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03/16/15 Uncategorized , Writing , Young Writers Series # , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Online Young Writer’s Series Week Three; Publishing Options

Last week in the Young Writers series we talked about self-editing. Namely, what you should really be looking for when revising your work before passing it on to someone else. I got quite a few messages about the post and am glad it was helpful to so many of you.

This week we’re talking about the different kinds of publishing. Or SOME of them anyway. It used to be that you sent your book to an agent or editor at a traditional publishing house and left it in the hands of universe. There were big publishing houses and small publishing houses, but they all pretty much did the same thing. The big houses just had more money and more clout.

All that has changed over the last decade or so. With the advent of self-publishing, it’s become easier than ever to to see your words in print. But it’s also become more confusing than ever, because now you have OPTIONS, and all of those options come with inherent pros and cons. It can be tough to know what to do and how best to get your work to readers.

And I hate to say it, but there’s no easy answer. Plus, I’m not big on giving people answers. I like to give information instead. Then YOU can come up with your own answers.

😉

Let’s start with TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING. For the sake of this discussion, we’re going to call traditional publishers those that typically pay decent advances and have similar processes when it comes to acquiring new work, marketing, etc. We’re also going to stick with the bigger companies that have been around a while in this category, not because smaller houses don’t add value to the process, but because I’m giving them their own section in Boutique Publishing (below).

When you think of traditional publishers, you probably think of companies like HarperCollins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Little Brown, and Penguin. But the are lots of companies that would be categorized as part of Trad Pub, and many of the smaller ones are divisions of the bigger ones (called IMPRINTS).

Traditional Publishing is the toughest way to get your work to the general population. This is because to many, it’s still the gold standard in publishing, and there are many layers to the process of being signed with them.

First of all, barring some personal connection to an editor, you MUST have an agent. Editors at traditional publishing houses stopped accepting unaccented manuscripts a long time ago. There are just too many of them, and an agent is one way editors can narrow their focus to work that has, on some level at least, already been vetted by a professional. Once an editor reads your book and likes it, they typically have to take it to Acquisitions, and that means getting a whole bunch more people on board with your book (more on that process in Week Five: How Do I Sell My Book?). By the time your book is actually bought by the publisher, LOTS of people have agreed that it’s a viable book, which means one that will make everyone money. And while it’s sometimes tempting to dismiss this part of the equation, remember that advances to authors cost money. Paying editors and marketing people and cover designers and accountants and legal people cost money. Having offices to do all of this stuff costs money. Marketing books costs money.

So… yeah. I have thoughts on the Trad Pub model of deciding where this money goes (because I don’t always agree), but I’ll save that for another time. For now, let’s just accept that big business costs big money to run, so they’re not going to buy books  they don’t think they can sell.

One note of clarification; just because THEY don’t think they can sell it doesn’t mean it WON’T sell. Keep reading.

😉

So it’s hard to break into Trad Pub, but the silver lining is that there is a certain amount of quality control involved with books that are traditionally published. At the very least, they’ve been edited and deemed good enough to buy by lots of people on the publishing team. That PROBABLY means the book doesn’t suck, and that is worth something to readers, most of whom view books that are trad pubbed as safer bets than books that are, say, self-pubbed (I’m not saying this is always true, just that this is a typical school of thought… keep reading!). Some of that street cred is passed onto you when you publish traditionally. Whatever happens to your book in terms of sales, you’ve SOLD BOOKS to big publishing houses, and that isn’t very easy to do.

Upsides to Trad Pub include more money to spend on advances and marketing. Not that this money will go to you – advances and marketing treatments vary wildly in publishing. But at least you know they HAVE it. It’s also easier to get placement for your book in bookstores, which have limited shelf space and are very picky about what they put on display. Lastly, you have access to a lot of expertise in all facets of publishing, so at the very least, it’s a tremendous learning experience, both on the editorial side (working with a great editor will make you a better writer like nothing else) and with regards to cover design, marketing, etc.

But I’m not going to lie; there are downsides. Remember all that money I told you about? Money for advances and marketing? Well, it’s far from even distribution. One book might get a $5,000 advance and another might get $500,000. One book might get a teeny-tiny marketing budget while another gets a massive campaign. And let me stop you before you say you don’t care about marketing.

You do. You SO do.

That’s because once you publish a book, those numbers follow you to the next book. And the next. If your book doesn’t sell well (which it’s much less inclined to do without significant marketing – there are just SO MANY BOOKS in the world now), your next contract, if you can get one, will likely be much less lucrative, setting you up for an endless cycle of low advance/low marketing that almost assures your authorial demise in Trad Pub. Publishers want to protect their investment, so they spend most of their marketing dollars on books that garner big advances. And those are a tiny minority of books that are bought by them, which means it’s tough for all the other books in the line up to get the kind of attention that makes Trad Pub an advantage over other methods of publishing.

Timing is also a factor with Trad Pub. Because they’re so big and have so many books, your book likely won’t be published until at least a year-and-a-half after the publishing house acquires it (I waited more than two full years for Prophecy of the Sisters).

Lastly, the amount of input you have in a traditional publishing house will likely be small. This is true when it comes to everything – marketing, cover design, even the title of your book. I’ve been lucky with LIES I TOLD, because HarperTeen has been very inclusive about title and design, but that hasn’t always been the case. And the bottom line is this; when you sell your book and accept an advance, you are no longer its sole proprietor.

In a perfect scenario, one where you get a good advance and a great marketing plan and have lots of talented people rooting for you at the publishing house, Trad Pub can be awesome. But that endorsement comes with the caveat that I’ve sold books to four major publishing houses now, and my experiences have been mixed.

Let’s move on!

I’m going to refer to BOUTIQUE PUBLISHING here as companies that are small and/or up and coming. Just a few years ago, these publishers were divided into camps; traditional boutique publishers (small companies who published print books) and digital boutique publishers (those starting to publish books on digital platforms for ereaders). Back then, many traditional boutique publishers didn’t really have a handle on the rise of digital publishing, and digital publishers didn’t have a mechanism for getting printed books into bookstores.

All of that has changed. Most small traditional publishers have become savvy about digital publishing and how to use it to their advantage, and new distributors have stepped up to provide brick-and-mortar placement for boutique houses that once specialized in ebooks. This is all awesome news for writers, so let’s start with the upsides!

Working with a boutique publisher can mean more hands-on input about cover, title, and marketing. This isn’t always the case, but most of the time you have fewer cooks in the kitchen with a small house, and that means you have direct access to the people collaborating on these decisions. Timing can also be accelerated with a small publisher (although not always), meaning your book may make it in front of readers much faster than it would with traditional publishing.

Small publishers tend to cater to niche markets. That means if you write romance or sci-fi or erotica, or any “genre” novel, you won’t be competing against all of those books PLUS books in every other category for a spot. And once the book is published, that publisher may have a loyal following of readers in that genre who trust them to publish the books they like. Translation; sometimes it’s an easier way in.

Most importantly, small publishers can be more accessible to writers both before and after publication. You don’t always need an agent to get your manuscript in front of an editor, and after your book is acquired, you’ll likely have direct access to many of the people on your team.

As with anything, there can be downsides. Easier access and acquisition isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes (not all the time!) a book isn’t picked up by Trad Pub because, well, it’s just not good enough. It could be that it needs more editing or it’s in a waning genre or any number of other things, but sometimes having your book rejected by Trad Pub is a blessing in disguise.

When I first got an agent, we tried to sell my second book. I loved that book. I thought it was absolutely perfect. But it didn’t sell, and while I was super disappointed, I’d spent the months it was on submission working on a Gothic fantasy called Indigo Sky. That book became Prophecy of the Sisters. The failure of my second book to sell prompted me to seek out a new agent, and I ended up with Steven Malk and Writer’s House, who have been amazing to me and amazing for my career. Prophecy sold for a much larger advance than that second book ever would have, insuring me more marketing and a better start in the business. I believe I would have been published either way (I wrote five books in two-and-a-half years – I was DETERMINED), but I think it would have been a rougher start with that second book, and there’s no telling where I’d be now.

The thing is, those editors knew my second book wasn’t ready, even if I didn’t. If I were trying to sell it now, maybe I’d sell it to a smaller publisher or self-pub it. But that wouldn’t magically render it ready. It wouldn’t magically render it GOOD. And do I want a book with my name on it floating around out there if it’s not, at the very least, GOOD?

No.

Small publishers also have less money to spend on marketing, although this is only an issue if we’re talking about the BIG money spent in traditional publishing compared to the small money spent in boutique publishing. If your book falls into the latter category, there might not be much of a difference between small money in Trad Pub and average money in Boutique Pub. Also, your advance with a small publisher will likely be small or even non-existent. Maybe you’ll make it up in royalties, maybe not.

Let’s move on to our last category; SELF-PUBLISHING.

Self-Publishing used to be a four-letter-word in publishing. It was only done (supposedly) by hacks; people who weren’t good enough to sell their books to a “real” publisher. And to be fair, this criticism wasn’t always unfounded. There are downsides to making it easy for anyone and everyone to upload their writing and call it a book. Because let’s face it; writing is harder than it looks, and just because you love to read and own a computer, well, that doesn’t mean you’re a great writer.

Which is not to say you shouldn’t write! I say if something brings you joy, do it! But as a reader, let’s be honest; it sucks to take a chance on a book, pay for it with your hard earned money, and then have it be downright bad.

Luckily, self-publishing no longer carries the stigma it once did, and there are endless resources available to make sure your work is as professional as possible before you show it to the world. You can hire editors and cover designers and even PR people to help you get the word out. And if you’re on a budget, there are countless resources online that will give you information about how to do these things yourself. You can collaborate with other self-published others on Twitter and Facebook, cross-promoting and learning the ropes from each other.

You also have complete control. Over your title, your cover, your release date. Everything. If your cover doesn’t play well with readers, you can change it and have the new one up in twenty-four hours. If you need to make edits after it’s been published, you can do that, too. Your book can be released within days, and your paychecks (if your book sells) will start arriving within a couple of months.

