Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hey Howdy Hey - I'm On A Roll!

I read the best interview this week. It was in Entertainment Weekly Magazine (no judgments, please), and it was in regards to the upcoming third installment of the Toy Story franchise.

Before tackling the movie, the directors and producers met to watch the first two movies back to back. Director Lee Unkrich said this:

We were immediately depressed. We thought, 'These are so good, how can we make another one?' Then we remembered we were the people who made them. If anyone is going to do it, maybe we can pull it off."

I have been in this place for the last year. I wrote a book I loved. Then I've floundered for the past year trying to write one to top it. How can I ever write another book that I like as much as that one? 

Then I realized: I was the one who wrote it. And if I could write that one, I could probably pull off another.

Okay, to give credit where it's due, it was mostly my writers group that impressed this on me. And it's mostly as I siphoned small bits and pieces to them with email subject lines like "I think I'm boring myself with this one" and "to dump or not to dump, that is the question," that they pointed out that what they loved about my writing in my last book is still coming through in this one.

So I've stopped asking, "Is this good enough?" and just started writing. And the more I write, the easier it is to write. I'm starting to really love the characters, although I have to admit that to some extent I'm still figuring some of them out. But that's been part of the excitement of the journey through this story. It's the same excitement as Babs developing over the course of writing.

So I'm writing a lot more. Which means I'm blogging less.

No worries, though. I'm sure this enthusiasm and writing spree won't last and I'll be back to regular blogging. Until then, though, the TV shows are piling up on the DVR, the book beside my bed lays unopened, the dinners are late, and the milk is running low.

But hey howdy hey, I'm on a roll!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If Car Companies Made Computers

At a recent computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated,

'If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.'

In response to Bill's comments, General Motors issued a press release stating:

If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash ...... Twice a day. 

2.Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3.  Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason.  You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue.  For some reason you would simply accept this.

4.  Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive - but would run on only five percent of the roads.

6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single 'This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation' warning light.

7. The airbag system would ask 'Are you sure?' before deploying.

8.  Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

9.  Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

10.  You'd have to press the 'Start' button to turn the engine off.

(This was passed on to me via email. I thought it was too funny not to share with the people who would most appreciate it!)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review for Scenarios For Girls Books 3 and 4

 Molly Jacobs isn't sure what she should do: Should she follow through with stealing some clothes for her friends from Magna the trendy girls clothing store where she works? Or should she do what she knows is right, even if it means losing her newfound popularity?

 Kate Walker joins the swim team and becomes obsessed with practice and making it through the championships with flying colors. What will Kate do when she's faced with pressure from her teammates to take an illegal substance that will help her swim multiple events in their championship meet?

A few months ago I had the privilege of reading Nicole O'Dell's first books in her Scenarios For Girls series. They are a unique twist on the old choose-your-own adventure books aimed at tween girls age 10-15 in which the main character finds herself in a morally compromising situation. At the point in the book where the character has to make a choice, the reader gets to choose as well, and then read the ending that comes from that decision. Two choices, two endings.

In the next two books in the series, O'Dell creates two more very relateable characters, Molly and Kate, along with their group of friends, some truer than others, and two situations any young girl could easily find herself facing.

As much as I liked the first books, I liked these even more. O'Dell has clearly continued to hone her gift of writing stories girls will identify with and has managed to avoid getting into the predictable pattern and plot lines that so many series fall prey to.

My daughter, who is still a bit young for these books, is an avid swimmer and anxious to read Making Waves. I can easily see this as a great tool for talking with her about how quickly small decisions lead to bigger ones, and how doing something marginally acceptable - like chugging energy drinks and relying on caffeine pills to give you an edge in competition - can lead to more difficulty saying no to  illegal substances like speed.

Anyone who has been involved in swim teams will feel right at home in this book. Another thing I loved was the less-than-traditional family of Kate. While her other books centered around traditional Christian families, O'Dell gives Kate a widowed mom, lending the book another layer of complexity that adds to the real pressure and emotional weight Kate feels.

