Monday, December 30, 2013

A look back - 2013

As we approach a new year, I think back to the past year and it's kind of one big blur of writing in my mind. I mean, I wrote a LOT. How much? I'm going to break it down, month by month, so I can really see how much. Here we go! (click on the pictures if you want to see one better)

My fifth YA novel

Falling For You came out January 1, 2013. Blah. January releases kind of suck, if you want to know the truth. It's actually selling much better since it came out in paperback the first part of December. Someone even snapped a picture of it in a Fred Meyer store up in Washington. How exciting! Besides the release, the highlight of January was traveling to Tempe, Arizona to stay with my mom for a couple of days while I also did an event at the fabulous Changing Hands bookstore. I got to hang out with my good friend, Suzanne Young and other YA writers for a while. Writing-wise, I was working on a YA novel that I was excited about. I also had my first conversation with my Scholastic editor at the end of January about the MG series I'd be writing.

photo credit: Vy's blog
I love Vegas

It seems I go to Vegas at least once a year. I can't help it - my girl Lindsey Leavitt lives there. So when I get the chance to go, I go. We did an all-day event with some other YA authors at one of the public libraries there. Lindsey picked me up the day before the event and she took me to Cafe Rio where I had the best taco salad of my entire life. I still dream about that salad from time to time. We made a video together for one of our favorite librarians, Sarah. I think I lost some money gambling, but I can't quite remember because I pushed that out of my memory forever, as you are supposed to do when you're in Vegas. Also in February, I did an event at Powell's on my birthday with Kimberly Derting. It was SO much fun. I really got into the game we played, in case you can't quite tell by this photo. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, I squeezed in time to work on the super sekrit YA project. I'd had some disappointment in the YA arena around another book, so I was writing a book simply for the fun of it (or so I told myself).

Poison and Skyping

March marked the release of the YA novel Poison by Bridget Zinn, a friend and Portland author who lost her life to cancer far too soon. Her husband along with Holly Westlund and the great folks at A Children's Place Bookstore organized a fantastic multi-author signing and celebration. Over 100 books were sold, and it was just a fantastic evening. I did a few Skype visits in March and finished Book #1 in the CHARMED LIFE series.

More Skyping, a school visit, and SOLD!

I did more Skype visits in April, and also got out and did a live, in-person event at an elementary school  (Valley Catholic) just a few minutes from my house. I love it when that happens! My son was heavy into track at this point, so there were lots of track meets happening. On April 10th, five days before it was due, I turned in book #1 to my editor. AND, what do you know, that YA novel I was writing, just for the fun of it, sold to Scholastic. It's now titled THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU and comes out July, 2014. I wrote this post after the book sold (without saying as much) about how this particular book saved me at a time when I wondered if maybe I was done writing YA. And last but not least, I turned in CHARMED LIFE #2 the end of April. Whew!

Mt. View Middle School

Yay, another in-person school visit this month, even closer to my house! Mt. View Middle School asked me to come and speak to the students who participated in their reading program and met their goals, and of course I said I'd be happy to do that. I talked for a little while, and then they gave away some books, sold some books, had cake, and a good time was had by all. Or so I hope. I was working hard on edits for books 1 and 2 as well as the YA novel, but I still managed to do a few more Skype visits AND get outside for some fresh air, sunshine, and tulips. All work and no play makes a writer CRANKY. Always remember this little fact. Always.

Sunshine and Stormy

I walk my dog, Stormy, every day. Every single day, pretty much, for 30 - 60 minutes. If we haven't gotten a walk in by 3:00, she comes and tells me in no uncertain terms it's time to go. And so we do. It's good for me and it's good for her. But one day, it wasn't quite so good. She stuck her nose into a beautiful little Japanese maple tree, with leaves that hung down and touched the ground, and discovered a cat was hiding in there. The cat scratched her. At the time, I didn't realize how bad it was. But a week or two later, her eye got really awful looking. Turns out, the scratch created an ulcer on her cornea and it took many, many vet appointments trying different procedures until we finally found one that worked. She had to wear the cone of shame and have drops in her eyes four times a day for WEEKS. It was miserable. And of course, we had a vacation scheduled in June, so our friends/neighbors who had agreed to take care of her had to keep up with the cone and the drops while we were gone. The good news is we were in sunny San Diego for a week, and we had a blast. As you can tell by the smiles on our faces. I'm ready to go back. Right now. Today. Please?

