Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Moving Day!

In an effort to simplify my life (I hope!) I've transferred my blog to my website. From now on, I'll be posting at Come see me!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Putting "The Dream" on hold

Right now, my writer mind is pulled in a million directions. Well, a few, anyway. I'm preparing to go back to work after summer break and teach a few dozen 15-16 year-olds about Beowulf and Macbeth. Writing syllabi and lesson plans might seem boring to some, but for me they are actually a much needed respite from my two writing projects. The first project is my option book, which I hope to become my second book, for my current publisher. The second project is my baby. Not my literal baby -- I'm all done with that, thank you very much! :)

No, this baby is THE ONE. It's the manuscript I've always wanted to write. It's the book that has the best storyline and the strongest dialogue. It's the best thing I've ever written, ever. And there's no way it will see the light of day any time soon.

Publishing can be complicated, but one truth is universal: it's slow. Painfully slow. Horribly, mind-numbingly slow. That's just the way it is. The only way to deal with the lag between writing, querying, pitching, selling, signing contracts, etc. is to accept it and move on. Preferably while you're still writing something.

So, my pet project, my "baby", isn't going any where for awhile. And that can be exceptionally frustrating. As a writer, like a lot of writers, I can be pretty self-depricating. I often second guess how good my writing is or whether I can make it. But my "baby" is good. I know it's good. I'm not even embarassed to say it. I'm proud. It's the book that does what I want to do -- it speaks to teenagers with a voice they can relate to. It captures a viewpoint that is raw. I can't wait until this book is on the shelf.

But, first, I owe a book to my publisher. When you are releasing a novel in a certain catagory or genre, you often need to follow it up with a similar book. That eliminates my "baby" from the running -- it's nothing like my first book, TASTE TEST. It's dark and gritty, whereas TASTE TEST is light and funny and romantic.

So, what will I do until my "baby" can enter the world? I'll keep writing it. I'll keep adding and creating and moving mountains to make it better. In the mean time, I'll write my option book and make it the best book I can write. Because, in the end, the best way to honor my "baby" is to establish a reader base with the first few books I have published.

I'm very impatient. If nothing else, this industry has taught me how to relax a little bit and wait for others to move the ball along. The old Kelly would have struggled greatly with the concept that my "baby" book won't be in the public sphere any time soon. Instead, I'm trying to look at it as though I'm setting the stage for the "baby" book. And on days like today, when I just want to share it with the whole world, I remind myself that when you wait for something that matters, it's almost always worth it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Something that's not about writing.

I'm compelled to write about something non-writing related; today I'm going to talk about food. More specifically, about my son, Max, and how changing his eating changed our life.

Throughout his first year, Max struggled first with unending, painful acid reflux. He would scream and cry and be completely inconsolable. Once we introduced solid foods, Max immediately became constipated. None of the natural, homeopathic, or medical interventions we tried worked. He was miserable once again and my husband and I felt helpless. There is nothing, nothing worse than knowing your child is in pain and not being able to stop it. He was on three prescriptions before he turned one.

Through all of this, we never suspected his food or dairy or anything he was ingesting. We didn't have many friends with kids, but we saw what they ate and we figured Max should just eat what every kid eats.

About a year or so after Max was born, Matt and I watched Food Inc. and really started to understand how important it is to know what you're putting in your body. We were careful to make all dairy and meat organic and we tried to choose natural alternatives for junk food. Still, Max dealt with varied illnesses and a lot of them. Matt and I missed a lot of work those first two years. Max got sick monthly, if not more.

As Max got older, we started noticing mood swings and aggressive behavior. It was the kind of thing, up until he turned four, that we were able to pass off as typical for a toddler. However, as he got closer and closer to four, his tantrums got progressively worse and more violent. He spent hours screaming and banging on walls. He tore down his bedroom curtains. He threw things. He destroyed a toy box. He tore things up. He was also constantly chewing on his clothes -- mostly his socks and his collar. He'd pick at things until they fell apart or had holes.

Matt and I both have a family history of neurological disorders -- Autism on his side and Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorder on mine. Max was growing into a boy who showed a lot of the typical signs of a kid suffering from one of these disorders. We went to the doctor several times from the ages of 2-4; every time, we were told that we needed to have more consistant discipline.

I tried to rationalize his behavior. I tried to define it. I tried to excuse it. I never accepted it. Finally, the month Max turned four (February of this year) we switched his daycare. We believed (or made ourselves believe) that his issues were steming from how unhappy he was at the in-home situation we'd had him in.

Max had three perfect weeks at his new daycare. Then the honeymoon was over. He threw tantrums. He cried hysterically for no reason. Worst of all, he'd become even more violent. He threw wooden blocks at his teachers. He hit the other kids. To my absolute horror, a pregnant teacher had to be removed from his class because they thought she would be in danger. In DANGER. From my four year old little boy.

To say I was devastated or depressed would be an understatement. We signed up for behavioral therapy. We tried every possible behavioral modification, reward chart, or punishment that we could think of. Nothing made a difference. Feeling helpless, I turned to the pediatrician one last time. It was February 28, 2012 when this doctor, a different doctor, told me about the Feingold Diet.

The Feingold Diet is a diet that removes all artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives from foods. On top of that, it limits and/or elimiates certain natural foods that are high in salicylates, a key component in aspirin.