My favorite of these two though, and probably of all four so far, was Magna. I really liked Molly, and the dialog between her and her friends rang very true.  The "villains" in the book also rang true, in that delicious way the teens will love to hate them. I loved that Molly really, really wanted to do the right things, and she worked so hard for them. I liked that she had a supportive church and family, and yet the book never got preachy.

The characters in these books seem older than the ones in the first two, and in a good way they are less naive and more aware of the seriousness of their situations. Like the first books, these provide safe, Christian reading for young girls, a hole in publishing these days.

If you have a daughter 10-15, I highly recommend both of these books, and I look forward to more in the near future!

Friday, April 23, 2010

It's Friday; It's a Good Thing: Randomness

I didn't want to leave this weekend with such a sad aftertaste on the blog, so I'm going to do a quick round up of random good things this week.

1. Barnes and Nobles has updated the software on the Nook and I can now browse the internet, get email, and play games in addition to reading! It's like an iPad, only not. :)  I think with this new technology it now really is the best eReader out there (apologies to Kindle lovers, but what have you got on us now??).

2. My Dad (along with several other people I know) were traveling overseas last week and got stuck by the volcano. It feels very B.C. and Pompeish, being stuck because a volcano erupted. This is not the good thing. The good thing is that my dad, in typical dad fashion, has turned this into a advertising opportunity for my book. When our local paper called him to find out what his situation over there was, he moaned about how he was missing his daughter's debut book signing. Well he, his picture, and my book made the front page of the newspaper today. It's not like I live in a small area either. This is a huge suburb outside of D.C. So way to go Dad!

3. My photography blog is still going. I've managed to post a pic a day, and inspire a few other people to start taking photographs of ugly suburbia as well. This week I had a theme: the celebration of the book signing. (Yes, I promise this is the last time I'll speak of So if you want to see some "artistic" photos that don't involve books or signings or Barnes and Noble stores, you can head over. Next week's theme is going to be "Looking Up." I'm excited about what I'm going to find!

4. The store I shop at is carrying sugar snap peas again!! YAY!!  Now I have something to munch on while I write!

5. Writing is going really well. And the rewriting, too, since I'm doing a lot of that. I worry, of course, that I won't be able to pull this one off, but little by little I'm getting there. Writing perfectly is really hard and takes a ton of time. Writing not so perfectly is a lot more fun....and then I get to rewrite, which I LOVE!  So it's a win/win.  :)

6. I can tell the book is "the one" because I'm thinking about it all the time now. I feel like I know the characters - like they are friends. And some not friends, because they're not that nice. But I think about them a lot too...dreaming up situations they can ruin. So fun.  I'm not sure why it takes 100 pages for me to get really settled into a book - that seems excessive to me - but that's what it is. Now the fun begins.

7. The sun is shining. The air is warm but not hot. Pollen is abating somewhat. The flowers are out and gorgeous, and the leaves have filled the trees so we can no longer see any neighbors. The puppy alternately chases squirrels and bees, hopping and leaping and running, or lays and naps in spots of sun. Right now he's at my feet in a patch of warm sun looking totally and utterly adorable.

happy weekend all! I hope you find some good things in life today too!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I'm heartsick tonight.

Right before bed, my daughter started crying and proceeded to tell us that her best friend, the little girl we've loved and taken to baseball games and had to dinner and over to play, has been demanding she give her money to be her friend.

She took money out of her own piggy bank for who knows how long, a quarter at a time. And then, when her friend told her to take it from her brother, she snuck into his savings and took two dollars from him.

It finally crushed her. It crushed us.

I had to call the mom, a woman I completely and utterly adore, who I think is probably one of the best moms I have ever known, to ask her if her daughter had taken money from mine.

8:45 at night is not the time for this. There is no good time for this.

