for a big group, complete with rice pudding that contains a single blanched almond.  (Whoever gets the almond wins the marzipan pig and is the next to be married.)

*And last but not least, we have Christopher's first Carnegie Hall performance, his college acceptances, his high school graduation, and his first day at Juilliard.  Needless to say, these types of milestones were/are/always will be observed with appropriate fanfare (as well as much maternal weeping, most of it happy).

That all being said …

I had one of my best celebrations this fall, and it didn’t follow the usual pattern of exuberance and excess.   It happened on October 12th, which was Jens’ and my tenth wedding anniversary.

Up until then, 2013 had been a pretty sucky year. I was still undergoing treatment after being hit by a car in 2012.  In July, Jens almost died from a rare illness.  In September, my dad passed away, unexpectedly and before I’d had a chance to make my peace with him.

On October 11th, Jens had outpatient surgery to have his pacemaker removed.  (The abovementioned illness had required an emergency pacemaker insertion, which his doctors now wanted to reverse.)  So we knew he wouldn’t be up for a major celebration on the 12th.  Besides which, neither of us was in a particularly boisterous mood after the past few months. 

On the morning of the 12th, I woke up with a dour “do I really have to get up and face this day?” attitude.  Likewise, Jens was uncomfortable from his surgery and stressed about stuff in general.  We were clearly slated to have a less-than-stellar day.

Then this wonderful, out-of-the-blue idea hit me.   As we were lying in bed and listening to Clara clamoring for breakfast/TV/toys, I leaned over and said to Jens:   “Just for today, let’s forget about everything bad.  Let’s just be really, really happy and enjoy our anniversary.”

With that statement, I actually felt the chemicals rearrange themselves in my brain and send me into a state of calm and bliss.  Jens said he felt it, too.  For the rest of the day, we were both in a joyful mood, simply because we had decided to make it so.  We didn’t have a party; we didn’t exchange presents; we didn’t even open a bottle of champagne.  We just celebrated in our hearts and with each other as we went through what was otherwise a very ordinary day.

I wish I could invoke this simple mental magic all the time.  I haven’t quite achieved that level of enlightenment yet.   

Still, during this month of festivities, exuberance, and excess, I will try hard to remember what happened on October 12th.  And as I watch White Christmas, eat rice pudding, and ghostwrite for Santa, I know exactly what I will be celebrating:

*Jens is healthy.  So are Christopher, Clara, and I.

*We have each other.

*We have our friends and family.

*There is more love in our house than I ever imagined possible.

Happy Holidays.






Friday, December 13, 2013

Celebrating Change & True Happiness (Stephanie Kuehnert)

Comparing this year’s Thanksgiving celebration to the last two is indicative of how much my life has changed this year. Two years ago on Thanksgiving, I had an epic, toddler-style meltdown about an hour before we had to leave for my in-laws. I couldn’t find the sweater I wanted to wear. I was exhausted from bartending until 3 am the night before on the busiest bar (and most godawful, amateur-filled) bar night of the year. I’d gotten up after very little sleep (it’s hard to wind down after a busy night) to make Tofurkey and mashed potatoes and roasted veggies to schlep with me because I’m vegan, my husband’s vegetarian, but everyone else eats meat. I was going to have to leave Thanksgiving around 6:30 to go back to work. I seriously crawled back into bed, crying and begged, “Can’t we please just stay here and watch Mad Men until I have to go to work? PLEASE!” But people were expecting us and we had to go. “Someday,” I grumbled, “ someday we are going to have Thanksgiving just the two of us. It’s going to be all vegan, we’re going to eat on the couch, and I am not getting out of my pajamas.”

Last year we followed the usual routine. Work til 3 am, get up, cook, go to relatives, go back to work. I didn’t complain because I was so grateful that my elderly cat, Sid, who’d been very sick was having a decent day. I didn’t want to leave his side and part of me wishes that I hadn’t because he passed away three days later. Sid was my closest friend since I was a teenager. He helped me through my hardest times and accompanied me on life’s adventures. (If you want to read more about him, Rookie was kind enough to run my tribute to him on the anniversary of his death. Have tissue handy.) He’d been ill for a couple years. That plus my frustration with the state of my writing career had me in a seriously dark place. During Sid’s last hours, I promised him repeatedly that I would be brave enough to do what I knew I needed to do to make it better—I would move across the country to Seattle.