When you are a parent who is out of options and tired of alternating between almost hating your own child and feeling desperate to help him, you will literally try anything, even if it's ground rhinocerous horn or some kind of black magic. That wasn't what got me to try Feingold (FG) though. What got me was reading the first chapter of Jane Hersey's book, "Why Can't My Child Behave?" that is published on the FG website. It was like reading a book about my life. Then I looked at the FG behavior checklist and watched in wonder as I checked off symptom after symptom.

When we started Feingold, we did so many things wrong at first. There is a very specific list of approved products on the Feingold diet. I didn't think it was necessary to follow things word for word. Max didn't get any better. Once we'd figured out that we needed to be more strict, it took maybe three or four more weeks to figure out that for four years, Max had an intolerance to dairy. Once we removed it, along with corn syrup and chocolate, we held our breath and waited.

The result is what many parents might consider a dream life. I have a little boy who went from throwing 2-3 violent tantrums a day to a boy whose last tantrum was...honestly, I don't remember. He never gets sick. He is a good, healthy eater who has lots of whole grains and vegetables. He is compassionate and empathetic. He wakes up and goes to bed happy. He has lots of friends.

We've certainly had some setbacks. In June, Max had a candy necklace that sent him in an emotional, tantrum-filled tailspin. Sometimes if he has too many berries or cucumbers, he gets moody. A dairy slip makes him very sad and emotional, quick to cry about things. Over the last seven months, we've learned to read our son's body and reactions like a book. We know by his behavior if something is bothering his stomach. Every day, he takes probiotics, Vitamin D drops, and a digestive enzyme. We are on the path of healing his gut, as it's called in FG-speak.

I decided to write this post for a couple of reasons. The first is because people are really skeptical of the Feingold Diet. They think it's a silly, earthy-crunchy alternative. Here's what you need to realize -- your child might not need the FG diet. Your child might not have the troubles my child did. Your child might be able to handle foods that contain dye or flavor that is made from petroleum (the same kind in gasoline.) That's fine for you. Seriously. You are very lucky. My commitment to my family and this diet has nothing to do with anyone else's eating. Feingold has changed our life for the better. For the best. We are indebted. The chemicals in processed food interact with my son's body like drugs -- they cause him to act in ways that are not driven by his brain, but by a drug induced state.

The other reason I'm posting this is because I know, I'm absolutely sure, that there are other parents who are sitting where I was in February, tears streaming down their cheeks, searching for some kind of miracle to save their child. FG was our miracle. It saved all of us and I am a true believer. And I am the single most cynical, skeptical person on earth.

If you are dealing with a child who has tons of allergies, negative behaviors, a compromised immune system, skin rashes, sensory issues (Max had this too -- its the chewing on the clothes thing), or dozens of other developmental concerns, the Feingold diet really is worth checking out. It's not easy, trust me, but it is life changing.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Guest Post @ Oatmeal After Spinning

Head on over to and check out my guest post on food canning, one of my new loves!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Title Switch

So, clearly I changed the blog title -- I wasn't really married to the last one, but this is one that means a lot to me. It refers to a poem by contemporary poetry goddess Marrianne Moore called "Poetry." For years, it's been one of my compass's for writing (compassi?) -- I want the images to feel as real as if I could touch them.

Courtesy of, here is the poem.


By Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all
this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that
feels a
flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician--
nor is it valid
to discriminate against 'business documents and

school-books'; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
'literalists of
the imagination'--above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, 'imaginary gardens with real toads in them', shall
we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.


I think this might be my favorite poem of all time -- do you have one?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Back To School...

Above is a recent yearbook picture of me. It might be my least favorite part of being a teacher -- I hate getting my picture taken every year. It's as awkward as an adult as it was as a kid.

There is a lot that I love about teaching. I love teenagers. I mean, sure, they can be a pain just like anyone else. But frankly, between dealing with teens vs. adults, I'd choose teens every day of the week. Teenagers are less likely to be jaded. They still have hope for the future and believe, I mean REALLY BELIEVE, that they can do anything. This can be frustrating when you have a straight F student believing high school is a waste of time since he's going to be an NFL star...but, other than that, it's really great to be around people who've yet to be really disappointed by life. For the most part, they still hold their innocence.

I've said before that what I love best about YA is the inertia -- how quickly it moves, how much it says, how hard and fast it feels things. I live like that -- I was that way as a high schooler and I am that way now. I read and write the way my brain works. This means that, as a teacher of 15-17 year olds, I get to be surrounded by like minded people. Who could ask for more?

That being said, yes, I'm mourning the end of my summer. I am fretting over the fact that I'll be working on my option book and setting up a brand new teaching prep at the same time. I'm sort of kicking myself about taking on so much, which is what I always do -- I agreed to be joint advisor of the sophomore class this year and I'm teaching a Maryland State Department of Ed class to new teachers on Monday evenings. And keeping up with this blog. And tweeting. And raising my son. Loving my husband. And writing. Writing writing writing where ever it will fit.

I was reading a blog post by Ally Carter at some point in the last few weeks and she said something that I'm sure I'm going to misquote, but it was basically this: You need to choose whether you can worry about time or worry about money. As a writer, I've always been stressed about time. But I don't think I could stand worrying about how to pay the bills.