It is heartbreak for all of us. For the kids, who may or may not ever have that special friendship they once had. Us moms, who may or may not have the special friendship we once had. The kids, utterly broken because they know they made some very bad choices. Us moms, utterly broken wondering where we went wrong.

I don't think there was malice on either of the girl's parts. I don't think my daughter's friend is a bully. I just think something that started fun ended up very badly, in a situation that spiraled out of control. Part of what makes me heartsick is how easily is spiraled that way, and how young they are for such a thing.

If they had been older....

If it had been something even more serious...

It is the reason I can never find it in my heart to judge another mom or child. In even the worst of cases, I never think, That couldn't be me.

It is the reason I live on the teetering edge of worry: because that could always be me. 

One small decision. One bad choice. One friend who makes a bad choice.

The perfect world we try to create for our children is a fragile and precarious one.  Just like our own.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Signing! The Party! The Food! Oh My!

You know what I'm doing right now as I write this? I'm drinking a glass of champagne left over from the signing party on Saturday. It's left over because I drank almost nothing – ate almost nothing – at the party, such a fabulous time I was having!!

Can I back up and say it felt a bit like being a rock star the whole day? Well - a very small rock that no one's heard about. But still, a rock star nonetheless. :)

I won't give the blow by blow, but I will say the day was hugely fun. And successful.

When I arrived at Barnes and Noble, the table was already set up with books and a sign announcing the signing. I was sandwiched between a table with Mo Willems books, which my seven year old thought was totally awesome, and the hardback bestsellers.


A guy with MS came up to talk to me about the book and the similarities with what diabetics face and what people with MS face...and the hopes and futures of both. A genuinely nice guy I loved talking to!

A couple stood off to the side for a while watching me sign books and talk to people, seeming very hesitant to approach. (I promise I don't bite!). When the crowd cleared a little they moved up and the husband kind of pushed her and said, "Go ahead. Just say hi." She was actually nervous about saying hi!! I wanted to tell her, "Seriously? Trust me, I'm more nervous than you!" I loved standing and talking to her for a few minutes.

I was within spitting distance of the Nook display, where I spent 30 minutes watching a salesperson trying to sell a Nook to a guy who clearly was interested but hesitant. I finally couldn't keep my mouth shut and started talking it up to him. He was so fun to talk to, even if he said he didn't care that much for fiction. I think I did get him interested in the development of adult stem cell therapy, and though I wasn't even going for a sell with him, I think he's downloading my book into the Nook I convinced him to buy. (and no, I didn't get a commission for it, although I tried to talk the rep into giving me one).

I sold out.

That was my favorite thing.

Even though the store ordered twice the amount of books as they usually do, I managed to sign and sell them all.

(Look! All but one of the books are gone! And that's the couple nervous to talk to me. I loved them!)

When I left, the check out clerk said, "You did really well!" and the representative invited me to come back another day for another signing, promising he'll order more books next time.

I didn't say anything too stupid, although the pictures might look otherwise, so I count it a raging success.

Then the party afterwards, which I don't have pics of because the house was too crammed with people and I spent so much time talking and chatting that I didn't even have time to drink the glass of champagne in my hand let alone find my camera. But it was fun. Lots and lots of fun.

It was supposed to end at 9:00. The last of the people left at 11:30. You know it's a good party when it goes twice as long as it was supposed to.

I'll be eating strawberries and drinking champagne all week, though. Which isn't a bad thing. Especially when accompanied by chocolate cake.  :)

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Journey

I'm down to a mere hours now before my first big book signing, and although the book has been out a few months already, this feels like it's the biggest moment since I started this journey towards publication. There are about 75 people that I know will be coming, along with a whole host of others that I don't. There are confirmed 50 that are coming to the party tomorrow night, and still some up in the air (and some grounded, literally, in Europe by volcanic ash).

When I woke up this morning I started thinking about what a long road it's been, and how this all started. And how far it's come. My life is not the same as it was at the beginning, and not just because I've written a book.

