Thursday, December 13, 2018

Turning the Page (Jodi Moore)


Last year, instead of sharing my goals on the blog, I selected a word to inspire me. The word was “connect”. There were so many amazing words to choose from, but as an author, this one spoke to me. I have to connect with my readers…to help them connect with their world.

Admittedly, this is a hard blog to write because at the moment, I feel more than a bit disconnected. Last week, I received a call that no one ever wants to receive. My dad suddenly and unexpectedly left this world. 



I’m devastated. Our entire family is. He was a loving father and grandfather. I remember, as a child, standing at the top of our steps and jumping off with abandon, secure in knowing my dad would catch me at the bottom. He always provided that safe place to land. I guess you could say it was a living metaphor of what was to come in my teenage years, where my mom – and thus, the entire family – battled with the challenges of mental illness and the alcohol with which she tried to wash it down.

My dad never let me fall. Ever.

I started to write we never got a chance to say our last goodbye. Or “I love you”. But that’s not true. Because my dad and I were connected. I spoke to him every week (if not more) and though he lived one thousand miles away, we visited him as much as we could. I called him the day before he died to wish him Happy Hanukkah. We laughed. We talked about normal, everyday things. The price of getting a car fixed. Computer issues. Potato latkes. And the great pride we shared in our family.

And at the end, before we said goodbye, we said, “I love you.” We always did.

Of course, since life can be an unruly tangle of extreme joy and pain, the following day I was given permission by my Flashlight Press editor to share that there will be a new Dragon book next May, a board book for the littlest readers called I Love My Dragon.

It’s bittersweet for me. My dad knew it was coming, of course. But what he didn’t know was that it had been dedicated in part to him. It was supposed to be a surprise:

For Mom, who placed that first book in my hand, and for Dad, who helped turn the page.

I truly wish I could place this book in his hand.
  
Much love and thanks to my editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, our brilliant illustrator, Howard McWilliam, and the entire Flashlight family for making this book, this dedication, possible.

Please hug your precious ones a little harder today. Tell them you love them. Provide them that safe place to land. Connect. It’s the greatest gift you can both give and receive. Wishing you all a happy, healthy and safe holiday season, surrounded by family, friends and love.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Goals (Maryanne Fantalis)

I don't like goals.

I generally don't make them because, once made, they sit there taunting me. They know I will fail. I know I will fail. Let's just all agree that we're just not even going to bother, okay?

I've written about this before. In 2015, I had high hopes. I mean, not really that high. I was going to read some of the books in my house before bringing in new ones. I was going to read Middlemarch. I was going to buy new makeup and revise my NaNoWriMo novel.

Well, at least I threw out the old makeup. Come to think of it, it's probably time to do that again.

My point is, setting goals simply means more guilt. More despair. More self-loathing.

Who needs that, in December or at any other time of the year?

But it's the end of the year, so I'll share good news. Not goals met, but a fervent wish about to come true.

On December 13th, I'm heading back to England for a week to spend time with my oldest. They are finishing their study abroad semester in London and we are going to have a blast seeing historic sites and museums and wandering the city's streets. We will take in a Shakespeare play at the Globe and hopefully we'll take a side trip to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Since I was a little kid, all I wanted was to go to England, the place where all the cool stuff I read about happened: land of King Arthur and his knights, birthplace of Shakespeare, realm of medieval kings and queens, countryside of the rabbits of Watership Down, doorway to Narnia...

And now I'll be going there a second time.

No matter how many goals I failed to meet this year, I cannot be unhappy.

Hope your holidays are joyful, whatever you celebrate, wherever you are.

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Year of Unpredictability by Sydney Salter

I successfully predicted that 2018 would be unpredictable.

As a writer who is also a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and until recently a daughter-in-law, I find that writing tropes are mostly useless to me.

I don't write every day.

Yet 2018 was the year that I finally finished the manuscript I started two--maybe three?--years ago. No one can see the places where I wrote a blast of 2,000 words on a great day, or the agonizing spots that took me much longer. No one can see the week I dropped my youngest daughter off at college. The summer mornings I chatted with my 10-year-old niece. Or the words I wrote while watching over my mother-in-law so someone could advocate for her when she could no longer speak during those final days.

I knew that I'd have to be flexible with my writing time, but I didn't realize how taking the pressure off maintaining a writing routine would make me so much happier. I no longer felt that constant tension: I should be... I should be...

I did what I could when I could.

I don't dare predict what 2019 will bring me, but I plan to bring patience and persistence to my work again this next year.

My tortoise collection reminds me that slow and steady wins the race! 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Here's To What's Coming by Joy Preble

At the bookstore where I work, we are always looking ahead, even as we are in the 'now' and even as we are thinking about the previous months and years, balancing, comparing, planning, plotting. How are sales now in comparison to this time last year? How do we hope to be doing next month? At holiday time we do a day by day sales comparison. With event planning and pitching to the publishers (one of my jobs), I am always looking to do more, do better, do the same but tweaked, do different. In business, you do not stand still.