That is one motivation I have for staying gainfully employed as a teacher -- but it isn't the main one. The biggest motivation is this -- I'm surrounded by my reading audience every day. I get to hear them talk and laugh and tease each other. I'm always up on the latest slang. I know their inflections and their phonetics. I am constantly, inadvertently eavesdropping on the very people I'm writing about. For me, that's gold and isn't something I can trade.

I love teenagers. I enjoy being around them. One day, I do hope to be a full-time writer -- but now, I'm trying to relish the fact that I get to be with the people who are most like my characters. Even on days like this, when I dread giving up my life of summer leisure, I want to remember how fortunate I am.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

To Blog or Not To Blog

So, I'm writing. Well, yeah, right now, clearly. But I mean writing like WRITING-writing. Book writing. Which means that, when I sit down at the computer, I look at the screen and:
1. Do a million other things that aren't writing my book.
2. Write my book.

But, I haven't been able to keep up with the blog that I have so diligently been working on because I feel like I don't have the words to do it. Or, if I do have the words, I should be putting them into the perpetually open, glaring-at-me Word Document at the bottom of my screen.

Posting this makes me kind of feel like I'm cheating on my book.Does that make sense?

The other struggle I'm having is that, honestly, I don't have a lot to say. I look at other people's posts and I'm like...Wow, that's so insightful and interesting and provocotive...Now, what am I going to talk about? I just downloaded an App that has about 28 different Meow's on it with pictures of the cooresponding cat. It works like a touch-screen Cat calculator.

Remember what I said earlier about a million other things that weren't writing...? Yeah. That.

Anyway, so I don't know what's better -- to post something silly? To not post at all? What do you think?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Radio Silence

This is what happens when I'm really, really writing, as opposed to the partial half-writing that I so often have to resort to -- radio silence. While I want to blog and I'd like to blog, I feel like I'm cheating on my MS when I do. So, there's that.

Regardless, in my procrastination, I came across Janet Reid's blog, as I so often do, and I saw something brilliant there, which I so often do. And I wanted to share it with you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: When you need creative inspiration, where do you go?

The other day a friend asked me where I write.

"In bed..." I said sheepishly.
"WHAT?!" She was astounded. I tried to qualify my answer.
"Not, like, under the covers or anything -- just, on the bed itself."

"But...why?" she asked.

And I told her the truth - "Because that's where the magic happens."

(Get your minds out of the gutter -- not THAT magic.)

My bedroom has three windows, two facing northeast and one facing north. At most times of the day, I have significant natural light. That light, for whatever reason, energizes me. That light inspires me to write. I've tried writing at a desk, the dining room table, my living room -- but in my bedroom, on my bed, facing those windows, I'm like the author equivalent of a solar panel. I'm recharged.
However, there are rainy days. There are nights. There are times when even the perfect natural light can't spark a single sentence. On those days, I have a few things I turn to that work wonders for my writing.

1. Other YA books I admire. I am a re-reader. Some people are, some people aren't. I have always been this way, ever since I read and fell in love with Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth. I adored the book. My copy, probably 20 years old now, is so worn and water warped (from being dropped in the bathtub) that it's sort of silly that I haven't bought another. As an adult and as a YA writer, I have other books I turn to -- Teach Me by RA Nelson, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by AS King, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher...the list could go on.

2. Poetry. I started out my writing life as a poet -- my MFA is in poetry and it is, in all ways, my first true form of expression. Sometimes, when I need to tap into emotions I can't access in my writing, I turn to some of my favorite poets to inspire my words -- Shara McCallum, Kim Addonizio, Stephen Dobyns, Li-Young Lee, and others. In fact, Li-Young Lee gave me my absolute favorite book autograph of all time:
City to City, Interior to Interior, My heart to yours. Li-Young Lee.
 How much does that rock???

3. Cooking. It's what I create when I can't create words. I'm actually more of a baker than anything else, which is funny since I am far from exacting and not exactly science-inclined. But baking soothes me. It can be something easy, like boxed brownies, or something more complex, like the four-layer German Chocolate Cake with Pecan-Coconut Filling I made last week. Baking allows me to refuel and still feel a sense of accomplishment.

How about you? How do you get inspired?

Copy Edits and the Women Who Love Them

I know it doesn't sound like something to love, but copy edits on your manuscript are, in fact, a huge blessing. As an English teacher, I like to think I know a lot about grammar and punctuation. As a YA writer, however, I can see that I don't know diddly. Well, maybe not diddly. Maybe I just don't know squat.

Regardless, getting copy edits back is not something to fear or dread. They are the greatest gift. First of all, they are corrections MADE FOR YOU. You don't have to go through your MS for the thousandth time and find the things you missed the first 999 times. For example, you know what I spelled wrong about a dozen times in my MS -- interview. I left out the second "i." I never caught it. My editor never caught it. Can you imagine the embarassment we'd have felt if a copy editor hadn't seen it?

I've taken some pictures below so that you can see what copy edits look like. My pictures aren't too specific because I don't want to violate any agreement I have with my publisher. I took some close-up shots of different things so you can get an idea of what they look like.

1. The Edited Manuscript

This is what you can expect to receive when you get your MS back -- the MS, obviously, and a letter of some sort explaining the expectations for you, the author. In my case, I needed to go through all changes and either check them off (approve them) or write STET. STET is editor's speak for "keep as is." Authors should never write on the copy edited MS in pen -- this version will go back to the editor for the typesetting and final changes.

