Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reconnecting With Your Inner Teen

As adult YA writers we struggle with getting teenage voice, logic, and emotion just right. Obviously, we're not teens anymore. Personally, I'm in my mid-30s. (I really didn't like typing that.) Our days are spent changing diapers, taxi-ing around kids, and helping with homework. Responsibility takes all the fun out of life, doesn't it? And it makes it near impossible to remember what it was like before careers, kids, and bills got in the way. I found a way though, quite by accident.

We have a brand new local radio station that plays 90's music. If you're in my age range, then the 90s was your glory decade. A decade you looked hot, felt great, and thought you ruled the world. The teenage years. For me, I graduated H.S. in '94 so 90s music really captured everything from my early uncomfortable years as a Freshman all the way up through college and to my wedding in '99. An awesome decade! Anyway, I turned the station on, looking to reminisce a bit, and BAM! Memories flooded my head I hadn't thought about in years. But it wasn't only memories. It was smells, tastes, touch, emotions! A pure goldmine for the YA writer.

A song would come on, bringing me back to a night when I lied in bed next to my friend at a sleepover. She couldn't sleep without the radio on and I couldn't sleep with it on. We'd compromised and kept it low. I remember holding the chunky cordless phone close to my ear as I talked to Brandon, a boy I had a major crush on and who'd shown interest in me that afternoon. We talked the entire night as I stared at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my friend's ceiling and the low murmur of the radio filled in any awkward silences. Even writing this I can feel the lightness in my heart and excitement in my gut that I'd felt that night. And then the next morning, trudging through the mall with sand in my eyes because I'd pulled an all-nighter. (Little did I know it was a glimpse into what it's like having a newborn!)

Anyway, as each song came on, it was like a chisel breaking away the rock and revealing the gold. The gold that is my very own teenage years, and all the wonderful emotions and drama that come with them. All the tools we need to create realistic teenage emotion is right inside us. We just have to break through all the responsiblity rock we've built around it over the years.

I don't know if music can help release your inner teen. But it's definitely worth a try. If you don't have a 90s station in your listening area, mine has online streaming. Have a listen and see what gold you can find inside!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Teaser

Now that my early chapter book is in the query pool, I began work again on my MG paranormal, THE BRACELET'S CALL.  So I figured I'd share what I'm doing with it right now.  You'll notice that besides the paranormal aspect, there's also some multicultural tension brought in with the MC's best friend, Migizi.

“Uh, your grandfather knows I’m coming, right?” I asked, jumping off the last step to the slush below.
“Nope.”  Migizi gave me a sly smile.  I swear he loved putting me in uncomfortable situations just to see me squirm.  He’d argue he was helping build my backbone. 
“You love me.”
I felt a nervous giggle rise up, but held it back, instead focusing on tiptoeing around the slushpuddles.  Migizi trudged right through, obviously not caring if his feet got wet.
Before entering the house, I wiped my shoes on the ominous Go Away mat his grandfather left out to scare away Jehovah’s Witness people.  According to Migizi, it worked.
A strong smell of pine trees and mouthwash met my nose as I walked into empty low-ceilinged living room.  “Where’s your grandfather?”
Migizi sniffed the air.  “Most likely in the sweat lodge.  He wasn’t feeling well this morning.”
The “sweat lodge” was a tin shed behind the house.  I glanced at the eagle shaped clock in the kitchen.  It was four-seventeen.  “How long’s he gonna be?  My mom’s picking me up at five.”
Migizi shrugged.  “Depends what time he went out.  Do you want to go check?”
I pulled my face back.  “Huh?  As if!”  Like I’d ever want to see his grandfather shirtless.
“Kidding!” he said, patting me on the shoulder.  “I’ll be right back.”
Migizi disappeared down a narrow hallway, leaving me alone in the living room.  I turned a full circle, observing the clutter around me.  A bookcase sat against one wall, its shelves packed with worn, hardcover books, and bright colored throws lay haphazard on the furniture.  The blankets looked soft but I knew from experience how rough they were.  The centerpiece of the room was a feathered headdress set over the top of the couch.  Migizi said it’d been passed down in his family for generations.   
Nothing had changed in all the years of coming here.  I took a step forward, my foot bumping into a pile of magazines.  I picked up the top copy of Tribal Tribune, and thumbed through the pages.  It was mostly boring articles on politics.  I tossed the magazine back down on the pile and wrapped my arms around myself.  How did Migizi live in a place like this?  His grandfather seemed obsessed with keeping their heritage alive and Migizi was so...not.
I tried to imagine living in a house surrounded by pilgrim artifacts.  Miniature Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria ship figurines and pictures of people dressed in funny hats and shoes.  It was kind of silly, really.  Migizi was right.  Why couldn’t his grandfather just get over it and be American?
I heard the back door open and Migizi popped his head around the corner, followed by his tall-as-a-building grandfather.  I don’t know if it was the man’s height, his piercing black eyes, or the perpetual scowl on his face that scared me more.  And Migizi thought I needed a backbone.  I was here, wasn’t I?  That took guts of steel.
Migizi glided over to me and lifted my wrist to show his grandfather.  “And I saw it light up with my own eyes,” he said.  “Like magic almost.”
The old man brushed a finger over the symbol embroidered into the beadwork.  A startled expression entered his eyes and he choked out, “Where did you find this?”
“A-at school,” I stammered.
“Have you seen it before, Grandpa?”
He didn’t speak for a moment and Migizi and I exchanged glances.  Before I could blink, the man’s large hands were on my shoulders, pushing me toward the door.  “Your friend must leave this house at once and never return.” 
“Her mom’s not here yet,” argued Migizi.  “She can’t stand out in the cold!”
The man ignored his pleas and kept shoving me forward.  Soon the door slammed behind me and I was left standing on the Go Away mat, the unwelcoming wind slapping me in the face.
I could hear arguing from inside and my heartbeat throbbed in my ears.  I hadn’t expected that reaction.  Geez, it was like Migizi’s grandfather thought I was cursed or something.  I gulped as the possibility entered my head.  Cursed?

