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Monday, December 29, 2014

The Ups and Downs of 2014

Ahhh, 2014. It's been a slice, you've held some amazing moments, but I have to say, I'm glad you're almost over.

1. 2014 was the year my son and I started working as background actors in TV and movies. Lots of fun, but this has also kept our lives very busy. We've learned to use the time to get homeschool work and writing done, so it has ended up being a very useful job for both of us. Plus, the extra money is nice.

2. Family-wise, our son turned 11, and is quickly becoming a young man. We didn't do much traveling this year, other than the odd trip to Seattle. My husband wasn't working as much as he has in the past, which left us without much money and in each other's space much more than usual. But...iron sharpens iron. My husband and I celebrated our 20-year anniversary in 2014, and we are expecting 20 more even better years. We are amazed that even after 20 years, we still continually learn new things about each other and ourselves and how to best get along in life.

3. In 2014 I released two new books--FAST FICTION for writers, and FOREIGN EXCHANGE for readers. Releasing a nonfiction book with a small press was a huge confidence-builder for me, Honestly, there are times that I still don't completely believe I did it. Working with New World Library taught me a lot about writing nonfiction, and about being a radio-show guest--all a little nerve wracking, but I came out a stronger person on the other side. As for FOREIGN EXCHANGE, this novel holds a special place in my heart, so it was with some disappointment that I saw it release with little fanfare, at least in comparison with my other books. I'm still thrilled that it is out and available in the world, of course, thrilled that I can hold a copy in my hands, but I hope it will find more of a readership in 2015.

4. I took on a couple of projects this year (a writing contest and a homeschool co-op), without thinking clearly about how I would fit them into my life. You see, I'm already a busy homeschooling mom, who tries to fit writing and book promotion somewhere into her schedule. I really didn't have time for extra big projects. But I love to be a part of things--especially writing or homeschool related things. And sometimes I just don't plan out my schedule as well as I should. So I think the biggest thing that made this year difficult for me is that I overextended myself. And once I commit to something, I won't back out of it. So I ended the year feeling a bit exhausted, but with better, more realistic plans for 2015.

5. Speaking of which...this is the first year I've taken a full month off of writing since I began writing in 2003. I've mentioned before that taking time off of writing usually leaves me feeling grumpy and unsociable, just because I'm not stoking my creative juices. But I was just so overdone about so many things that I needed the break. So I took one. I tried to be ungrumpy and sociable. I don't think I did too badly through the holidays. But now, as I feared, I'm having a hard time thinking about going back to writing. Maybe I need a longer break. Or maybe it's just the business of publishing is getting me down again (as it often does). We will see what 2015 holds in that regard.

6. In 2014 I met my teen idol! If you don't follow me on Facebook, you may have missed this story, and I didn't get a chance to go into the details, so let me share those now.

When I was 16, I watched General Hospital religiously. I would leave the beach on vacation to go back to my hotel room so I didn't miss an episode. The draw for me, specifically, was Frisco Jones, played by Jack Wagner.

I grew up, eventually, and stopped stalking Jack's appearances on prime time Melrose Place, and eventually stopped thinking about him altogether. But in mid-November, out of the blue, I had a dream that I showed up to work on set and Jack Wagner was there. I didn't think anything of it until I was booked on a locally filming show the next week and showed up to look at the call sheet. I couldn't believe it when I saw his name there! I was not scheduled to work with him at all, but fate intervened, and I ended up in a very small scene--just me and the three main actors. I just about died when Jack Wagner walked up to me, hand outstretched, and said, "Hi, I'm Jack."

I held my professionalism until filming was finished, but then I admit, my inner teen fangirl had to get out and tell him how much I worshiped him as a teen. He graciously joked with me about it and offered to take a picture with me. This day was definitely one of the highlights of my year!

Those are a few of my highlights and lowlights from 2014. Even the lowlights I wouldn't trade...they've helped me grow as a person and understand my limitations and where I want to put my energy. I'm excited for 2015, for new books to come out (I should have more info about that soon!) and I'll be performing with my Polynesian dance troupe on a cruise to Hawaii! Just a couple of things I'm looking forward to.