I’d held back from making this move partially because of Sid’s illness—I didn’t want to take him away from his vet—but largely because I am terrified of change. I knew I couldn’t continue being miserable just because it was safe though. I had to keep my promise and take a risk.

We drove across the country from Chicago to Seattle in the beginning of July and I’ve been celebrating ever since. Even though the physical move itself was stressful, I celebrated going on this incredible adventure with the love of my life:


I celebrated our new apartment with its incredible view of Mount Rainer on clear days:





I celebrated what cloudy, rainy days can bring:


I celebrated my first grown-up furniture purchases: a kitchen table and a couch that are actually new, not just new to me. I also regularly celebrate that I have two healthy cats who love each other and love that new couch:
Kaspar and Lars

I celebrated meeting amazing new friends, reuniting with one of my best friends from high school who moved to Seattle years ago, hanging out with Seattle-based writer friends that I only used to spend time with online or at conferences. I miss my Chicago friends and family, but I love our regular texts, phone calls and video chats that keep us close. Also moving has meant getting like a card a week from my mom.

We celebrate the outdoors every Sunday with a new hike or walk. We’ve been all over Seattle, out east to the mountains, to towns north and south, and to Olympia, our fair capitol. I’ve taken too many pictures to choose one or two, but you can find them all on my tumblr.

Every Saturday morning, I celebrate a newfound love of running—something I always thought I hated. Amazing what a temperate climate and a gorgeous view can do to motivate you to run 4 miles on a regular basis:

The view of Lake Washington from one end of my run
The view of downtown Seattle from the other
I celebrate living in a city with tons of great vegan food. Vegan pizza, vegan cupcakes, vegan comfort/diner food, gourmet vegan dishes, awesome vegan nachos and sandwiches with sci-fi names? I can get all of these things easily at any time.

I celebrate living in a city with happy hour and NOT being in the service industry anymore.

I celebrated a new job. Full-time work with a salary and benefits, something I haven’t had in five years. I celebrated the fact that I was able to find this in a place that is still creative—the English Department of a local university, and even though it’s admin office work, I can dress how I want, don’t have to cover my tattoos, and can keep the funky streaks in my hair. I also adore the people I work with and share the values of the institution, which has a strong focus on social justice and the environment. I can walk to work in less than half an hour, though I usually take the bus in the mornings. I always thought I’d hate getting up at 6 am, but I don’t actually mind it at all. It probably helps that my mornings look like this:

The view from my bus stop

I celebrated teaching three great classes this year. One at Columbia College Chicago before I moved, one online with MediaBistro, and one at a stellar organization for writers in Seattle called Hugo House.

I did finally celebrate Thanksgiving exactly how I wanted to. I stayed in my pajamas all day, cooked a giant vegan feast with my husband that was just for the two of us so we had leftovers for like a week, and we watched “Treksgiving,” an all-day Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon on BBC America.  Having so much just-the-two-of-us time with my husband is something I’ve really learned to treasure this year. And seriously, look at this food. I can’t wait to do it again for Christmas—after I get back from a trip to California to see a friend and the cousin I haven’t seen in ages, another perk of moving to the West Coast.


Tofurkey, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, roast brussel sprouts, winter squash bowls, and locally made cider

It would be neglectful not to mention that I did celebrate finishing a manuscript this year. The book, which I’ve been referring to as “The Grief Book” is definitely the best thing I’ve written so far. As of now, I still haven’t found a home for it or the adult book I finished two years ago. I am incredibly proud of it nonetheless and hope I will get to celebrate some writing success next year. This year did bring the publication of VerySuperstitious, a charity anthology about urban legends that I contributed a short story to. Rookie Yearbook Two, which features the essay I am most proud of, also came out in October and I was able to celebrate the release at an amazing all-ages venue in Seattle called the Vera Project. Right now, with my full-time job, and after five years of working nonstop, a new commitment to having time for myself, my friends, and especially my husband, writing for Rookie is just about all of the writing I’m doing. I feel a little bit guilty about that and maybe it will shift in 2014, but for now, I’m telling myself it’s okay because 2013 was exactly the year I needed it to be: A celebration of change and true happiness. 

What changes did you celebrate in 2013?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

This Blog Post Is A Celebration (Jennifer Castle)

I won't lie. It's been a tough year. If 2013 were a movie, I'd already be halfway out of the seat with my coat on. I would give it two stars, a thumbs down, and definitely not recommend it to others.

As such, this was not an easy post for me to deal with. Right now even the idea of "celebration" makes me want to blow a raspberry at the universe. But like any good writing prompt, it got me thinking past that first impulse.

