Saturday, December 25, 2010

12 Days of Christmas Local Style

(The 12 Days of Christmas local style)- by Eaton B. Magoon Jr., Edward Kenny, Gordon N. Phelps

Numbah One day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, One mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Two day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Two coconut, an' one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Tree day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Tree dry squid, two coconut, An' one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Foah day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut, An' one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Five day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Five beeg fat peeg... foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut, An' one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Seex day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Seex hula lesson, five beeg fat peeg (that make TEN!),Foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut,An' one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Seven day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Seven shrimp a-swimmin', seex hula lesson, Five beeg fat peeg, foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut, An' one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Eight day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Eight ukulele, seven shrimp a-swimmin', seex hula lesson, Five beeg fat peeg (that make TWENNY!), foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut, An' one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Nine day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Nine pound of poi, eight ukulele, seven shrimp a-swimmin', Seex hula lesson, five beeg fat peeg, foah flowah let, tree dry squid, two coconut, An' one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Ten day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Ten can of beer, nine pound of poi, eight ukuklele, seven shrimp a-swimmin'Seex hula lesson, five beeg fat peeg, Foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut, An' one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

Numbah Eleven day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Eleven missionary, ten can of beer, nine pound of poi, Eight ukulele, seven shrimp a-swimmin', seex hula lesson, Five beeg fat peeg, foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut, An' one mynah bird in one papaya tree.

(Numbah Twelve day of Christmas the bes', and the bes' stuff always come las'...)
Numbah Twelve day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, Twelve TELEVISION, eleven missionary, ten can of beer, Nine pound of poi, eight ukulele, seven shrimp a-swimmin', Seex hula lesson, FORTY steenkin' peeg, Foah flowah lei, tree dry squid, two coconut, An' one mynah bird in one papaya tree!

Music and lyrics published by Hawaiian Recording and Publishing Company, Inc., and copyrighted in 1959.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Living in Hawaii So Far

So we've been living here in Hawaii for about two and a half months now. It has been a ginormous adjustment. But most of the challenges we've had to deal with would be challenges no matter where we moved.

Par for the course, moving is hard.

Leaving behind friends is the biggest challenge, for myself as well as my children. But my kids seem to be doing okay, as well as can be expected considering they've only been here for a couple months. As with all things time will help.

Isolation is definitely a huge aspect of such a relocation. All of our friends and family are so far away that I do truly feel cut off from my old life. The time zone doesn't help matters. Suddenly I'll feel like I need to talk to someone only to realize that with the time difference it would be terribly inconvenient for me to call right then. Days will go by and missed opportunities, and that in itself is sad.

Life here is beautiful though. There is sun everyday. Really hot sun. And the ocean is always cool and refreshing. With Thanksgiving approaching it is bizarre for it to still be in the high 80s. It's really weird, it just doesn't feel like Thanksgiving. It feels like summer break. I think the holidays will be a new challenge for the kids, I think they will be missing noisy extended family celebrations... (and how on earth will I cook a turkey for six hours in this heat?)

With all this isolation comes a new closeness in our family. All we have is each other and so we spend more quality time together, exploring our island and just being together. It's really nice. I have such a wonderful family. I am truly blessed.

Being haole is not necessarily an easy thing. Sometimes it's a non-issue and then other times it is uncomfortably obvious that we are outsiders. I love Hawaiians. I love their sense of ohana and their fierce self worth (only the Hawaiian way is right). I love the way they speak, even though I can only catch every third word or so. Sometimes I truly feel like a foreigner.

The beaches are amazing here. We have been exploring the waters on all sides of Oahu. The ocean has become our playground. Surfing and paddle boarding and snorkeling are our favorite pass times. I love the way my children have already gained a new appreciation for the ocean and the creatures that live there. And how so easily they've become comfortable in the sea. This is what I've always wanted, an ocean lifestyle. I look forward to our mastery of spear fishing and shore fishing. (Although I'd much rather capture them on film.) I hope to learn to surf with grace. I hope to find a cute little house somewhere a little cooler than Kapolei and slowly renovate it inside and out. And to garden, oh to garden, here where everything grows and it's summer forever.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I've had insomnia since I was a kid. Back then I used to stay awake for most of the night rehashing arguments that happened that day or creating little dramas in my head. It always frustrated me that I always could come up with such a witty retort to some affront in the protection of my bed...

So I have had a lifetime of poor sleep. And man when you don't sleep the world is a different place. Sometimes I wonder why I can't just turn it off, my brain that is. After I got married (at the ripe old age of twenty) I discovered how easily my husband could fall asleep- how he could simply press a button and be out like a light. How is that possible? How does he do it? Doesn't he have things, worries in there nagging to be resolved? How can one simply lay their head down, close their eyes and sleep?

It's not as if I am a worrier. I'd like to believe it's just my creative nature. I do have a tendency to think catastrophically. I create the worse case scenario in my head, creating dialogue and drama until my heart is pounding out of my chest, but I do this all the time, (I like to believe that if I think it, it couldn't possibly happen) that's not crazy right? Well maybe a little, huh?


For the last 5 years I have slept. I have slept and it has been wonderful. It is amazing how 7 or 8 hours of sleep (I won't say uninterrupted, I am a mother after all) can change so many things. Depression. Gone. A need for anti-depressants. Gone.