Two and a half years ago I knew nothing about publishing. I'd nearly finished my first book, one which I'd started two years prior to that, began with a vague outline and strong characters and then ended up pantsing the rest with dubious results. But as I neared the end of writing, I began thinking, "What now?" How in the world do you go about getting published?

So I did what any eager writer does.... I googled. Specifically I think I googled, "How to get published."  The first entry that came up was something called a blog (I'd never heard of one before) written by someone named "Miss Snark."  I figured I'd skip over and mosey through it briefly, find my answer, and be on my way.

This is the moment I found the addictiveness of blogging. I think it's also where I learned what voice meant in the writing world. Not because Miss Snark wrote what it was, but because she had such a strong one.

I never got back to my google list. I spent the better part of three weeks staying up until two in the morning reading through every one of her archived posts, along with every one of the comments. If you want to get published, everything you need is there. If you don't want to get published, but you enjoy an enthralling diversion, she's good for that too.

Through her I learned about query letters and agents and revisions. I found Janet Reid, Jessica Faust, and Nathan Bransford, the blogging agents that would become my staples over the next year. When I started to submit, these are the first three I chose. Within three days all three would request my manuscript.

Those would also be my first three rejections.

Instead of pressing on, I stopped to look at what I'd written in light of what the agents said (mostly that it was too slow a start), and decided to rewrite the beginning. So I rewrote. Then I rewrote some more. Which necessitated rewriting some of the middle stuff. Then the beginning had to be changed again. Finally it all got so muddied and I couldn't tell if any of them were better or just different, and I put the book away.

Then I started on Some Kind of Normal. This one took me six months to write, mostly because my fabulous writing partner and fellow author Jen Blom challenged me to a word-a-thon. In the summer of 2008 we both finished. I waited a few weeks to let the book sit, take a vacation, have crit partners read it, and then started back in September with the revising. By the end of October 2008 I was ready to query.

Unfortunately, the publishing industry was imploding with the rest of the economy, and whole publishing houses were completely suspending acquisitions. Some agents, likewise, began to stop taking queries. It was a rough time to break into the industry, I reasoned that, like other agents said, a good book is still a good book, and it will sell no matter what the economy.

I sent out over 100 queries over the next five months. Every time a rejection came in, I sent another out. Unless an agent specifically said not to, I sent the first five pages with my query. I knew this might cut down on requests, since an agent would be able to get a feel for the voice and writing before requesting, but I reasoned that would be less disappointment down the line.  I had 15 or 16 fulls requested out of that, and a number of partials that turned into fulls.

There were some high hopes in there. I received some tremendous feedback. Nearly every agent said they liked the story and thought my writing was very good. Two said they weren't taking debut authors in this environment because no one would buy them. Many said they just didn't know how to market  it to an editor. One clearly didn't like the Southern voice, which stumped me a bit because I'd send the first five pages to get that hurdle out of the way.

I sent my last query in February of 2009. I was done. I still had a lot out and not responded to, but I was done with the highs and lows, and ready to move on. Over the next few months a few more requests trickled in, and the first week of June I got the rejection to my last outstanding full. I'd lie if I said I wasn't heartbroken.

I decided to take a break from writing. I'd take the summer off at the least.

Then, out of nowhere, an author wrote me and said his publisher had seen my pitch on a forum next to a comment of his, and they were very intrigued. They wanted me to send on a proposal package. I sent my synopsis, first 50 pages, and a market analysis, and days later they sent me a contract.

It wasn't easy going a path that diverged from the mighty Miss Snark's path. No agent. Small publisher.

I hemmed and hawed. I had long conversations with the owner of NorLights. I had long conversations with my father, who is a contract-specialist lawyer. I had long emails with an agent I've kept in touch with who was still very interested in representing me on a different project than Some Kind of Normal. I had long conversations with my husband, myself, and God. It wasn't a quick or easy decision.