I hope you've had some wonderful highlights to look back on from 2014, and I wish you a 2015 filled with peace and joy and all of the best opportunities and experiences!

Blessings from our house to yours...


Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Favorite Books Read in 2014!

I read over 70 books this year, and while that may seem like an impressive amount, it's actually down quite a bit from my 2013 total. But this year I was determined to not set a reading goal (well, actually I set it at 10 books, but I knew I would read at least that many). Instead, I wanted to read when I wanted to read and what I wanted to read, not feeling a push to get more and more reading in, like I did last year.

So, because of that, I have lots of favorites this year. I'll try and give a quick sentence or two about why I loved each book here. I hope you'll check some of them out (and also I'd love to hear about your favorite books read in 2014!)

In no particular order...

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas - What a well-plotted mystery! At some point I suspected almost everyone in the book of the murder, and I was flipping pages furiously to find out.

17563833I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson - There's been so much buzz about this book, I'm not sure I need to say anything more here. But I will say that Jandy Nelson's writing is evocative and exquisite, and I aspire to write as well as her one day.

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez - I love everything Jessica writes, but this is probably my favorite. It combines her usual literary style with a thriller-esque mystery. Very engaging!

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith - An unusually set romance, combined with a road trip and many interesting locales. Loved it!
Anywhere but Here
Just One Night by Gayle Forman - This was actually a novella, but it's exactly what was needed to complete two of my all-time favorite novels, Just One Day and Just One Year.

Anywhere But Here by Tanya Lloyd Kyi - This book deserved more notice. One of the best male point of view YA's I've read in a long time.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han - One of my favorite romances of the year, by one of my favorite romance writers. I've heard there's a sequel, which I'm super-excited for.

Don't Even Think About it by Sarah Mylnowski - I needed a few laughs this year too, and this book definitely fit the bill. It was one of those books where I kept waking my husband up with my sniggering.

Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally - Miranda always belongs on my favorite lists. Her romances are so engaging, I could easily drop everything in my life to just read for two days straight.

OCD Love StoryJust One Year by Gayle Forman - One of my all time favorite books. I love taking travels through these characters' eyes. I will read this one again and again (and I cannot wait for the movie!)

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu - I already know Corey Ann will be one of my favorite authors for many years to come. Her sharp witty writing and engaging plots make her books un-put-down-able.

Those are a few of my favorites! Now I'd love to hear some of yours.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and an amazing 2015!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Thorough New Resource and #Giveaway: Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents!

When I look at most publishing reference guides, my gut reaction is to think they’ll be outdated before they hit the shelves. So much in publishing changes so quickly! But I knew from the moment I scanned the table of contents from Jeff Herman’s GUIDE TO BOOK PUBLISHERS, EDITORS &LITERARY AGENTS, this would be more than just a reference book. This would be a book I would enjoy.

His Advice For Writers section includes such helpful topics as Dumb-Ass Random Questions and Answers, and Find Your Passion and Piss it Away. These give you some idea of the kind of humor Herman infuses into his writing. The how-to section is thoroughly entertaining and informative. This is a great resource for beginning writers, breaking down the job of a literary agent and the process of writing the perfect query letter, but also addresses topics for the more seasoned author, such  as dealing with Ignored Writer Syndrome and Post-Publication Depression.

If only the advice section was included in this book, it would be worth the price of admission, but moving further into the bowels of the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find amazingly up-to-date and comprehensive listings for everything from literary agents to publishers (big, independent, and university), as well as freelance editors. They even had a section listing Canadian publishers. I discovered many, many publishers that were new to me. I love the way Herman delves deep with many of the literary agents listed within the book, so writers will have a sense of who they are and where their tastes lie.

I’m not alone in finding great value in this book! Meg Cabot says, “I got my agent by using this guide!” Nicholas Sparks says, “I highly recommend Jeff Herman’s Guide. It was the most helpful book I bought about how to get published.”
When I was asked if I would like to review a copy of this book, I jumped at the chance. I was offered either a print or digital copy, and I chose print, letting the publicist know I would gladly give it away on my blog when I was done reviewing it. Boy, am I regretting that offer now! I would love to keep this baby on my shelf, and whoever receives my copy is getting a treasure that will serve you as a reference for many years to come.