For the last 5 years I've slept. Until now. It's been 12 days without medication. 12 days of very little sleep. 12 days that that little girl in my head continues to whisper her story to me. And I have to listen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Finding the Darkness in the Light

Spent the day snorkeling with my family out at Electric Beach. The water was so amazingly clear this morning, fish were everywhere, my son tried out his spear fishing (luckily they all got away-- because catching fish means cleaning fish and I wasn't really looking forward to that). Our sea turtle friend even made an appearance. The kids are so comfortable with him and he seems vastly indifferent about us. It was yet another day in Paradise laying on the beach in the sun... warm sand between your toes...

So how do I go from that place, to the dark, dark place that I am currently writing about?

How do you find the darkness in the light?

Well right now it's easy really, especially easy knowing that I took my last Ambien Saturday night and that I have many long, anxious, sleepless weeks in my near future...

And there is always the job situation, or the lack thereof. And the irksome feeling that I am vastly under qualified for nearly all the positions I seek and that at 38 with a degree in English Literature and years of education experience and retail experience, I pretty much have very little to offer an employer... (And I know that's the unemployment talking, see what a layoff does to your self esteem...)

And there's the anxiety about this move... and our financial security... and the kids in school... and a future that is so unknown...

Oh yeah, I can find the darkness in the light, easy peasy. Now leave me alone. I need to write.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Being Beat Up by Mockingjay

Don't you just hate it when you finish a great book?

I just finished Mockingjay, (I know, I know about time, right? But hey I've been a little busy moving my family across the Pacific Ocean and all).

Anyways, I am currently suffering that post-partem depression that sometimes hangs over me when I finish a great book.

I'm not sure what it is exactly, whether it's the fact that I feel like I've become part of their story and then suddenly I am left all alone, my new friends having deserted me?

Or that is it simply that the story is over?

Especially those books that you have been anticipating for so long-- I mean I had Mockingjay pre-ordered like 4 months in advance! So you wait so long and then finally it's out, you buy it, you devour it (in like 2 days) and then it's all over... and then what?

The Blahs.

Is it some dissatisfaction with the ending?

No, I don't think so.

I think quite possibly it is just assimilating back into the real world, where things aren't quite so adventuresome that put a pallor on my mood.

Extracting myself from the adventure...

This is why I try so hard to pace myself, relish the words, get lost in the experience.

But then I find myself curled up on my couch at 2 in the morning, realizing I blew my wad, and it's over.

It's put me in funk, given me a case of The Blahs (which is a hard thing to do when you live in Paradise).

This feeling is a sure sign that the author has done their job, and very well. After all why else would I feel so beat up, and damaged, and left all alone?

Ah... the glories of a great book!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Settling In

Well we've made the move, the BIG move.

We packed up our things and moved ourselves to the beautiful island of Oahu.

My husband is settling in to his new job, my daughter is adjusting to High School Aloha Style, my Middle School son is in a delayed holding pattern (we seemed to arrive at the end of his Track's first semester so he has another couple weeks of summer) and I, I am trying to find my groove again as an author and mother. And a middle aged woman looking for employment.

I received a phone call today that snapped me back into things. A phone call commenting on my writing that helped me realize that my vacation is over and that I need to get back to work. More than anything I really just want to get going on my next project, a story I am really, really excited about.

The thing is, before I can move on, really immerse myself in this new great idea I need to take advantage of what I've learned and the connections I made during my SCBWI conference. So I am currently making a few tweaks to my manuscript (like my main character's age, I had no idea what a difference a year makes to a publisher! Congratulations Reese you are now 12 instead of 13!) and I am sending off all those queries and manuscripts to publishers and editors that are usually closed to submissions but are open to those of us who attend their presentations. Yay! And thanks to Deborah Halverson I am editing in a new way. (Although eventually I will just send it to her and utilize her services.

So I was realizing today that I need to get on the ball for two reasons--so I don't miss out on the opportunity to utilize my conference information AND so I can dive into THE DARKNESS my next novel. In the crazy hectic few weeks of packing and unpacking a household across the pacific ocean, I've lost a valuable part of my day, my writing. And though I've gained the beach and the sand and the surf and the turtles and the fish and the warmth, I still need my writing. And this story I have in my head right now, this girl, she really wants to be heard. So she will.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Moving to Hawaii


Unpublished is on hiatus while I relocate my family to the beautiful Hawaiian Island of Oahu.

Stay tuned for more information on this exciting adventure.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

SCBWI Conference Day Three

Day Three was the best yet!

The morning began with Why Narrative Nonfiction is Hotter than Ever by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Deborah Heiligman, Elizabeth Partridge, Tanya Lee Stone and Ken Wright. It was very informative and I gained some valuable tips in case I change my focus. I also was very pleased with the possible marketability of the new writing project I am going to have my kids work on! Yay! Family writing project!

Carolyn Mackler the author of The Earth, My Butt and other Big Round Things presented a keynote entitled For Richer or Poorer: Writing Through Good Times and Bad.

Justin Chanda did a workshop entitled Simon & Schuster: The Not So Distant Past, and the Really Fast Approaching Future. This was another very informative workshop. He shared that Middle Grade is on a downtrend right now--(Boo) Teen is out selling adult and blasting at full force, and that those poor picture books are hardly in the picture at all. Apparently the classic picture books, Goodnight Moon, Suess, etc, out-sell new picture books 2 to 1! He suggests that if you want to sell a PB it needs to be shorter, younger, sweeter, funnier and quirkier! Part of the issue with Picture Books lag in sales is that kids are reading older books earlier these days. Mr. Chanda believes that part of the reason that YA or Teen is flourishing is because of the adult crossover. More and more adults are reading YA as a guilty pleasure. YA is the new Romance genre! He also believes that the "Harry Potter" generation have grown up into voracious readers and are causing the boom. (I think that Stephenie Meyer chick has something to do with it too!) Books from the Blog-O-sphere also contribute to the Teen frenzy.