And yeah, I'll admit it: the trees outside my office window are gilded with snow that sparkles and makes something inside me perk up. Today I saw a dozen deer bounding through the yard and took a deep breath and thought, beautiful. It's the time of year when electric colored lights turn me into a cheap date, sighing ooh and aah at even the most garish (especially the most garish) decorations.

So okay, fine. Quietly, joyfully, simply with the act of listing them here, I will celebrate some things:

  • My older daughter's learning difficulties finally getting identified and addressed, and her working hard to overcome them
  • My younger daughter's medical issues under control, and her thriving in kindergarten
  • My current book draft no longer totally sucking
  • Healthy, supportive friendships (including some new ones) with women who rock
  • Transitioning to a plant-based diet and enjoying it (so far)
  • The fact that I still love my elderly cat even though I spend 6% of every day cleaning up his puke
  • The forever-cool notion that I've now published two novels, which people I don’t even know are reading and enjoying
  • My Dad turning 80 and still able to captain a sailboat, fly a plane, and shred a ski slope
  • The near-guarantee that next year will be better
  • Love
  • Life
  • Hope
  • Wait a minute. I could actually go on and on. But I think I'll do that offline...
*throws confetti*
*hands out virtual baggies of chocolate covered pretzels to all of you*

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

YAY!!!!!! (Sydney Salter)

But should I really expose others to my celebrating?

Last week I finished my novel, the one I've been working on for two years. The one I sometimes shoved aside in despair. But now it's finished and I am happy with the story. YAY!!!

Re-reading the last paragraph of my novel (YAY!!!) coincided with the end of the school day. I'd already received one text from my 8th grader: Are U coming? It's freezing.

So I slipped my fuzzy-socked feet into my Danskos and jumped into the car. Hair not washed, but I found some sort of hat lying on my un-vacuumed floor. I'd been wearing the same sweatpants for, um, awhile. And my top half was covered in a mismatching sweatshirt.



Okay, so I have to admit that I often drive carpool looking like this. I think it's good for 8th grade fashionistas to have a role model of a different sort (although they probably just shudder in horror & swear they'll never stoop so low).

I announced that I'd finished my novel. YAY!!!

After we dropped off our carpool, my daughter begged me to go get cupcakes so we could celebrate. I demurred. "I'm wearing fuzzy socks with Danksos and there's dog drool on my sweatpants." She was not fazed (she likes cupcakes as much as I do). And, really, I do try to emphasize that appearance doesn't matter, so I hauled my bedraggled self into the cute blue and white cupcake shop and picked out four much-cuter celebratory cupcakes. YAY!!!!

[photo unavailable. Munch. Munch.]

Sometimes celebrating doesn't look good, but it always tastes, I mean, feels good. Now that finished novel is in my daughter's room being read for the very first, all the way finished, time. Remember-- appearances don't matter.




YAY!!!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Celebrate This - Jenny O'Connell

Hmmm... celebrations. Seems like a logical blog topic given the season, and I am definitely one to love a good celebration. But this month I have a hard time thinking about what to write about. The every day celebrations (I got a parking space! There's no line at the post office!), the special occasion celebration (my book sold! My best friend is in town!), and the annual celebrations that we know will always arrive (Birthday! Christmas!).

Well, the other day I was cleaning out a drawer and I found a little notebook I started keeping when my kids were little. It wasn't a journal, I'm a horrible journaler, but rather just sentences labeled 1, 2 and 3, along with a date. So, back in October of 2000 I apparently started writing down three things I was grateful for every day. And as I read them they jogged my memory of amazing things that made me happy - soft flannel sheets, a really good tuna sandwich, how my infant son loved to put my nose in his toothless mouth, that my parents' lost cat found her way home, ant spray, egg nog, a burst of creativity, watching the Sound of Music.

All of things that made me grateful were small, free, and yet worth celebrating just because without them there would be fewer smiles in my life (building a fort out of sofa cushions, chocolate chip cookie dough).

As I think about those little things I wanted to celebrate, even if just by being grateful for them in a journal, I think about characters and what makes them come to life. I truly believe it's the little things about our characters - how they curl up in bed, the way they sneak a fingertip into a bowl of cake batter - that bring them to life. Finding my journal was a reminder to look for the things my characters celebrate, no matter how small, and let the reader see those celebrations. It gives them a dimension and texture with a simple action, a fleeting thought and can speak louder and clearer than all the grand gestures and dialog put together.