There's a kind of vertigo that results from this sort of continual analysis and planning--you're in the now, marking your progression from the past, but you're also months ahead. I'd barely started ordering books for the holiday 2018 season yet when Valentine's Day titles began to slip into each publisher's catalogues and I had to create a collection on Edelweiss labeled Valentine's 2019.  Tomorrow, three of us will sit down to plan store events for spring break. We'll chat about summer themes, too. We've got events on the calendar well on through May and beyond.

Always we are asking those questions: How are we doing? Where are headed? What didn't work? What can we do better? What do we want? How do we get there?

And so it is with my own year. About a decade ago, I started taking a written accounting, writing a letter to myself in late December or sometimes on New Year's Day. What's going on? How much of it was what I wanted? Where do I want to head? How am I going to get there?

2018 has been a mix for me, as I think it has for many of us. The endless, brutal news cycle doesn't help. I know I'm not the only one who has to get up very, very early while it's still quiet and dark to do my writing before tapping into what the world is doing.

I've struggled with a book that is finally, finally, getting done. Like seriously. I am almost ready to press send!! I love this book so much. Some day you will all read it!

 I've struggled with balance-- of writing, home life, family life, friend life, personal stuff, the book store job (technically part time, but...) and my various teaching gigs and just life. I've felt less than and sometimes right on target and then less than again because the creative life does that to you, or at least it does it to me. I've tried not to compare myself to this one or that one and how their trajectories are going in the same one or two or three year period because there lie sea monsters, you know? Still. I do it anyway. Most of you reading this do it, too, even as we admonish ourselves not to.

And so it's December. As I type this it's starting to rain again outside. It has rained a lot here this year. The House of Pies that was supposed to open in May is now scheduled for some time next year because it's hard to build things when it's always raining. Even things that contain pie!

What do I want for 2019? To be working on a different project or two. To sell a book or two. To keep on with all the things I love-- my goofy, brave friends and my wacky family, and our crazy dog and life.

Did I mention we finally remodeled our bathroom this year? I love my new bathroom.

And okay, I'd like to go to Scotland.  I really want to go to Scotland.

I'll let you know how it works out.

And when I finally get that House of Pies pie.



Thursday, December 6, 2018

Ho Ho Ho! (Mary Strand)

Holiday greetings!  Happy “Is 2018 Over YET?” to you!

This month, we’re supposed to reflect back on this year’s intentions for ourselves that we laid out back in January.  With great trepidation, I just reread my January blog, which talked about my word for the year - DAUNTLESS - and my grand aspirations for 2018.

HA HA HA HA HA.

Or, as any number of my teen heroines might say, “Holy crap!”

It was a horrid year.  I could end this blog right on that note.

I won’t dwell on what went wrong, aside from pretty much everything.  Bottom line, my left knee has been wrecked all year and wasn’t fixed with my June knee surgery.  Every Single Step I Take Hurts.  (Significantly.)  I currently live a life without sports.  As a result, if you know me, it’s no exaggeration to say that I lead a grim life.

I write funny stuff, so I simply had to quit writing for many months.  (I’ve finally been back at it since late September, but I’m still ramping back up to normal at a Very Slow Pace.)  To try to salvage some fragment of my life, I did pour myself into music this year and, to a lesser but sometimes epic degree, songwriting.  I traveled to Greece and Norway (same trip) and songwriting camp in California.  I saw Harry Potter on Broadway.  (Fantastic.)  I heard a LOT of concerts and gigs.  I played four gigs.

If you think you know me, a little or a lot, you’re probably thinking “But she has a crazy-hectic life and seems to do EVERYTHING.  It must be FANTASTIC.”  Yeah, I hear that all the time.

Nope!  Pretty horrific!  Thanks for asking!  Ha ha.

The thing is, I retreat inside of myself when things go wrong.  Publicly, I tend to be annoyingly cheerful even when being hammered hard with every single step I take.  It’s how I roll.  What people don’t see is the extent to which I retreat into myself during the times that are repugnantly hard.  Like most of this year.

My word for 2018, DAUNTLESS, is written on a Post-It note on the door to my office.  I’ve spent most of this year alternately laughing or cringing whenever I see it.  I’ve been, in fact, daunted by this year.  It was hard.  I survived it, but I didn’t need another painful, “character-building” year in my life.  I’ve frankly had more than my share.

It’s ridiculously hard to write funny stuff when life isn’t funny.  I had to say “Suck it up, cupcake” a LOT this year.  But several friends told me I was still pretty funny for someone who’s so obviously in constant pain.  So maybe I have been a little bit dauntless in 2018.  Either that, or those friends should really cut back on their liquor.

But my word for 2019?  PARIS sounds pretty freaking amazing.


Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Goals

by Fae Rowen

     I have to admit that 2018 was not the year I'd hoped it would be.

     My word for this year was balance. It should have been pendulum, because my life swung back and forth like my childhood piano teacher's metronome. True, the sum of all those clicks lies in the middle, but there were precious few days that I felt "in balance." I spent a major portion of the year, well, goofing off.