The Golden Kite Luncheon & Awards Presentation: John Parra for PB illustration in Gracias Thanks, for non-fiction, Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song (sweetest man ever), for fiction Sea of the Dead by Julia Durango, for Picture Book text, The Longest Night by Marion Dane Bauer. Congratulations.

But the best workshop of the entire event so far has definately been Deborah Halverson's The Ultimate Checklist for Submitting to Publishers: 10 Tests a Novel Must Pass to Prove it is REALLY Ready for Submission to Publishers. Now I have to admit, I was a fan of Team Halverson before I even got here. I follow her blog Dear-Editor and love, like, everything she says. But her workshop was incredibly awesome and so incredibly practical and helpful and useful that it is by far my all time favorite. (That's a lot of incredibly) I took copious notes, and learned tricks (10 of them!) that will make my novel even better! And Deborah is even more awesome in person and I couldn't have been more pleased with her workshop. She is the author of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies which will be in stores June of 2011. And I got my copy of Big Mouth autographed for my son Cy! I hope to use her editorial services in the near future. Awesomest of awesome.

Gennifer Choldenko's keynote was Kill the Bunnies: Writing Novels for Today's Kids. I love her book Al Capone Does My Shirts and she has a sequel Al Capone Shines My Shoes and a third book to wind up the trilogy will be out next year. Her newest book No Passengers Beyond this Point will be out later this year and is apparently groundbreaking. I can't wait to see what she's done.

The final keynote of the day was by Rubin Pfeffer and David Diaz, they discussed the future of publishing with the advent of the e-book and what that might look like in the publishing world. Exciting, and ultimately (possibly) more lucrative for the authors.

Another full day at the SCBWI Summer Conference. Only one day more to go.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

SCBWI Conference Day Two

Day Two began with a line of literally 75 people-- all waiting for their morning coffee at the lobby Starbucks. Yikes. After a very long wait for my morning buzz-- I was ready for my first keynote of the day:

Writing for Kids: A Three-Quarter Life's Work by Gordon Korman. It was a fascinating talk about Gordon's very successful and highly unusual career. Gordon shared with us how at 12 he sent a story he wrote to the Scholastic Bookfair people (he got the address off the classroom order form). He received an offer four months later. Wow. Not how it usually works.

The second keynote address of the morning was Literary Agents View the Market Place. Josh Adams, Ginger Clark, Lisa Grubka and Ken Wright answered questions from a moderator. It was very informative. I think what was most valuable from this keynote was the incredible difference in Agents attitudes about their roles in their clients lives. Ginormously varying opinions. Very eye-opening.

My first workshop of Day Two started the day off with a bang! Lisa Grubka from Foundry Literary gave a very informative workshop on query letters entitled Query Letter Boot Camp: The Do's and Dont's You Need to Get Your Query in Shape. She shared a lot of valuable information about her preference on query letters. She seems like a super cool person and someone I would really like to represent me.

Instead of lunch I had my First 15 Pages Professional Critique by Courtney Bongiolatti from Simon and Schuster. It went very well. She loved my characters and their voices. She said that it was a very solid, classic middle-grade girl figuring out a place in her world story. She said my character Reese has an intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive voice that would appeal to MG readers. She loves my characters Kami and Joy-- she thought they were very unique and quirky. She suggested I change the age of my character from 13 to 12, which I totally agree with. She thinks it has great long term potential and a classic MG girl style that does well in schools and libraries. All that from just the first 15 pages.

Unfortunately I missed most of Marion Dane Bauer's keynote, but I understand it was very emotional.

The keynote Pursue your Passions by E.B. Lewis was awe inspiring. He is the very prolific illustrator/artist who has illustrated over 30 picture books and has won the Coretta Scott King Honor award three times as well as the Caldecott. He shared his illustration process with us as well as his amazing fine art Icon pieces that he is currently working on. They are beautiful tiny paintings on lottery tickets, the portraits of black children barely revealed through scratch marks. Beautiful and poingnant.

I attended the workshop What's Hot, What's Not by Jennifer Rees just because I think she is awesome. (I already know what's hot.) But Jennifer's message was that ultimately we shouldn't be chasing the market, we should be writing what we are passionate about. It was nice to learn a little more about what she is looking for because she is my ideal editor. She and Deborah Halverson, whose blog I follow, and who I hope to have the opportunity to "bump into" at this conference!

Gail Carson Levine's keynote Sweat and Magic was very interesting. She covered suspense builders and plot predictability and provided various helpful writing prompts in order to "get to know" your characters better. The quote "I am pretty new, you don't know me yet," will haunt me for a lifetime.

The Heart and Soul Celebration got started poolside around 7:30 tonight. Many people were in costume and really let loose. I remained demur but enjoyed rubbing elbows with the likes of EB Lewis and Ashley Bryan (illustrator winner of 6 Coretta Scott Awards!). I may have enjoyed a cosmo or two... All and all another very exhausting but rewarding day.