All of that control comes with a price, though, and it’s called RESPONSIBILITY. Your cover will only be as good as the cover designer you hire or the cover you design yourself. Do you have the expertise to do it? Does your cover designer REALLY know what makes for a cover that sells books? Your book will only be as good as  the editor you hire and the revisions you make. Nothing can destroy a book’s potential like a bad editor — or an author unwilling to make the changes necessary for the book to shine. Are you willing to do that? Do you have access to an editor that REALLY knows what he/she is doing? Marketing is a HUGE part of self-publishing. There is no publisher to send press releases or get your book up on Goodreads or give out advance copies to librarians and teachers at conferences. Do you have the time and knowledge to make all that happen?

If so, self-publishing may be for you, and many authors have made a name for themselves (and a good living) doing it.

Bottom line; there are more options than ever for writers. By taking a hard look at your work, your goals, and your resources, you can decide which route is best for you. The good news is, if it doesn’t work out, those other options are still out there, and there’s nothing saying you can’t switch gears later on. Many traditionally published authors are now “hybrid authors”, which means they traditionally publish some of the their work and use other methods as well.

I hope this helps! Please feel free to leave questions in the Comments section. And check back next Monday for Week Four; A Word About Outside Advice.

Because not all advice is good advice.

😉

Also, we’re doing an awesome video project for the LIES I TOLD launch and would love for you to participate! All you have to do is send a video via Skype to LIESITOLD detailing a lie you’ve told yourself or one someone else has told you, how that lie has impacted you or your self-esteem, and how you go about moving on from the lie. The first five people to submit videos win a personal Skype video from me plus a signed hardcover of LIES I TOLD. And I’m participating, too. Yikes!

Check out the details an my video message about the project here.

 

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03/09/15 Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Online Young Writers Series Week Two; Self-Editing

Welcome back, young writers!

🙂

Last week we talked about the things you can do now to give yourself a head start if you’d like to write as a career. This week we’re going to talk about self-editing, because while EVERY writer needs an editor other than themselves, it wouldn’t be nice to give your book to someone else without first doing some work on it. That’s because NO BOOK IS EVER “DONE” right after you finish writing it.

One more time for good measure.

NO BOOK IS EVER “DONE” RIGHT AFTER YOU FINISH WRITING IT.

It doesn’t matter how awesome it is or how much you love it. And that goes for every author everywhere.

Even if you circle back and edit as you go (I do this in 100 page increments), you won’t have an objective view on the book until you get some distance from it and then read it front to back. Even then, you will STILL need an outside reader/editor. But they will hate you less because you will have done at least some of the clean up ahead of time.

😉

When I first started editing my work, waaaaaaay back in 2005 when I started trying to get published, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, and to be honest, I didn’t even realize that I didn’t know what I was looking for. Of course, there was the obvious; typos, inconsistencies in the timeline, pieces I’d forgotten to take out when I’d cut other pieces with which they connected, etc.

But I wasn’t focused on the big picture at first. You know what made me start focusing on the big picture? Reading for OTHER people.

I belonged to a few online writer’s forums and began trading work with a couple of people I liked and admired (one of them is now also published, which was so fun and exciting to find out). It was only when I started reading for other writers that I saw the things that REALLY mattered. And it wasn’t typos (although I should say for the sake of clarification that your manuscript shouldn’t be riddled with them).

That was a turning point in my own self-editing evolution, because I was able to look for the things I knew readers would notice.

But before I get to the checklist, I want to stress one very important thing about self-editing; GIVE YOURSELF TIME AWAY FROM YOUR MANUSCRIPT BEFORE YOU BEGIN EDITING.

I know, I know. You’re DYING to read it! DYING to send it out to other people so they can read it! DYING to start querying agents! DYING to put it up on Amazon and Apple and B&N if you’re self-publishing.

But trust me on this; you will NOT see your work objectively until you give your mind time to breathe. Consider it a palette cleanser, like those little dishes of sorbet they give you between courses at super fancy restaurants. Work on something else, read, take walks, hang with friends, watch movies. Anything BUT start revising your manuscript. In a perfect world, you’d be able to give yourself at least a month away from it, but if you absolutely can’t wait that long, promise me you’ll wait at least two weeks.

Pinky promise?

Good.

Once you’ve had a break, go back and start reading your manuscript with these things in mind (this checklist pulls from a talk I give to schools and libraries about self-editing);

1) Setting

Setting is so important to that immersive quality you get in a good book. It’s the thing that makes you really feel like you’re in a different place, like you can taste the food and smell the air and see the trees and flowers and weather unique to that area. A well developed setting makes the reader feel like they are THERE. This was a very big part of Prophecy of the Sisters. The rural New York setting in the late 1800s allowed me to create a lot of the creepy, moody vibe that pervades the book, with fog hanging low over the fields and shrouding the mountains, rain battering the windows, and the wind making an old house creak. In A Temptation of Angels it was Victorian London, its nighttime air sooty with lamp smoke, the clatter of carriages a backdrop to everything outside. In This Wicked Game it was modern day New Orleans with sultry, humid weather, the sound of jazz bands, the smell of magnolias. And in LIES I TOLD it’s a California paradise on a cliff over the water where wild peacocks strut the streets and parrots flit through a thick canopy of trees, the sound of the surf breaking against the cliff like a lullaby to everyone who lives there.

See what I mean? It’s important! And even suburban America has a look, feel, and smell. Your job is to capture it so fully that it almost feels like another character in your book – without distracting from the story.

2) Character Development

This might seem obvious, but the nuances to creating well-rounded characters are many and sometimes difficult to quantify. In short, you want your characters to come on the scene fully developed, with a personality, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, habits and tics. And you want your protagonist to change somehow through the happenings of your story. To arc, if you will. The protagonist could start out strong and be broken by the end. He could be broken and grow strong. She could be rigid and unmoving and the grow to see that things aren’t so black and white. The important thing is that your character be so unique that he or she isn’t interchangeable with just anybody.

In Prophecy of the Sisters, Lia starts out the meeker of the two twins and must grow to own the responsibility that is hers, even if it means forsaking her twin. In A Temptation of Angels, Helen evolves from a sheltered, over-protected Victorian girl to someone willing to risk her life to save others. In This Wicked Game, Clare eventually begins to question her disbelief in voodoo, and her harsh judgement of those who practice it, when she realizes that life is a lot more mysterious than we think. In LIES I TOLD, Grace begins to question not only the things other people tell her about herself, but the things she’s believed to be true as well – all in an effort to become more fully HERSELF. Not the Grace everyone else says or believes she is, but the one she in in her heart, and the one she most wants to be.

A big part of the fun and challenge of reading about interesting characters is watching them grow and change. Make sure yours are fully developed from the beginning, and that the main characters make some kind of emotional, physical, or mental journey in the story.

3) Relationship development

This is very similar to Character Development. In real life, our relationships with others are sometimes complicated, full of love and dislike and competition and jealousy and admiration. And as people undergo change, so too, do our relationships with others. This should be reflected in your story. Relationships should be authentic, backed up by what you show or tell us about them. This is easiest to illustrate in a love story. In a good one, we see the gradual progression from first meeting to love through a series of (hopefully realistic) encounters and exchanges. But relationship development can be more complicated when it comes to other types of relationships. If two people have always been competitive, that should be evident, even subtly, in their interaction and/or the accompanying exposition, and that should be true of any relationship you build. If you show us that someone is protective of someone else, that dynamic should be evident throughout, until and if it isn’t anymore.

In Prophecy of the Sisters, Lia and Alice grow from having a slightly distant relationship to being actual enemies, and then find their way back to each other in a more honest way. In A Temptation of Angels, Helen has an adversarial relationship with Darius, Griffin’s older, cynical brother. But in the end, Darius comes to respect her, and she comes to see beneath his brittle facade. In This Wicked Game, Clare and her parents are at odds. Clare doesn’t want any part of voodoo, but it’s an important part of her parent’s history and current business. We see them clash in the beginning, but gradually Clare’s stance softens, and her mother thaws a bit, too. In Lies I told, Grace and Parker start out close, like the adopted siblings they are, then grow apart as their goals diverge.

Whatever the relationships in your story, make sure they are authentic and fully developed. Think about the complexities of your own relationships! Try to capture them on the page.

4) Pacing

Pacing is the speed with which a reader moves through your story, and it is largely dependent on the things you’ve included, the things you’ve omitted, and the way the story is structured.

When I’m preparing to write a book, I use a screenwriting “beat sheet” to outline the pivotal moments in the story (you can find sample beat sheets online). Then I write a 4-5 page summary of the story, laying out those pivotal moments within the narrative of the story. To keep things moving, you want to move between pivotal moments as quickly as possible.

When you read a book that feels slow, it’s often because the writer has rambled a bit in the space between pivotal events. It’s okay to mention what a character’s wearing from time to time, for example, or to show us what they order at a diner. But we don’t need to see what they’re wearing everyday (unless this is a book with a fashion component or it serves the plot somehow), and we don’t need to hear about every meal they eat.

When I was working on pacing it helped me to visually my book like a movie. In a movie if two people are going to a diner to eat, we don’t always see them in the car in the way there. And indeed we SHOULDN’T – unless something happens in the car that is material to the plot or some other important facet of the story. More often than not we’ll see two people agreeing to go to the diner, and then the director will cut immediately to the diner and the conversation that takes place there, because THAT is the next pivotal moment.

See what I mean?

Structure can play a part in this, too. Sometimes we can most easily see the things we need to see with POV shifts or flashbacks. Whatever it takes!

5) Voice

Voice is that intangible quality that makes you feel like you’re inside a character’s head. It’s a hard thing to learn, so I can’t really tell you how to do it. But I can say the best way to cultivate voice is to first look closely at the things I’ve laid out so far. If your setting is rich and atmospheric, if your characters are fully fleshed out, if their relationships with others are real and sincere, voice will often come naturally.

I heard Lia’s voice in my head before I ever started writing. It was somber and a little heavy. Helen’s voice was young and scared in the beginning and grew to be strong and even a little impetuous. Clare was difficult for me at first. She was just a normal, modern girl. How could I make her stand out? I waited for a long time to start This Wicked Game because I couldn’t hear Clare in my head. I thought about her when I drove or when I cooked, imagined what she would think of various things. Then one day, she was just there. Grace came easily to me and by the time I’d written the Prologue, I had her in my head. Her voice in LIES I TOLD is a little sad, a little weary. I had trouble with voice at first in my current WIP, so I wrote a stream of consciousness narrative for each of the two main characters until I felt like I “knew” them.