And when I realized that I celebrated - with a nice glass of egg nog.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Celebrate Your Ugly Things--Kimberly Sabatini

Let's face it, celebrating the good things in life is a walk in the park. It's easy to get behind success and happy times. What's not to love? I always give *fist pumps* to birthdays, weddings, great report cards, agent signings, new homes, book sales, births, completed runs and chocolate ice cream on a hot day--or any day really.

What's not so easy? Celebrating your ugly things.

And maybe your gut reaction to this weird take on celebrations is to look at me like I'm wearing my underwear on my head. LOL! I understand. Not too long ago, I would have looked at me the same way. But I've had a bit of an epiphany as I wrote and rewrote my debut novel, TOUCHING THE SURFACE.

Life altering mistakes are meant to alter lives…

I could talk to you about the silver linings I've had to embrace while coming to terms with the death of my Dad. Or any number of things that drove me to the creation of SURFACE. But the real answers are not in the details. They in the long view--the big picture. And perhaps that is why they are so hard to see clearly.

I used to think that when bad things, hard things, uncomfortable things happen--it must've been because I'd done something wrong. Now I try (try being the operative word) not to think like that any more. Instead I imagine I'm looking at the big picture of my life through a small window--just a little peep hole. Like this…



When I can't see the expansive whole, because my hole is to narrow, it doesn't mean my life is small--just my vision for it. And I'll be honest, I'm not sure if I believe there's a good reason for every bad thing that happens OR there are no wrong decisions, just wrong attitudes. The truth is--I don't think it matters--the end result is the same. As Newton would tell you--two oppositely charged objects attract. I've come to believe I need both the positives and the negatives to alter my life for the better.

So, as 2013 comes to an end, I'm going to look back and make a conscious effort to celebrate my ugly things. I may not always appreciate them right out of the gate, but as far as I know, I've got time to figure it out.

Happy New Year and don't forget to celebrate your ugly things.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

DOING THE DANCE OF JOY

I celebrate a lot. Because as I once famously told a classroom of seniors, having stolen the line from someone (although I can’t remember who), “We don’t go out of this world the same way we came in.” Which was my way of saying, eat the birthday cake and get a pony or whatever it is that makes you joyful. (I give a version of that line to Jenna Samuels in next year’s The A-Word, by the way. Just to throw out a shameless promotional plug.)

Point being: Life is weird and short. It throws curveballs at us on a regular basis. To paraphrase John Bender from The Breakfast Club, “It’s an imperfect world. Screws fall out all the time.”

So celebrate! Do the Dance of Joy. (stole that one from Joss Whedon) Make some noise. Because tomorrow things might suck. Possibly in five minutes. Eat the damn cupcake already! Light a sparkler!

How do I celebrate the good stuff? Nothing particularly extravagant most of the time. Homemade food. A cup of Starbucks coffee because it costs just enough too much to make me feel celebratory—as long as I don’t have one every day. Inviting friends over/going out with friends/talking to friends. Allowing myself (even if I’ve got crazy deadlines and am panicking) the luxury of an evening with fuzzy socks, a blanket, red wine, and a movie/tv show. Reading a book I’ve wanted to read. Buying/making a gift for people I love. Taking a walk and getting my thoughts in order. (Yes, this is a form of celebration for me. These days when I get a new book contract, I wait a bit before I spread the news, and not just because my agent has told me to keep it quiet. But because it’s nice to have it be just mine for a bit. Thanking my imagination and my tenacity and some lucky timing and whatever it took internally to write something that someone else was willing to pay me money for. That’s huge. And a quiet, private celebration makes me aware of what it took to get there.

What am I currently celebrating? In no particular order:

  1. My brilliant editors who care deeply about the work I do, about making it shine, about publishing it well. Currently I celebrate my editors at Soho Press and Balzer and Bray!
  2. Our current state of general health. We’ve had some ups and downs in our family in that regard this past year, and so when everyone’s smiling and feeling chipper, it’s a good day.
  3. The fact that I am still working at a job I love. In the past few years, I’ve learned how rare that is (I really didn’t know), and so I know it’s worth cheering for.
  4. Our son and daughter in law—who found each other and are making a lovely little life for themselves with Bernie the wonder dog. Cheers to that.
  5. The people I am honored to hang out with: readers and writers and friends old and new. I CELEBRATE them and all they bring to my life.

I could go on. But that’s a good start. 

What are you celebrating and how? Let me know!