Friday, July 30, 2010



That is how I feel after my first day of the SCBWI Conference in LA. (I am sure getting up at 5:45 to make the trek into LA from Westlake this morning could have contributed to my exhaustion) I think I will be better prepared (and rested) for tomorrow.

I'm not sure what it is, but I've felt totally on edge today, like I'm afraid I'll miss something...
I have attended conferences before, PTA and National Library Conferences, and I always enjoyed them immensely, but today I was wound so tight. Tomorrow will be better.

Today was filled with entertaining Keynote addresses by Jon Scieska and Loren Long. Both of which are hilarious people! MT Anderson has a lovely singing voice.

My first workshop of the day was How to Approach Agents Without Scaring Them Off by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown. The answer: Don't be Crazy. I was hoping for the "secret" tips for querying. She did share some valuable information about things to consider when offered representation. I will store these tidbits away for when that option becomes available to me.

My second workshop was Submission Strategies by Josh Adams of Adams Literary. He shared lots of information about the agents' submission process to publishers.

By far the highlight of my day, though, was talking to fellow writers and illustrators at the Wine and Cheese Reception. After skipping dinner, my $10 glass of wine truly hit the spot! I've already met some really amazing and talented people and hearing their stories and struggles made me feel part of something really incredible. I am looking forward to tomorrow.

Friday, July 2, 2010

SCBWI Summer Conference, Los Angeles

I am totally stoked to be able to attend my first writer's conference this summer in Los Angeles.

The SCBWI Summer conference seems to be a who's who of authors and industry specialists. There will be Keynote Addresses by M.T. Anderson, Marion Dane Bauer, Gennifer Choldenko, Paul Fleischman, Gordon Korman, Gail Carson Levine, Jon Scieszka and many more. I hope to gain insight into these successful authors' careers and "learn their ways" (Nacho reference).

There are 80+ break-out sessions on every aspect of the craft and marketing. I am so very excited to learn as much as I possibly can in these four days!

I have signed up for a manuscript consultation and am very excited to talk to an industry professional about my work.

I will try and share as much information as I can on my blog.

Query Letter Quandary

So on the tail end of those last two rejections I was once again questioning my query letter.

I posted a couple of my most recent letter variations on the forum website (Which is a part of querytracker I had not even utilized before).

The Forum is pretty awesome, you can ask for query help, post your first 5 pages for feedback and get the latest dish on agents.

I posted my letter in hopes of revamping it and getting unbiased opinions from other authors dealing with the same issues I am.

I got some strong input, started to rethink things and then rewrote my query. I used my "New" letter and queried three new agents. All three were rejected within that next week.

Huh? I was scratching my head, feeling confused and sorry for myself...

And then I got a request for pages from a query letter I had sent out two months before. AND it was that same query letter that my colleagues had previous torn apart on the Forum.

I then realized that I've had four requests from this very same query letter. More than any other version I've tried.

I think I'll stick with the original-- it seems to be working.

Bottom line? Don't ask me. But take that criticism with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

As Simple As It Seems by Sarah Weeks

When Pooch (who got his nickname from one of his mother's ex-boyfriends, because he is allergic to everything and is always scratching) sees Verbena dressed in her tattered nightgown standing alone on the shore of Bonners Lake, he is certain she is the ghost of a girl who used to live in his house.

Looking for an escape from her frustrating life and the changes that happen on the cusp of starting middle school, Verbena plays along with Pooch and pretends she is the ghost of Tracey Allen, a girl who died many years ago while swimming in Bonners Lake. So begins an unlikely friendship between allergy ridden Pooch and the not-quite-really-a-ghost Verbena.

Verbena suffers from FAS Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and is small and pale and young for her age. Verbena is trying to process some new information, that her parents aren't really her parents, and that her real mother tried to pickle her before she was born. AND that her father is in prison for killing a man. Verbena is certain that like her father she is deep-down bad.

Readers will relate to Verbena's struggle. Ideal for 4th-7th grades.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Rejection is a real ass-kicker.

I received back to back rejections on a partial and a full last week.

Talk about devastation.

When a partial or a full is floating around out there in the hands of someone who can possibly make your career, you are full of all the hope and possibility in the world. The sky looks brighter the trees are greener, food tastes better, your kids are sweeter...

When the polite "no thank you" arrives all is not well in the universe. The clouds roll in, the sun disappears and your kids...

It took me about 5 days to get over it. In the end I went back and studied my rejectors and convinced myself that they weren't the right agents for me after all. That this all happened for a reason and the perfect agent-- the one that will help me navigate a successful career is still out there.

"What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise"
-Oscar Wilde


It's a survival mechanism really.

When I lost my position last year because of budget cuts, I was devastated, truly devastated. But then I convinced myself that I didn't need that job and that I was better off.



It gets us out of bed everyday.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

the cupcake queen by Heather Hepler

New York City
Population 8,200,000

Hog's Hollow
Population 5,134

Population 1*

* That would be me.

Jaded Manhattan eighth grader Penny is bemused when she is whisked away from her dad to spend the summer in her mom's tiny hometown. Things go from bad to worse when Mom decides to stay in Hog's Hollow, open a cupcake bakery and enroll Penny at the local high school.

Penny's sardonic first-person narration is sophisticated, but at heart she is still just a 13-year-old casualty of her parents' unraveling marriage and their inability to communicate with each other or with her. When she finds herself targeted for elaborate pranks by the local queen bee, she must dig deep to survive her freshman year.