What I learned in all this is that there are lots of ways to get published. There are lots of valid ways to get published. And no one should tell you there is only one right way, or only one legitimate way. And sometimes the path you choose is not the path that chooses you.

I now have a book that is sitting on bookstore shelves.  A book people who I don't know are buying and reading. I didn't pay to have the book edited, published or marketed, and I get royalties. I have a book that is being considered for a national book club, a book that has been read and endorsed by people high in the medical field as well as other authors. I have a book that has landed on the Amazon bestseller list with Jodi Picoult and Michael Crichton.

I have a book.

And sometimes, like today, after all this time, I marvel at that. The ups and downs, the depression and elation, the determination and the frustration....

I have a book.

It's been a heck of a journey.

I hope this is only the beginning.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Would you like a side of irony to go with that champagne?

True Story.

Yesterday I was standing in the champagne aisle of the store on the phone with my husband. "How many do you think we need? And do we get the kind we can afford and risk looking cheap, or go big and go broke?"

He answers – no kidding – "Buy a few of each. We'll start with the plastic corked ones and then we'll move to the screw caps when it's late."

Ummm.... I don't think the plastic corks are considered the good ones, hon.

Anyway, I assumed he was serious about the first sentence and joking about the second. And so I loaded my cart for my first ever official Barnes and Noble Book Signing party on Saturday.

Yes. I am officially an "event" at Barnes and Noble. On the official national website. Like I'm a real author and everything.

So Saturday afternoon I'll be in Manassas, Virginia signing copies of Some Kind of Normal. (If you're in the area, come by!!)

It seemed, then, like a good time to have a party.

Okay, it's always a good time to have a party. Except when the book actually came out. Which was two weeks before Christmas and two days after two feet of snow. When we dug out and recovered from the holiday, another two and a half feet of snow dumped on us. By then, I'd arranged to do this book signing, so instead of doing a big book release party, we're doing my first book signing party.

In the interest of keeping it easy, especially since we're doing it on the same day, we decided to do just a dessert and champagne open house rather than a full-on dinner or appetizer thingy.

You know, because nothing says irony like toasting a book about a dying diabetic with cheesecake, chocolate, and champagne. :)

So now I have two days to wait, and my dining room table is loaded with enough champagne, cakes, pies, chocolate, etc. to throw me into a diabetic coma, and it's driving me to crazy temptation.

If you'll excuse me, now, I think I need to go order myself a few more vials of insulin. I think I'm gonna need it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What Every Writer Should Read

I read this on Amazon today. It's written by Anna Quindlen, pulizer-prize winning writer and author of the new bestselling novel Every Last One. Every writer should read it.

    The best preparation I could have had for a life as a novelist was life as a newspaper reporter. At a time when more impressionistic renderings of events were beginning to creep into the news pages, I learned to look always for the telling detail: the neon sign in the club window, the striped towel on the deserted beach. I learned to distinguish between those details that simply existed and those that revealed. Those telling details are the essence of fiction that feels real. The command of those details explains why Charles Dickens, a onetime reporter, has a byline for the ages.
    I learned, from decades of writing down their words verbatim in notebooks, how real people talk. I learned that syntax and rhythm were almost as individual as a fingerprint, and that one quotation, precisely transcribed and intentionally untidied, could delineate a character in a way that pages of exposition never could. And I learned to make every word count. All those years of being given 1,200 words, of having the 1,200 pared to 900 at 3 o'clock: it teaches you to make the distinction between what is necessary and what is simply you in love with the sound of your own voice. The most important thing I ever do from an editing perspective is cut. I learned how to do that in newsrooms, where cutting is commonplace, swift, and draconian.
    That’s where I learned about writer's block, too. People have writer's block not because they can't write, but because they despair of writing eloquently. That's not the way it works, and one of the best places to learn that is a newspaper, which in its instant obsolescence is infinitely forgiving. Jacques Barzun once wrote: "Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper, not eternal bronze: let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes. No one will rush out and print it as it stands." Journalism is the professional embodiment of that soothing sentiment.
    Of course, it is also the professional embodiment of fact-finding, and that, more than anything else, is why the notion of a journalist who is also a novelist perplexes readers. "I could never make it up," one of the very best reporters I've ever known said to me. But that notion of untrammeled invention becomes illusory after a while. If you manage to build characters from the ground up carefully, make them really real, your ability to invent decreases as their verisimilitude grows. Certain people will only behave in certain ways; certain behaviors will only lead to certain other behaviors. The entire range of possible events decreases as characters choose one road, not another. Plot is like a perspective drawing, its possible permutations growing narrower and narrower, until it reaches a fixed point in the distance. That point is the ending. Life is like that. Fiction is like life, at least if it is good. And I know life. I learned it as a newspaper reporter, and now I reflect that education as a novelist. --Anna Quindlen