     Not that it was a terrible year. It wasn't. I just didn't get a lot done toward moving myself forward in the areas that I had planned to focus on—in particular, publishing my next book. I did spend time revisiting writing craft books and taking classes. I read books. I indulged in making the cards that I love to give to people, perfecting new techniques and materials. I spent time with friends.

     It would have been a great year if I were in my teens. But I'm not.

   So 2019 will be the year of GOALS.

     Being self-motivated from childhood, I haven't been one to set goals. When I decide to do something, it becomes a priority and all my attention and effort is focused on accomplishing that task. My friends, writing and non-writing, say the same thing about me: Either I'm all in, or I'm all out. If I commit, I commit fully. If I don't, I'm not going to get involved. That was one reason I chose BALANCE for my word for 2018.

     But after a year of bouncing from project to fun activities to shiny new things and back, I am ready to  make two or three goals, print them up on cards, and post them where I'll be reminded throughout the day—every day—to put in my time toward making those goals a reality. It's time to rejoin the adult world. I have things I want to do. Things that must be done before I can move on the the next things on my list of "to do's." And if I continue like I have all the time in the world, nothing will get done.

     The word MINDFUL could be a modifier for my goals. To practice, I have already started asking myself, when I move toward spending an afternoon in a non-goal-oriented activity, "Is this going to accomplish one of my goals?" When the answer is no, I choose to do something that is more goal-oriented. I "just" have to be mindful enough to ask the question.

     I know I need to make my goals reasonable, something I can accomplish, so I'm looking at a combination of short-term and long-term goals. When I finish one short-term goal, I'll be able to replace it with a fresh goal, which I anticipate will be a rewarding feeling.

     Since I'm a newbie to working with goals, if you've got suggestions or advice for me, I'd love some help. Yes, I need all the help I can get with this. This time next year I want to rock this blog! (Oh, is that a goal?)
     
ABOUT FAE
Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard, putting the finishing touches on P.R.I.S.M. Book Two.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.
You can also visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen or at www.writersinthestormblog.com on the first Wednesday of every month.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Embracing My Goals - by Janet Raye Stevens



Embrace. That’s my word, my guide, my goal for 2018. To ditch doubt, look fear in the face, upend uncertainty and embrace the “new” in new year, maybe not with a vengeance, but with as much energy as I can.

That was me, way back in January, laying out my goals for the year through one key word—Embrace. Now it’s December and our YA Outside the Lines assignment for this month is to take a look at the goals we laid out at the beginning of the year and see if we met them.

So how did I do in embracing the new this year? Not bad, if I do say so myself.

First, I set a goal of completing three new manuscripts in a year and didn’t quite hit the mark. But I was able to finish one manuscript and two short stories. I took a chance and submitted all three to contests or calls for submissions. 

The manuscript, a short contemporary romance called COLE FOR CHRISTMAS became a finalist in, and eventually won, Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart award for excellence in unpublished fiction at RWA’s July conference.

Me, trying to remember to breathe
during my acceptance speech.
It was quite a thrill to accept my award from best-selling YA author Pintip Dunn. Plus, I managed to deliver an acceptance speech in front of a crowd of 1500 other writers without keeling over.

The two short stories I wrote, both mysteries, were accepted for publication in separate anthologies. The Vanishing Volume, which appears in the library-themed anthology SHHH… MURDER!, is a WWII-set short about an inquisitive librarian and a book that refuses to stay where it’s shelved. Echoes, published in LANDFALL, released by Level Best Books, is a contemporary mystery with a ghostly twist.


Next, I started the year with a big embrace of my new pen name. That’s not only worked out, but has also been a total blast. Being Janet Raye Stevens has allowed me to create a writing persona separate from who I am in “real life.”

An unexpected “new” I embraced early this year turned out to be a big move in my writing career. After two years of not much happening on the publishing front, I made the difficult decision to part ways with my agent. Scary, and a huge step, but the right thing to do. I’ve since embraced another new path and signed with a new literary agent. We’re making plans to put my new manuscript on submission in the new year and see what new direction that takes us in. 

Now to hunker down and put together a new to-do list for the coming year – wishing all YA Outside the Liners a great holiday season and many new challenges and goals to embrace in the new year.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thanks (Brian Katcher)


 

Image result for jack handey thanksgiving 

 Ah, the holidays. It can be a stressful time of the year, what with gift buying (mental note: do NOT by the wife fancy hair combs this year), visitors (I get it Jacob, but if you're going to be bringing three friends, you could have called and warned me), and contemplating one's place in the universe (she was a librarian in the alternate world. A LIBRARIAN!). Still, it's a time to sit back and count one's blessing. I, for instance, am blessed that I didn't have to go to work today due to the Midwest snow storm. There is nothing like that phone call. It's like crack.

So, let's get back to the good things that have happened to me this year (a new book contract is absent from this list).