2. Editorial Marks

In my case, there were two different copy editors going over the MS -- they used red and green pens so I could tell them apart. My editor also went back through with a couple of comments/requests -- she wrote in pencil.

3. Copy Editor's marks/Author's Response

This is a pretty basic example of how the copy editor will "code" questions to the author -- with an "AU." In this case, it was a suggested word change, which I agreed with.

To be honest, I pretty much agreed with all the changes the copy editors and my editor made. When they asked for options, I put on large, lined sticky notes and listed some different alternatives. I never wrote STET. I didn't need to.

For the most part, I am comfortable knowing that my work is now better for having been edited. I know that isn't everyone's experience. What about you? 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

SCBWI MD/DE/WV Conference: An Overview

I spent the day today at the SCBWI MD/DE/WV regional conference. It's actually a two-day event, but I was only able to go to one day. That being said, though, I think I picked the right day to attend. I heard some amazing presentations by some kick-ass authors/agents/editors.

The conference theme was "Kindling the Imagination" and began with a presentation by author, Bobbie Pyron entitled "My Life as a Dog: A Year of Magical Thinking." Bobbie discussed writing her book, A Dog's Way Home, and talked about living as dogs do -- in the moment and through the senses. I think this is excellent advice -- especially for writers like me who sometimes get bogged down with logistics. Your reader does care about accuracy, but they also want to see an immediacy. As Bobbie read excerpts from her book, I really felt the voice of the dog, even though the dog never actually talked. Very cool

I attended three break-out sessions. The first was with Molly Jaffa from Folio Literary Management -- her presentation was about opening pages. More specifically, Molly focused on establishing stakes. You need to be invested in your characters. So do your readers. High Stakes + Caring about Characters = Higher Stakes, according to Molly. She mentioned a few books that she felt exhibited these kind of high stakes - The Fault of Our Stars by John Green, Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, and AS King's Ask the Passengers. She also warned against beginning with a prologue that "fakes out" the audience and begins them with a scene that doesn't appear until later in the book.

My second session was with Stacey Barney, Editor at Penguin/Putnam . Stacey's session was called "How to Get an Editor to Fall in Love with Your Manuscript." She focused on a variety of different devices writers can employ to make their writing lovable. The biggest/longest discussion seemed to be about voice. She emphasized that a first person narrator needed to be authentic, while a third person narrator required intimacy without intrusion.

The last session was the editor's panel discussion -- the editors included Stacy Barney (above), Mary Kate Castellani (my editor!!!) from Walker/Bloomsbury USA, Rotem Moscovich from Disney/Hyperion, and Christine Peterson from Capstone, a non-fiction publisher. I have to be honest -- the questions that were asked weren't particularly helpful. I mean, we had four successful editors in front of us and people were asking if they should personalize query letters. I just felt that the time could have been better spent -- that kind of question can easily be answered through a google search.

Regardless, though, I am glad I went -- not only was I able to reconnect with some friends from last year, but I learned a great deal from the presenters. It reminded me that, no matter where you are in the publishing process, you can always use some extra tips to polish up that manuscript.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: Lights! Camera! Action!

Today's Road Trip Wednesday over at YA Highway is about movies: more specifically - What movie have you seen that actually (gasp!) improved on the book?

I took all day to think about this. Yeah, really -- I know, I probably should have been writing. But, honestly, I feel like it matters when you say that something written is better when it's not written anymore and is, rather, acted out. I looked at my bookshelves a few times today. I thought about some of my favorite movies and books. Here's what I came up with:

1. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club (the book) is a character piece. In some cases, character-driven books are best as books. For me, Fight club came alive as a movie. Edward Norton and Brad Pitt embody their roles with total commitment and, which the book itself might be a bit more poetic, the movie is a visual masterpiece. I am not going to mention the obvious -- that Brad Pitt is freakin' fine. Okay, there, I mentioned it.

2. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw / My Fair Lady

I know, I know. This is technically a play. I can't help it, though. While the play is phenomenal, I, frankly, wouldn't give two shits about it if it weren't for My Fair Lady. I ADORE this movie. It was my favorite growing up. It's still in my top ten. Rex Harrison is both sexy and loathsome and Audrey Hepburn is, well, Audrey Hepburn. Love Love Love Love.

3. And my tie - my favorite book and my not-quite-but-almost favorite movie

I love this book -- when I'm looking for something to remind me how to craft interesting prose, I always turn to Bram Stoker. He was working the multi-genre angle when the Bronte sisters were still plotting paragraphs. Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect from Stoker's female counterparts -- but Stoker knew how to make a book move. Pacing was his forte. Similarly, Coppola's film version is beautifully paced and extremely evocative. Even with Keanu in it.

And, with that, I leave you with a question and a reality. The question - what is your favorite book-to-film adaptation? The reality - Francis Ford Coppola is a total gangsta and he was sexualizing vampires when Stephanie Meyer was still in diapers. ;)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fifty Shades of Flour: A Baker's Manifesto/Book Review

Any chef/cook/mother worth their salt knows that "all purpose flour" isn't necessarily best for all purposes. There is flour with higher gluten for bread baking. There is cake flour, which adds leavening agents. There's flour from different grains - i.e. wheat, corn, rice, oat, quinoa, spelt, etc. etc.