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another Review and an Interview!

Well, that trip to Seattle is paying off.  :) 

Kim Derting, fabulous author of The Body Finder, took time in the middle of her crazy schedule writing, revising and book releasing, to read Some Kind of Normal. And, as if it wasn't enough that we got to discuss the book over wine and pizza, she went and wrote a FANTASTIC review!  These gals can make a debut author blush.

And to boot, she wanted to interview me. Which was so cool. Totally not easy, but very cool!

So if you feel like meandering over there, here's the link.  And I promise, that's the way my kitchen really looks. Just don't go snooping around the rest of my house.

Friday, April 9, 2010

In Which I Stop Writing

I started a new blog. Yeah. Because I need more things I can't keep up with.

This one is for my photography. One photo a day. Very little commentary, if any. You have no idea how hard it is to shut me up on the computer, so this is rare. But I'm trying to let the photos speak for themselves.

The point, for me, is to see if I can stop whining about all the gorgeous photos people who travel widely get to take, and learn to find the beautiful things in the strip-mall laden, traffic-light jammed, concrete suburban world I live in.

Beautiful things, even if you have to use a macro to find them, are my Friday Good Thing.

If you like photos, stop by. Be the first to follow and make me feel not so lonely over there. :)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Silliness Abounds

This is a post of total randomness and silliness.

If you've been on facebook any length of time, you've probably heard of flair. The first day I joined, a friend from college found me and sent me what she called my 'starter flair kit." I had no idea what it was.

Since then, I occassionally get sucked into obsessive flair reading. It makes me laugh. And tonight I was showing my son some of them and we were laughing so hard I had tears on my cheeks.

It was probably too much birthday cake and the subsequent sugar high. But I'm going to share a few with you anyway, and hope you get a giggle too.

Let's just start with the one that fits my every morning:

And then there's this one:

Yeah. I relate.

These made me bust out laughing the first time I saw them, and every time since:

This one is probably disturbing, but I'm from Virginia and I see this license plate style everywhere, and for some reason I think it's hilarious. Don't send hate mail... I don't agree. I just think it's funny.

Here's one that totally fits me that my husband doesn't find that funny (true, but not funny):

There are of course the more pointed author ones:

And my personal favorite. I laugh out loud just thinking about it. It's a running joke in our family. It will make the worst day better. I don't know why, I just love love love it.

I imagine myself writing this on my 9th grade geometry test. Even as I write this I'm laughing so hard I can't breathe. I tell myself to stop it; I'm an idiot. Then I start laughing again. Find X. Here it is!  I don't know if it gets funnier than that for me.

Okay, time to get off the internet and get back to writing.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why I Love You

I've been thinking about moms a lot lately. It was Easter that got me thinking about them – about many of you. Church services on Easter morning were predictably crowded, and though our family got to the church early (prior experience taught us that was necessary... a hard lesson to learn by experience!), there were many, many others scrambling for seats. There was hardly a single seat left, so when a mom and her two kids came down the aisle and saw two seats in the row in front of us and the one next to me, she (rightly) figured this might be as good as they got. Unfortunately, her kids were young and neither wanted to sit by themselves, and she didn't want to leave them to sit by themselves. So they took the two seats and put one child on her lap.

