Monday, August 15, 2016

Summertime Memories

My grandparents lived on a farm out in the country in the mid-Willamette valley in Oregon. For a couple of years, starting when I was about 13, while my mom went back to school, we lived on the farm in my great grandparents' old house. 
The summers I spent there are some of the strongest memories I have to this day. I don't think I knew how much I loved being on the farm. I loved wandering around. I'd visit the old playhouse that my mother had played in when she was younger. I'd swing on the tire swing. On hot days, the cool barn was the place to go. Upstairs in the barn was a built-in trampoline my grandpa had built for his three daughters. When I wrote the fourth book of the Charmed Life series (Hannah's Bright Star), the barn she has on her farm is just like this one I knew well growing up. 
Here's that old barn, built around 1929, as it looked the last time I saw it five years ago or so.
Some afternoons, my grandma and I would go bike riding on back country roads, collecting pop cans and bottles from the ditch as we went along.
When strawberries were in season, I would ride the bus to the fields and pick berries. I soon learned that picking berries all day made for one very, very long day. At least for a 13-year old. I talked my grandma into picking me up at lunch time some days. Those were the best afternoons, because we'd go back to her house, have lunch, and watch soap operas for a couple of hours. (Thanks to me and my obsession with Luke and Laura, my grandma got hooked on General Hospital and continued to watch it for many, many years to come, usually before her afternoon nap).
I made $75.00 picking berries that summer. My grandpa had promised to match whatever I earned, so I finally had enough money to buy myself the dog I'd always wanted - a purebred cocker spaniel. I named him Lucky.
I miss my grandma and grandpa. I miss wandering around that old farm. I miss my sweet dog, Lucky.
But I still have summertime, along with the lazy days and fun times and sweet fruit it brings. Thank God, I still have summertime.

Friday, August 5, 2016

On social media and not feeling social

There's this strange thing that is happening to me. I don't want to talk online anymore. I don't want to tweet, I don't want to blog, I just... I don't know. I have to force myself most of the time to speak up and say something.

I've been trying to figure out why and maybe it's because I'm having a bit of a difficult time in my career right now and when things aren't going well, it can feel a little bit like - what's the point? Except I think it's even more than that. I'm having to work hard to protect what little confidence I have left as a writer and so even just sitting down to write stories at the moment is tough. It's like I have to save all of my bravery for that and then there isn't any left for the other types of writing.

But here's why I'm blogging today. It is easy to disappear. Like, really really easy. To tell myself I don't matter, that no one would care if I just stopped showing up on the web one day and then, suddenly, I do it. I stop. And before I know it, I've quit writing all together and out of desperation I put in an application to work at Taco Bell. Which, if you work at Taco Bell, thank you for feeding burritos to the world and please don't take that as meaning that I think there's anything wrong with working at Taco Bell. I am just not sure that is what I want for me, personally, at this stage in my life, you know?

I think it's easy to "be social" when your career is going well. When your book hits the NY Times or you win a big award, and everyone wants to congratulate you, there is nothing easier than being on-line and taking that all in. And please know, that is not meant to be a criticism at all. If you hit the NY times, YAY FOR YOU, I'M TOTALLY SERIOUS, because that is some super exciting stuff that may never come around again.

But when everything is a struggle? When all you want to do is sit on the couch and watch Netflix and eat ice cream but you make yourself go to the computer because that is what a writer does for crying out loud? It's difficult to find anything left after that to put out into the world. Especially when you're feeling vulnerable and no replies to whatever you put out there can feel like another kind of rejection.

I also think there has been a shift in social media over the years. Now, more than ever, it seems like people admire the loud, the bold, the indignant, the outrageous, the hilarious. And when you are generally not any of those things, it's hard to feel like your voice has any value. It's like a mouse trying to get noticed in a pit of roaring lions. It's easiest to just hide in a hole and watch the roaring from a distance. That's kind of what I've been doing lately.

There is no lesson learned at the end of this blog post. No revelation that has come to me as a result of writing this. All I know is I felt like perhaps I should explain why posts have become less frequent. If you are feeling like a mouse in a pit of lions lately, please know - I see you. I hear you. You are not alone. We must remember there is a place for us in this world too, even if it doesn't always feel that way. And now I'm signing off to open the manuscript. To do the work I feel called to do, even if it feels much, much harder today than it did ten years ago. What?  You thought it got easier? Ha. Nope. Not even close.





Friday, July 22, 2016

A day at the beach

Cannon Beach, Oregon
"Back outside
we stand
at the edge
of a cliff
and look out
at the endless supply
of blue.

