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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

From Me to You

"And every one of them words rang true/ And glowed like burnin' coal/ Pourin' off of every page/ Like it was written in my soul from me to you/ Tangled up in blue." - "Tangled Up in Blue" by Bob Dylan

Isn't this what every writer tries to achieve with their creations? To make the reader feel like the words were written just for them? I know I do.

Since the beginning of the "Willow Ryan" series, I have been wondering about my future readers and what they will take away from reading my books. My target audience is women in their twenties and thirties, but these book can be enjoyed by so many more people, from teenagers who could identify with Willow as she grows up quickly to older women who would love Peggy, Willow's hilarious 50-something boss and close friend who she calls her fairy godmother in disguise.

Whoever my readers are, I hope that they are able to take away three things from my work. 1) Willow's determination to succeed and survive her circumstances, by whatever means necessary, 2) an understanding of her reasons for keeping her pregnancy a secret, however right or wrong they may have been, and 3) her all-encompassing love for her child, the unexpected blessing she didn't realize she wanted and needed until it happened. If people can feel these things through my words, then I have succeeded.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

An Unexpected Email

"I've got to admit it's getting better/ A little better all the time." - "Getting Better" by The Beatles

When I was checking my email Thursday night, I saw a response to a query I had sent an agent that immediately jumped out at me. What was strange was that my old title for Secrets was in the subject line. My first thought was that I had made a mistake was lucky enough to receive a form rejection instead of being ignored. I was wrong. My responses from agents are indeed getting better!

The weirdest part however, was that this query had been sent out in May of 2010 and I was just now getting a response! This is not unheard of, but I was still shocked. So, I opened it up to find a message saying that the agent thought I had "a nice writing style and sense of story". Wow, a compliment! Then she went on to say what I have come to expect, that it is very difficult to sell a first time author to a publisher unless the book is perfect. I get that, honestly I do. Then she said that she could put me in touch with an editor and she feels that I will ultimately see my work in print. That sounds like a pretty positive comment to me!

There is no way I can afford a professional editor on my salary, but I immediately realized something. I have done massive editing in the past year after gaining knowledge on my own and taking the advice of another agent who gave me some amazing editing tips. So, I decided to take a chance and email her back, mentioning the editing I had done and asking if she would be willing to look at the first three chapters again. I am not expecting anything to come of this, but it was a wonderfully unexpected surprise if it did. I just hope I hear back from her sooner than last time!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer's Here and the Time is Right

"Tonight, tonight, the strip's just right/ I wanna blow 'em off in my first heat/ Summer's here and the time is right/ For goin' racing in the street." - Bruce Springsteen

No, I haven't been racing in the street, but don't think that idea hasn't crossed my mind once or twice. If my Mustang was more powerful than just a V-6 I might be even more tempted, but that would probably get me into a lot of trouble. My inclinations toward driving too fast and wondering if I could beat random strangers off the line at a red light are not the reason for this post though. The real reason is Willow's 19-year-old sister, Summer Ryan.

When I ended chapter 21 in my fourth Willow book on Tuesday, Summer was heading off in her Mustang on the way to the drag strip, presumably to race her ex-boyfriend, Mike. Is this a good thing for her to do? Probably not, but that won't stop Summer, who is just a little too fearless and impulsive for her own good. I revealed earlier in the series that Summer used to street race her dad's old Camaro when she was in high school back in Indiana, so now she's graduating to a real track.

I wrote her character this way as a contrast to Willow, who is much more practical and tries to focus on the big picture instead of what is going on right in the moment. They are pretty much classic first and last borns in terms of birth order personalities, but that is another topic for another day.

Now I have to go start chapter 22 and write about what happens when Summer and Mike meet up at the races. It should be interesting! "I met her on the strip three years ago/ In a Camaro with this dude from L.A./ I blew that Camaro off my back and drove that little girl away."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

10 Pages Down

"Ooh, baby, baby it's a wild world/ It's hard to get by just upon a smile/ Ooh, baby, baby it's a wild world/ I'll always remember you like a child, girl." - "Wild World" by Cat Stevens

I completed another 10 pages in my work in progress yesterday and am well on my way to finishing this latest volume in Willow Ryan's life. I chose "Wild World" as my song of the day because yesterday I had Willow fall asleep while listening to a Cat Stevens record with her baby, and it's been in my head for the last 16 hours or so.