*My three pregnant friends all gave birth to healthy babies. None of them in mangers.
*My grandparents celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary. They still live on their own.
*Thanks to ancestry.com, I learned quite a bit about my father's side of the family. My 3x grandmother was named Oodle.

Oh, and these guys:




Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Gratitude and Loss by Dean Gloster


            You can be deeply sad and grateful at the same time.
            They’re the two sides of one spinning coin—almost everything amazing is temporary, and the people you love will someday die.


Sylvia Jean “Bunky” Gloster 1933—2018
The dark shadow of mortality is the backdrop for the bright lights in our lives, so sadness is sometimes mixed with gratitude, and gratitude tinged with loss.

The world is burning, friends
And wind makes smoke a wall
Hug those you love and speak your truth,
For one day that is all.

           I’ve had a rough month.
            The principal novel I’ve been working on for two years slipped into a coma—the main plot, as it turns out, isn’t working, and there aren’t subplots that anchor it in the teen world (generally necessary in YA.) In some ways, that’s good news—I knew something was wrong, and now I have a diagnosis. Plot is also the easiest thing to fix in a novel. But I don’t yet know how I’m going to fix it, so after two years of work, that novel is shelved for a while.
            Then my computer died, and while I thought I’d saved everything important elsewhere (I did save my novels in progress--whew) some things weren’t backed up. (Moral: Save your files, several different ways.)
            Then my stepmom died.
Sylvia Jean Gloster (aka “Bunky” aka “Honey”) died in her sleep two weeks ago, after giving us one Last Good Day when we could all say goodbye. She was ready to go, at 85, after a full life and after battling a fifth kind of cancer.
            I got to know Bunky when I was a teenager. She married my dad after my birth mother died, and in the process my brothers and I won the jackpot in the blended-family lottery: She brought out a playful side in my dad, and we also got terrific stepsisters Cheri and Stormy and stepbrother Skip in the deal.
            And Bunky was a treasure. She always treated me like a real son, and she was full of positivity and delight. She survived decades of every health issue known to medical diagnosis, all with an infectious smile full of mischief.
           
I’m sad with her gone. But I’m grateful and lucky that she was in my life.
I tend to withdraw from the world when I’m sad or depressed, but this month, as I’ve grappled with her loss, I’ve felt held. 
My wife, Nancy Ricci, is a nurse who works in a children’s hospice, and she was wonderful at Bunky’s bedside. My family is terrific. And the communities in my life—writing, classmates, Aikido, friends—have been wonderful.
I’m grateful for that, and I don’t feel alone with this.


Bunky was joyous and fierce and short, and the world is smaller without her.


She was a real mom, and she’s still teaching me about gratitude.
So three kisses goodbye, Bunky, and a million thanks for everything.




Dean Gloster received an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in July 2017. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” 
Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Giving thanks for the little things (Brenda Hiatt)


I’m writing this on Thanksgiving day even though it won’t post here for two more days. That's because writing on Thanksgiving is perfect for helping me to focus on all the things I’m grateful for and it's putting me in an ideal frame of mind for the rest of this special day! 

One of my goals this year has been to remember to be grateful for all the little things that surround me each day--those things that are way too easy to take for granted. Things like waking up healthy every morning, with full use of my arms and legs. Having working electricity and safe, drinkable water with the flip of a switch or the turn of a tap. Having enough food to eat, a solid roof over my head, a functioning car to drive. I now keep a “blessings journal” on my nightstand and each night before bed I write down at least three things I’m thankful for. It’s a great reminder, especially on those days when I’ve paid more attention to the negatives than the positives in my life. 

For this post, though, I want to talk about all the things I’m specifically grateful for as a writer.
  
First and foremost, I’m grateful for my ability to spin stories—a gift I sometimes forget isn’t universal. I'm thankful for the help I’ve received over the years in making my stories better, help from writer friends and the numerous editors I had during my traditional publishing days. My writer friends have also been a wonderful support network over the years, offering advice, sharing wisdom borne of experience and just being there for me during the inevitable ups and downs of this crazy career. I’m exceedingly thankful that I live in a time and place where I have access to a lot of truly remarkable technology, without which I doubt I ever would have attempted to become a published author. Not just my computers, each one better, faster (and often cheaper!) than the previous one, but also the amazing Internet that links me to all those writer friends I mentioned above. All of my best friends and even my family live at a distance these days, but all I have to do is open my laptop or pick up my cellphone to interact with them. How cool is that?? I even get to have regular video chats with my 16-month-old grandson in Germany! (Okay, not writing-related, but something I’m hugely thankful for.) 

Finally and most importantly, I need to express my immense gratitude for all the readers out there (yes, this means YOU!) for allowing me to make an actual living from my writing. I especially appreciate those of you who take the time to write reviews and send me notes—often when I’m most in need of a little lift. (Seriously, it’s like you KNOW!) Though I’ve had several books make bestseller lists and win awards, it’s the positive feedback I get from readers like you that I appreciate the most. 

