Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Being true to deceased parents

I've been sitting on this blog post for a few months now, unsure how to best broach the subject. I read Phoebe North's "On Beginnings" blog (you can read it here) back in December, 2011 and since then the idea of dead parents in books has been floating around in my head. Specifically, handling your MC when his/her parents die.

My father died when I was 10. His death impacted my mom, my brother, and myself in ways we never could have imagined. But the reality of our new status quo, combined with the love, the fear, and the anguish over such a HUGE loss helped bring us back together again, though it took many years.

Losing one's parent can be devastating, especially for young children or teens. I've spent more time than I'd like to admit wondering two things:

  • Which would be easier? Losing my father when I was younger, and therefore had less memories to replay in my head, or losing him later, thus giving us more years to know each other?
  • Which is worse? Losing him quickly, like in an accident, or having some idea that the end will eventually come, such as with sickness?

Here's the truth: it doesn't matter because when you're done emotionally killing yourself over the issue, you're left with no resolution. None. Zero. No answer will ever be the right one and no answer will bring them back.

But that's my point. As someone who lost a parent, I asked myself those questions. I still do. I denied that he was even dead. I told myself for YEARS he was still alive, held against his will in a foreign country. It was easier to believe someone took him instead of accepting that mutated cells could flatten the mountain of a man who was my father. At 6 feet, 6 inches tall with salt and pepper hair, blue eyes, and a thick New York City accent with the moxie to match--my dad could be the most intimidating person one minute and have you laughing the next. There are so many things I wish people could know about him, but I'm trekking down this emotional road for a different purpose.

As a MG writer, I understand how much easier a story can be without parents around to "get in the way." Setting your character alone against the world is a tried and true method for most "coming of age" stories. I get it and I use this concept myself.

However, I recently read a story where the author killed the main character's entire family. Mom, dad, and sister, all gone. At this point, I stopped reading for a day because I needed to distance myself from the story. It felt like these deaths were used as a plot point to motivate the MC to make the next decision and weren't treated with the gravity the situation required. The author wrote in emotions every few pages, showing us the MC was still grappling with the loss, but it wasn't enough. Not for me.

If using the death of a parent in your story, take a deep breath and write true to the emotions. If you've never lost a parent, then cue up your Disney-happy-place-music, put yourself in that horrible mind set, and think about how you would feel. Write that. Or ask someone who has dealt with this. But writing that your main character buried their emotions to "deal with later" can feel false.

Instead, show us your characters acting out. Bring your readers along as your characters make deals with higher powers to reverse reality. Have us walk by their side as they make irrational decisions, push away those they love, and act out of character. Show us the tears, confusion, anger, heartbreaking sobs, denial, and most importantly, show us how your main character's life is irrevocably changed. It's okay, as the author, you can always bring your character back around, but it will make them more relatable to teens who might be facing that situation.

How about you? Do you feel one way or another about books that use a parent's death as a motivational tool?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Alex's Big Day

(I don't usually post on Tuesdays, but special times call for special measures. I'll be back with regular programming. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe on Friday. We'll see...)

Grab your nap time carpet squares and gather 'round, kids. Today's story is about a boy named Alex J. Cavanaugh, arguably the nicest guy on the internet (behind Nathan Bransford who has held that title for eons).

One day, Alex wrote a story about a boy named Bryon who flew ships in outer space. Alex enjoyed writing his book so much, he decided to clean it up and shop it around. Soon, CassaStar was born.

But wait! Alex wasn't done! CassaStar was such a success and Alex had more stories to tell, so he retreated to his writerly cave in November, 2010 and did it again.

Okay, kids! Get up, put your carpet squares away, and pay attention because here's what you need to know about CassaFire!

All laughs aside, I truly am excited to share with you Alex's second book, CassaFire. Alex was gracious enough to pen a guest post for my Write What You NaNo blog series last October (you can read his post here). He agreed to help out someone whom he had likely never heard of and since then, I'd like to think I can call him a friend. And what do friends do besides help each other out?

(Um, hey, Alex--we're friends, right? I mean, this would be awkward if we weren't. Just saying.)

by Alex J. Cavanaugh

CassaStar was just the beginning…

The Vindicarn War is a distant memory and Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. He has kept the promise he made to his fallen mentor and friend - to probe space on an exploration vessel. Shuttle work is dull, but it’s a free and solitary existence. The senior officer is content with his life aboard the Rennather.

The detection of alien ruins sends the exploration ship to the distant planet of Tgren. If their scientists can decipher the language, they can unlock the secrets of this device. Is it a key to the Tgren’s civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassan’s technology and strange mental abilities. 