But all-purpose flour, for the most part, will work in all recipes. Hence, all purposes. But, by work, I mean that the cake will be a cake and the bread will be bread -- they might not be the BEST cake or BEST bread, but they'll fill the role.

Which brings me to Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James.

I feel very well-equipped to comment on Fifty Shades (FSOG from here on in) because I've read it. I've read it twice, actually. And I read the second book, too.

I read them for one reason. Unless it's YA-related, I don't usually jump on book fads.  I read FSOG because a friend of mine who does not read for entertainment decided to read it. That friend is also a very successful National Director of a romance-related in-home party company. Yes, she sells sex toys, among various other things.

So I read it once - quickly - and read the second one. Then I waited a month or so and read the first one again. And then I baked a German Chocolate Cake with Pecan/Coconut Filling. From scratch.

Baking and reading and sex - they're all things people do for pleasure, hopefully. In the end, FSOG is intended to be pleasurable. James discusses a certain type of sexual relationship, that of dominant and submissive characters. But, in the end, it's also about love, just like everything else.

I've given FSOG a lot of thought and I think I/you/people need to wear a lot of different hats when thinking about it as a text. Here's what I've managed to come up with:

From a reader's perspective:

1. I like that James jumps right in to establish a relationship between the main characters. We immediately feel their chemistry, and that's what drives the book. It's what makes you want to read it - want to see what happens in the end.

2. I like that James didn't shy away from stereotypes and didn't make apologies. The girl is an ingenue, the man is controlling -- in a lot of ways it feels like an adult "Twilight." I realize a lot of people have said that.

From a writer's perspective:

1. The pacing is the best part about the book. Pacing isn't easy -- it's a skill. James has it.

2. The writing isn't bad, it's lazy. When I got the phrase, "pedal to the metal" in the first page or two, I knew what I was dealing with -- it's a genre book. It's VERY not different from what I like to call grocery store books -- it's nothing against them, that's just where they're sold.

3. Sometimes it's not about craft, it's just about story -- and not story telling, just the story itself. That's what FSOG is -- consider it Legally Blonde 2: forward momentum of a story that has a successful formula. It may or may not be good -- doesn't really matter when an audience loves a premise.

From a woman's perspective:

1. I consider myself a feminist. I took a lot of women's studies classes in college. I continue to subscribe to emails from both NOW and FMF. I am not offended by this book. There's a girl. She likes a guy. She was a virgin. Now she's not. They both consent to something that's a little different than what the mainstream is used to; it's also something that millions of people were doing before this book.

2. Between you and me, I think that people are making this book sound a lot worst than it is. Young girl getting seduced by an older man? Well, she's 21 and he's 27. SCANDAL!!!!!!!!! He's a dominant who beats her? Um, well, no -- and that's about as specific as I get on this family friendly blog.

From a baker's perspective:

1. If I want cake, I'll use cake flour.

2. If I want muffins, I'll used bran flour.

3. If I want to read a steamy romance, I'll read FSOG. If I want to read something with more academic merit, or something well-crafted, or something that doesn't mention spanking, then I won't.

Here's the thing -- FSOG serves a purpose. Is it all-purpose? No, of course not. There are niches to be filled. I was listening to Midday with Dan Rodricks on NPR the other day and his guests were discussing this book and the resulting hoopla. A woman called in and said the most interesting thing I've heard since first learning about FSOG -- she said that women she talked to were reading it and enjoying it because of the "giving up control" factor. These were women who worked, ran households, raised children, etc. They liked reading about a life where you didn't have to be in control, where life was taken care of for you.

So, see? FSOG is a fantasy -- just like Lord of the Rings. Well, except for a few key details.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Do as Tim Gunn would do...

and "make it work."

Lots of my friends ask me how I manage to find time to write, or how I'm able to balance it all. I'm married, I have a four year-old, I have a full time job teaching, I teach part time for MSDE, I have a cupcake company (Dolce Fiore Cupcakes) that does weddings, and I write. I also like breathing once in a while.

This is NOT intended to sound like I'm bragging. If anything, it's to expose one of my short-comings, which is balance. You'd think, as a Libra, that I'd be better at that. But my scales are always tipping to either bored or overwhelmed. And I'd rather be overwhelmed, personally.

My writer friends never ask me how I balance it all -- this is because, like me, my writer friends are already balancing. It's what we do. It's what we have to do.

A similar question I get a lot is, "You've got so much on your plate. Shouldn't you put off the writing thing until Max is in school/life slows down/the apocolypse?"

And, to that, I say no. Why? Because I have to write. In fact, I have very little choice in the matter.

When I had my son, I suffered from post-partum depression. I'd had issues with anxiety before, but this was a whole other animal. Part of it was due to a trauma during childbirth that prevents me from delivering more children. But a lot of it was because, by nature, I like to be busy and productive. In some ways, there is nothing less productive, less goal oriented, less satisfied than an infant. I've said a million times that I would adopt a dozen kids if they were sixteen -- there's a reason why I teach high school.

I love my son. I wouldn't change a thing about him or my life. But when he was six weeks old, I packed a bag to leave. My mom was staying with me and she talked me back from my ledge. The thought was there, though. I wanted to run away, run back in time, and try to find myself again. I felt completely changed and unable to grasp who I was.

So I started to write.

I hadn't written in years -- and when I had, it had been poetry, not fiction. Writing a novel gave me a chance to focus on something that wasn't me, wasn't a baby, wasn't my life. It gave me a place to run to.