Much is familiar here: The characters are drawn with broad strokes-mysterious love interest, quirky best friend, evil nemesis-and the plot device by which the popular crowd is tricked into gaining weight will ring bells with readers who have seen Mean Girls.

But Hepler's novel is greater than the sum of its parts, held together by Penny's genuine voice and emotions. Readers will root for Penny, a talented artist, as she develops her gifts and adapts to small-town life. (Fiction. 11-14) Kirkus Reviews

The Cupcake Queen is a sweet story (yeah I said that) that most 6th-8th graders will enjoy. Ultimately this is a story about accepting oneself, adapting to life's hurdles and finding happiness with yourself. (And Penny's love interest, Marcus, will have hearts a flutter too.) The best friends, Tally and Blake are just as interesting and entertaining as Penny.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

So I queried a few agents that are notorious rejectors today, just for a response.

So far no response.

I'm like an ignored child, acting out just for attention. Any attention.

It's so difficult-- all the silence.

Is there anybody out there? Hello?

I know that the querying process is a long and drawn out one and that patience is a virtue... blah, blah, blah.

But I've never really been very virtuous.

The most challenging part is the not knowing. Every agent seems to have their own method of operation: form letters, quick responses, slow responses... complete and utter silence.

No news is good news, right? Probably not.

But who knows?

It's hard to really immerse myself into my next project when I feel like I have unfinished business still.

I want an agent!

I want an awesome agent! I want someone smart and witty and full of energy and enthusiasm! I want someone who loves my little novel and wants to put it into the hands of middle school kids everywhere!

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Sunday, May 16, 2010


There is definitely a lot of waiting involved with the search for an agent.

Nothing happens quickly.

Response time from queried agents varies dramatically.

Querytracker has become a very useful tool in the entire process. It gives me valuable insight on other writer's experiences with agents.

The "Comments" section has been sooooo helpful. It is really awesome to be able to see an agent's stats with a click of a button. To see an agent's response to other queries and to recognize the similarities and the differences to their responses compared to mine.

It's nice to learn that one agent takes months to respond to a query or that another still hasn't responded to a partial that she has had longer than mine.

On occasion I have emailed various querytracker members and each time I have only had very honest and helpful responses.

There is a camaraderie among the querytracker users, all these people I've never met and know so little about--because let's face it we're all in the same boat. We're all paddling with purpose and determination, hoping for a glimpse of the shore.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rejection Sucks

I received my first rejection on a partial yesterday.

To say I was bummed is an understatement, devastated is more like it.

I know that these are just steps- steps on a very long, steep, daunting staircase that leads towards publication.

But somedays I can see a little glint of light from way, way up there-- giving me hope and the endurance to continue to plod with heavy feet upward.

But yesterday (and today) it feels rather like that cold dark stairwell just leads upwards forever... into complete darkness.

These are the grey days of self-doubt. Who the hell do I think I am attempting to do this? What do I think I have that is worth sharing?

Not pretty, huh?

After I quit sobbing, I sat down at my desk, researched and then queried five new agents.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

Addie is waiting for normal. But Addie's mother has an all-or-nothing approach to life: a food fiesta or an empty pantry, her way or no way. All-or-nothing never adds up to normal, and it can't bring Addie all to home, where she wants to be with her half sisters. But Addie never stops hoping that one day, maybe, she'll find normal.

This is my current favorite.

A completely engaging page turner.

Addie lives a life of unknowns.

Will her mother come home tonight are will Addie have to spend yet another night all alone in their trailer?

Will she run out of food before she returns?

Will Grandido find out that Mommers has been leaving Addie all alone again?

Will Addie ever find normal?

The relationship between Addie and her neglectful mother is painful to witness, but I think most students will be drawn to her struggle and her perseverance. Many students will see a reflection of their own lives in Addie's story. Unfortunately I worry that the length of the novel may dissuade those students that really need to, from reading it. But the super short chapters may help.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Firegirl by Tony Abbott

"I don't know how long Jessica will be with us, but I want you to be prepared. Her burns are... she does not look like... anyone you have ever seen before... Mrs. Tracy's voice caught and faded away for a second. Some of the kids seemed to get stiff in their seats. Others began shuffling things around on their desks. I felt nervous, as if I had been caught doing something wrong."

From this moment on, life is never quite the same for Tom and his seventh-grade classmates. They learn that Jessica has been in a fire and was badly burned, and will be attending St. Catherine's while getting medical treatments. Despite her horrifying appearance and the fear she evokes in him and most of the class, Tom slowly develops a tentative friendship with Jessica that changes his life.

I was surprised by this book. I didn't expect to be disappointed, but I was. The characters are flat and one dimensional-- I'm pretty certain students will have trouble keeping interest in these characters, which is really unfortunate because the story could have been a great one. The story, the format (short chapters, short length) are all there, but the characters fall short. Totally surprised this won the SCBWI award.

The Private Thoughts of Amelia E. Rye

"All a person needs in life is one true friend.”

So says Grandpa Thomas, the only member of Amelia’s family who cares about her one bit. That true friend finally arrives when Fancy Nelson, the first Negro kid Amelia has ever seen in person, walks into her fourth grade classroom. As Fancy’s special sort of magic rubs off on Amelia, she slowly comes to understand her trainwreck family and her place in it—and Fancy discovers a surprising secret about her own past.