Here's a question for all of you writers out there. Can a character in a novel ever be too real? Willow is like so many women, trying her best to balance family, work, and doing what she can to achieve a lifelong dream for herself. Her toddler has temper tantrums, her husband doesn't always worry about the little details in life that plague her thoughts every day, and she's surrounded by a great group of friends and family that enrich her life so much but can also drive her a little bit crazy. I always try to make my characters relatable so a reader can nod her head in agreement and say, "I feel the exact same way" or "That's totally happened to me before!", which I think I have achieved in each book so far. Willow's character and story are in no way boring, but can her fictional life be too real? Any thoughts on this topic would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Finally Back on Track

"Look for a while at the China Cat Sunflower/ Proud-walking jingle in the midnight sun/ Copper-dome bodhi drip a silver kimono/ Like a crazy-quilt star gown/ Through a dream night wind." - "China Cat Sunflower" by the Grateful Dead

I love the Dead, but this has to be the single most hippie-dippy song on the planet, although there is something magical about it. This song played a part in finishing chapter 20 of my work in progress, thanks to my mom who knows the song and printed out the lyrics for me. There is a character in my Willow series who I refer to as the hippie that time forgot, and this song is perfect for her! I just love when inspiration falls into my lap like that.

So, I am happy to say that I'm finally back on track with my writing. Knowing that I have some time off and can actually sit down and write uninterrupted has really gotten my creative energy flowing. I wrote another five pages this morning bringing me to a grand total of 92,000 far. I'm not worried about the length of this novel since it's the fourth one in the series. I figure that if the first one gets published and it's a hit, then the other ones can be longer than average without it being an issue. If not, then I will edit/revise when the time comes. As for right now though, I'm on a roll and I have to get back to my manuscript!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

"I'd sit on his lap in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town." - "My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen

Wow, two posts in one day. I'm really on a roll! This post is to wish all of the dads out there a happy Father's Day!

I just love "My Hometown". I even referred to it in one of my Willow novels because it has such strong emotions and tells a great story. How many of you out there remember sitting on your dad's lap and "driving" his car, which consisted of him pushing the pedals and guiding the steering wheel, only you didn't realize that because you were having too much fun being the one behind the wheel for a change? I can still remember being about five years old, sitting on my dad's lap, and "driving" his '71 Maverick through our neighborhood in Southern California. I had no idea that his hands were actually holding the bottom of the steering wheel so we wouldn't take out any of the neighbors' mailboxes or children, I just thought I was driving, and it was an amazing feeling!

Fast forward about 10 years and he's teaching me how to drive. I had been waiting for that moment my entire life! I was always the kid who couldn't wait to be older, couldn't wait to grow up and drive, hopefully as fast as I could! The first lesson my dad taught me about driving was not to let the car overheat (a running joke in our family about air having to flow through the radiator), and the second was that if you don't get caught speeding, then it's not illegal. Words of wisdom from a lifelong drag racer! :) Anyway, there were some tense moments, like when he threatened to tie my left leg to the car door if I kept using it to brake, but I did learn how to drive, and I can happily say that my car has never overheated and I have never gotten a speeding ticket in the 13 years since that first driving lesson, which is a minor miracle. Thanks, Dad, and happy Father's Day!

Clarence Clemons

"And the Big Man joined the band/ From the coastline to the city/ All the little pretties raise their hands/ I'm gonna sit back right easy and laugh/ When Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half/ With a Tenth Avenue freeze-out." - "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

As you may have heard, Clarence Clemons, saxophonist extraodinaire for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, passed away last night from complications of the stroke he suffered last week. Big Man, you will be missed not only by the band that you brought such a special presence to, but by your millions of fans around the world.

My favorite Bruce/Clarence moment was in the phenomenal cover of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" when Bruce tells Clarence that he's been working real hard and Santa will bring him a new saxophone for Christmas. It's a true classic, and if you haven't heard it, you should look it up.