Revisions and Relay

I love alliteration, in case you couldn't tell. July was spent revising my face off. Lots and lots of revising, on lots of different books. I also did the Relay for Life at the end of the month to raise money to kick cancer's arse. Stupid cancer.

Manzanita retreat

Lindsey came my way for a change and we went to Manzanita where we spent a few days looking out at the beautiful beach as we wrote and revised. I can specifically remember writing the first couple of chapters of CHARMED LIFE #3 while we were there. Of course, we got out of the house too, and visited the famous Haystack rock, ate clam chowder at Mo's, shopped at Cannon Beach and some other fabulous things. I also took her to the grilled cheese bus in Portland after her plane landed. Mmmmm... grilled cheese.

Frosting and Friendship

Another release - this time, the third and final book in the "It's Raining Cupcakes" trilogy, and my tenth book baby overall. Ten!? Kind of unbelievable. I was so busy writing and revising and retreating, I didn't even think to schedule a signing event for this book. Eep! Hopefully I will schedule something in 2014 for the new series, and if kids want to bring their books to be signed then, I'm happy to do so. I turned in book #3 this month! Only one more to go, due December 1st. Could I do it, I wondered? In the personal department, my nephew was born. He had kind of a rough start, but he's doing great now!

Presenting... me

Along with working on the fourth and final book in the series, I did a presentation at the Oregon Association of School Librarians on Skyping with authors and also drove up to Longview, WA for Teen Read Week and spoke to teens there about how books can help us through hard times.

Some good news

That I can't share yet. And lots of writing. Because the fourth book was due, remember? And of course, because that book was due, I got a new idea for a YA novel that wouldn't leave me alone. So I worked on it here and there, as I could, after I got my required writing done for the day. Um, what else? Some Skype visits. Book club. Turkey and pumpkin pie. Mmmm.... pie.

Ready for a nap, but it's December, and no naps allowed (unless you're a baby)

I turned in the fourth and final book on Monday, December 2nd. My editor turned around and got me her notes pretty quickly, so I revised while I Christmas shopped on-line. And still, the secret YA project called to me. It's now winter break, and I get up early every day and write while the rest of the family sleeps in. It's pretty awesome. I have 75 pages finished. I'd love to have a draft finished by the end of January, but we'll see.

So there it is. A pretty good year, all-in-all. Of course, no big awards, no best-seller lists, no movie news for me, but that's okay.  I'm doing a job I really enjoy that gives me lots of time to taxi my non-driving teens around and walk the dog every day and cook dinner every night (except Fridays, when we get pizza. Yay pizza!).

When I wrote my wrap-up a year ago, I imagined myself mostly chained to my desk for an entire year. I'm glad to see that wasn't actually the case. As I look ahead to the new year, I'm ready to fill the well in a big way. I'm hoping to take piano lessons. Work out more. Read more. Find sunny places to visit. Eat delicious taco salads and grilled cheese sandwiches with friends. I'm really, really looking forward to 2014.

If you got this far, thanks for reading! I hope the new year is filled with all of the people you love and your favorite things, and that it's a happy and healthy year for all of us!


Friday, December 27, 2013


It's up on Amazon for pre-order, so I think it's safe to share here.

There was a different cover for a while, and Advanced Reader Copies got printed with that cover, but Scholastic didn't think it was quite right, so they went back to the drawing board. That happens sometimes.

Anyway, here is the new and improved cover! The story takes place in small town Oregon, which I know well, and this cover does a fantastic job of capturing that, I think.

What you can't see is that the back is kind of a continuation of the front with somebody else walking along the fence behind her. :) It's pretty cute, I have to say.

I got an awesome quote about the book from an amazing YA author whose books I LOVE, but I'm not sure if I'm supposed to share that yet. Hopefully someday soon.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Just wanted to take a second and wish all of those who celebrate a very Merry Christmas. I hope Santa brings you some good books to read! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The year I wrote four novels & lived to tell about it

2013 will always be remembered as the year I wrote four middle-grade novels. (Not to mention edited those novels, plus revised two others. But never mind those extra things for now).

The dates were tight for this middle grade series, and I can't deny it scared me a little. I do understand, however, there is something to be said for having books come out quickly, one after the other, creating excitement (hopefully) about the series. I took a couple of days to think about it, and then said - yes, I want to commit to doing this.