Fill out the rafflecopter below to enter to win. (Sorry, this is a hefty book, and I’ll only be able to mail out within the US using media mail. But if you’re an international reader and would still like to enter, I’ll offer an ebook of my new young adult novel, FOREIGN EXCHANGE, to one international winner).

More about this book:

If you want to get published, read this book!

Jeff Herman’s Guide unmasks nonsense, clears confusion, and unlocks secret doorways to success for new and veteran writers! This highly respected resource is used by publishing insiders everywhere and has been read by millions all over the world.

Jeff Herman’s Guide is the writer’s best friend. It reveals the names, interests, and contact information of thousands of agents and editors. It presents invaluable information about more than 350 publishers and imprints (including Canadian and university presses), lists independent book editors who can help you make your work more publisher-friendly, and helps you spot scams. Jeff Herman’s Guide unseals the truth about how to outsmart the gatekeepers, break through the barriers, and decipher the hidden codes to getting your book published. 

Countless writers have achieved their highest aspirations by following Herman’s outside-the-box strategies. If you want to reach the top of your game and transform rejections into contracts, you need this book! Jeff Herman’s Guide will educate you, inspire you, and become your virtual entourage at every step along the exhilarating journey to publication. Ask anyone in the book business, and they will refer you to Jeff Herman’s Guide.

NEW for 2015: Comprehensive index listing dozens of subjects and categories to help you find the perfect publisher or agent.

“I highly recommmend Jeff Herman’s Guide. It was the most helpful book I bought about how to get published.”
— Nicholas Sparks, New York Times bestselling author of The Notebook

“I got my agent by using this guide!”
— Meg Cabot, New York Times bestselling author

“Nothing beats Jeff Herman’s Guide.”
— Jack Canfield, coauthor, Chicken Soup for the Soul series

“Jeff Herman has done a service to every writer who wants to make a living in this business. Every author should have a copy on their shelf.”
— Chip MacGregor, literary agent

“Everything you need to get started.”
— Cheryl Richardson, New York Times bestselling author

Jeff Herman’s Guide remains the Rosetta Stone of writerly success.”
— James Broderick, PhD,

About the Author

Jeff Herman, a successful literary agent, has sold more than a thousand books to dozens of publishers and, since 1990, mentored millions of writers through this guidebook

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 24, 2014

Don't Miss the Last Check-in of the Year for #WIPMadness!

It has been one CRAZEEE month! Besides hosting our #WIPMadness check-ins, I have drafted a new novel this month, run an online class, organized and participated in several homeschooling events, and still managed to make dinner most days. Those are mostly things that were on top of my regular schedule, but I always say a busy person gets more done, and I think it's true.

I believe we have collaboratively decided to take a break from checking in through December. Our wonderful WIPMadness buddy, Kim Baccellia will take over as host for January.

But before you run off and get swallowed by the holiday season, hang back for a minute. I want to talk to you about a couple of things.

1. On finishing well. Whether you will achieve your November goals or not, I encourage you to finish the month well. What does that mean for you? You have six days left of the month. If you were to use those six days well in working toward your goals, what would that mean for you? Writing for a certain amount of time on each of those days? Or spending an hour or two outlining how you might bring this project to completion at a later date?

2. Think about how you will spur on your creativity through December. It can be a busy month for sure, but I think your inner spirit will be much happier through the month if your creativity does not lie dormant. So if you will be writing, what do you plan to write? If you won't be writing, how do you plan to be creative next month? (It may take some creativity just to answer this question!)

Above all, I wish you all a wonderful holiday season filled with much peace and love, and I'm so thankful that I've been able to spend the last year on this journey with all of you. Writing and publishing are no fun to do alone!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Cheers to all of you! Looking forward to seeing you in the New Year with some shiny new goals!

Monday, November 17, 2014

On Shiny New Ideas and #WIPMadness Check-In!