To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers themselves; the strongest of which belongs to a pilot named Athee, a woman whose skills rival Byron’s unique abilities. Forced to train her mind and further develop her flying aptitude, he finds his patience strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…

Science fiction - space opera/adventure
Print ISBN 978-0-9827139-4-5, $15.95, 6x9 Trade paperback, 240 pages
EBook ISBN 978-0-9827139-6-9, $4.99, available in all formats

You can visit the author’s site at
Book trailer available at

Monday, February 27, 2012

MMGM: Coraline

I've finally gotten around to reading Coraline! Yay, me!

Actually, that should be amended. This is the first Neil Gaiman book I've read. Le gasp! How can that be, you ask? Well, I've listened to some audiobooks, but as far as books, this is the the first. So, without further ado, on to the review!

Title: Coraline
Autor: Neil Gaiman
Date published: August, 2002

From Goodreads:
Coraline lives with her preoccupied parents in part of a huge old house--a house so huge that other people live in it, too... round, old former actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible and their aging Highland terriers ("We trod the boards, luvvy") and the mustachioed old man under the roof ("'The reason you cannot see the mouse circus,' said the man upstairs, 'is that the mice are not yet ready and rehearsed.'") Coraline contents herself for weeks with exploring the vast garden and grounds. But with a little rain she becomes bored--so bored that she begins to count everything blue (153), the windows (21), and the doors (14). And it is the 14th door that--sometimes blocked with a wall of bricks--opens up for Coraline into an entirely alternate universe. Now, if you're thinking fondly of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, you're on the wrong track. Neil Gaiman's Coraline is far darker, far stranger, playing on our deepest fears. And, like Roald Dahl's work, it is delicious.

True story, here's what I thought when I finished reading Coraline:
"He is deliciously creepy." 

Really, I think our generation is fortunate to have a writer like Neil Gaiman. He's accessible to his fan base and has this fascinating ability to come up with stories like Coraline, or another favorite, The Graveyard Book.

I picked up Coraline after someone recommended it in my review of The Shadows (here), suggesting a similarity between the stories. Both stories have a curious girl as a main character who discovers another world in her house. And in each story, the other world wants to trap the heroine within its boundaries, never to return to their own "normal." 

The difference between these two books, however, is Neil Gaiman. I am in awe at how this man takes such a simple concept like buttons for eyes, and weaves it into something disturbing. The eye buttons are a great example. I was perfectly okay with the other mother and other father having black buttons for eyes. Creepy? Sure, but it's not out of the park. But on page 45, Gaiman shows his readers how easy it is to create creep out of something so seemingly innocent:
"If you want to stay," said her other father, "there's only one little thing we'll have to do, so you can stay here for ever and always."
 They went into the kitchen. On a china plate on the kitchen table was a spool of black cotton, and a long silver needle, and, beside them, two large black buttons.
"I don't think so," said Coraline.
Tell me the thought of sewing black buttons over your eyes doesn't freak you out? There are other examples of brilliant creepiness. Shadow children, fingernails, hands, mist, faces splitting apart, the list goes on.

But... (you knew there was a but, didn't you?)

I'm not quite ready to sit down with my nephews and read this as a bedtime story. It's not scary in a sense of nightmares, but it felt creepy enough that I wonder if my 6 year old nephew would be able to separate the fantastical from realistic. However, don't let my over-protective aunt-isms deter you from reading this book. Coraline is 165 pages of creepy, literary, brilliance.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Quick inspiration

I came across A Wordplayer's Manifesto over at K.M. Weiland's blog, Wordplay. I read it, immediately saved it, and now I'm sharing it with everyone.

This is step one in how I'm breaking the habit of calling myself an "aspiring" writer. If you haven't yet read Chuck Wendig's "25 Things I Want To Say To So-Called 'Aspiring' Writers", then go here. Now.

Back to the Wordplayer's Manifesto.

Read it.
Love it.
Pass it on.

I'd type more, but I'm a writer who hasn't been writing. Must do something about this. Immediately.

Source: K.M. Weiland's blog

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hanging with the "artsy" kind and a dream

Last Sunday I attended MinnPost's Book Club Blast at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, MN.

I arrived early to grab some lunch and secure a parking spot, then made it up to the second floor where author Kate DiCamillo was speaking. I took my token seat in the back row and watched the predominantly older crowd file in while playing Whack-A-Mole with my insecurities.

I shouldn't be here.

I'm not a real writer

I don't belong here.