You can do this too!

Try writing something short from the first-person POV of someone you know. It could be someone from school, a sibling, a friend, your bus driver. Imagine what that person thinks about, what matters to them. There are no rules! Just choose something to write about and go. It can be about that lonely kid on the bus who never talks to anyone on the way home or the bus driver who always looks so tired. What is he/she thinking about? What matter to him/her? Just write a stream of consciousness something in this person’s POV. You can do this anytime you want as an exercise, and you can do it with the characters in your book if you’re having trouble nailing their voice. In the case of the latter, do it until it feels right, because it’s important that you have that down when you begin.

Voice is also YOUR voice. That is, the unique quality to your writing that will make a reader know they are reading a Michelle Zink book or a John Smith book or a Jane Doe book, even when those books seem wildly different on the surface. That isn’t something that can be taught, but it can be cultivated. How?

Simple. You have to write. A LOT.

6) Authenticity

Few things are as important as this. Have you ever read a book and groaned aloud because, well, people don’t TALK like that!?! Or you just know that character wouldn’t do that? In movies this is a big pet peeve of mine. I call it the “Running from an Explosion” effect. It’s like, really? The building explodes  and they just run and they’re okay? They don’t get hit with debris or anything? They don’t get cut or banged up?

But dialog and narrative can be tricky too. Try to hear your characters in your head (having their voice down will help with this) so you can imagine them talking. Remember that most real people use contractions. They do not say something like this. They’re much more likely to say it like this.

😉

I’ve been lucky to have teenagers and young people in my house for the last ten years, so I’m pretty much surrounded by youth speak at all times. The downside is that I probably sound like a sixteen year old sometimes, but the upside is that I’ve always gotten compliments on my dialog. Just remember that speech, like everything else, is affected by character development. A surfer from California probably won’t sound the same as a street-wise kid from New York City, and THEY will probably sound different from someone who’s grown up on a farm.

But one word of warning; don’t make caricatures out of your characters! Just because someone is from the Bronx doesn’t mean they Towk Like This. And just because they’re from California doesn’t mean they’re, like, soooo stupid! Think about your character, where and how they grew up, who they ARE, and let that inform your dialog and the story to make both authentic.

7) Plot

This is kind of a loaded bullet point for the sake of this online series. There are TONS of diagrams and graphs online to illustrate story arc. As I’ve said, I use a beat sheet when I plot out my books, but it doesn’t matter what you use; just make sure your books HAS a plot.

Most plots are made of up the following; Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, and Climax. You could go crazy looking up all the varying perspectives on plot. There are subcategories to the above, and sometimes subcategories to subcategories. But the main thing to remember is that a plot has CONFLICT, and pretty much everything in the book revolves around the resolution of that conflict. Sometimes it helps me to see Conflict as Goal. In Prophecy of the Sisters, the goal was to figure out the Prophecy (first book) and then bring it to an end (in the second and third books). In A Temptation of Angels, it was for Helen, Griffin, and Darius to figure out who was hunting them and why, and then eliminate that danger. In This Wicked Game, it was for Clare to figure out what the mysterious woman wanted and how she was connected to the Guild – and to Clare’s family. And in LIES I TOLD, it’s Grace’s internal conflict between staying on the grift with her family even if it means betraying someone she loves or finding a way to have a real life.

A plot isn’t wandering around in a made-up world seeing interesting things and it’s not just people talking. There has to be a conflict, and from that conflict a goal typically arises (goal=to resolve conflict). Make sure your story has these things, and it will also have the kind of order that makes a book readable and engaging.

Whew! That was quite a lesson. I hope it helps. Please feel free to leave any questions in the Comments section, and please pass this along to any other young writers.

Remember that you can go back and read last week’s lesson about how to prepare for a future writing career. There are lots of different ways to get your words to reader, and next week we’ll be talking about the different paths to publication and the pros and cons of each, including traditional publishing, boutique publishing, and self-publishing.

And you guys! Less than a month until LIES I TOLD releases. Then you can all read Grace’s story.

🙂

 

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03/02/15 Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , , ,

Online Young Writers Series Week One; Preparation

Welcome to Week One of the Online Series for Young Writers.

*throws confetti and hands you a pretty mocktail*

😉

If you were here last week, you know that I announced this eight-week series as a way to give writing advice for teenagers and other young people. You can find that post, which breaks down the topic for each week, here.

This week’s topic is What You Can do Now (Prepping for Your Future Writing Career). I chose this as a week one topic because it’s one of the questions I get most often at book events when talking to young writers. Sometimes it’s phrased differently.

“What is your best advice for young writers?”

“What’s the most important thing for a young writer to know?”

“Did you write when you were young?”

But these are all really asking the same thing. “What can I do NOW?” And I totally get it. If you’re fifteen or sixteen or seventeen and still in high school, your future as a writer can seem a world away, which can make anything you do now seem pointless anyway.

But it’s not. Trust me.

In fact, this is the BEST time to lay groundwork for your career as a writer. Why? Well, for one, you have more free time than you will ever have in your life (unless you’re training to be a ballerina or for the Olympics trials or something like that). I know it might not seem that way. You have school and friends and parents and chores and homework and school events and probably multiple sports and/or extra-curricular clubs. Maybe even a part time job. But you also have weekends and holidays and breaks. You have TV and social networking time you can trade for time to write or read or research.

And here’s what you DON’T have; kids, a house to run, groceries to shop for, a full time job (probably), a spouse who needs your attention, bills to pay, dry cleaning to take in or pick up, older parents who need you to help care for them, etc., etc.

The truth is, it will never be EASY. Making time for something you feel passionately about rarely is in the modern world. But there are times in life when it will be easier than others, and for 99% of you, this is one of those times.

The other good news is that LOTS of unexpected things fall under the category of preparing yourself to be a writer. Of course, writing is very important.

Writing is good! You should do it as much as you can!

🙂

But reading is also part of being a great writer. Stephen King has famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

It’s THAT important, guys. So every hour you clock reading? That COUNTS as writing prep. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re reading fiction or non-fiction, whether you’re reading the newspaper or an essay for school. Something crazy happens when you read; your brain processes EVERYTHING, even when you don’t realize it. It’s making little notes about which sentences are pleasing to the ear, which phrases sound “right”. It’s leaving little bookmarks in your brain that your subconscious will go back to later, bookmarks that will tell you (when you’re writing), “That’s too long” or “That sentence sounds clunky” or “That’s not the word I’m looking for” . These bookmarks tell you when you’re bored, when you check out of a story, and when you sit up straighter in the moment a story gets your full attention.

And all that stuff STAYS WITH YOU. It stays with you even if you don’t know it’s there. The next time you sit down to write? Your writing will be informed by all the lessons you’ve learned, often unwittingly, while you’ve been reading.

All of this is why READING is #1 on my list of Things You Need to Make Time for if You Want to be a Writer.

Even before writing.

But of course, writing is next. If you want to be a writer, it’s probably because, well, you enjoy writing.

🙂

So make some time for it on a regular basis. It can be every day before bed or every Saturday at 10am, but make time to write SOMETHING, even if it’s just a journal entry or a poem or a snippet of a story idea or a stream-of-consciouness rant about something that’s ticking you off. As with reading, you will learn while you write, even if you don’t realize it. I’ve found that earmarking a certain time of day or certain day of the week for writing makes it more likely that I’ll actually do it (more on this later in Week Seven; Keeping the Balls in the Air (How to Juggle School, Social Life, and Writing)). It can be five minutes before bed in your journal, an hour on Saturday morning to work on a short story, or twenty minutes in Study Hall every other day. But try to find time to write on some kind of regular basis. For me at least, the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to jump back in.

Reason enough to regularly put words on the page!

Now this next one is going to seem obvious. And maybe a little weird because it’s so obvious, but stay with me here.

To be a good writer, you have to THINK.

I’m not just talking about school thinking or studying or thinking about what outfit to wear (although all of those things will also inform your writing in unexpected ways). I’m talking about CHALLENGING yourself to see things in another way.

That kid at school that you can’t stand? What’s his story? What might have made him obnoxious/annoying/rude/disrespectful/ chauvinistic? That person who has a different political viewpoint? Where is she coming from? Does she have any valid points? Can you see why she might feel the way they do? That teacher who seems a little beaten down? What is going on behind the scenes? Has she had a rough morning? What might have happened on in the hours before school (an alarm that didn’t go off in time? A sick child who was up all night? A fender bender? Spilled coffee on a favorite shirt?)? You’ll be surprised by the paths you travel and the ideas you get for stories if you think beyond the obvious.

Which brings me to my next point.

OBSERVE. As writers, most of us do this anyway, but sometimes it’s nice to know all those little thoughts you have throughout the day aren’t for nothing. When you feel anxious before a test, note the physical response; are your hands clammy, is it harder to take a good, deep breath? What does school sound like? What does it smell like? That beautiful sunset? How would you describe it on the page? When you see your crush in the hall, do you feel your cheeks get warm? Do you want to run and hide or profess your undying love? Or maybe both.

😉

All of these things are the stuff of LIVING. And you can’t write about life if you’re not living it.

Lastly, I have a fun assignment for you! Seek out other kinds of stories. Plays! Movies! TV shows! All of these things are stories told in different formats. Not only will they keep your creative juices flowing, but you might just find your interest in writing extends beyond book writing.

Let’s recap! To give yourself the best head start possible for a future writing career;

1) Read as much as you can. Anything! Everything!

2) Pick a consistent time each day or week when you will sit down and write something. Anything!

3) Think. Go beyond the obvious to establish empathy for people who are different than you and to see things in a new way.

4) Observe. Pay attention to the little details that make a story – and life – interesting.

5) Broaden your story horizons.

And lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Adolescence is a busy time for most people. Keep your eye on the ball of what you want for your future, but recognize that all the living you’re doing now is setting you up to write about it later. Someday you’ll be surprised at all you did and learned when you didn’t even know you were doing it! And believe me when I say that you have lots of time for other writing-related stuff after high school (and even college).