When I got the contract, I may have panicked just a little bit. Seeing the dates in print made it all so real. I really did have to write four books in ONE year. So I let myself have that moment of panic, and then I said, there's no time for that. You have books to write.

I told myself this would not be hard if I did just three things.

1) A chapter-by-chapter outline for each book.
2) 1,000 words a day (min) while drafting, w/ the goal of finishing in a month
3) Make each book FUN to write.

I'll break these down and talk about them each a little bit.


I gave myself two weeks to do the outline. That's a lot of time, I know, but this is where all the creativity is happening, and often I find that, for me, it's the hardest part. I have to come up with good scenes that will make for a fun read, move the plot forward, develop characters, etc. etc. I might have spent hours getting only two chapters figured out, and then I was tired and done. So I gave myself permission to take a while with the outline. As I wrote each outline, I kind of used the screenwriting book SAVE THE CAT as my guide.

Here's a look at what one of these outline pages looks like:

Each outline was about three pages long. I printed them out, I checked chapters off as I wrote them, I scribbled notes on them. The outline was my map and I am positive I could not have finished this journey without each one of them.

Did I veer away from the outlines? A few times in a small way with the first three books, and in a big way with the fourth book. I ended up scrapping what I had planned for about the last six or seven chapters and wrote by the seat of my pants. It was the right call. What I had planned was boring, and what I ended up writing was much better. As a result, the last book took me a little longer, but I still managed to make my deadline. Whew!


I knew 1,000 words a day would be doable for me, because I've now written quite a few books and I know what I can do. Sometimes the 1,000 words gets done in an hour, sometimes three or four. It just depends on how focused I am and how well the writing is going for the day. But I knew myself well enough to know this was very, very doable. And it was. On tumblr recently, someone asked Neil Gaiman how many words he writes in a day, and he said he can consistently get 1,000 good words a day. He may write more, delete more, etc., but he feels like 1,000 is about his average. So I'm in good company.

The key for me is to write every single day while I'm drafting. I've learned over the years that the more I can stay immersed in the story by coming back to it day after day after day, the better. Stay away too long, and reentry is difficult. So yes, this means I wrote on Saturdays and Sundays too. Often those are the days I can get my words written in an hour or so, though, because I get up early and the rest of my family likes sleeping in.


When you have deadlines, it can definitely take away the "fun" in writing. It really is much more like work. So with each book, I tried to create a story that was unique and fun and gave me something I personally would enjoy writing about. I was fortunate in that I had a lot of leeway with the plot for each book. Together, my editor and I came up with the four girls who would make up the main characters of this series, and then the rest was all up to me.

Because this series features a fun charm bracelet, each girl had to select a charm she wanted to add to the bracelet by the end of her story. I loved having something tangible to think about as I tried to figure out what physical and emotional journey each girl would go through.

I used the setting of each book to help me brainstorm as well. Setting is so important to each story, no matter what we're writing.

For example, Mia, the main character of the second book is from Southern California. When we think of Southern California, we often think of Hollywood. So, I thought, what if Mia met a famous teen actress? What might happen between the two of them that would be fun to read about? I then went down the list of possible charm ideas and thought - what if the actress goes birdwatching with her grandma every Sunday morning to kind of "get away from it all" and she asks Mia to come along with her one day?

As a result of brainstorming like this, I have a tween actress who I can have fun with as a character (I had SO much fun describing her fancy house and what Mia thinks the first time she visits). And, I have an activity that will be fun to research - bird watching.

I'm trying to think of what I might have done differently if I had to do it over again, and I can't think of anything. It was actually reassuring, in a way, to have work all year long. Every day I knew what needed to be done, and so I got up and that's what I did. I still did all the activities that are important to me alongside the writing - exercising, making dinner for my family, chilling in the evenings with my favorite TV shows. The one downside was that I wasn't able to read as many books this year.

One interesting tidbit - I write my YA novels much differently. I don't have an outline at the outset. I am much more of a discovery writer when I'm writing YA. I don't know why this is, but I accept that I have different processes for different kinds of books, and that's okay. That's not to say that I don't stop at some point and do some plotting and brainstorming. But I rarely have something concrete at the beginning, like I did with these books.

So, there you have it. Questions? Hit me up in the comments and I'll try to answer them.

The first two books come out next May, 2014! Aren't the covers adorable? I just love them. Can't wait for young readers to read them!