My inner writer soon started overpowering my inner critic and I pulled out my notebook and pen. This place was a people-watching GOLDMINE!

I was surrounded by men in black turtle neck sweaters and women with knee-high boots, leggings, and matching black shawls or brightly colored scarves. These women wore fascinating jewelry: chunky rings, abstract necklaces, and large, dangling earrings. They sported colorful rimmed glasses with pink, glossy lips and perfectly colored hair--except for the token strand of grey hair in the front. Yeah, real natural.

I quickly realized why I felt like I didn't fit it. I had jeans with a hole in the knee, my running shoes (was heading to the gym directly after), a Rockband t-shirt, and my hair in a pony. Clearly, I didn't get the "Dress artsy" memo. I will consider this a very early lesson learned and will dress accordingly at my next writing event, whenever that may be.

But when I finished people-watching, I had an even bigger realization. Here's the direct quote from my writing journal:
"If I ever have a book release party, I want it to be at The Loft. I want to have the Target Theater for a reading. I want it to be a special event where my mom flies up and my friends sit in the seats, eager to share in my excitement. But first, I write."
The $10 entry fee, the self doubt, the hidden seat it the back... it was all worth it for that one moment when I visualized my dream coming true. The reality will likely be much smaller. If the day comes that I have a book release party, I'm pretty sure it won't include a reading in the Target Theater.

That's okay, though. Dreams are free.

How about you? Have you attended an event just to realize you were under dressed? Or do you dress differently for writing events?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The value of my word

Let's be honest: you don't really know me and I don't really know most of you. We've established online friendships through blogging, commenting, Tweeting, posting on writing forums, and generally supporting each other down the writerly yellow brick road.

While navigating these murky waters, I realize I'm solely responsible for managing my own "brand." And yes, even little ol' me with 104 followers and zero publications has a brand that requires attention.

Perhaps it's my background in PR, or maybe it's because I honestly do care about how I present myself to others, but in this time of internet anonymity, there is one thing I hold sacred:

My word.

My word is my personal sense of integrity.
My word is my moral compass.
My word is the only thing I can give my friends and readers.

Needless to say, I'm very cautious about giving it. I have to watch how many times I agree to read things or provide feedback on pages because I will easily put aside my own writing to help others. I've had to learn balance before my "good word" is suddenly no longer good.

Here's a perfect example: A few weeks ago, a blogging/tweeting/Bransforum friend asked me to read her full ms. I was honored that she wanted my input and I immediately agreed. About a week later, I was carrying around this incredible guilt--I couldn't get to her ms right away. I emailed her my apologies but I also offered a time frame in which I could get it to her. I waited nervously for her reply. What if she said, "Never mind"? Thankfully, she understood and the entire situation was a learning experience. I gave her my word and I intend to keep it.

I bring this up because something happened a few days ago that left a very bad taste in my mouth. A friend supported a cause out of the kindness of her heart and was promised a specific something in return. Timelines were discussed and agreements reached. But a few days ago, the person who benefitted from my friend's generosity turned around and said, "Sorry, no can do. Here's my sob story. You understand, right?"

My friend was furious and rightfully so. The provider gave their good word! Instead of offering an alternative, or an equally acceptable solution (or, um, offering the money back?), the person literally took the money and ran. And worse, by giving a laundry lists of personal reasons they couldn't meet their end of the deal, my friend is in a tough spot. What is she supposed to do, argue? Demand? Publicly ridicule?

I'm sure this person is lovely and wonderful and had to make a tough decision. I like to believe it wasn't easy for them to reach this decision, but the fact remains that they didn't offer any alternative. They didn't try to manage their brand.

Here's my bottom line: I assume everyone has a "good word" until they prove otherwise. In my eyes, everyone is dealt a deck of good intentions that is theirs to lose. This might be naive on my part and I might learn some very difficult life lessons as a result. But I will sleep sound at night knowing that I have successfully managed my brand, no matter how great or small it might be.

Monday, February 13, 2012

MMGM--The Magician's Elephant

First of all, thank you ALL for the very warm welcome last week on my very first Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post! Talk about warm fuzzies!

I kinda like the idea of doing Minnesota authors for the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews. Goodness knows, I have plenty to choose from! I looked at Jacqueline West last week, there's the ever-popular Neil Gaiman, Kurtis Scaletta, and today's author, Kate DiCamillo.

(I'm sure there are others, but that's just off the top of my head...)

I went to the local writing local center this past weekend to hear Kate DiCamillo speak. In preparation, I grabbed The Magician's Elephant from the library on Friday afternoon in hopes of reading some of it before Sunday. I ended up reading the whole thing. In one sitting. That, folks, is called killing two birds with one stone.