That’s why this Thanksgiving I’m taking this opportunity to say



Friday, November 23, 2018

My Bi-Partisan Thanksgiving By Christine Gunderson



It sounds like the opening to a bad joke. 
A Bernie Sanders voter, two Trump supporters, three Hillary Clinton Democrats and two Never Trump Republicans walk into a bar…or, in this case, Thanksgiving Dinner.

What happens next? Something wonderful.

Every year my friend Sonia and her husband Clay invite the same eclectic group of people into their home for Thanksgiving dinner. Some of us are friends. Others are family. We agree on almost nothing, except decency, good humor and tolerance.

I could define tolerance as the acceptance of those who are different from me. But that’s just the low hanging fruit of tolerance.

True tolerance is the ability to accept those who THINK differently than I do and as a result, VOTE differently than I do.

Over turkey and gravy, we ask those on “the other side” which columnists we should be reading, and which podcasts we should be listening to. We ask because we are curious to know how “the other side” thinks and sees the world and forms their opinions. We discuss books, tv shows, movies, history ancient and modern and of course, politics.

No one shouts. No once calls anyone names. No one assumes anything about a person’s character, intelligence or integrity based on the way they vote. 

I know. Radical isn’t it?

Maybe this is because we start the meal knowing everyone at the table is smart, decent and thoughtful.

Most years we have an epidemiologist, a computer science professor, a retired CIA station chief, a hedge fund guy, a senior Democratic Senate aid, a trade expert, a Justice Department lawyer, two Czech economists from the International Monetary Fund and my friend Sonia’s father, who risked his life to escape Communist Czechoslovakia as a young man. Oh, yeah. And a writer. I’m always the least interesting, least educated person at the table.

We discuss the merits of the Universal Basic Income, taxes, China trade policy, The Walking Dead, North Korea, homework, the next presidential election, education reform, food allergies, NAFTA and the epic Nerf gun war our children are waging in the basement.

I walk away from Thanksgiving dinner each year grateful for the feast of food and the feast of ideas. I walk away grateful to live in a part of the country where such an eclectic group of people can gather for a meal. 

I’m grateful to have an open mind. And I’m grateful to have funny, kind, generous, thoughtful friends who invite us over for dinner each year and in return ask only that I bring my green bean casserole.

We live in interesting times. We can use this as an excuse to hate or as an opportunity to learn. I’d rather try to understand those I disagree with than dismiss them as one-dimensional cardboard villains in the ongoing saga of American history. 

Breaking bread with people who have completely different ideologies doesn’t just made me a better person. It also makes me a better writer. 

###

Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog.  When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasionor unloading the dishwasher. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

#grateful by Patty Blount

UPDATED 11/29: WE HAVE A WINNER: 

Congratulations Cassandra D! You've won your choice of a Patty Blount novel. Check your email for for info.



There's a trend on social networks to hashtag things with #blessed to show the joy in one's life.

And then, someone commented that perhaps #blessed is the wrong sentiment; that it perhaps we should use #grateful instead.

I paused because I never stopped to consider the subtle differences in the two words before. As a writer, I should have.

Words matter. Blessed implies a holy meaning, as if we were endowed by a creator with some special favor. Grateful is showing or feeling appreciation for something received.

Like I said, subtle but definitely a difference.

When people say they're #blessed by their children, does that mean the couple who can't conceive is #cursed? #punished? #denied?

I hope not.

So this post is dedicated to what I'm #grateful for. Of course, I'm grateful for the family who loves me but that's not what this post is about.



This post is about YOU.

A reader.

Perhaps you're someone who found this blog through a Google search. Or maybe you clicked a link. Or maybe you read it because, as the fabulous Mary Strand said, "You like me!"

However you happened to find us, I'm grateful. I am an author. A writer of words. A producer of books. This has been and still is a dream I have protected and nurtured and realized deep inside my heart since I was about five years old.

And it can't exist without you. You, a reader, are something I received, something precious and cherished and I want you to know I appreciate you. You have so many choices of books to read...and you chose mine.

I am deeply, profoundly, irrevocably #grateful to readers who provide the fuel for this dream, the readers who love my words enough to leave reviews, to write me letters and emails, to share news about my books with their friends. This includes the book bloggers and librarians, the parents and teachers who put my books in the hands of teens. Thank you all!

November is my birthday month and I thought I'd give YOU a gift. Leave a comment below; tell me what you're grateful for. Click the Rafflecopter for more info. Random winner chosen at the end of the month.







a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

ME & YOU (HOLLY SCHINDLER)

A few years ago, I went indie. It is, quite simply, the best thing I've done for myself in all my years of writing and publishing (and I went full-time on writing all the way back in '01). Nothing has taught me as much. And nothing has ever been quite so rewarding.

What has always been especially rewarding are positive reviews from utter strangers to my work--those reviews that say right off they'd never read a Schindler book before.

There's just something really personal about it, mostly because there's no middle man. My indies are entirely my own creation--the packaging, blurbing, cover art, etc. It's all mine. More than it feels like a review, it feels like I made a meal for two, and the reader and I just sat down and shared it.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for those readers I recently met on the page, the ones who took a journey with me. Thanks for your time and your openness and your willingness to take a chance.