We had seven people in our family. Splitting up wouldn't really feel like splitting up. Besides, we feel very at home in our church, which clearly this mom didn't. So my husband and I left our kids with the grandparents so she could have three seats together, and he and I sat in their seats.

In front of us, then, was a new family. A mom with three kids. And I started looking around, and I realized how many moms were there with kids without dads. And I wondered, where did all the dads go? We live in a highly military area, so it's likely there are quite a few overseas. But maybe some of the dads just didn't want to go to church. Maybe some of these are single moms.

And I couldn't help but watch these moms all alone, struggling to juggle the kids and their crayons and the trips to the bathroom at the most inopportune time and keep them quiet and in their seats. I thought about all of the moms I know who do this every day at home, husbands or not. Us moms who stay up until our eyelids can't stay open to sew costumes for school or shop for posterboard for projects thought up at the last minute. Who have to juggle six schedules and be three places at once. Us moms who give up precious writing time to take forgotten gym clothes to school or pick up drum sticks to replace the lost ones. Us moms who bake cupcakes for school parties or buy cookies to send in because there just isn't time to bake. Who feed their broods three meals a day and keep the drawers full of clean clothes and moderate fights and still manage to play outside a little when they beg. Moms whose hearts ache for their kids when they cry and fight the urge to go beat up the kid who broke their hearts. Moms who sleep on the cold floor when their kids are sick all night.

Moms totally rock.

And somewhere in there, I realized this is why I write what I do. Some of you are YA/MG writers, because you have a heart for kids. I get this, because I taught middle school and led Campus Life groups and taught Sunday School. I love kids.

But as I've gotten older, I find myself constantly reassuring other moms that what they do is important, that they aren't alone, that they are AMAZING for doing the things no one notices but everyone needs. For the sacrifices they give every day in putting others first.

I love moms.

Yesterday our family went to see How to Train Your Dragon. Among our discussions afterward (because that's our family's favorite part of seeing a movie - talking about it over ice cream!), I remarked, "It's not even Disney and they still killed off the mom!  What is it with kid's movies always having a dead mom!!"  (This has always really bugged me...).

And my husband said something that seemed utterly profound.

It's because with a mom, there wouldn't be the story, because the mom would do anything to protect her child, would make sure they knew they weren't alone, would nurture them and love them and talk with them when everything looked black. A mother would deal with the overbearing or demanding dad. In other words, a mom would let the air out of the pressing crisis.

Okay. Wow.

So I know it was Easter and not Mother's Day, but this is what was on my mind. I love you moms. I get how hard it is. And every little thing you do matters. Even if no one notices. It matters.

You totally rock!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Book Review: The Body Finder

The Body Finder is first and foremost a love story, and secondly a paranormal suspense. Except when it’s the other way around. Because one of the things Ms. Derting does exceptionally well is keep the reader in the moment, balancing the light, airy feeling of first loves with the dark foreboding of a serial killer on the loose with the perfect touch, so that at any page you find yourself on, you feel the same emotions of the main character, Violet.

The story is, in short, about a girl who can find dead bodies – human or otherwise – and so naturally she finds herself in the center of the investigation of a string of murders. Also, she is falling in love with the boy who has been her best friend practically since birth and wrestling with the fear that he will only ever see her as a friend.

Violet is the kind of leading character every teenage girl should read. She is smart and independent, strong and determined, yet still vulnerable. She doesn’t need a boyfriend, but her longing for more than a friendship with Jay is so palpable my heart hurt. When she is confronted with the first dead girl’s body, she is both horrified and sickened, yet she knows she alone might be able to find the killer, and she wants to do this, so much so that she finds her own life on the line to save another.