Title: The Magician's Elephant
Author: Kate DiCamillo (website)
Date published: September, 2009

From Goodreads:
What if? Why not? Could it be?
When a fortuneteller's tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortuneteller's mysterious answer (an elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true. With atmospheric illustrations by fine artist Yoko Tanaka, here is a dreamlike and captivating tale that could only be narrated by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. In this timeless fable, she evokes the largest of themes — hope and belonging, desire and compassion — with the lightness of a magician’s touch.

I struggled with this review. Not because the book is bad (far from it!), but because I'm not sure it will resonate with many readers in the target audience. So let me say the bad part right now: I don't think I can recommend this book to my nephews, which is my litmus test for middle grade books I read.

But.. and this is a big caveat... I can and do recommend The Magician's Elephant for anyone who enjoys lyrical prose. The best way I can describe this book is that it's literary fiction for children. Beautiful, lyrical, and delicious fiction. I was gladly transported to DiCamillo's world where she led us on a guided tour of all that is magical and wonderful

DiCamillo did an OUTSTANDING job of weaving together the stories of random characters in this small European town. As the reader, I sat back and had faith that these little morsels of goodness were going to come full circle in the end, and they did.

I didn't feel the main character's voice stood out from the others, which was too bad. The more I think about it, the voice I remember the best was that of the Magician. DiCamillo excelled, however, when it came to theme. As a budding author, I struggle finding the overarching theme to my books. In this one, the themes clearly resonated with me: love, magic, and above all, hope.

Forgive my scattered notes, but like I said, I struggled with this review. Here are my other thoughts:

--Due to its lyrical nature, I think this book would be better absorbed if read aloud. I didn't check, but I'm curious to know if there's an audiobook and if so, who the voice is.

--Someone on Goodreads compared this book to Polar Express. I thought that was an appropriate analogy. Beautiful story, but again, I'm not sure how much it appeals to kids, or parents who want to feel like kids again.

--Maybe this is because the elephant is my absolute favorite animal. Fave. Ever. Hands down. About 3/4 of the way through, I paused and asked myself, "Is the elephant going to live?"** I found myself wanting to know about the physical and emotional state of the elephant, especially once it was put on display.

(**= Some other time I'll go into how Charlotte's Web scarred me for years, but trust me when I tell you that I am INCREDIBLY cautious of books where animals might die. Cautious as in, I just won't read them. I know my limits, they include animals.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

My iPrecious

I did it.
I caved and got a smart phone. And in the spirit of "go big or go home", I decided to go big.

16GB iPhone 4s big.

I'm trying to not be all fangirlish over it. I mean, c'mon, it's just a phone. And yet, I'm scrolling through all the apps, trying to figure out which ones I need. There are just too many!

In order to make sense of it all, I'm trying to focus on one area at a time. First, there's social media. Okay, I downloaded Twitter but I'm not sold on Facebook. I'm sure I'll do it, but I'm just not ready to link every aspect of my life. Most important to me right now, does anyone out there have the Blogger app? I'd love love love an app that tells me when I have a new comment on my blog. It's the little things, you know?

Then there's healthy/running stuff. This phone comes automatically with the Nike+ app, which I've heard mixed reviews about. But I'll also probably take this opportunity to switch over to the My Fitness Pal app. I've been a member of Spark People for so long but it's time to shake things up as far as tracking my food.

But what about the mileage? Sure, there's Nike. There's also a Map My Run app, some pedometer apps, and C25K apps. There are so many options!

I realize this is all very scatterbrained. My apologies. But I'm crazy excited to finally have one device for both my music and my phone. Unless you've had to keep your archaic iPod in a stretched out armband while your clunky phone was shoved in your sports bra, you wouldn't understand. I'm so excited to load up new playlists, iHeart radio, lace up my shoes, and get outside that I can hardly handle myself.

(Okay, so I just checked the weather. Yes, on my phone. I'm brave, but 16 degrees might be a touch too cold for a run. Maybe next week...)

Okay, smart phone lovers, you tell me: Can you recommend any great apps? Are there any that you're surprised to see you use so often?

(And if there was any doubt about how cool my new phone might be, I just Skyped with my best friend who is currently lounging on a beach in Thailand where it's 90ish degrees. If I wasn't so amazed by technology, I'd hate her a little bit right now....)

Monday, February 6, 2012

My own MMGM post

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, aka MMGM, is a weekly blog hop powered by bloggers who cover middle grade books or topics. I've followed this for a while, making notes and adding to my TBR pile, but I never felt like I was ready to participate.