Shimko's engaging novel, set in the 1960s in a small town in northeastern New York, is narrated by 13-year-old Amelia Earhart Rye. Named by her beloved Grandpa Thomas after the famous pilot, friendless Amelia has an incredibly mean mother; Amelia was a surprise baby, and her mother jumped out a window when she discovered she was pregnant (“...she was pure furious that I kept on kicking. And she blamed me for the scars on her face, too”). When Fancy Nelson, the first black child Amelia has ever seen, moves to town and befriends her, Amelia is inspired by Fancy's courage and confidence, and begins to enjoy an enlarged and enriched life. The book is peopled with believable, multilayered characters, except for Amelia's mother, who is so broadly drawn as to approach caricature. But as Amelia matures and changes her own behavior, her mother grows more sympathetic. Shimko's story is original, and Amelia's distinctive voice and likable nature will have readers rooting for her in times of trouble and cheering her ultimate good fortune. The happy ending is immensely satisfying. Ages 10–14. (Apr.) Publishers Weekly

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Update on my Quest for Publication

Query, query, query.

So the update on my journey to date thus far:

39 total agent queries

2 publisher submissions

14 agent rejections

3 partial requests (Yay!!)

A fellow querytracker member shared that after 113 queries she had received: 99 rejections 11 partial requests and then 2 simultaneous offers for representation.

In the end all that mattered were those 2 offers.

This gives me hope.

Querying is a full time job. Researching agents, searching websites, blogs and twitter for their latest tastes and pet peeves, writing (and rewriting) query letters, jumping through the various hoops of each agent's individual submission requirements just for the honor of pitching my book's entire plot, character development and subtle intricacies in a short concise single page letter. Ugh!

It's exhausting.

And heart-wrenching.

And awesome.

Even though there are days when I just want to cry, there are ALSO those days when I am filled with this incredible overwhelming sense of excitement, and hope. Those days make me feel like something wonderful is about to happen...

It is pretty awesome.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What I'm Listening To Today

Lost Coastlines By Okkervil River

Packed and all eyes turned in, no one to see on the key.

No one waving for me, just the shoreline receding.

Ticket in my hand and thinking wish I didn't hand it in.

Cause who said sailing is fine?

Leaving behind all the faces that I might replace if I tried on that long ride, looking deep inside, but I don’t want to look so deep inside yet.

Sit down, sit down on the proud to wave bye, there might not be another star, farther on the line.

Look out, look out at each town that glides by, and there's another crowd, to drown in crying eyes.

And see how that light you love now just won’t shine.

There might just be another star, that’s high and far in some other sky.

We sing, is that marionette real enough yet to step off of that set to decide what her dance might mean to it.

Ruining the place where the ensuing may lay escape.

We packed up all of our bags the ship's deck now sags from the weight of our tracks, as we pace beneath flags black and battered.

Rattling our swords in service of some fated, foreign, war.

We sail out on order of him but we find, that the maps he sent to us don't mention lost coastlines.

Where nothing we've actually seen has been mapped or outlined and we don't recognize the names upon these signs.

And every night finds us rocking and rolling on waves wild and wide.

Well we have lost our way, nobodies gonna say it outright.

Just go la la la la la la la la la.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stevie King is Bomb Dot Com!

Okay so I was totally stressing out about my new project. I have this really interesting idea and a pretty cool format but I was freaking out because I wasn't sure exactly what was going to happen to my characters. Basically I have an awesome setting, a situation and my characters. BUT... what happens to them? What is my plot?

So I'm freaking out about this and all the while I have been reading On Writing by Stephen King. I've been reading it in small parcels, piece by piece --relishing the insight, the information... not wanting it to end.

And then Mr. King gives me this:

"You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer--my answer, anyway--is nowhere. I won't try to convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible. It's best that I be as clear about this as I can-- I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course)."

"I lean more heavily on intuition, and have been able to do that because my books tend to be based on situation rather than story... I want to put a group of characters (perhaps a pair: perhaps even just one) in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn't to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety--those are jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of plot--but to watch what happens and then write it down."

Thank you Stephen King.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What I'm Listening To

New Resolution
By The Heartless Bastards

my new resolution is to be
someone who does not take everything so seriously
I want to laugh and joke and have a smoke
and have a good time
and join an institution that will fuel my mind
whoever said ignorance, oh it was bliss
well, there's something there
that I declare they surely missed
'cause in the days and modern ways
you'll get passed by
try to have some fun
I always want to take it in stride

I was out there
on an open sea
no direction, and no one to lead

and then I looked back in there
how did we get there?
the water was foggy
but I didn't really care
'cause stagnancy makes me drown
and I really want to live

my new resolution is to be
someone who does not care what anyone thinks of me
'cause I don't even like myself half the time
and what's the use in worrying what's on other people's minds?

I was out there
on an open sea
no direction, and no one to lead

and then I looked back in there
how did we get there?
the water was foggy
but I didn't really care
'cause stagnancy makes me drown
and I really want to live

Saturday, April 17, 2010

On Writing by Stephen King

Memoir+ Style Manual= Awesome

I can't believe I've never read Stephen King's On Writing before. While perusing the writing and publishing section in my local bookstore I stumbled upon this insightful book.

I have always loved Stephen King, he is a modern master of the craft. He creates intricate webs of plot and character like no one else can. I remember reading The Stand in AP English in high school, how it was the only non-classic on our approved reading list for the year, and how it changed what I read and how I write, forever.