So thanks Clarence, for your hard work and big heart that you brought to the band and the music. You will be missed.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Heart Over Head

"My brain takes a vacation just to give my heart more room." - "Crush on You" by Bruce Springsteen

What a great line! That's exactly what I feel like right now. My vacation from teaching/taking care of two extremely active and brilliant children for 10 hours a day has officially started! Don't get me wrong, I put a whole lot of heart into my work with the girls, but my overtaxed brain is now getting a desperately needed break.

This Bruce Springsteen line really jumped out at me in terms of my writing though. Yes, there is a good deal of thought involved in my writing, but I have to say that the majority comes straight from the heart. It's something I feel deep in my soul, a passion that cannot just be conjured up through brainstorming, note taking, or good old-fashioned hard work. It's much more emotional than cerebral when the words just come pouring out of me, often from a place I don't even recognize. There is nothing better than when a great plot twist, a hilarious line, or a touching moment comes out of nowhere and is staring back at me through the computer screen. That's all heart.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where I Come From

"No I cannot forget from where it is that I come from/ I cannot forget the people who love me." - "Small Town" by John Mellencamp

While I was helping the six-year-old I teach work on a writing assignment about the Amazon Rain Forest this morning, she asked me when I knew I wanted to be a writer. It then occured to me that I don't think I've shared any information on my writing background with you guys, so I thought I'd correct that today.

I decided that I wanted to become a teacher and a writer in second grade. I had the world's best teacher, Mrs. Dye, at Covina Elementary School in Covina, CA, and she inspired me to write. She not only told me that I was a good writer, but that I was a gifted storyteller, which I knew even then were two totally different things. That's when I became a writer, even if it was just in my own head at that point.

In elementary school I won schoolwide awards for a biography on my mom and for an anti-drugs paper I wrote in third grade. This was in 1990-91, and Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign was still going strong. I got to stand up in front of the whole school at an assembly and read my paper which I still remember doing. The most memorable part was when I knocked over the microphone, producing that screeching feedback sound that rang in my ears for an hour. Oh well. It was still cool to be up there and be recognized for my writing.

I was also published in a couple of children's magazines in the early 90s, but then I stopped writing for fun, for the pure enjoyment of seeing my words scrolled across a page, until I quit my teaching job in 2006. I was working like crazy with no time to breathe, let alone write, and I had an epiphany that that wasn't what I was supposed to be doing anymore. Yes, I loved teaching, but I had to find another way to do it. Enter the family I currently work for. Their daughter was in my class when I decided to leave, and they found out they had another one on the way at the same time. One thing led to another, and here I am five years later. I am still teaching, but now I have the time to pursue my dream of being a writer, which in a way, I always have been. Sure, I didn't write for a long time, but I always had ideas and dreams that I am now doing something about. Now to get published...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Paint it Black

"I see a red door and I want to paint it black/ No colors anymore I want them to turn black/ I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes/ I have to turn my head until my darkness goes." - "Paint it Black" by The Rolling Stones

Today I let the girls do their favorite art project - splatter painting. I strung up two huge pieces of paper outside, poured paint into plastic bowls, handed them each a spoon, and let them fling away! It's actually a fun lesson in physics, but their favorite part is making a huge mess and then getting hosed off. Ah, to be a kid...

To tell you the truth though, I did not want to do splatter painting today. There are a ton of bugs out, the kids were being whiny, it's hot, and I just wasn't in the mood to deal with any of it. But, as the song says, I turned my head, pushed that darkness away, and we went out and turned the backyard into a Jackson Pollack masterpiece. And you know what? We all kind of snapped out of our grumpy moods and had a good time. There's something about hearing the carefree laughter of little children that can remove all sourness from a person's disposition if they just let it. Today, I was laughing right along with them.