Feel free to put your writing questions in Comments. And join me next Monday for Self-Editing, a Checklist.

<3

 

 

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02/23/15 Uncategorized

Online Series for Young Writers

I am asked A LOT of interesting questions by readers. Sometimes they’re personal and sometimes they’re about my books, but I’d say at least half of all questions are asked by young writers seeking advice about, well, writing.

And I totally get it! The writing itself can seem like a pretty mysterious process. Add in editing and agents and beta readers and all the different kinds of publishing available now and parents and friends who might not take you seriously and juggling schoolwork and a social life with your writing, and I can see where it could be overwhelming.

Which is why I’ll be launching an eight-week series on this blog geared specifically to young writers. There is no fee and no specific participation required. I’m just going to impart what wisdom I can about this crazy process and its equally crazy business in the hopes that it might help and encourage all the young writers I here from on a daily basis. You can also ask questions in the Comments section, and I will do my best to answer every one. Consider it my gift to you!

😉

So starting next Monday March 2nd, you can visit this blog and check out topics ranging from what you can do now to prepare yourself for a writing career to the merit of agents and editors to what to do if your friends and family don’t support your passion for writing. I can’t promise to solve all your writing-related problems, but I can definitely give you some info that might help you along the way. Readers of any age are welcome, but I’ll be focusing on issues pertaining to teens and college-age writers. Topics will break down as follows;

Week One; What You Can Do Now (Prepping for a Writing Career)

Week Two; Self-Editing, a Checklist

Week Three; Paths to Publication (Traditional Publishing, Boutique Publishing, and Self-Publishing)

Week Four; A Word About Outside Advice

Week Five; How Do I Sell My Book? (A Step-by-Step Walk Through the Process)

Week Six; Agents and Editors (What They Do and Why We Need Them)

Week Seven; Keeping the Balls in the Air (How to Juggle School, Social Life, and Writing)

Week Eight; Rowing Your Own Boat (What To Do If the People Around You Don’t Take You Seriously)

Other than my family, writing is the love of my life. I’m super excited to talk with all my young readers about it, and equally excited to hear your thoughts.

I also want to point out the links to my other social networking sites on my sidebar. Feel free to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr (I don’t always post the same stuff on each site)!

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09/12/14 Movie Monday , Uncategorized # , , , , , , , , ,

Begin Again

Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight

After seeing Boyhood, we decided we HAD to watch the rest of Richard Linklater’s films. We were not disappointed with this trilogy of films about two strangers who spend one night walking around Austria, just talking and getting to know each other, followed by their interaction at two later dates. Simple and sweet. Streamed two of the movies from Amazon and rented one of them from Redbox.

 

Begin Again

We were super lucky a couple of weeks ago to get free passes to two different movies through AMC and their Stubs reward program. Begin Again was one of them, and I was totally blown away by how much I loved this movie. Witty and smart, it’s definitely one of the year’s best Indie dramas. If you’re looking to be uplifted in that authentic life-is-difficult-but-it-will-all-be-okay kind of way, this is your movie. Saw at AMC, courtesy of free passes from the AMC Independent Facebook page.

 

As Above/So Below

This was our other free movie from AMC, and as horror movie aficionados, we were super excited to see it. I wouldn’t say it was groundbreaking, but it was a fun ride, and the Paris catacombs as a setting was a nice touch. Saw at AMC courtesy of AMC Stubs and Fandango.

 

A Night in the Woods

Speaking of horror movies, we’re always on the lookout for good ones that flew under the radar. The Tribeca designation has begun to symbolize smart, innovative filmmaking in the genre, so we were anxious to give this one a try. It didn’t quite hold up to The Resolution, but it was a quality film that definitely gave us the creeps. The English moor setting was unique, and I think you’ll like this one if you’re a fan of movies like The Blair Witch. Streamed from Amazon.

 

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08/23/14 Movie Monday , Uncategorized # , , , , , , , ,

What If…?

Last week’s movies for you movie buffs!

What If

We saw What If as a matinee ($6!). It’s a garden variety Indie RomCom centered around a group of hipsters and their romantic dilemmas, primarily Wallace and his attraction to best friend, Chantry. Kind of an updated When Harry Met Sally. Entertaining but not groundbreaking.

 

Locke

This movie featuring Tom Hardy was one we hotly anticipated earlier in the year, but it never made it to our theater (I’m not sure it was ever taken out of limited release). The entire movie is set in a car while one man makes an hours-long drive that becomes a transition to a life-changing event. It might sound boring, but the intensity of the story illustrates that a movie (or book or whatever) doesn’t have to be high-concept to be gripping. Tom Hardy is awe-inspiring as the average man trying to keep hold of his tightly controlled emotions during a tumultuous event that is largely out of his control. Rented through Redbox.

 

Last Love

A lovely little movie about love, loss, family, and what it means to really be alive. Michael Caine is transcendent as an American widower living in Paris. He’s just kind of going through the motions of life until he meets a young woman who ignites a long lost spark in him. This is not a romantic movie in the way you might think, but it’s lovely and beautiful and a little sad. We loved it! Streamed on Netflix.

 

Final Destination

Watched this classic with the kids because they hadn’t seen it. Way better than the follow ups, and entertaining as scary movies go. It holds up pretty well for an older movie. I think we streamed this on Amazon. Couldn’t find the trailer for the original, but I’m sure you don’t need it!

😉

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08/15/14 Life , Uncategorized # , , , , , ,

You’re So Money

Time for this week’s movie update for all you fellow cinefiles.

😉

 

Saw BOYHOOD for our Friday matinee and it was every bit as wonderful and emotional and moving as I expected it to be. Filmed over twelve years using the same cast, the movie speaks to the universal struggle of growing up and growing older, and somehow you leave the theater feeling a little less alone on the journey. The film is in limited release (we had quite a few showings last week, only two this week, and I suspect it will be gone by next week), so jump at the chance to see it if you can.

 

Friday night we watched SWINGERS, a 90s movie featuring a young Vince Vaughn and John Favreaux. I’d seen it before, but it had been awhile and I’m glad I got to watch it with the kids. How else can we say, “You’re so money, and you don’t even know it,” to each other and get the reference? Streaming on Netflix.

 

Saturday the littlest Z and I watched DRINKING BUDDIES while everyone else was out. It was an entertaining look at the complexity of male/female friendships, although a bit slow on the pacing side. That said, it’s streaming on Netflix, and there’s something to be said for free movies.

 

We continued our late night Saturday tradition by watching the horror movie OCULUS. I was surprised by how good this one was. It was extremely well-written, with little of the gore that characterizes a lot of scary movies. Instead the film relies on psychological terror (my favorite!) and a tense round of flashbacks to the incident that shaped events in the modern day timeline. I was on the edge of my seat through most of the movie, and we all agreed that it was a win in terms of horror films. I think we might have streamed this one from Amazon for $2.99.

 

Happy Movie Watching, guys, and Happy Weekend!!

🙂

 

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08/01/14 Life , Movie Monday , Uncategorized # , , , , , , ,

Compliance, Syriana, Resolution, Wish I Was Here

Since we watch so many movies in our house, I thought I’d start giving you guys a heads up on the ones we like, especially streaming since that’s a nice, low-cost form of entertainment, and I think we’re all familiar with the agony of wading through the thousands of available movie on five different streaming services.

Last weekend we got lucky with FOUR movies that are good bets all around. Following are the trailers and a brief rundown on each.

COMPLIANCE

Deeply unsettling, especially since it’s based on a true story. I couldn’t help wondering not only how much we’ve all been brainwashed into complying with any kind of authority figure, but how many young women would feel powerless in this kind of situation. Terrifying.

SYRIANA

A political thriller that explores the complex nature of our relationship with oil and the lengths governments across the globe — our own included — will go to secure it. I love movieswith intersecting story lines like this one (a la TRAFFIC).

RESOLUTION

We were looking for a horror movie and ended up with this Tribeca film about a guy who holes up with his best friend in the middle of nowhere to help him get clean. It was really disturbing, and there was tons of symbolism that I didn’t fully grasp until we read the analysis. One of those gems you feel fortunate to stumble upon.

And if you’re looking to go to the theater, WISH I WAS HERE was a fun romp through Zac Braff’s brain. It wasn’t technically perfect, but it was moving and real and I really enjoyed it. Plus, it has a an awesome soundtrack.

 

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07/09/14 Life , Uncategorized

Building a Reservoir of Calm Through Meditation

I am quite often asked about my meditation practice. I tell myself it’s because I talk about it a lot (and Share stuff about meditation quite frequently), but it might also be because all the people who knew me Before Meditation wonder what happened to the high-strung, neurotic, moody, bag of stress that used to be me.

I’m not super proud when I look back on the way I used to be and the way I used to handle things. The combination of Type-A personality and mild Bi-Polar Disorder certainly didn’t do me any favors, but neither did I have any real coping mechanism for dealing with runaway feelings, stress, anxiety, or anything other than the smooth sailing that is only about 1% of real life. Anything out of the norm hit me like a wave, either in a set that seemed never-ending, or one at a time, out of the blue, a giant wall of rogue emotion. I was knocked down, “spin-cycled”, as we used to say in Southern California where I grew up. It could take me days, weeks, months, to touch solid ground again, and I’d be left flailing in the water, panicking and gasping for breath, expecting to drown at any minute.

I can’t even remember how I became interested in meditation. It might have been through a friend (a practicing Buddhist) who had a lovely, calm demeanor and a meditation corner in her home, but the turning point, the point at which it became more than just an abstract idea, was the summer I decided to take advantage of the free “Open Sit” at a local Buddhist center on Thursday nights. Every Thursday at 7pm I’d take the kids to the center where we would sit for a half an hour (they gave us a brief introduction to meditation, sitting postures, etc. prior to our first time), do calming exercises similar to Tai Chi (or take a silent walk through the grounds), and then listen to a “Dharma Talk”, a half hour presentation on some tenet of Buddhism. At the end, we’d sit for another ten minutes. I left feeling refreshed, calm, cleansed.