Well, it happened to me as usual, right on schedule. Just as I reached the halfway mark of #NaNoWriMo and was filled with self-doubt over the project I was writing, a Shiny New Story Idea popped its cute little head up at me in the middle of the night.
Bubbles, Bubble, Water, Macro, Drop, Circle, Liquid
This happens to me every year. Sometimes several times within the month of November. I have all these awesome ideas swarming around my brain, but sadly, I have to keep writing this other book, this book that is fraught with problem areas and plot twists and characters that aren't working.


If you have ever been in a similar situation, even if you're not NaNo-ing, I have found an outlook and a game plan for these times.

1. Know that your Shiny New Ideas are not as awesome as they seem at first glance. All stories are fraught with major problem areas once you get into the depth of actually writing them.

2. Take half an hour and write down everything you can think of concerning the Shiny New Idea. Then you're not missing out on ANYTHING by taking the time to finish your current work in progress. You can always come back to this Shiny New Idea once you have finished the book you have made a commitment to.

3. Imagine yourself dropping your current project, starting on your Shiny New Idea, and then getting caught up on some impossible  barrier after about a week. How horrible would you feel if you had to give up on BOTH projects.

4. Stop trying to compare the two stories in your head. As you know, or have known before the Shiny Idea hit, all stories are like apples and oranges.

Directory, Signposts, Wood, Grain, Board, Shield5. Call the Shiny New Idea exactly what it is: Distraction. It's the part of you that's scared to move forward on your current project trying to self-sabotage. DON'T LET THAT HAPPEN! Your Shiny New Idea could indeed be awesome, but do yourself a favor and finish up your current project before making that decision.

I'm not sure if that helps anyone else, but it's been cathartic for me to get it down and read it over for my own good.

Are you facing any kind of distractions from your current writing project this week? What's getting in your way and how are you dealing with it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Must a Writer Write Every Day…Even in November? A Guest Post by Tamara Girardi for #NaNoWriMo

As many of you know, I'm a huge advocate for NaNoWriMo and fast drafting. But I believe there are many personality types and many different writing processes for making the fast drafting process work for each person. I'm always thrilled to share a different outlook from a guest author on the topic, and so today, I give you over to Tamara Girardi, who gives her thoughts on whether or not you need to write every day!

Must a Writer Write Every DayEven in November?
By Tamara Girardi

Writers write every day.

You know the saying. If you aspire to write great stories, youve probably heard this a time or two. The words might ignite the flame of insecurity inside of you that challenges whether you really are a writer. What if you dont write every day? Will you make it in this business? Will your work ever see print?

A more appropriate saying might be: Writers write every day in the month of November. If that saying speaks to you, you might be a Wrimo. Or a Nano. Or a Wrimer, however you look at it.

Still, November can become like any other month. You start off writing strong, but by November 5 or 8 or 12, youve fallen out of the writers write every day bubble.

If thats happened to you, thats okay. Theres still time!
NaNoWriMo encourages every participant to write 1,667 words per day to reach an ultimate goal of a novel of 50,000 words in a month. Dont get me wrong, 50,000 words in one month is excellent, but according to, literary and commercial womens fiction tends to run 80K-100K.  Mysteries, thrillers, suspense, and fantasy projects target 90K-100K. Science fiction novels might take two NaNoWriMos to complete.

Middle grade, young adult, and romance novels could potentially be complete at 50,000 words, so if youre writing one of those, excellent for you! The takeaway here is although NaNoWriMo is fabulous, and there are many undeniable benefits for participants, the plan you created prior to November 1 might be fuzzy at the moment.

If that describes you, no worries! Just adjust your plan.

Set a challenge for yourself. If youve lost a few days in the month, try to double your word count on the remaining days to reach the 50,000 words. If 50K is nowhere near attainable, then adjust your goal to 40K or 25K.

A goal is a goal, and NaNoWriMo is the time to set goals and strive for them. In November, you have a built-in community lively over Twitter, Facebook, NaNoWriMos web site, and in many face-to-face write-ins around the world.

Let me reiteratearound the world!

Do you really believe every NaNoWriMo participant has written every day this month? Full disclosure: I have not. I started strong, writing roughly 7,000 words in the first weekend, but then the work week hit, and its been busy ever since. I teach college English courses, and my roughly 60 composition students are submitting 15-page persuasive essays for grading. My literature students recently completed an exam that needs grading and are preparing for a literary analysis essay.