              It takes my breath away.

Him
and me
and the sky
and the sea.

It's like a dream.
The kind of dream
you wish for again and again,
night after night,
because it was so good
the first time."

~from The Day Before
by Lisa Schroeder

Monday, June 27, 2016

On creativity and play

Ponytail Falls, taken by me on a hike

"For most people, creativity is a serious business. They forget the telling phrase 'the play of ideas' and think they need to knuckle down and work more. Often, the reverse is true. They need to play." 
~ Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On Mixing Things Up as a Writer

Since 2008, I have published seven young adult novels

I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME
FAR FROM YOU
CHASING BROOKLYN
THE DAY BEFORE
FALLING FOR YOU
THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU
ALL WE HAVE IS NOW

and eleven middle grade novels

IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES
SPRINKLES AND SECRETS
FROSTING AND FRIENDSHIP
CHARMED LIFE #1, Caitlin's Lucky Charm
CHARMED LIFE #2, Mia's Golden Bird
CHARMED LIFE #3, Libby's Sweet Surprise
CHARMED LIFE #4, Hannah's Bright Star
MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS
SEALED WITH A SECRET
THE GIRL IN THE TOWER
2017 MG title not yet finalized

Eighteen books.
In eight years.

Starting in 2010, I worked hard to publish two books a year, one YA and one MG. Then, I had the year where I wrote all four of the CHARMED LIFE books, because my publisher wanted them to come out quickly, one after the other.

The thing is, if I'm not regularly selling books to publishers, I'm not making the kind of income I need to pay the bills. You're probably wondering, don't you get lots of royalties on all of those books? Well, no, not really. Some of them haven't even earned out their advance, and may not ever do that. Others give me a small amount of royalties every six months, but once books are gone from the shelves of bookstores, they aren't selling enough copies to make much of a difference.

I have a couple of things on submission now, and I'm crossing my fingers something will sell. In the mean time, I decided it was time for me to mix things up a bit. Stretch myself. Write something that would make me forget about the stressful business side of publishing and fall in love all over again with the act of writing.

If you're a writer and feeling like you'd like to mix things up a bit too, but don't know what that means or how to do that, here are some things you can try.

Write for a different age-group.
Write a different genre.
Do something new with point-of-view.
Do something new with timeline.
Play with voice.
Write in a different form - short story, poetry, essay, etc.
If you've never outlined, try outlining.
If you've never gone without an outline, try drafting without one.
Write faster.
Write slower.

I've always been a pretty fast writer. Also a lean writer. Perhaps the two go hand-in-hand?

But this summer, I am mixing things up by first and foremost, slowing things down. I'm also trying a different genre (historical fiction), although it's a book that alternates between the past and the present so it has other challenges besides the research aspect. Talk about mixing things up!! I started the book I'm working on now at a writing retreat back in April, and I'm probably one-fourth of the way through a first draft right now. I am letting things simmer more than I usually do and giving lots of thought to decisions I make about what happens next. I'm trying to write two pages a day, but if I only get one done or even a couple of paragraphs, I don't sweat it.

There are times when things are hectic and chaotic and dinner at my house consists of soup and sandwiches. Other times, I can spend an hour and a half in the kitchen, making a really nice home-cooked meal. No doubt about it - the dinner I spend more time and care on is usually a much more special meal. That's not to say the soup and sandwich dinner is bad - I can make a pretty tasty sandwich. I guess my point is that life doesn't always allow us to spend an hour and a half on dinner every single night. Similarly, life doesn't always allow authors many months and even years to write books. I've done what I've needed to do over the years to feed my family, and did the best I could with the time/resources I had at the time.

But right now, with this particular book, I know I need to take it slow. It is the kind of book that deserves care and attention and a lot of thought. So that's what I will give it.

Eighteen books in eight years may be great or it may be slightly insane, I'm not quite sure. What I do know is that it's okay to slow down once in a while. Hopefully this particular story will be better for it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The healing power of art

Artwork by Nicoletta Ceccoli from The Girl in the Tower

"All of us use art and literature
as an escape from time to time,
but if it's any good,
it has a healing quality --
a quality that enlarges our
human spirit."
Katherine Paterson

Thursday, June 2, 2016

B&N Teen Book Festival

If you're in the Portland area, I'll be participating in the first B&N Teen Book Festival at the Clackamas, Oregon store. There are things happening all weekend, but on Saturday, June 12th, I'll be signing books alongside April Henry at 4:00 p.m.




And if you're not in the Portland area, make sure and check the B&N near you because most likely they'll be having some fun events as well!