At first, I wanted to climb out of my own skin. I didn’t LIKE sitting alone with myself. It was scary and dark, and sometimes I’d even feel the clutch of panic. But little by little, I began to relish those silent moments with myself. Sometimes, I would even end my session feeling like it wasn’t enough, like I needed more time. At one of our earliest sessions, one of the other participants, a mother from New Jersey who drove up every Thursday for the Open Sit, said to me, “It’s wonderful that you’re here. You’ll be surprised how much will change in your family because of this one thing you are doing.” She was so, so right. By the end of the summer, I was hooked, and even my kids seemed to mellow.

I can’t really explain why meditation makes such a difference. One metaphor I like is that water must be still to have clarity. Throw in a rock, and all you see are ripples. Let it settle, and you can finally see what’s really there. With the mind, we can’t really think clearly or see things as they are when life conspires to make ripples 24/7. Meditation is a way to calm the waters so we can see and think clearly. The really amazing thing is how this sense of calm seeped into my life even when I wasn’t meditating. Now I understand that we all have this reservoir inside us that we draw upon in times of stress or worry or fear or hurt. When the reservoir is dry, we’re just clawing at the dirt, looking for something that isn’t there to get us through. Meditation fills the reservoir, so that even when I’m not meditating, my reactions to everything are calmer. I’m drawing from the reservoir of stillness that builds up through meditating, and it makes all the difference.

Since I get so many emails asking how to meditate, I wanted to share some basic guidelines for those of you who are curious, because meditation is sometimes seen as a mystery, and often those who are curious are embarrassed to ask what seems like a very basic question; how do I DO it? The truth is, the mechanics are easy! It’s something anyone can do anywhere. It requires no special equipment (although a good cushion is helpful), is completely free of charge, and requires no special knowledge (though you may find yourself seeking out knowledge as meditation becomes a bigger part of your life).

The first thing you need is a place to sit. Any quiet place will do, although it is helpful to have a wall to face, especially in the beginning. It may feel strange at first to face a wall, but it begins to feel a bit symbolic, a way to turn your back on worldly cares while you allow yourself some silent space in your own mind. You’ll get used to it! And you can can always make exceptions to sit outside, in a group of people, etc. It doesn’t have to be fancy. This is where I sit;

My_Meditation_Corner

I use the towel under one of my knees for comfort, but some forms of meditation recommend draping it over one’s lap. This is nice to do in the winter if it’s chilly (optimal temperature for meditating is 60-62 degrees, so some meditation centers keep their rooms cool — you can bring a shall or blanket if you like!).

 

 

 

 

Next, you need something to sit on. I use a zafu, which is a standard meditation cushion and platform combo that looks like this;

zafu

 

 

 

 

 

Basically, you sit on the round part and fold your legs, resting your knees on the platform like so;

Zafu_Sitting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternatively, some people find this position more comfortable;

Zafu_Sitting_2

It doesn’t really matter. You can sit any way that you feel comfortable, as long as your spine is straight (critical to good breathing). If you have bad knees or a bad back, you can even sit upright in a chair. Whatever works! If you find that you aren’t comfortable, FIND ANOTHER CUSHION OR ANOTHER PLACE TO SIT. Nothing will make you avoid meditation like being physically uncomfortable. I love my zafu because the round cushion is filled with buckwheat that can be altered (by removing some of it) according to preference. I like mine very full. I have bad knees, and the firm zafu helps keep me up off the platform high enough that my knees don’t bother me. You can also stack more than one cushion if that’s what you need to sit comfortably.

Once you’re sitting, you can place your hands in any number of positions. A common hand position is with the backs of the hand resting on the knees, palms turned upright, thumb and index finger touching, like this;

meditation_position1

 

 

 

 

 

Chan meditation advocates this hand position;

meditation_Position_chan

You can also simply rest your palms facedown, so they are kind of “cupping” your knees. Again, what matters is that you are comfortable.

Once you are seated comfortably, you want to set some kind of timer. Anything will do, but I use an app called Insight Timer on my phone. It allows me to customize the settings, and even allows me to split up my sit into sections (in case you want to take a break partway through or change your meditation from, say, a mindfulness meditation to a compassion meditation). I have mine set to ring three gentle bells at the beginning of my sit and three gentle bells at the end.

I started with five minutes, expanded to eight, then ten, then fifteen, etc. Five minutes isn’t long, but even that much was a challenge in the beginning. We’re not accustomed to silence, and we’re REALLY not accustomed to being alone in our own minds. Your mind may rebel. Beginning slowly will allow you to build up to more time. You can sit once a day or three times a day. It’s totally up to you, but I found attaching my meditation time to a daily event helped me make it a habit, so I meditate every morning before I shower, and I build that time into my “getting ready time”. Sometimes I add a session or two during the day or before bed if I feel that I need or want it. Leaving my cushion out and ready at all times makes it easy to sit spontaneously.

A few basic tips; 1) breathe in and out only through your nose, and 2) don’t worry about “emptying” your mind. This last one is virtually impossible, and it will only frustrate you if you try. I’m going to give you a couple backs techniques to get started.

The most common meditation technique, and the cornerstone to any meditation practice (and to LIFE), is MINDFULNESS MEDITATION. Mindfulness refers to being completely present in the current moment, and this is often achieved in meditation by focusing on one’s breath. A good way to begin is to be conscious of the feel of your breath entering and leaving your nose, the cool air under your nostrils when you inhale, the warm air when you exhale. Eventually you may be able to enter a state of mindfulness, of being full present in your physical body, without focusing on breath, but that’s a good place to start. Your mind will probably wander. That’s okay. Acknowledge your thoughts and let them go. This is sometimes facilitated by a conscious “letting go thought” such as, “I am thinking about work. I am letting go.” I use the very simple, gentle phrase, “Bring it back” when my mind wanders. It’s a cue to myself to bring my attention back to my breath (or my compassion meditation or whatever else I’m doing that day). Whatever happens, don’t punish yourself or force anything. Just sit, gently bringing your focus back to your breathing when it wanders (it will).

One thing I’ve used in MINDFULNESS MEDITATION is to imagine I’m a tree on the bank of a large river. I can feel the wind in my branches and see things drifting by in the water (sometimes these things take on the form of my troubles), but I am calm and unmoving as they pass me by. Another technique is to imagine your chest as a hollow stalk of bamboo. When you breathe, the air moves unencumbered from your nose to your stomach and back out again. In, out. Choose a technique that works for you and feel free to mix it up. It might take a little trial and error to find the things you like best, and that’s okay.

GUIDED MEDITATION is a good way to get started if you aren’t comfortable sitting in absolute silence. In GUIDED MEDITATION, you listen as someone guides you through healing or positive or reflective thoughts, often by using nature scenes as a visual. You can find GUIDED MEDITATIONS for everything (healing, calm, creativity, etc.) on iTunes and pretty much everywhere else. I think guided meditations are a good place to begin meditating, but I encourage you not to rely on them too long. Mindfulness is the goal.

FOCUSED MEDITATION refers to an infinite number of methods which focus your attention on a certain thing. COMPASSION MEDITATION is a form of meditation in which you breathe in through the nose (some practitioners actually tell you to visualize breathing with your heart when doing COMPASSION MEDITATION), and exhale compassionate thoughts. Your compassion might be directed at an individual or individuals, or it might be directed toward animals or the world at large. Studies have proven that there are tangible health benefits for people who practice COMPASSION MEDITATION for fifteen minutes a day. I think it’s lovely that sending good thoughts out into the universe can actually make YOU healthier, don’t you?

FOCUSED MEDITATION can take on almost any form. Sometimes if I’m feeling blocked creatively, I’ll inhale all the creative, positive energy of the universe and imagine exhaling all the doubt and fear that make writing hard. If I’m worried about something like money or my kids, I’ll inhale peace and calm and exhale my worry. If I’m feeling ill, I’ll inhale health and healing and exhale whatever is making me sick. Sometimes visualizing helps, and I’ll imagine all the good things as a gold light and all the things I’m trying to get rid of as icky gray smoke. If you’re not in the mood to do MINDFULNESS MEDITATION (or if your mind is particularly jumpy due to a specific problem), just inhale what you need (the Universe has it in abundance) and exhale what is harming you or holding you back.

When your time is up, take a few minutes to breathe and bring yourself back to the real world. At our meditation center they say, “First move mind, then move body.” You can rub you neck or rotate your body to loosen up before finishing if you want. Then bring your hands together like you’re praying and give a little bow. This is a kind of “thank you” or “Namaste” to the Universe.

That’s really all there is to it. I wish I’d found it sooner. I think back to all the hours of my life I spent worried or stressed or anxious and all the times I reacted in a negative or defensive way to someone, and I wish I could have a Do Over. But regret is a wasted emotion, so I focus instead on being grateful that I found it when I did, and that I’ve been able to introduce my kids (and others) to it in a way that may save them some suffering. Now when a waves comes along, threatening to bowl me over, I know the secret to getting through it is as simple as letting go and floating on the surface. It may carry me a few feet left or right, but when it passes, I’m still there. And the shore is always in site.

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06/17/14 Life , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , ,

Write Like a Motherfucker

Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter probably know that I’ve been reading Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of letters and advice from the Dear Sugar column on Rumpus.com. I came to hear about the book after reading WILD by Cheryl Strayed. It was one of my very favorite books in 2012, and when I went hunting for more of Cheryl’s work, I came across this little gem. Apparently, Cheryl was the anonymous advisor called Dear Sugar, and her heartfelt, shockingly honest and authentic responses to letters about everything from love to infidelity to cross-dressing to forgiveness have struck a chord with readers everywhere.

I didn’t buy the book until recently. I just didn’t really see myself as the advice-column-reading type, and especially not in book form, where I feared all the advice would blur together as a homogenous, trite instruction manual for life that would only work for people who were secretly robots without real feelings.

But the buzz continued to grow around the book (and a Kickstarter campaign to create an animated short), and I finally gave in and bought it. And you know what? Everyone is right. It’s lovely and beautiful and raw and real and frightening in its honesty.

One of my favorite letters came from a writer who couldn’t write. The person in question was so hung up on the writer she wanted to be — a writer who spoke to the deeply personal issues of women — that she wasn’t writing. Like, at all. And Sugar’s advice was pretty simple;

“So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

Unbeknownst to me (am I the only one who still writes “unbeknownst”?), the “Write like a motherfucker” refrain is a bit of a rallying cry for ink slingers everywhere (I have no idea if it originated here or somewhere else — perhaps a reader can enlighten me). There’s even a coffee mug (which I intend to purchase for myself asap).