Writing saved my life. Writing helped me be a mother. Writing gave me back an identity. So, should I put it off? Should I wait until I have more time? Not in a million years.

Sometimes I think writing takes me away from other things -- like right now, when my son is bouncing around and I could be bouncing, too. But, honestly, even if it takes me away to my own worlds now and then, it brought me back to life in ways I can't possibly verbalize. It made me wake up in the morning. It made me dream.

So, no. I'll always be writing because my family deserves to have me here. And I deserve to be happy. I make it work -- just like everyone else I know does. It's what you do to make your dream reality.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Most Likely To Succeed

Thanks to YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday, I've been compelled to think about...high school. Which isn't so much of a stretch, since I teach high school. And write about high school students. So, really, it's just another day.

Yesterday's topic was, "What yearbook superlative catagory would your character win?"

When I first started teaching high school, I was shocked to find out that they didn't have superlatives. WHAT??? No "Most Likely to Succeed"? No "Biggest Flirt"? It's like a high school right of passage! (I was thisclose to getting "Most Dramatic" but, alas, I didn't win.)

In TASTE TEST, my main character, Nora, probably wouldn't have won have superlative -- at least, not if life had remained status quo. Because she leaves and heads to a reality tv cooking show for teens (called Taste Test - hence the title :) ) I think it's possibly that she could have/would have gotten most changed. Nora goes from working the counter at her dad's BBQ stand in North Carolina to cooking for famous culinary figures at a prestigious academy. If that isn't a change, I don't know what is!

One thing I find interesting, though, is that other characters in my WIPs also probably wouldn't have won superlatives. Apparently, I write very "fly under the radar" type of characters. I'm not really sure what that means. :)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Great Expectations

The lovely ladies (all ladies, right?) at YA Highway are talking about first book sales vs. expectations today. Everyone's experience is different, that goes without saying. Here's mine:

It was late March 2011 when I found out from my agent that we were getting an offer, but it wasn't until June that the offer came through. It was announced on PM, I crowed my good news to the world, established a Twitter (so I could talk about my deal), and lived in a bubble of happy giddiness. I spoke to my editor for the first time on the phone and she was as awesome as I could have hoped.

And then I waited.

September 2011 - I got my first editorial letter. My original pub date was Winter 2013 (January/February/March), but it got bumped for Spring, which was fine with me.

Over the next few months, I worked on the edits. I waited for a contract (and $) until March of 2012. Just this past month, my final MS was accepted and went to copy editing.

I think that my time frame was actually kind of long when looking at other experiences. There were a lot of factors that influenced that. I had some of my own life issues to deal with and Bloomsbury/Walker is a smaller house. There are less of them to do a tremendous amount of work. I know my editor was working as hard as she possibly could to get everything perfect.

So did I mind waiting? Well, I'd be lying if I said that I never questioned or complained about the wait. But, honestly, I know that the time it took to make TASTE TEST what it is was time well spent. It it is far better than its former versions now that it's been looked over and edited and revised and primped and glossed. I'm incredibly proud of what it's become and that is due to the time it took to get it that way.

Publishing takes a long time. But I asked myself this question more than once -- is it worth the wait? OF COURSE IT IS. My book is going to be, like, real. With a cover. And pages. On shelves. Honestly, I think I'd wait forever for that.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Extreme Makeover: MS Edition

Write now/Right now is an interesting time. My Taste Test MS has been accepted by my editor and it's off to copy editing. I've talked to my agent a few times in the last few weeks about what our next move should be. First, we need to provide an option for my publisher to buy b/c, well, we have to contractually. But, I would want to even if we didn't. My editor was phenomenal and I'd love to continue working with her.

Looking for my next book has allowed me to come back to my first book, the book that got me writing YA in the first place. This book is many things to me -- a labor of love, sure. But it's also the land of opportunity. It's the book that garnered agent interest. The book that got me an agent. The book that defined this new writing life. It just didn't sell.

So, I broke it out and started reading it. And it was pretty bad. Not bad like unreadable. At it's core, it's still a good premise. But there were a lot of errors. It didn't capture the vernacular of a teenager. It just wasn't right. When I opened the document, I thought it would be to do some clean-up. Instead of Merry Maids, I became Ty Pennington.

But after I started to re-read, I realized that it really was fixable. It just needed a little buffing. Sometimes when we learn how to do something well, we look back at previous work and think it's not good enough to be revisited. But I want to encourage you -- if you have a MS that you love, but never sold or never read to another person, if you have a MS that didn't see the light of day...well, don't make it sit in a dark drawer forever. Consider bringing it back out, dusting it off and giving it a good polish. Just because a book didn't sell doesn't mean hope is lost. If you've got the motivation, why not give it another shot? If nothing else, it'll be better the next time you get it out again.

So where to begin?

Well, everyone is different in how they revise old work. But here is how I go about things --

1. Read the whole thing.

I'd love to tell you that I do a full read through before I make changes, but I don't. I jump right in there and start fixing things I find. If I had to read it without making those changes, I'd go batty -- and I'd forget all the things I want to fix. But you need to read the whole thing, even if you get to a part that you feel is unfixable.