But On Writing gave me even more. He shares glimpses of his childhood and the pain and struggle of his early writing career. We get to journey into his head (and oh, what an awesome place it is) and learn how he thinks and how he approaches the joy and task of writing. It is both instructional and enlightening.

"The object of fiction isn't grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story... to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all."

"There was a sharp smell of alcohol. A clank as the ear doctor opened his sterilizer. I saw the needle in his hand-- it looked as long as the ruler in my school pencil-box-- and tensed. The ear doctor smiled reassuringly and spoke the lie for which doctors should be immediately jailed (time of incarceration to be doubled when the lie is told to a child): "Relax, Stevie, this won't hurt." I believed him.

He slid the needle into my ear and punctured my eardrum with it. The pain was beyond anything I have ever felt since-- the only thing close was the first month of recovery after being struck by a van in the summer of 1999. That pain was longer in duration but not so intense. The puncturing of my eardrum was pain beyond the world. I screamed. There was a sound inside my head-- a loud kissing sound. Hot fluid ran out of my ear---it was as if I had started to cry out of the wrong hole."

On Writing offers encouragement as well.

King shares his struggle when he first began writing Carrie, how he questioned his ability to write from a teenage girls perspective, from Planet Female as he called it. This just happens to be similar to a struggle I am facing on my new project. How do I do this thing justice? Who do I think I am writing about this? But you put pen to paper and you just do.

It is possible, he tells us all, you can do this thing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato

"I hate how quiet it is. One smelly dog fart and then nothing, you almost think you've gone deaf. A person in my position begins to think about things, death even. About death and time and why it is I'm afraid sometimes at night sitting and watching the two of them reading and almost not breathing but for the books moving up and down like something floating on top of the ocean. "

I am 100 pages into Mathilda Savitch and I am enthralled. This Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award Winner had me hooked from page 1. Mathilda is a dark and quirky character that has me laughing out loud one moment and gasping with despair the next. Mathilda's voice is so clear, so honest, you feel as though you've been slapped in the face.

"If you want to know, I was born in this house with this dog and those two, teachers of all things. A blue house. If you look at it from outside, you'd swear it had a face, the way the windows are. Window eyes, a window nose, and a door for a mouth. Hi house, I say whenever I come home. I've said this for as long as I can remember. I have other things to say, better than this, but I don't tell anyone. I have secrets and I'm going to have more. Once I read a story about a girl who died, and when they opened her up they found a gold locket in her stomach and the feathers of a bird. Nobody could understand it. Well, that's me. That's my story, except what are they going to find in my stomach, who knows? It's definitely something to think about."

Off-beat, quirky, funny, startling, odd, dark, painful, uncomfortable, honest... touching. And that's only the first third of the book.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Finally by Wendy Mass

I just read Finally by Wendy Mass. This delightful companion to 11 Birthdays, is a heartwarming coming of (middle-school) age story.

Rory can't wait to turn twelve, she's been keeping track of whole list of things she hasn't been allowed to do up until then, and when she turns twelve she is going to do them all.

It's a cute story best fitting 4th-6th grade girls. Rory's voice is authentic but sometimes the finger-wagging "I told you something bad would happen if I let you do that" plot-conflicts are a little much.

It sucks when you're 12 and your mother is always right-- most 7th and 8th graders don't want to have to read about it also.

4th-6th grade girls will enjoy reading about all the inconvenient allergic reactions Rory has to contend with, as well as the movie star interactions.

But the highlight of Finally is definitely Kyle R. Rabbit (Killer) with his beady red eyes and his desire to hop onto Rory's bed and suffocate her while she sleeps.

All in all another sweet offering from Wendy Mass. Be sure to recommend 11 Birthdays as well!

Monday, April 5, 2010

I am once again revising my query letter.

Not fun.

I have been stressing pretty hard about my letter. It's my only link to this great unattainable unknown, The Agents. The idea that a single page may be all that stands between me and publication, terrifies me. Just the idea of summing up my entire novel-- all my hard work, all those characters that I love, all those crazy situations that I put them into-- into one mere paragraph, it causes my breath to quicken and my heart to race.

I have been asking a few friends to read my letters and give me their opinions. What I have discovered is that preference may be just a matter of opinion. People are all different-- agents are all different. One may be intrigued by one hook but another completely put off by it.

There is no perfect query letter.

It is impossible to write one letter that will appeal to all agents.

Because believe it or not... agents are people too.

So the answer? It's a crap shoot. All I can do is hope that the right agent for me sees something wonderful in the few words I am allowed to share with them and asks to see more.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Home Again

My research trip to Oahu went very well. It's such a beautiful island-- I spent a lot of time visiting various local neighborhoods and schools trying to find the perfect setting for my next project. Oahu is so diverse and there are such extremes in living conditions, but the spirit of Aloha seems to resonate with all--and maybe even a little more with the less fortunate. It was an eye opening experience-- and I only hope I can do it the justice it deserves. The task is both overwhelming and exciting but I look forward to diving into a new project to distract myself from all the waiting.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Preparing for a "Research" trip to Hawaii. Looking forward to wrapping my head around my new characters in setting.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Next Project

So I have been tossing around the premise for my next project for a few weeks now. I've been mapping out who my characters are and the format I'd like to see it develop into. I've been walking around in a daze for weeks, wrapped up in my thoughts-- what these kids will look like, how they'll react to situation I am going to put them in. I am trying to balance my story around two characters-- one middle-grade and one young adult. I want my YA to be an integral character, not a sidebar, but I want my project to be middle-grade. How do you do that? How do you do that and be authentic?