The above image is my indie I REMEMBER YOU. I'm highlighting it here because it's my latest, because it has a Christmas theme, and because it also features a young-love thread perfect for readers of YA.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Vitamin G [Laurie Boyle Crompton]

I read somewhere that without gratitude we cannot have hope. That statement resonated with me because I read it during a time when I was feeling a bit ‘hope-deficient.’ Not hopeless, but definitely hope-deficient. I measured my gratitude levels and found that indeed, I’d been complaining to God more than I’d been thanking him. Instead of being grateful for shelter and loved ones, I was looking only at how run-down, cramped and small my house was and how annoying my loved ones could be. Instead of being thrilled by the priveledge of having written and sold six (6!!!) books I was focused only on my modest sales history and the fact that none of my books were available in Target. I was focusing on my own shortcomings instead of my gifts and looking at all the hate in the world instead of the love! So much LOVE to be grateful for. It’s amazing how a simple attitude shift can have me feeling grateful. And how much gratitude truly does lead to hope! Without gratitude we can have no hope, so let’s take this holiday to appreciate all the good and hopeful things happening in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Have a blessed Thanksgiving! May it be filled with gratitude and love and HOPE! (Although I still really really want to see my books in Target one day)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

An Ode to the Greatest Mouse in the World (Alissa Grosso)

Yesterday, I attended an author expo at a local library, and as I arranged my wares on my allotted author table, I was reminded of how far I've come in this author journey of mine.


I'm now the author of seven published books, which I sometimes find a little hard to believe. Because once upon a time, not all that long ago I was struggling just to sell a short story and was a long way away from writing a single novel.

I don't have to look far to be me reminded of my humble beginnings--just an inch or so to my right. That's where my computer mouse sits. Not just any mouse, but the greatest mouse in the world.


Mouse users fall into a few different schools. There are those who are devoted to their ordinary optical mouses, others who actually use that trackpad thing on their laptop and then there are those of us who swear by our trackballs. I might never have discovered the joys of a trackball mouse if it weren't for my creative writing efforts.

Back in the early days of my attempts to make it as an author, I was determined to get my short stories published any way that I could. I sought out every publication and contest I could find and dutifully submitted my work.

Most of the time these submissions led nowhere, but every once in awhile I would experience the magical feeling of success. One of those little successes gave me this mouse.

I don't mean I invested the earnings from my writing to buy my mouse. I mean, my prize for winning a flash fiction giveaway was this Logitech trackball mouse. Some might consider a mouse a lame prize, but everyday I'm thankful (and my wrist is thankful) that I entered and won that giveaway.

That was well over a decade ago, and I think it's worth noting that though my mouse has some cosmetic wear and tear including that large dark spot at the front from my hand sweat, my mouse is still going strong. Long after a cash prize would have been spent and forgotten, my mouse is still here--a daily reminder of where it all began.

In the intervening years, I've managed to earn significantly more than a computer peripheral from my writing, and while I'm not quit-my-day-job rich yet, I'm pretty happy with what I've managed to achieve.

I'm grateful for all the triumphs I've had in my author journey, but somedays its those little, early ones that I'm most thankful for. At a time when rejection letters were piling up, it meant a lot to me to have my short works accepted for publication, and to receive compensation for my writing, no matter how small it was. It gave me the encouragement I needed to keep on writing and submitting, and I'm so glad that I did.


Find our more about Alissa Grosso, grab a free ebook and watch episodes of her weekly Awkward Author vlog at her website alissagrosso.com.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

I've Got A Voice (Jodi Moore)


This month, we're writing about gratitude, and admittedly, I found this post hard to write.
 
It’s not because I have nothing to be thankful for. Rather, it’s because I have so much.

I have a loving family, who support me in every way. I have more than a mere roof over my head. I have a nice house. In a nice neighborhood. With nice neighbors. I have plenty of food. The water running from my faucets is clear. Drinkable. I have a warm coat and mittens, now that the weather has turned colder.

I am healthy.

And thanks to the support of my family, I’m living my dream of being an author. Because again, they support me in every way.

Which is why I’m finding this post so difficult to compose.

(See how I've been going around in circles?)

Please forgive me if this sounds overly dramatic, but I think I’m suffering from survivor’s guilt. No, I don’t live near the fires in California, where my house is the only one still standing in a neighborhood of nothing but ash and memory. Our sons didn’t leave an area the moment before a gunman arrived or have to live in fear of getting stopped for a traffic incident. I can see them, talk to them, hug them, whenever I wish. And though some of our loved ones have had challenges with addiction, we are fighting, and caring and enduring. 

We are living.

We are lucky. I want to say blessed, but that would indicate a higher power would choose us over someone else. And I don’t believe that. I can’t. I won’t.

Rather, circumstances - fate, if you will - have set us in a position where, yes, we are entitled. And as I look out into the world, as I read the news and watch TV, I am saddened, often horrified, even gutted, to see those who are not so lucky.