2. Read it like a book.

If it's been long enough that if feels like you're reading something that isn't your own writing, that's pretty good. It's been about 18 months since I've looked at this old MS and, while I remember writing it, there are lots of surprises I've forgotten about. It's actually really exciting to do this. I can sort of pretend that it's a book-book (esp. since I put it on the iPad, which lets me read it the same way I read my iBooks.)

3. Cut yourself some slack.

Chances are, since writing experience is cumulative, you are a better writer now than you were when you wrote your old MS. When you read it, don't panic that it's destined for the recycle bin. Give yourself a chance to read it. Really read it. Change it, work on it, do what you will. Make it what you want it to be. And if you still can't manage to make it "right," then put it back in the drawer for another time.

4. Stay in it for the long haul.

Seriously. If you've been in the writing game for longer than a minute, you've learned that this is a slow business. Your book won't combust when you put it away - if you feel overwhelmed trying to fix it now, maybe it isn't the right time. Maybe it needs more work. My agent told me a story the other day about the painter, Rembrandt. Apparently, he used to sneak into galleries and work on his paintings while they were hung on display. And isn't that they way it goes? Michael Waters, a professor of mine, once told me that poems aren't finished, they're abandoned. I feel that way about all writing. But the good news is you can always come back as long as the work is still in your hands.

Do you have something you've put away that you'd like to come back to? Or any advice for me as I complete my MS makeover?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Loving other writers...

...but, not in that way... :) I am such a YA writer groupie. I have LOTS of girl crushes on writers I admire. Lots of times, I admire them soley for their writing. Sometimes, though, it's their blogs and Twitter feeds that make me so smitten.

I think the reason is because admiration is such a better quality than jealousy. A lot of them have these great, great blogs/twitter identities/books/panels at conferences/reputations, etc. and that is most certainly what I'd like to have, too.

The writers I like best seem to have a sense of humor similar to mine -- what I like to call "nice sarcastic" and a little self-depricating. Maureen Johnson is a great example of this. Her about/bio page on her website is hilarious and really makes me want to hang out with her. And isn't that what we all want in the end, as authors and as people? To be likeable? I mean, really, who wants to read the books of a total jerk.

I remember when Fiona Apple got really big in the 90s and she was just such a witch about her fame. Ungrateful and nasty. Maybe that was her persona, and I still bought her record. But I wasn't a super-fan. She has a voice that is phenomenal - a pre-cursor to the Amy Winehouses and Adeles. But no one wants to root for someone who insults their audience. So Fiona slipped into oblivion. If you want to be a successful author, oblivion probably isn't idea. Not for singers either.

Anyway, one of my FAVORITE blog posts of all times is this one by Kiersten White. Another author I admire greatly, White has an excellent sense of humor. Both her and Johnson, among others, are great bloggers/tweeters to follow.

For now, I'll keep crushing -- until, of course, I will inevitably end up meeting one of them, sounding like a moron, and blushing beet red. I am SO smooth. ;)

*Disclaimer - this is not meant to be creepy. Does it sound creepy?*

Who are some writers you love?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Importance of Craft (and I'm not talkin' cheese food!)

I mentioned craft in yesterday's post and it looks like I'm not alone in my belief and expectations when craft is concerned. Not that I thought I would be. But I think there is a common misconception about YA and MG - a misconception that all books in those genres are formulaic or cookie-cutter. In fact, I can say with complete honesty that I have read far more YA books that are innovative than not. Just like the generation they are about, YA books are cutting edge in all the best ways.

Which brings me to craft. I'm one of those authors with an MFA. I had the good fortune to study with some of the best living American poets. My MFA is actually in poetry and I didn't write a lick of fiction until years after I got my degree.

Why does this matter? Well, we all have our own influences - our personal graduate programs, college-affiliated or not. Some people had an amazing creative writing teacher in high school who encouraged them to contribute to the literary magazine or to try NaNoWriMo. Some people came into writing through the amazing books they read. Maybe they tried writing fan fiction first as a tribute to these books. There are so many avenues that bring us to the place where we pick up the pen/open up MS Word.

But having an MFA in Poetry has influenced me to believe four things about crafting a good book.

1. Every word in every sentence matters.

This one is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because, well, every word matters. I read and re-read what I write. I labor over sentences and word choice. I can not tell you the number of times I spent hours, if not days, thinking about one sentence. That's why it's a curse. Getting bogged down with something that small can prevent you from writing, from moving forward. However, don't confuse small with insignificant. Some of my favorite lines from books are perfect because of one or two specific words that make them so memorable and make them resonate.

"I on my part give up the uncertainty of eternal rest and go out into the dark where may be the blackest things that the world or the nether world holds!" Bram Stoker's Dracula

"Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones." Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

"The world of adults feels like a universe that has reached the end of its expansion and is inexorably collapsing back in on itself.” R.A. Nelson, Teach Me

2. The way you use your words to write and communicate creatively are not necessarily the way you use them to write and communicate normally.

This one's interesting. I consider it a rule because, as a teacher, I am forever re-teaching students about what the rules are about writing. Yes, you can use "and" or "but" to begin a sentence. In fact, sometimes you can use a fragment or a run-on to prove your point. But how one communicates creatively is not always appropriate for professional or scholarly writing. I don't just mean this in a "text-speak" way, but also in a diction way.