When my mental energy is not being spent on their work, Im playing with my three-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter. Then, bedtime comes, and Im, well, ready for bed.

And Im not the only Wrimo with a busy work schedule.

So, as my month continues, Im being forced to re-evaluate. Can I still reach 50K by November 30? Im not sure. If I have a few days like I had the first weekend, I could get back to my target without too much trouble. The twenty-minute sprints I love could get me there, but the truth is, any amount of words sitting in my document November 30 signifies an achievement.

They are words I didnt have October 31. They are words I will add to December 1 (or the next writing day I get did I mention I dont write every day?).

I love NaNoWriMo and have no intention of discouraging participants from meeting the 50K in 30 days goal. On the contrary, I hope that any Wrimos reading this feel empowered to change their plans if those plans arent working. Dont stop participating because 50K is suddenly unattainable for you.

Log into the NaNoWriMo web site. Find a friend tweeting under the #nanowrimo tag on Twitter, or better yet, find me! I will cheer you on!

You dont have to write every day to be a writer, whether its November or any time. You need only believe you can write and make progress at it. Whatever shape that progress takes, celebrate it.

And good luck!

An English Instructor for Harrisburg Area Community Colleges Virtual Learning program, Tamara Girardi holds a PhD in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Letters in Creative Writing from the University of St. Andrews. Her YA fantasy DREAMSEER won the 2013 PennWriters Novel Beginnings Contest and is on submission with agents. Tamara is a member of Backspace, Sisters in Crime, and PennWriters. Follow her (and challenge her to a writing sprint!) on Twitter @TamaraGirardi.

Monday, November 10, 2014

On Muses, @AvrilLavigne, #NaNoWriMo, and #WIPMadness Check-in

This photo is licensed for use:
If I had a muse, it would be Avril Lavigne. There's something about her Girl Power brand and individualistic lyrics that make me feel like I can do anything and that the world needs my unique words.

I say "if" because the truth is, I don't believe in muses. I used to, before I discovered NaNoWriMo. In 2007, I started taking on the 30-day, 50,000-word challenge, and that changed my thinking. You see, when forcing yourself to write 50,000 words in a month, you don't have time to wait around for inspiration or muses. Most of the thirty days you will not feel like writing at all. At least I don't. But I push myself to meet my goal, and inevitably, words and metaphors and story lines show up on the page that blow me away when I go back to reread. Those nuggets of gold are not the result of my muse, they are simply the result of my dedication.

One of the reasons I'm such a big advocate of NaNoWriMo and fast drafting is because I believe that by pushing ourselves to write, even when we don't feel like it, helps us access our subconscious mind where all of our best ideas are stored. You see, if we take our time and only write when our "muse" strikes, we already think we have the best ideas, so why on earth would our subconscious mind pipe up to tell us any different?

I'm curious if you agree, or if you have some sort of muse that truly helps you get your stories written.

Also, I should mention that if you are fast drafting this month, I'm live-tweeting tips from my nonfiction writing book Fast Fiction, using the hashtag #FastFiction.

Also, NaNoWriMo posted my Top 5 Tips to NaNo Success this week. I hope you'll check it out.

And finally, don't forget to leave your progress on your goals so far this month in the comments. Write on, friends!

Monday, November 3, 2014

On Criticism, #NaNoWriMo, and #WIPMadness Check-in

Whether you're trying to fast-draft a novel in a month, or taking many years to draft a story, chances are good that you have faced or will face criticism that will threaten to halt your progress. Every writer I know hears criticism from even the most unexpected sources (and sometimes the unexpected sources are the most painful!), and those criticisms can feel like the only thing any one has ever said about our writing when we hear them.

