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.

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


and eleven middle grade novels

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
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!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

High tide and low tide

I listen to a lot of podcasts on my dog walk every morning. I recently started listening to one called "Millennial," about what it's like to be in your twenties in this day and age. I've really enjoyed following her story as she tries to figure out what she wants to do career-wise and the challenges she faces in looking for work. Since I have a son who is about to graduate from college, and because things are quite different from when I graduated from college years and years ago, I find it all very interesting.

In one of the early episodes (sorry, not sure which one), the host, Megan, was talking to an older coworker (at the restaurant where she works part-time) about success, and he said something that really resonated with me. He said something like: In life, it's impossible to always feel like everything is going well and that you're exactly where you want to be in terms of success. It's like the tide - it ebbs and flows. Sometimes you'll feel successful, like the high tide, and other times, the tide will go out and you'll feel dissatisfied with the way things are going. You just have to ride it out. Eventually, the tides will turn again.

I love that. To simply know that high tide all the time is impossible sort of takes the pressure off. A little bit, anyway.

Monday, May 23, 2016

In the land of no contracts

It's always a bit of a strange feeling for an author when a contracted book (one that a publisher has bought and is scheduled to be published) is turned in. On the one hand, there is this huge sense of relief - the book is done and the editor is pleased. Hooray!

But it also can be a bit nerve-wracking. The book is done, so now what? Because books are published so far ahead, authors also have to be thinking ahead. I'm now thinking about 2018, wondering if I'll have any books that year. If I don't sell something here in the next little while, I may not have anything published in 2018 and as someone who relies on this writing gig for income, it's really not good to skip a year.

I try not to worry, but it's hard. It's really hard. It's like this little nagging voice in the back of my head all the time - you need to sell something, you need to sell something. The fact that publishing is the slowest business in the world doesn't help. Once an author has something to sell, it can be a loooong time before a sale actually happens. Editors are busy. Most of them read submissions during their "off hours."

So, I'm busy working on coming up with a couple of proposals for future series. I'm also working on a manuscript I don't want to sell on proposal because I want to make it the best I can without any deadline pressure. And I have a completed manuscript on submission now.

Just like when I'm writing sometimes, I'm not sure what's going to happen next. But I hope I don't have to wait too long to find out!