Friday, April 22, 2011


Today I experienced something I hadn't realized I'd been lacking the past two months.  Hope.  It's a feeling I get during the query process.  A feeling I feed off of like adrenaline.  Not knowing when an email could pop into my mailbox is like giving myself a Christmas surprise each and every day.  It's like the moment before the lottery numbers get pulled in that vaccuum-sucky thing.  And I don't mind rejections, really, it's the nature of the beast.  I just have to make sure I send out a new query to bring the hope alive again.  I think this time around, I'm going to send out only 2-3 queries at a time to see how long I can make this hopeful feeling last.  I know it sounds like I'd rather query than actually land an agent but that's not the case because remember there's plenty of hope to be had when sending your work off to editors.

There aren't many other areas of my life where I can get this hopeful feeling.  The only other place that comes to mind is the hope that some day I may get a baby girl.  But after 3 boys and 3 c-sections, that's quite a stretch.  My husband put us knee deep in debt, I have a crumbling marriage, and discipline issues with my children.  These things seem to be sealed in marble.  I can chip at them for hours, days, months...years, but the beautiful sculpture of the life I expected just never seems to come to shape.  Sometimes I think getting an agent and a publishing deal could magically fix everything.  After all, if there's more money, there's less debt and less fighting.  Naive as that may seem it's where this need for hope comes from.  It's what keeps me sane and moving forward day in and day out.  It's what keeps me fighting and keeps me positive.  Because when the hope is gone, what's left?  So for me, querying is not just about getting my name out there in the hopes of becoming famous or even just recognized.  It's me calling out for help and hoping someone from the other end answers...and enjoying the ride along the way.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I usually blame my husband for passing the ADD gene down to my son, but at times I wonder if it's me who has it.  You see, like a butterfly, I flit from genre to genre, switching them up as my mood changes.  I started writing children's books, moved up to adult paranormal romance, back to children's books again, then on to YA, MG, and now back to children's books once again.  Today marked the first day in I can't remember how long that I could actually relax at work.  And when I relax it gets my writer's mind moving again.  I decided to revive one of my early chapter books, The Case of the Plant Killer.  After rewriting the ending and polishing up some grammar issues, I'm pretty satisfied with it and even sent out a couple tester queries (yes, this has already been past betas, but I never got around to querying it).  Here's an excerpt:

“What are you reading?” asked Cassie in a loud voice.
Lin startled and quickly put her hand over the title.  “Nothing.” 
She sure was acting guilty, Cassie thought.  This suspect was going to be difficult.
Logan reached down and grabbed the book out of Lin’s hands.  He read the title aloud.  “Possum Plants.”
“Possum plants?”  Cassie looked over his shoulder.  “No, it says Poisonous Plants.”  Her heartbeat quickened.  “Aha!  We’ve caught you red-handed.  You’re planning your next plant death!  We’re confiscating your book as evidence.”
Lin made a face.  “I knew you were going to think that.  That’s why I covered up the title.  It’s not about how to poison a plant, it’s about poisonous plants.  I’m doing my Science report on poison ivy and the librarian gave me this book to read.  It’s due tomorrow so you better give it back!”
Cassie put her hands on her hips.  “Well, then what were you and Jenny talking about?  It looked very suspicious.”
Lin growled.  “She was showing me her new sneakers.  If you don’t believe me, then go ask her.”
“I’ll do it,” Logan offered.
Both girls watched as he ran over to Jenny.  Sure enough, Jenny lifted her shoes to show him.”
Logan came back with his hands up.  “She has new sneakers just like Lin said.”
“Okay.  So maybe Lin is telling the truth.”
“Of course I’m telling the truth!  Why would I want to kill a plant anyway?  My mom is a florist.”
“What’s a florist?” asked Logan.
“You’re kidding, right?  It’s someone who grows plants and takes care of them.  I thought everyone knew that.”  She grabbed her book out of Logan’s hand.  “Anyway, I didn’t kill the plant so go ask someone else.”
“Fine, we will,” said Logan, crossing his arms.
“Uh, that was our last suspect, remember?” whispered Cassie.  She pushed her glasses up and looked over her notes.  “Well, we’re all out of leads and I still don’t know who the killer is.”  She sighed.  “Maybe I’m not a great detective after all.”

It feels good (if even for a day) to get some writing in and put finishing touches on something you'd shelved a year ago.  I know chapter books are a hard sell, but it sure doesn't hurt to try.  Hey, you never know... 

Have you ever come back to a shelved project a year or more later and revived it, making it even better than it was before?  Or do you consider your shelved projects history?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Overcoming Challenges

First know I'm not in the A-Z blogging challenge, thus my non-use of any "G" words.  Although, "Growth" could definitely work for this post.  If you asked me 6 months ago where I though I'd be today, I'd either say, "Happily writing and querying with my friend," or I'd say, "AGENTED!"  Never did I imagine I'd be where I am now, which is partner-less, knee deep in work, and not having opened up either of my own manuscripts for 4 weeks.  Writing has most definitely been pushed to the back burner - in fact, the burner's been turned off.  And you know what?  I'm okay with that.  It's just not the right time for writing in my life.  And you know what else?  I thank my lucky stars I am writing partner-less.  Do you know how guilty I'd feel if all of a sudden I couldn't pull my weight because my life became too hectic?  "I'm sorry" would be the phrase of the day - scratch that - hour.  I certainly didn't believe this at the time, but seriously, everything happens for a reason.  Not to get too religious, but God knows what he's doing.  You may not understand his rationale when you're ready to drive a fork through your eye, but when you look back (eye in tact), it suddenly makes sense.

So what is this work that's got my head spinning and bringing me close to tears right in front of my co-workers?  Ugh.  The SEC.  Because of everything that's happened the past couple years, they've created new regulations for investment adviser firms to follow.  And that effects me how?  I'm the licensing administrator for one of these firms.  I knew it was going to be crazy back in December, but not this crazy...  Just say the letters "ADV" and I immediately start twitching.  And throw in a regulatory audit at the same time, and I'm being twisted this way and that like a leaf in an autumn breeze.  And here's where the guilt (ooh another "G" word!) comes in.  Not only do I feel guilty working instead of taking care of my children at home, but now I feel guilty at work, because instead of working 10+ hour days like my peers, I have to leave at 4:00 on the dot to get the kids from daycare.  No matter how you slice it, a working mom's life is full of guilty feelings. 

After 12 years at this firm, I have never been busier.  Do you know I peed for the first time at 12:30 yesterday?  I hadn't realized I was holding it all that time.  And normally being a noon lunch eater, I was wondering why I was lightheaded at 1:30.  After putting my meal in the microwave, I forgot about it until 2:00!  I'm surprised I know which way is up and which way is down and honestly, I don't even know how I'm functioning.  I can tell you my hour commute home is spent attempting to decompress before facing the craziness of 3 little boys, with zero help from a husband who now has to work until 9:00 pm every day.   

BUT - I can't let myself feel overwhelmed.  I just can't.  This is a testament to me and my abilities.  I have to keep it together.  You know how I'm looking at all the madness in my life right now?  It's a challenge God's put in my path to make me a better person on coming out of it.  The stakes have been raised.  But with high stakes, the sense of accomplishment is bigger, the pride greater, and the respect of peers earned tenfold.  There will be an end to all this.  I'll be stronger.  And I'll realize what God's plan was all along.

Have you ever faced a great challenge in your life, only to come out of it on the other side the better for it?