See?

write_like_a_mofo_mugAnyway, It struck a chord, but at first, I wasn’t sure why. And it got me thinking; what does it mean to write like a motherfucker?

The phrase conjured something vicseral in me. A feeling that nothing but the words mattered. That you put your head down and you don’t think too much about it and you don’t talk too much about it either. You just write. You get the words down and then you just keep going.

Why does this seem like an epiphany? Isn’t that what we writers do? The answer (at least for me, it seems) is a lot less clear.

I used to write like a motherfucker. I didn’t have an agent or an editor. My then-husband wouldn’t even read my stuff. I wrote from 9pm to 3am every night and then got up at 6am to get my kids to school. I thought about my book in the shower, when I was trying to sleep, when I was driving. I didn’t know anything about genre, about trend, about brand. I needed an escape. Writing was my heroin. I shot up every chance I got and fell into my chair in front of the computer in a glassy-eyed stupor with nothing but tea, coffee and Dove dark chocolate to sustain me. And I didn’t care. I was happy. Because I was writing like a motherfucker.

Things have been different since I sold the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy in 2007. Not only for me, but for the industry as a whole. Once seen as a fringe element to the children’s section, YA has come into its own as a publishing juggernaut, capable of selling millions of books and raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office on film adaptations. Adult writers are proudly trying their hand at YA, and everyone from your grandmother to your co-workers are reading it.

But frankly, that all makes to harder to write like a motherfucker.

Advice abounds; write the book you want to read (great, except that doesn’t mean it will sell), don’t write to the market (great, except if editors really aren’t looking at fantasy, they really aren’t looking at fantasy, and while you may be the one in a million who gets through, it’s a gamble), don’t worry about genre (great, except every writer I know has a book that didn’t sell, not because the book wasn’t good, but because publishers didn’t know how to market it). It all sounds good. Hell, it all is good. But if you’re like me and you’re earning your living writing, if you’re like me and you are a single mother and the sole breadwinner for your family, you don’t have the luxury to take all of that advice. Sometimes you just have to SELL A BOOK. That’s the reality in an industry that still clings to its roots as a gentleman’s business, where only the wealthy or happily destitute could afford to write as a vocation. No one wants to say it, but for many of us, it’s a cold, hard fact that our choices about what to write next are informed by the fact that we need to sell another book, and not every book will sell, even after you’ve been published (unless you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling or Neil Gaiman or James Patterson).

All of which is hard to reconcile with the inspiring advice to write like a motherfucker. Even while I was trying to figure out what, precisely, the phrase means, I was energized.

“Write like a motherfucker?”

“Yes! That sounds awesome! I want to write like a motherfucker! Writing like a motherfucker is what’s been missing in my life!”

I can almost hear the Rocky theme playing in the background now. Or maybe Lose Yourself by Eminem.

But how to blend the practical parts of writing as a profession, as a long term career, with the single-minded focus necessary to write like a motherfucker? Is it possible to do both? To make choices based on your short- and long-term career goals and still write with the kind of passion and immersion and dedication and discipline that is writing like a motherfucker?

Yes. After a lot of thought, that’s my conclusion. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

To me, writing like a motherfucker means to be wholly focused and determined to write. Not just to write RIGHT NOW, but to keep writing. To write a hundred books, poems, essays, articles. Whatever it takes. To keep the act of writing and thinking about writing and loving writing and being determined TO WRITE as a focus, above fear and self-doubt and all of the other voices in our heads that keep us from writing like a motherfucker. Those voices don’t serve us in our quest. They only limit us, paralyze us.

Of course, decisions have to be made. Priorities have to be set. But most of the writers I know aren’t short on ideas — just the time to execute them, and sometimes, the knowledge that it’s the RIGHT idea at the right time. There will be front end brain work. This is when you aren’t writing like a motherfucker. You’re thinking like a human being, weighing your options, deciding whether to write the book of your heart NOW (you almost always should, if you’re lucky enough to have one at the moment) or put it off in favor of something your agent tells you had a better chance of selling. And for the record, a great agent is almost always right about these things (mine has been anyway).

But once you’ve let the wheels turn, once the dust has settled and you’ve decided, “THIS is what I’m going to write next!”, THEN it’s time to write like a motherfucker. Then there is no room for second guessing. No room for comparing your WIP to another book you love and/or hope to emulate. No room to agonize over every word, every comma.

Then it’s time to WRITE. Get the words down without censoring yourself. Trust yourself enough to believe that the words that flow from the truest part of yourself will resonate with readers. That they come from a place of such honesty and such authenticity that THEY ARE THE WORDS THAT ARE MEANT TO TAKE UP PRECIOUS SPACE ON THE PAPER. Stop thinking so hard about it. You can do that in revisions. Instead, let the story manifest without thought to the future, to who will be reading it, to whether your grandmother will be offended that you used “fuck” twenty-four times or your teenagers will be embarrassed that you wrote a smoking’ sex scene.

THAT is writing like a motherfucker. I need to do it more often. How about you? Continue reading

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03/05/14 Contests & Giveaway , This Wicked Game , Uncategorized # , , , , , , , , , ,

Wicked Tainted Giveaway!

Tainted_CoverToday I’m super excited to announce a giveaway featuring This Wicked Game and two books from author A.E. Rought.

Ann is a friend of mine. She also happens to be a great writer. Her book BROKEN has been optioned for TV by ABC Family. TAINTED, the sequel to BROKEN, was recently released and I want to help her celebrate. If you love paranormal romance with an especially dark (and sometimes grisly) edge, these are the books for you!

Here’s a summary of TAINTED;

Alex Franks believes the madness is behind them. With Ascension Labs under his direction and the forces threatening Emma’s life overcome, they have a chance at a normal life, and keeping his secrets safely buried. But a shadow rises from Alex’s past, and she wants him back. Criminally brilliant, Hailey Westmore will stop at nothing to claim the boy she was meant to be with.

Without warning, Emma Gentry finds she cannot trust anything. Not her mind, her memory, not even herself. Tragic events and unexpected deaths stalk Alex and Emma, testing them in ways they would never imagine, and may not survive. Alex carries a new secret, and a horrifying guilt that Hailey uses to her advantage.

Emma’s life and sanity hang in the balance, and Alex may have created a monster…

Sounds awesome, amIright?

Tainted_Giveaway_Pic1To help spread the word. Ann and I are offering up two AH-mazing prize packs featuring signed books, Victoria’s Secret Love Spell perfume, a Starbucks gift card, and a handmade, one-of-a-kind voodoo bracelet.

 

First Prize includes signed copies of Broken and Tainted (plus a bookmark) as well as a signed copy of THIS WICKED GAME (plus bookmark and get-attachment.aspxmagnet). As if that isn’t awesome enough, I’m throwing in a handmade voodoo bracelet, a bottle of Love Spell perfume by Victoria’s Secret, and a $10 Starbucks gift card.

The second prize winner will receive signed copies of all three books, both sets of bookmarks, a THIS WICKED GAME magnet, and a voodoo bracelet (it will be slightly different than the one pictured here).

Entering is easy! You can earn entries by following us on Twitter, tweeting links to the giveaway, and posting a comment here with your favorite creepy book.

 

get-attachment.aspx

Contest goes through March 19th and is open to entrants in the continental US.

We’re rooting for you!

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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10/30/13 Life , Recipe of the Week , Recipes , Uncategorized # , , , , , ,

Recipe of the Week – Vegan Sandwich Spreads

After a year-and-a-half as a vegetarian, I’ve mostly figured out how to substitute so we can enjoy derivatives of the things we loved as meat eaters. One of our staples, especially in the summer, is a giant veggie sandwich, usually with avocado, tomato, onion, olives, peppers or pickles, shredded lettuce, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and thick kosher salt and pepper. So much cleaner and more flavorful than a sandwich with mayo!

I first came across this spread in its lemon/Greek variation in a Martha Stewart recipe for Greek Sandwiches. It was so good that I immediately started concocting different ways to use it and mix it up. The result is the original (true to form, my version is a lot more half-assed in terms of measurements) plus a delicious cranberry walnut curry spread that’s AH-mazing with sliced apples, lettuce, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Both of these are super easy to make, loaded with good quality protein, and perfect as a spread on sandwiches or wraps (my daughter is the envy of her lunch table). You can also use them as a dip for crackers, pita chips, etc. They take all of five minutes to make. For real! Next I’m going to experiment with black or pinto beans with cilantro and mexican spices for a Southwestern flavored spread. measurements)

Vegan Greek Sandwich Spread

I large can of chickpeas (I think they’re 28 ounces?), drained and rinsed

About a cup of rinsed flat leaf parsley

Juice of one lemon

Drizzle of olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

This one’s easy! Drain and rinse the chickpeas and throw them into a food processer with everything else. Puree until almost smooth, adding additional olive oil if it seems to thick. And voila! This is enough to make sandwiched or wraps for a whole week for our household of five people.

Vegan Curried Cranberry Walnut Spread

1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

About a half cup of walnuts

About a half cup of dried cranberries

About two tablespoons of curry powder (the sweet kind, not the hot kind)

Drizzle of grapeseed oil (you can use olive oil, too)

Salt to taste

In this version I put the dried cranberries and walnuts into the food processor first, blending until everything is chopped into small-ish chunks. Then add the chickpeas, a little olive oil, and the curry powder. Blend until mostly smooth, adding more oil if necessary to get a spreadable consistency. Add kosher salt and additional curry powder to taste and voila! You’re done.

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10/10/13 Life , Uncategorized , Writing # , , , , ,

What Worked This Time

What Worked This Time

Last week I finished my thirteenth complete novel. The breakdown — for anyone who’s wondering — is five published books (counting THIS WICKED GAME which comes out next month), two complete under-contract books (one will come out in 2014 and one in 2015) and six unpublished books. Four of the unpublished ones were written before I sold Prophecy of the Sisters and two of them were written since then.

Yes, it is still possible for published writers to NOT sell a project. It was a rude awakening.