I haven’t a surplus of funds. But I am thankful that I have a heart to care. Ears to listen. Strong arms to lift, hold and hug.

Perhaps most importantly, I have a voice.

And I will continue to use it for those who cannot. For those who are not so lucky.

How will you use yours?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Lesson To Be Grateful For - Maryanne Fantalis


Sometimes, what feels like a bad experience at the time can turn out to be a really good life lesson.

I disliked my ninth grade English teacher immensely. I don't think any of us liked her. She was a gruff, harsh person with a difficult personality and she wasn't a particularly good teacher, as I recall (of course, what does a ninth grader know about what makes a good teacher? but I think I'm right on this one)

She gave us a simple assignment: write a book report on a book of our choice by answering questions she gave us on a sheet of paper (fondly remembered by Gen Xers like me as a ditto sheet). No essay, no intro and conclusion, no transitions. Easy peasy.

Except this is me. I'm a writer, even then, and a voracious reader. The book I chose to write about was Watership Down by Richard Adams, a tome of more than 400 pages. I had read the book more than  four times by then. And what's this about short answers? A handful of lines, to answer questions about this amazing, complex, magnificent book? Ha! I've already written an entire TV series in my spare time, lady. You have no idea!

I did the report. But I was going to show her. I was not going to be limited by a miserable handful of lines when there was a whole book to write about. Surely, she must see that. Short answers were for little minds and small books. So I wrote in between the lines, and up the sides of the page, and on the back of the page. Because I HAD TO!

You see where this is going, right?

I got a 77.

The fact that I still remember that number should give you an idea of how infrequently I saw such grades. 

I was horrified. How dare she? I had written a great report about a great book. In fact, I had done more than she asked for! If there were any flaws, it was because of the stupid format of the stupid assignment!

I was not then a confrontational person -- I still am not, though I have a lot more confidence now -- but this grade could not stand. I went up to her desk after class and asked her about it.

As I remember it, she roared and snapped and breathed fire, dragon-lady that she was, but what I walked away with was this message: Following the instructions was part of the assignment, and you didn't follow the instructions.

I think she let me redo it. I don't know, I don't remember, and I have no idea what my new grade was, if there was one.

But the fact that I still remember this one assignment from *mumble* years ago when I was fourteen tells you how important that lesson was.

Follow the damn rules. Get it right. When an agent says "one page synopsis" or "attach ten pages" or "submit no more than 1000 words," I know I'd damn well better comply.

I am grateful to the dragon-lady for teaching me, quite vividly, that the rules do matter.

And also that I can have more of an ego when it comes to my writing than I like to think.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Grateful... to turn back the clock

No, I don't mean daylight savings, I mean turning back the clock to last month! Because I was traveling and didn't get to post my blog for October. So I'm going to do it now.

Last month we were asked to answer the question: fact or fiction? When writing our books, how much is based upon reality vs. how much is a figment of our imagination? Here's my take.

Readers often ask, "How much of your books is real, and how much is made up?" In the sequel to The Book of Luke, The Next Chapter of Luke, much is made up, but there is also lots of real life on the pages.
This is the inspiration for the marina that Emily works at for the summer. The inside of this marina office is exactly where I pictured Emily working - the same wood paneled walls, the simple desk and freezer of bait. Even the refrigerator with bottled water and drinks. It's located on the South Shore of MA.


And this is the whale tail sculpture that Emily and Luke are sitting in front of when Josie takes their picture. It's in Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard, right where Emily, Josie and Lucy get off the ferry from Falmouth.

The pepper farm that Emily visits with Nolan? Also real. It's based on Nobska Farm in Woods Hole. Like Emily, though, I have zero tolerance for spicy things, so I've never actually tasted any of their crazy pepper products.



Image result for nobska farm
What isn't real? The Scoop Shack where Josie and Lucy work. The Edgewater Marina where Emily works (although it was also inspired by a real place in Falmouth). Josie's house in Falmouth is also a figment of my imagination.

Now that I think about it, most of the time I'm actually thinking of real places and things when I write. I do a lot of research to make sure details are accurate and plausible (which means I spent a lot of time reading ferry schedules to make sure the length of time the ferry from Woods Hole or Falmouth took was correct, etc.).

So lots of places are real and exist. The characters? Are they based on real people? I'll leave that answer to the reader's imagination.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Gratitude Is An Attitude: By Kimberly Sabatini

Gratitude is an attitude.
A perspective.
It's our glass half-full.
An opportunity to take the worst of times and turn them upside down to find...
an answer we never would have seen if we'd stayed upright.
Gratitude is a choice. 


In my world of YA, there is so much to be thankful for. Here is just the tip of my mountain of gratitude...

My fabulous agent Michelle Wolfson.
My former editor turned amazing author, Anica Rissi.
The heart of my tribe--the SCBWI.
My local friends and writers--The Hudson Valley Shop Talk.
My local Indie Books Stores...Split Rock Books, Oblong Books, and Meritt Books.
And last but never least, my supportive family, friends, peers, and readers who always show up. 