The word "tongueing" is a really good example. Chuck Palahniuk used this as a verb in Fight Club - something along the lines of "a sore in your mouth that would heal, if only you would stop tongueing it." I butchered that, I'm sure, but I don't have the book with me. Anyway, tongueing is not a word I'd put in a grammar exercise for many reasons - but I'd LOVE to have a reason to write it.

The point -- sometimes you make words do what you want when you're using them creatively.

3. Novels don't have a form. They have a case, the cover, that holds the pages inside. Other than that, the format is fair game.
When I first started my MFA, I believed in the narrative poem and I tolerated the lyric. I was definitely a follower of Whitman, not Dickinson. However, fellow writers and an excellent poet, Mary Ann Samyn, opened my eyes to the use and exploration of white space. What the heck is it there for if not to write in? Some great examples of using the white-space or playing with genre and fictional expectations are:

- Amy Reed's Clean, where she switches in and out of various formats, including a confessional, stream-of-conciousness type of list that splays the whole page

- Ellen Hopkin's books, which use verse of course, but also use different types of verse, different rhyming techniques, and lovely sounds

- Bram Stoker's Dracula yet again, because he so deftly introduces multi-genre writing to the gothic prose era. There are journal entries, medical reports, articles, letters. It's a masterpiece.

- Justine Larbalestier's Liar, which slips in and out of the past and present in a way that makes everything seem relevant and full of momentum.

4. Your craft takes time and time doesn't really end.

It doesn't take thousands of dollars of student loans to figure this one out, but it did for me -- you are only as good as you are. Maya Angelou (and Oprah) say, "When you know better, you do better." I love what my forthcoming book has become -- the influence of my agent and editor have been instrumental in creating a lovely, fun, mysterious, romantic, spicy story. :) However, when I first wrote it -- the first draft and the subsequent drafts -- well, they weren't great. Since then, it's been a couple of years. I've read a lot. I've written more. And my writing is getting better. I hope that kind of improvement never stops.

It's been eight years since I graduated from my MFA program, but it's taken those eight years out of school to turn me into a YA writer. You develop craft over time and through influences. It's not self-made. It doesn't grow on trees. It doesn't strike you, like lightning. Those are inventions or ideas. But, it's those ideas that you flesh out, that you worry at, that you meddle with, that you continue tongueing (YES!) again and again until you've managed to spit them out and turn them into something that matters.

It's not the wheel we're creating here. It's the vehicle.

How about you? Anyone else have craft-related insight or something to add? Comment! :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday -- Favorite Books of June

YA Highway, one of my favorite writer blogs EVER, holds a Road Trip Wednesday every week, where they ask fellow authors/bloggers/readers, etc. a book-related question. Today's was, "What was the best book you read in June?"

I have two -- one's a re-read, but I love it so SO much that it deserves a shout out. Liar by Justine Larbalestier, is a masterpiece. Seriously. And I don't say that lightly. I have read it three times now -- the first time because I couldn't put it down, but the second two times were actually craft-related. This book inspires me to write. It inspires me to tell stories that are epic and that matter and that ring true, even when unbelievable. And I'm not even going to tell you about this book -- I don't want to give anything away. Just trust me. It's that good.

The second is Clean by Amy Reed, an author I recently discovered. This book is a lovely demonstration of craft as well. Reed seamlessly moves in and out of different character's conciousness. Clean opens in a teen rehab center for substance abusers. We meet five different characters, all of whom are tormented in their own ways. Through intake forms, questionaires, group sessions, and inner monologues, we discover what makes these addicts tick. And tick they do...some of them like clocks, waiting to get out. Some of them like time bombs, waiting to explode.

I hope you'll check these out -- I know you won't me sorry!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What's in a name?

I've started this blog a dozen times. I've spent lots of time designing it. I covet the websites and blogs of other authors -- things that are so professional! So legit and real. If they have the George Clooney of websites, I have the Eric Estrada. Who, don't get me wrong, is totally awesome. He just isn't George Clooney.

I also tried a dozen different names. In the end, I think the most important fact people should know about me is that I am a plethora of contradictions. I eat almost organic everything, then gobble Twizzlers and M&M's. I love other people's dogs, but I don't really like my pets. Yes, I know that sounds terrible. But I'm being honest. I love shows like Dateline on ID, but I hate violence. I am very girly, but am surrounded by boys at home. And, most of all, even though I'm in my 30s, I'm still a teenager at heart. I teach Beowulf and Lord of the Flies and, yes, Animal Farm by day to my teenage students. Then I go home and watch re-runs of Saved by the Bell, Degrassi, and Dawson's Creek.

So, this is my first post. I figured I should address the blog name first. If you've found this blog from my website, then you know I'm a writer. You know I have a book coming out in 2013. You know that I love Young Adult literature, writers, and readers.

I'm jumping into the blogging game a lot later than I should. I admire SO MUCH the writers - particularly the unpublished ones -- who have incredible blogs. There are so many of them. I live on YA Highway. Natalie Whipple, whom I don't know, has an amazing blog, which was amazing long before she got her book deal. Janice Hardy has become a blogger mainstay for me. I'm not name-dropping just to do it -- I just really aspire to be like these people. I hope that my blog can be a resource the way these other blogs are.

So, Welcome! I hope I can keep up with this blogging thing this time, instead of petering out like I so often do. My attention span is quick-burning -- passionate, then waning. But my love for writing doesn't end. In that respect, I think I have a chance at doing this thing forever.