Anyway, I had to take a minute to pat myself on the back. I’m not good at celebrating my accomplishments. I guess you could say I’m a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of girl. No time for champagne, I have another book to write. But I have begun to recognize the fallacy in that way of thinking. Publishing a book is a book deal. So is writing one. And we aren’t guaranteed an endless number of either.

So I’ve made a promise to celebrate more, and to give myself a little credit. But that’s another blog post.

😉

 

Anyway, I sold this particular book on proposal in July (detailed synopsis and about sixty-five pages). The deadline for the first draft was October 1st, but because I was in the middle of another project, I didn’t actually start working on it again until August 15th. I spent about two weeks planning and re-reading and then started writing again in earnest September 1st. I realized when I was done that I’d written 50,000 words in a month (my sample was about 25,000 words, bringing the total word count of the book near 75,000 words).

And really, that’s no big deal for me. But what IS a big deal is that it felt… leisurely. I enjoyed it. I didn’t feel stressed out or worried about the deadline. I didn’t have to pull any all-nighters. I still had time for Friday night movies on the sofa with the kids and Saturdays spent with my daughter who attends college a half hour away.

More importantly, I am PROUD of those words. I think this draft is the strongest I’ve ever written, and while some of the credit must go to my new editor, whose notes on my sample pages informed the rest of the book in every good way, I realized I’d done a few things differently this time.

Those of you who have been following me for a long time know that I’m big on finding things that work, on being diligent about a writing schedule and actively managing my time. All things that have been vital to being prolific while single-mothering four children and bearing every cent of the financial responsibility for doing so.

But I’m also learning that those rules are fluid. What works at one point in my life might not work at another. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and ask if there might be a better way. In this case, there was. And since I know writers are always looking for tips, I thought I’d share what worked for me this time.

1. Schedule is still king.

I’ve always had a writing schedule. Before I sold Prophecy I wrote every night from 11pm to 3am because it was the only time the house was quiet and my children (young at the time) didn’t need me. I still had to get up at 6am to get them to school, but I learned to go back to bed and sleep because I wrote best in those late night hours. Some of those days are a blur now, but it worked at the time.

After I sold Prophecy, I became a word count dictator. I forced myself to write a certain number of words in scheduled segments of time (usually 9am to 11am, 3pm to 5pm, and 7pm to 9pm six days a week).

But that system had begun to wear on me. I was paying more attention to the counter at the bottom of the page than to the quality of my writing. I was more prolific than ever, but I wasn’t enjoying it like I used to and I couldn’t help wondering if the words I was writing were good ones.

This time, I tried something different. I stuck to my scheduled writing blocks by forcing myself up to my office and — this is important — activating Freedom (a program that locks you out of the internet for set periods of time) on my computer. But other than the fact that I had to be in my office with Freedom on (because otherwise I’d be social networking and online shopping), there were no rules. Strangely enough, I still managed to write an average of 2,000 words a day. And they were GOOD words. Sometimes I’d lay in my bed (my bedroom is adjacent to my office and both rooms are cut off from the rest of the house) and rest my eyes. Sometimes I’d actually nap. Sometimes I’d clean my bathroom. But I was trapped in my office with no internet for four to six hours a day with my book open on my computer. I’m a writer. Inevitably, I would write.

2. I took time to think.

I know. This seems like a no brainer. But usually, I’d be in such a hurry to get the words down that I’d push myself through even the scenes I wasn’t sure about. Sometimes I’d think, “I can fix it later.” But I’m not sure I always did fix them later. By the time I finished a book, everything seemed to fit the way it was, and it was a lot harder to go back and pull it apart without the help of my editor.

With this book I spent a lot of time staring out the window, eating Newman’s Own Sour Cherry licorice and pondering the next scene, looking at my white board of notes while everything stewed in my brain. And it’s funny, because a lot of the time I’d be staring out the window or laying in my bed in the dark, the last scene I’d written rolling around my head like a handful of pebbles, and something would come to me. Something I hadn’t thought about before. Something small and nuanced that contributed to plot or character development or added another layer of complexity to the story.

3. A sequence of events is helpful

I’ve never been a big outline person. I like to give a story some breathing room to see where it goes, and because of my personality, if I have an outline, I write to it. Usually I start a book with a synopsis and then just feel my way through the rest. I was on a panel once with author Libba Bray in which we discussed our writing processes, and we both agreed that it was kind of like planning a road trip knowing only the beginning, ending, and a few major stops for gas in the middle.

I still didn’t want to outline, but this time, I felt like I needed a little bit… more. The book I was writing had a lot of complexity. A lot of psychology and also a lot of tiny plot elements that would come into play later in the book and in the sequel. So I wrote a quick and dirty list of events; big things that needed to happen for all the plot points and character development to play out. And it helped a lot, so much so that I’m already creating one for my next book. Sometimes I would have to come up with three or four chapters in between big events, but having the sequence in front of me helped me ask the question, “How would this story naturally unfold to get me from point A to point B? How about from point S to point T?” It also helped me avoid unnecessary detail, because the goal became to get from one big event to the next as cleanly and quickly as possible, since those events were what drove the plot forward.

4. Using my white board

Most of the time, my white board is used to remind myself of character traits and physical characteristics in my main characters and as a repository for funny notes from Caroline, my fourteen-year-old. But I really used it this time, writing down notes from my editor, reminders about the tone and feel and atmosphere I was working toward, minor plot elements I was afraid I might drop and themes I wanted to explore. In the past, I’d done that kind of thing on my computer, but it was such a pain to flip back and forth from my draft to the “inspirational” documents that I wouldn’t always do it. A lot of the time, I’d just forget they were there.

Some of you use Scrivener, and maybe it’s kind of the same thing, but seeing everything up close and personal on the white board really kept me on track. Whenever I got stuck, I’d lean back in my chair and look at that board, and it would pull me back to my original vision for the project.

5. What we do isn’t like what other people do.

This is a transformative admission for me. I’ve already told you I’m a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of person. My former boss called me a “driver”, someone who drove growth and change through constant effort and vision. I always thought that was a compliment, and while it might have been in the world of technology consulting, it has not always been an asset in the creative field of writing.

I mean, work ethic… I’ve got that nailed. I am never in any danger of being lazy. I think it was Phillip Pullman who was quoted as saying (I’m paraphrasing) that plumbers don’t get to skip work when they’re not “feeling it” and writers shouldn’t, either. That belief has seen me through my career as a writer. It allowed me to write five books in two-and-a-half years before I was published. It’s allowed me to sell eight books in the last five years. It’s allowed me to write an average of three full novels a year.

But it has also done me a disservice. Because I will work and work and work long past the point when I desperately need a break. I will not allow myself excuses or sick days. And as I’ve said in the past, I feel so damn lucky every day to do something I love for a living that I feel OBLIGATED to work my hardest.

But we are not plumbers. We are not accountants. What we do is different. It requires different processes and allowances to be done well. It requires time and mental space and energy that isn’t always required of people in other occupations. It’s been difficult for me to accept that sometimes I need to take a walk. Sometimes I need to take a nap. Sometimes I need a day (or a few days) away from the story. I have always told myself that other people work eight hours a day, and I have pushed myself to do the same.

But I think I’m finally ready to let myself off the hook. With this last book (I’ll be able to tell you the title as soon as the announcement it made), I probably wrote an average of three hours a day. I sometimes spent additional time blogging or social networking or answering work-related emails, but I probably only wrote about three hours a day. It felt positively luxurious. And sometimes it left me positively guilt ridden. Why should I be so lucky to work at something I love passionately, something I can’t live without, and to only do it for three hours a day when other people are getting up at five am, commuting many miles, sitting at cubicles for eight hours in jobs they despise?

But the truth is, I wrote better. I was happier and more relaxed. I finished the project ahead of deadline and am prouder of this draft than any I’ve ever completed.

And so maybe it’s true; what we do is a mysterious kind of alchemy. A strange mixture of discipline and freedom. Of process and flexibility. It isn’t a mathematical formula, a set of boxes to be checked off at the end of each day, a timecard to punch.

It feels a little embarrassing to admit it, but the proof is in the pudding as they say. And I’m pretty happy with this batch.

 

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10/02/13 Uncategorized # , , , , , ,

Kirkus Loves THIS WICKED GAME!

Kirkus Loves THIS WICKED GAME!

 

Super excited to share the awesome review Kirkus gave This Wicked Game. Kirkus is a notoriously tough customer, so I’m super honored that they loved it.

 

And it will be out in less than six weeks! You can find preorder links at the bottom of the review;

 

With this foray into secret voodoo societies and forbidden spells, Zink delivers an enjoyable, fast-paced ride perfect for lovers of the paranormal thriller. Seventeen-year-old Claire Kincaid doesn’t believe in voodoo. Not that unusual a stance, really, unless you are a direct descendant of Marie Leveau and the only daughter of one of the most powerful couples in an underground New Orleans voodoo guild. But when a mysterious stranger walks into the Kincaid store in search of panther’s blood—an ingredient used only to kill—a series of events begins to unfold that will challenge everything Claire thinks she knows about voodoo, the Guild and her own latent abilities. Exhibiting characteristically teenage frustration with their parents, who reign stolidly over Guild affairs, Claire, her boyfriend, Xander, and some other Guild firstborns take the investigation into their own hands. They find an ally in ex-member Crazy Eddie and together delve into the darker side of voodoo in order to defeat those out to destroy the Guild in retribution for past injuries. The plot is suspenseful, the characters are sympathetic if not fully rounded, and the fictional subculture comes alive through detailed descriptions of the New Orleans setting, particularly the Garden District. Fans of the paranormal, sure to be spellbound by this tale of revenge and teen rebellion, will hope Zink conjures up a sequel. (Paranormal thriller. 12-16)

 

 

 

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08/28/13 A Temptation of Angels , Contests & Giveaway , Uncategorized # , , , , , , , ,

Angels and Revenge Giveaway

Angels and Revenge Giveaway

So a few months ago the paperback edition of A TEMPTATION OF ANGELS came out. And I’m embarrassed to admit that I hardly noticed. I guess this is what happens after you’ve published a few books; you get busy — writing more books, meeting deadlines, thinking about the next project — and things like a paperback release can slip right by.