I often see myself through your eyes and I am grateful for what is reflected back at me. You have my gratitude.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Whole Lotta Gratitude by Joy Preble

One of the first things I say in almost  every workshop I conduct for aspiring writers and those new to this crazy business is to say THANK YOU. Often I quote Mark Twain, who once observed that the world owes us nothing.

I tell that last part to students, too, when I visit schools and classrooms. It tends to be the scariest, most annoying thing I say, mostly because we want so strongly to believe otherwise. I love a good meritocracy as much as the next girl, but the truth is, it doesn't always work out that way.

You write the novel of your heart and it doesn't get front listed. You give your all to a job and then company politics change and out you go. You are the most qualified candidate but the other guy gets more votes. Someone else lies and cheats and panders and beats you to the finish line. And on like that.

That's how it goes. But to quote my late Uncle Harry who was given to abrupt turns of phrase, "So what?" Uncle Harry had come to America after WW2 with absolutely nothing. He'd grown up privileged, lost it all and much of his family to the Nazis. He built back a comfortable life here, and despite his gruffness (that's a nice way of saying it) he was generous with family and friends. He knew that anything could be taken from anyone at any moment and it made him this fascinating mixture of angry and kind. As I type this, I think he is part of why in my writing I am so interested in what happens to people when the rug gets pulled out from under them, when they lose everything, or at least the important stuff.

And so. I'm grateful for so many things. For family that makes me laugh and love. For my tribe of creatives who keep me pushing to the next story. How lucky am I to have done a different job (teaching) and now have this other life of writing and books on shelves that at some points in time I only dreamed of. If you are reading this and you came to your dream job early in life,  bravo! If like me, you wandered for a while, bravo to you, too! I am beyond grateful for my even newer job as a bookseller and programming director at a lovely indie bookstore. Thankful for colleagues there who are all thoughtful and funny and clever and hardworking and generous and goofy. Thankful for the smarty-pants doctors who got rid of my thyroid cancer eight years ago and who nipped it in the bud last year when it tried to sneak back.

I'm grateful to have seven (7!!) books on shelves and to finally have figured out how to write this current one that I've been struggling with. Thankful to editors and agents and all those people behind the scenes. And to every critique partner who tells me when I'm writing crappy stuff. Everyone needs people who tell them when they're doing it wrong. Yeah, really.

Keep at it, my friends.
Til next time.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

You Like Me! You Really Like Me! (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is about moments of triumph we’re grateful for.  This has been a really tough year for me, emphasis on knee surgery that (so far) hasn’t worked, so we’ll see how this goes!

Authors have voices in their head.  For some, it’s 24/7.  Out of necessity, mine are mostly limited to when I’m writing, but there are always exceptions.  The bad news: the exceptions tend to be negative voices, telling me what a dumb schmuck I am.

So praise, when it happens, is pretty sweet.

The absolute best praise comes in reader reviews, especially on Amazon.  Why?  The cold, hard truth is that Amazon uses algorithms in choosing which books to put in front of readers, and they’re greatly affected by the number of reviews a book has.  Honestly, a review is one of the best gifts you can give an author.  One of my faves, written about my YA novel Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras:  “...will keep you turning pages, laughing until the very end.  It starts out with humor and ends with love.”  Huge thanks!

(If you’ve never posted a review on Amazon, it’s easy.  And it can be as short as “Great book!”  Amazon mostly cares about the number of reviews, not what you say.)
 
 
But I’m grateful for all good news.  I’m frequently mired in quicksand when writing or revising a booklike, say, right at the momentso kind words are a lifesaver.

A few examples:

- A friend who told me that her daughter considers me her favorite author OF ALL.  Wow.  Day made!
 
- A teenage girl at a booksigning who drew a picture of me and made me look really good.  (I wish!)  She said it was simply how she saw me.

- Editors who’ve told me I write really, really funny stuff.

- The “big” authors at my very first RWA conference who chatted with and praised me because I was a Golden Heart finalist.  All these years later, I’m still grateful for those moments in the sun.
 
I’m also a musician, and I recently started writing songs.  At songwriting camp this summer, my songwriting hero Rodney Crowell told me, “Your first song is better than my first song was.”  (LIFE made!)  And an utterly amazing guitarist at camp, Joe Robinson, told me, “You have a real feel for music and can do this.  You’ll go far.”  Yes, I wrote down his words the INSTANT I walked away.  They still encourage me every day.

And on and on.  So many friends and strangers have offered praise when I really needed it.  Or maybe, more accurately, we ALWAYS need it, because the negative voices in our heads need to be shouted down on a daily basis.  And I’m not just talking about writers.  We ALL need kind words.

So, if you possibly can, go out of your way to compliment someone today.  A friend, a stranger.  Trust me: they need it more than you know.  Life is hard; make it easier for the people you meet.

Oh, and since today is November 6 ... GO VOTE!

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.