But the truth is, there are many readers out there in the world with vastly differing moods and opinions! Because I think it's ridiculous how much criticism can affect our progress as writers, I decided to make a list, all in one place, of things I've personally heard, or seen in reviews of other authors I love in hopes of shining a light on the ridiculousness of spending any time at all thinking about one person's criticism.
  • "There's too little description I couldn't picture it."
  • "There's too much description and it slowed down the pace."
  • "Cardboard characters, lacking detailed description."
  • "Why would I want to know every detail about what this character eats for breakfast?"
  • "Starts off too slow."
  • "I got whiplash from the breakneck pace."
  • "Too languid and boring."
  • "Too quick-paced and choppy."
  • "Unlikable characters. 
  • "Characters are too perfect."
  • "Too short. I like my books at least three hundred pages."
  • "Too long. Went on forever."
  • "Too much sex and cursing."
  • "Felt too clean to be realistic."
  • "Melodramatic."
  • "I wanted to feel more emotional connection."
  • "Strange plot. Unbelievable."
  • "Cliche. Felt like I've read it all before."
  • "Main character is too angst-y."
  • "I wish the characters had more passion."
  • "Not enough conflict."
  • "Too much going on. I wanted a minute just to breathe."
  • "I hate issue-driven books."
  • "I hate character-driven books."
  • "I hate plotty books."
  • "It's too simple."
  • "It has everything in it but the kitchen sink."
That's a long list, but I'll bet there are many more I haven't mentioned. Seeing them all together helps me at least to remember not to put too much weight in any one thing anyone says. Feel free to add to my list in the comments, and let me know if criticism has ever hindered you from something creative. And how did you get over it?

Also, what are your goals for November? Are you joining in on NaNoWriMo, or do you have your own different set of goals for this month?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Four! #Nanowrimo2014 and #WIPMadness Update!

Happy Halloween! It's been a long, long time since I've done a variety-of-what's-going-on-in-my-life post! Here it goes...
1. I've been exceptionally busy, with the launch of Fast Fiction in February, and then promotional opportunities as we're leading up to NaNoWriMo. Plus, add on top of that my young adult novel, Foreign Exchange, that just came out two weeks ago, and blog tours and interviews, etc, that goes along with that. But it's been a great year, seeing these books hit the shelves and hearing testimonies and reviews about how these books are affecting others.

I just had another testimonial come in for Fast Fiction that I'd love to share with you:
Three years ago I set myself the goal of writing a novel because I have always wanted to see if I could do it.  I quickly found myself completely lost and mired in the unique problems such a large project can create. I was so lost I failed to get very far with my novel until I was fortunate enough to hear Denise speak at my local writing group. Impressed by her presentation, I purchased her book "Fast Fiction" that night and found the encouragement, structure, and practical advice on process I needed to begin, and more importantly, finish the first draft of my first ever novel. I have shared her process with my writing group and encourage anyone else who may be wandering lost in the novel writing wilderness to check out her book. It will help! Thank you, Denise Jaden, for "Fast Fiction"!
 - Kirsten Mah
As you can imagine, I'm thrilled by this response! If you're reading Fast Fiction and/or using it for NaNoWriMo this year, I'd love to hear from you too!

2. Speaking of NaNoWriMo, yes, I will be drafting a new novel this November! The title is tentatively Chasing Waterfalls, and will be kind of a companion/follow up to my outdoor survival YA novel, Avalanche (which is still in pre-production - I should have some good news to announce regarding that one soon!). Also, if you've followed the hashtag #WIPMadness at all on Twitter, you know we hold weekly check-in's throughout the year to keep writers on track. I will be hosting each Monday throughout November right here, so whether you're fast drafting or setting some other kind of writing goal, I hope you'll stop in and check in with us here.

And...if you're considering jumping in on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon at the last minute, check out my Story Plan resource, free to my blog readers, to get all of your important story information quickly in one place.

3. I've been doing a little acting in my "spare" time, along with my son. Nothing of mine has aired yet, but my good friend sent this little screen shot of my so on Strange Empire. He loved seeing himself on the screen!

4. I just got back from the Surrey International Writers' Conference (SIWC) where I learn a huge amount each year. This year, among other things, I took some great classes on settings and photo-use for blogging and social media, reviews for authors, and writing with gusto. I came away refreshed and inspired. I spent much of the weekend live-tweeting some tidbits of what I was learning, so if you're interested in my "Cliff Notes," check out my Twitter feed from last weekend.

That's it for me at the moment (or all I can remember in my harried state!) How about you? What's new this fall? Are you planning on writing during NaNoWriMo, and if so, what do you plan to write?