Now, remember how I was hoping to get some writing done over the weekend? Well, I didn't. Ugh. But this is a new week and I have high hopes! I will at least finish chapter 20, if not more. And that's a promise!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Joy to the Fishes

"Joy to the world/ To all the boys and girls/ Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea/ Joy to you and me." - "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night

Today was our first field trip of the summer! We went to the aquarium, the girls' choice, and had a great time. They both got a kick out of petting the sting rays and we saw two seals kissing. How do you respond to a four-year-old's question of why would anyone, even a seal, do something so yucky? I got some great pictures too. I'll try and add one to my post later since I forgot my USB cable at home. Grr! I will also use a picture or two for a gift I making for them. At the end of the summer I will present them with a scrapbook that will have a photo from every single day we spent together this summer, which I think they'll really enjoy. It will be a fun project for me too!

Guess what? I have passed my love of writing on to another generation! The six-year-old I teach is an excellent writer (I know I may be biased, but I think this kid has a natural gift!) and she wants to write reports and stories about everything! It's so cool to share something so special with her. She wants to write a book with me this summer, so I think we will start working on a collaborative picture book (me and both girls) after they get back from their grandparents' in a few weeks. I bet that will be quite a bit different from working on my Willow novels! Wish me luck!

Ah, my Willow novels. I was just thinking the other day how much Willow has grown throughout this series, from starting off as a scared but determined 17-year-old, pregnant and alone, to the strong woman and mother she has become four years later. I wish she was real. We could grab a cup of her favorite vanilla cinnamon coffee or a spicy tamale from Paco's Tacos and hang out at the beach in Santa Elena. Okay, enough silly daydreaming. I can see the end in sight for book four, which is bittersweet. I always get just a little sad when a book comes to an end, even though it's a huge high to finish a novel and it gives me a great sense of accomplishment. It's kind of a mixed trip I guess. I know exactly where the rest of the story is going now, and I hope to get some writing done this weekend. Only five work days left until my two week vacation though, and then the writing will really take off! I can't wait!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

School's Out!

"School's out for the summer/ School's out forever!" - "School's Out" by Alice Cooper

Funny, this song had a much different meaning when I was the one in school. Now I'm the adult taking care of children will not be in school for nearly three months. I remember hearing this song on the way home from my last day of high school. Man, I was so excited I could hardly stand it! This was my anthem that whole school year. Now, it will just seem like school is out forever.

Don't get me wrong, I love the girls I work with more than I can even put into words, but being with them for 50-55 hours a week is going to be exhausting! I have written up extensive lesson plans that cover seven subjects that we will tackle every day, plus I have a ton of ideas for extra stuff if we have time. Then there is also their swim team, gymnastics, and the occasional violin lesson. Wait a minute. Why did I ever think we would have extra time?! We will also take two field trips a week. Do you think I may be a bit too ambitious? I figure that I did it last year when they were only 3 and 5, so why not kick it up a notch this year?

Rest assured, I'm not going to work these poor kids to death all summer with hours upon hours of boring schoolwork. The vast majority of my lessons are taught through play or experimentation, and I am making a point to give them plenty of rest and free play time every day, way more than they get during the school year.

So, that will be my summer for the most part. I do have a couple of weeks off that I hope will give me a lot of time to write, because I am really going to miss working on my writing. As Bruce Willis's character Joe said in "Bandits", 'There's never enough time when you're working...'

Friday, June 3, 2011

It Was the Third of June...

"It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day/ I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was bailin' hay." - "Ode to Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry

Since today is June 3, there was nothing else I could pick for my song of the day. I just love how the lyrics paint a very clear picture (amid a story of secrets and scandal) of what was happening in Carroll County, Choctaw Ridge, and of course that infamous Tallahatchie Bridge. Fantastic!

Nothing is new on the writing front, other than I've resumed working on my latest Willow novel - finally! I finished chapter 18 and am ready to continue her story. When I started writing after neglecting my characters from Santa Elena for a few weeks, I felt this huge sense of relief and calm, which I rarely feel in life. Normally I tend to be kind of high-strung and extreme, but writing pushes all of that anxiety, stress, and tension right out of me. I don't know what it is, but I know that is a sign that I am meant to do this. If I don't, I would probably spontaneously combust at some point! I have an hour before I have to get ready to go to work, my actual job that pays the bills, so I will try to get a few pages typed up. I wonder what those wacky, lovable, down-to-earth characters will do today? I better go find out!