So not cool, because my paperback baby deserves at least some of the love of its hardcover predecessor. And you guys — some of you have been with me since Prophecy of the Sisters came out in 2009 — deserve a little something for all the support you give me, too.

 

Which is why I’m going to try and make it up to you both.

With that in mind, I’m offering up a super awesome giveaway reminiscent of my past super awesome giveaways. But this one’s even more special, because I just so happen to have some copies of the newly released SCHOOLED IN REVENGE, the new companion novel to the REVENGE TV show (which I’m totally addicted to). I’ve had the opportunity to read it, and it’s so much fun! Besides, what could be better than angels and revenge?

 

There is a first, second and third prize, plus five — yes, FIVE — additional prizes of both books. You can win entries by commenting, tweeting a link to the contest (up to once a day for the duration of the contest) and adding the TEMPTATION cover to your Pinterest board.

Contest open to US residents (or those with a US mailing address) and runs from today through 9/15 at midnight.

After that, it’ll be time to kickoff a huge round of fun and giveaways leading up to the THIS WICKED GAME release November 14th!

Note: If the Rafflecopter entry box does not appear on your screen, try refreshing the page.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

0 likes 47 responses
08/17/13 Life , Uncategorized # , , , , , , ,

A Tech Free Oasis? Yes, please.

A Tech Free Oasis? Yes, please.

Those of you who follow me regularly know that I have a love/hate relationship with technology. As a writer, I love my laptop and couldn’t work efficiently without it. As the single mother of four kids ages 14 – 21, I literally feel panicky at the idea of not having my cell phone. Two of my kids are in college, and our cell phones are often the only way we can stay in touch (in case you’re wondering, there are no longer pay phones in college dorms).

But it’s often too much for me. The lines between work and home are already blurry for me. I write in my office, often at odd hours, but I also “sneak” time in between to use social networking, blog, research new ideas and stay connected to friends and readers.

Last winter, I experimented with giving myself Sundays completely off. This might not sound ground-breaking — most people DO have at least one day a week off — but for someone who was writing seven days a week (2-3 books a year), it represented a radical shift in thinking. I was finally ready to admit that I NEEDED that time to reboot, not only to feel better and be happier, but because time away from writing and writing-related work actually made me a better writer.

So for a few months, Sunday was a no writing, no social networking zone. I set an Away message on my email every Saturday night and forced myself not to open my computer — not even to online shop or stay in touch with friends. I spent Sundays reading, talking walks, and watching afternoon movies with the kids. And I have to say; it made a difference. I felt more focused and centered. During the week when I was stretched too thin, the idea of my Sunday was like an oasis. I haven’t kept up with it over the summer because (thankfully) I’ve had a bit more time off and have made a point to spend time with Rebekah, who is home from college. We’ve had plenty of tech-free time, most recently by taking regular hikes at a nearby nature preserve (the photo above is from our most recent girl’s hike). Still, as soon as the kids are back in school and I’m on my regular writing schedule again, I plan to deploy my Tech-Free Sundays again.

Today I read an article in the Huffington Post about a Tech Free park in San Francisco. It looks lovely and fun and whimsical, and it made me wonder if we shouldn’t ALL have a tech-free zone. Maybe it’s a place in the house where we absolutely don’t use technology (like the bedroom). Maybe it’s a figurative “zone”, like my Sundays. But I do think we need it. I don’t think human beings are wired for the constant connectivity we experience now. And even though we might not realize it, to be mentally and spiritually healthy, we require the kind of quiet space in our minds that allows for stillness, peace, and random thought.

Think of it as required daydreaming for grown-ups.

😉

 

What do you think? Is it time we all take a step back and reconnect to our low-tech roots? Is it something you’d consider doing on a regular basis?

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08/14/13 Life , Recipe of the Week , Uncategorized # , , , ,

Recipe of the Week – Vegetarian Curry

Recipe of the Week – Vegetarian Curry

I tried to post this yesterday and WordPress decided to mess with me by deleting it. Let’s try it again!

When we first decided to move from my hometown in California to our current small rural town in the Hudson River Valley (NY), we got all kinds of funny reactions from our California friends. I heard things like, “Doesn’t it SNOW there?” and “You’ll be back in five years” and “You’re going to hate the winters.” But we’ve been here twelve years now and I can’t imagine calling anyplace else home. I hope to travel widely once the kids are gone, but this will always be home base.

And surprisingly, everyone was wrong; I don’t mind the winters. In fact, I love them as much as I love all the seasons. Seasons are good for a change junkie like me. Just when I’m bored with one set of clothes, one type of food, it’s time to switch gears, and I always look forward to the switch from light summer fare to hearty soups and stews.

But there is one thing I really had trouble with when we moved here; lack of diversity, in people, schools of thought, and yes, food. After living in a place where we could get any kind of food at any time of the day or night, I now live in a town with a diner, three pizzerias, a McDonalds, and (thankfully) one vegetarian restaurant (which serves only asian dishes like lo mein and stir-fried setan). A craving for anything more exotic sends us to New Paltz, a neighboring hippie town a half hour away with tons of amazing little ethnic restaurants.

My favorite is Lemongrass, a Thai place with the BEST pad thai and red curry. I’ve tried lots of curry recipes over the years, but they were either too complicated or they fell short of the flavor mark. This one is different. Fast and easy, it’s a healthy vegan meal packed with nutrition and fiber. It is a little spicy, but if you’re not into spicy all you have to do is decrease the amount of curry paste. We serve it over brown rice. I love it so much, I want to make a batch every week.

Hope you guys enjoy it, too!

Vegetable Red Curry

3 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil

About four cups of assorted chopped vegetables (I used 1 cup green beans, one each red and green pepper, and two carrots, but you can use whatever you have/like). Don’t chop everything too small or it will get soggy!

One medium onion, halved and sliced (rings cut in half)

One small can bamboo shoots (optional)

1 large can chickpeas, drained

1/3 cup red curry paste (found in the asian section of most grocery stores)

1 can coconut milk

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup packed cilantro

Heat oil over medium high heat. Add vegetables and onion. Saute until softened but not browning.

Add bamboo shoots and chickpeas. Saute for two more minutes.

Add curry paste and stir to combine. Heat for another minute or so.

Add coconut milk and water. Stir and let simmer about fifteen minutes until flavors combine and vegetables are desired consistency (I like ours a little firm).

Turn off heat. Add cilantro and combine.

Serve over rice and voila! Bon Apetite!
<3

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07/01/13 Movie Monday , Uncategorized # , , , , , , , , , ,

 “Sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse.”

 “Sometimes you need to do something bad to stop you from doing something worse.”

This one’s for my fellow cinephiles. If you haven’t seen STOKER, you must. Beautiful, riveting, and twisted is only the beginning. The score is amazing, too, and I’m especially grateful for the introduction to Emily Wells, whose song BECOMES THE COLOR brings the film to a perfect close.

 

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06/18/13 Recipe of the Week , Recipes , Uncategorized # , , ,

Recipe of the Week – Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo

Recipe of the Week – Vegan Fettuccine  Alfredo

This one’s mine! Because let’s face it; sometimes you just need some creamy, cheesy goodness. Which is fine… unless you’re vegan (or trying to be as much as possible, like us).

I came up with this one after testing nutritional yeast as a cheese substitute in another recipe. After some initial skepticism, I was pleasantly surprised by its cheesy, slightly-nutty Parmesan flavor and even more surprised by the whole new world of vegan dishes it opened up.

Plus, it’s super easy, fast, and requires very few ingredients.

 

Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo

Olive oil

5 cloves garlic

Fresh (chopped) or dried basil (to taste)

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1 package fettuccine noodles

Salt and pepper

Boil noodles according to package direction. While they are cooking, mince garlic.

Reserve four cups of pasta water, then drain noodles. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in pasta pan and saute garlic for one minute.

Reduce heat to simmer and add noodles to pan with yeast, basil and an additional 1/4 cup olive oil. Add a little of the reserved pasta water and stir until heated through and well blended. Keep adding reserved pasta water to get the dish to a “creamy” consistency. When you have it where you want it, season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Bon Apetite!

 

 

 

 

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03/20/13 Recipe of the Week , Uncategorized #

Recipe of the Week – Go To Vegetable Soup

Recipe of the Week – Go To Vegetable Soup

I know I promised you this recipe a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve been so busy I just haven’t been able to get to it.

This soup is my go-to vegetable soup recipe. I usually make a big pot of this on Mondays in the winter. It only takes about 45 minutes start to finish, and most of that is simmer time. Packed with vitamins, it’s a really “clean” soup. And the leftovers are great for mid-week snacks.

I found the original recipe at Life’s Ambrosia, and while I sometimes make a few changes, they’re so small that I figured it would be easiest to post the original recipe and just list my changes.

Rather than using vegetable broth, I use ten cups of water and eight teaspoons of Better Than Bouillon vegetable paste. Sometimes I’ll use sweet potato rather than white potato, just to boost the nutritional content, and I’ll often throw in extra vegetables if I have them in the fridge. At the same time, if you’re out of something (I don’t always have mushrooms), it’s no big deal to leave out one or two ingredients in favor of others. Ditto the chick-peas. If you prefer another kind of bean (or even more than one variety), feel free to throw it in there! I like to add some crushed red pepper for a little bite, too. The recipe says it serves four, but in my experience, ten cups of water/broth yields about six main course servings with some leftover.

Anyway, here is the original recipe from Life’s Ambrosia. And you should totally check out the site. They have lots of great recipes!

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 leeks, diced (white parts only)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 russet potatoes, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 5 – 10 crimini mushrooms, quartered
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 rosemary stems, chopped
  • 3 sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 (15 ounce can) garbanzo beans, drained
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add in leeks and garlic. Cook 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in celery, carrots, potatoes, zucchini and mushrooms. Cook 5 more minutes.
  2. Pour in vegetable broth. Add rosemary and sage. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes or until veggies are softened. Stir in garbanzo beans. Cook 5 more minutes until beans are warmed through. Stir in spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Serve hot.
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Michelle Zink is the award-winning author of over seven novels. She lives in New York with too many teenagers and too many cats.
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