However, I recently finished a middle grade book, so I consider this my first under-the-radar MMGM post. If I ever get ahead on my TBR crit pile, I might be able to read a few more MG books, which would be great seeing as this is where I write.

For now, on to my review...

Title: The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Vol. 1)
Author: Jacqueline West, web page
Date published: June 30, 2010**
Description (from Goodreads):

When eleven-year-old Olive moves into the crumbling old mansion on Linden Street, she's right to think there's something weird about the place, especially the walls covered in creepy antique paintings. But when she finds a pair of old-fashioned glasses in a dusty drawer, she discovers the most peculiar thing yet. She can travel inside these paintings to Elsewhere, a world that's strangely quiet . . . and eerily sinister. Olive soon finds that Elsewhere has secrets to hide and the most annoying of them is Morton, a small boy with a big temper. As he and Olive form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself caught in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. It's up to her to save the house from the shadows, before the lights go out for good.

What a fun idea! The main character, Olive, moves into an old house and inherited the belongings of the previous owner. As any good, curious 11-year-old would do, Olive explores the house and finds glasses that allow her to crawl into the paintings. A fun mystery ensues as Olive tries to figure out which characters from the paintings are friendly and who is trying to keep her trapped in the paintings forever.

What worked for me: 

1. Her parents
I know some MG stories get a bad rap for having the absent parent thing going on. West handled this really well by creating parents who were brainiac math professors while their daughter has no mathematical inclination. This created a believable disconnect between Olive and her parents.

2. Fear
Olive was alone in the dark basement when she realized she wasn't alone. Something as simple as the absence of light created a perfectly creepy setting. Being in a dark situation played a part later in the book as well and I thought both were handled quite well.

3. Mentor figures
West created three highly entertaining mentor figures to help Olive navigate the paintings and thwart the enemy. I understand there are two other books in the series (one out already, the third due out in 2012) and I hope these three characters make appearances in the next books. They provided comic relief and were able to help Olive out of some serious jams. 

The Shadows was nominated for a number of awards and won a Cybils award in 2011 for the best middle grade fantasy and science fiction book. As an aunt to two boys (nine and six years old) who enjoy reading, I would gladly give this book to them to read. I think they might relate more to a boy main character, but the story itself is highly appropriate for their age.

(**--I realize this isn't necessarily a "new release" but I'm going back a year or so and reading MG books in my genre instead of waiting in line for current MG new releases at my library.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


So here's something you might not know about me... I'm an introvert.

Obviously, I'm getting better at this since I have a blog for the whole world to see, play on Twitter, and volunteer to go on trips to meet friends I've met online. Maybe some would call me adventuresome, but I'm still an introvert.

To me, this means that when things get to be too much, I retreat. And right now, it's too much.

Case in point: I'm trying to refinance my mortgage. This is problematic because I'm a creative soul, not a logical numbers-based one. So when I get two packets of legal sized envelopes filled with dotted lines to sign along with phone calls telling me the deal isn't on the table for long, I start to retreat.

I'm retreating from my story because it's become too much.
I'm retreating from Twitter for a while because it's stressing me out.
I'm retreating from some online forums I'm on because they stress me out.

But I couldn't figure out why I wanted to retreat from something that would save me hundreds of dollars a month.

Then I realized, I like to have an advocate.

When I switched insurance companies, I went to one down the street instead of an internet-based one. Might have cost a few more bucks, but in the long run I like knowing I have a person.

I think this is what's stressing me out about my refi--I need a person. I need someone who doesn't work for the mortgage group who can look at my stuff and say, "Yeah, this is a good plan" or "Yeah, you're getting hosed."

How does this come back to writing? Hang on, I'm getting there.

Last week, I was enjoying a glass of wine with someone when they suggested I go into self-publishing. It was meant in the most honest of intentions, but I still had to work to keep my eyes from bugging out of my head. Self-pubbing isn't for me. This much I know already. But why?

First off, I'm risk-adverse. The fact that I bought a house and travel on my own STILL boggles my mind. Second, and perhaps most importantly, because I need a person. I need an advocate who can say "Here's my professional opinion..." I need an agent, someone who works on behalf of the writer, someone who cares about my story.

Maybe this makes me sound all very childish and 'fraidy pants. Maybe I am. But I own it. I know I'm more comfortable when there's someone I can contact instead of hoping I decipher life on my own.

If you don't see me for a bit it's because I'm under my shell. I won't retreat for long, promise.

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