While I’m not normally drawn to paranormal stories, Vi’s story is so unique and intriguing it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking it. Her gift is unlike any other I’ve read about or seen in movies, and definitely not your run-of-the-mill medium. She doesn’t hear dead people speak; she senses the unique echo each leaves behind. Some people leave smells, some leave tastes, some leave visions, some leave tastes. And when they die, not only does their own echo remain on their body (an oily sheen, a chorus of bells, a buttery garlic), it also sticks to the one who killed them. And so, by knowing the echo of the murdered girls, she knows their murderer …even if that person is the person she least expects.

The Body Finder is a book that will have you itching to turn the page faster and unable to put it down until you’ve gotten to the last one. You will find yourself holding your breath, chewing your nails, and cheering Violet on. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of a long career for Ms. Derting!

YA Advisories: language, sexuality, murders

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools Day Reux: What To Do When The Joke Involves A White Horse

Today is April Fool's Day. I love this day. Not because of the fool part of it (I am way too gullible to enjoy that part of the day). I love it because seventeen years ago today, my then boyfriend proposed.

Yes. I got engaged on April Fool's Day.

My husband likes to say that he asked on April's Fools so that if I said no, he could say, "I was just kidding anyway."

So every April first I get to revisit one of my favorite stories: the engagement story.

He'd been asking me to marry him almost as long as I'd known him. It was a joke between us, every time he asked, that I would say, "How am I going to know when you are serious?" He'd always answer, "You'll know because I'll come riding up on a white horse." He was in the army when we met, just back from the gulf war, and the visual image stuck.

So seventeen years ago today, we both arranged to take the day off work and spend the afternoon together. He'd been working in New York as a broker for a few months after leaving the military and had been back in Austin for a few weeks, feet to the grindstone, so to speak, and we'd barely seen each other since before Christmas.

He didn't tell me where we were going, but packed a picnic for us and picked me up midmorning. We drove out into the hill country to a horse ranch where he had arranged a day of riding for us.

The hilarious thing is he'd spent a month combing the Texas countryside for white horses, and couldn't find any. Not one. Seriously. There are no white horses in central Texas. Finally he finds this place and goes to visit ahead of time to pick out the horses, the picnic spot, and ask the owners to spray for ants (how thoughtful can a guy get???). So he sees this white horse way out in the field. He's not being ridden by anyone, or in the stables with the rest of the horses, but the owner's assure him that "Wild Thing" is good for at least a few more rides.

Let me set the scene here. I am five-three. At the time, I weighed about as much as a few feathers. My husband is six foot four. And he has really broad shoulders.

When we arrive, they bring out my horse: a huge brown stallion that I literally use a step-ladder to get on. My feet are a good three feet off the ground.

Then they bring out Wild Thing.

Wild Thing is two days away from a glue factory. He is no bigger than a mule. He is sway backed, severely. My husband can throw his leg over his back without his other foot even leaving the ground. He looks like a thirteen year old on a toddler's bike. His knees are in his chin. When we go up the rocky trail, he almost has to get off and carry Wild Thing up the hills.

I turned around and pointed at Wild Thing, totally clueless about this set up, and say, "Hey, look! A white horse!" I think my husband laughed, although it might have been a choking sound. I wonder the entire ride why I get the huge horse and my boyfriend is on the one that clearly should be retired.

The rest is simply romantic. A picnic by a babbling brook, not an ant in sight; a gorgeous ring in a Cracker Jack box; a poem he read on one knee. The usual.

But now, everytime we pass a white horse, I make sure to point it out. Especially the big, strong ones. Look at all these white horses! And you're telling me you hunted and hunted and the best you could come up with was Wild Thing? And he always rolls his eyes and says, "Yeah. Wild Thing looked like that from a distance too."

Maybe. Or maybe he just wanted to make sure I knew he'd keep his promises, even if he had to ride a 100 year old horse to do it.

And who could say no to that?