I browsed the shelves at Barnes & Noble yesterday on the lookout for great reads, see what's new.

From my experience middle grade students generally want books that lean towards the YA market. They want books about characters that are older because it makes them feel older. They don't want books that have cutesy covers with cartoonish characters. (That was 4th grade) They want a book that looks and feels like a book that maybe a high school student might be reading--AND the content needs to feel older BUT read younger and cleaner than YA.

I don't think enough people are doing this. Most the things I looked at yesterday were far to young sounding or totally inappropriately YA.

It's tricky.

How do you make things older without alienating your reader? You want it to feel authentic but many of the aspects of YA life need to be excluded from middle grade fiction. It's a tightrope that's difficult balance. I love middle schoolers. 6th- 8th graders are still at this place in life, where they are not yet so calloused against books and reading like many of their High School counterparts. They are the cusp of such growth and change, I really think that in middle school many students decide what kind of person they are going to grow into. Honest, dishonest, caring, apathetic. It's a big painful deal. And I am stoked to be a part of it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I stumbled upon during my first month of online query letter research. I was trying to find all the information I could about writing my best query letter and discovered this amazing website. is awesome.

Everything a newbie writer could possibly need, all in one place! And all totally free! Create various personalized lists of agents and publishers, narrow your search to your specifications (for example: fiction-middle grade, agents accepting unsolicited queries) which makes this the most user friendly and easily maneuverable site I have come across so far.

Create lists of agents queried and keep track of the dates and their responses all with one click. You can also keep track of your actual query letter, which is quite helpful when experimenting with various letters as strategy. View statistics and reports about your queried agent-- how they reject, form letter or helpful, how many times they have requested pages, fulls, and the percentage of closed/ no responses from that agent. On the comments section fellow queriers can share their submission experiences and the response times for that agent. You gain valuable information about what kinds of projects that agent is interested in and has been taking on recently. All extremely valuable information. is not just a useful tool for managing the query process, it is tool for sculpting and guiding the query process. is where I go first... and last


Wow! I'm up, I'm down, I'm all over the place!

Coming off two rejections in one weekend I was so pleasantly surprised Monday morning to find a curt little message in my inbox, "If IN THE MIDDLE is still available I'd welcome the chance to read the first fifty pages."


And yes I understand that this doesn't really mean that much- that in a few weeks I can just as easily receive a curt little email that says, "Thank you for your submission but we are not the right agency for this at this time."

But until then I have hope!

The two rejections had me revamping my query letter and this request for pages comes off my original query, the letter I felt was a little too dry. I am no closer to knowing what agents want than I was before. I think they are all looking for different things when it comes to queries, it's a game, a game that I need to get good at.

The positive from my two rejections is that it has forced me to write yet another query and I am quite pleased with it and intend to send out a couple of them this evening.

Forward, forward, forward! (But with a spring in my step)

Sunday, March 14, 2010


So I received two rejection letters this weekend. Both within 48 hours of my queries. These instantaneous rejections were from my "new and improved" query letter. It got me thinking. Maybe not so "improved"? It's a little disheartening. I went back over my other queries, those I consider pending, trying to figure out how many may still be out there, in cyberspace, possibly being considered. I read yesterday on some random blog that your rejection may have been the millisecond it took the queried agent to hit the delete button. No curt form letter, no notification of any kind. So I guess I should be thankful to these most recent rejectors. At least they had the courtesy to let me know. I'm going to figure maybe one third of my queries are still out there active in some "waiting to be addressed" pile-- which means I need to query more, a lot more. I also decided I need a new query letter, so I threw all previous drafts out the window and started from scratch. I tried to concentrate on my favorite parts of the book, more action and less plot. My query letter is reading more and more like a book jacket. We'll see.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bullies in Middle Grade Fiction

Bullies, bullies, bullies. I have bullies on the brain right now. Middle grade fiction often includes a bully antagonist. It's interesting watching my kids, their reactions to various bullying circumstances-- as a writer I glean useful tidbits from their experiences. What is it that leads some kids to bully? I remember when my daughter was about three, I took her to a beautiful park in Ojai, California. I sat on a bench under the oak trees, while she raced around the jungle gym. There were only about half a dozen kids on the play structure, plenty of room for everyone. A little kid walked up to my darling little girl and pushed her to the ground--for no reason--no words were exchanged--no toys were threatened. Of course I was outraged, I swept my daughter up from the ground and barked at the little monster. But what is it that makes children behave that way? Is it some innate survival of the fittest thing that they have going on there? What is it that makes some kids so mean? Many of my characters are bullied, probably because I was bullied as a kid, but in terms of understanding the bully? I'm at a loss. So what happens when the bully is an adult? How do you write your protagonist out of that situation?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

So I couldn't wait any longer--I broke down and bought the UK version of the third book in the Millennium Series The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest . I am normally not a fan of crime fiction but I AM a fan of Steig Larsson. The first book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was given to me as a gift from a dear friend --because I happen to have a dragon tattoo-- and I was instantly hooked! Steig Larsson has an incredible knack for creating strong, intelligent, independent female characters that kick ass. And like all truly great books-- when I finished I was left with a dull pain in my chest and an disorienting sense of loss... because it was over.

Check out all of Steig Larsson's books:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl Who Played with Fire
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ugh. Query Letters

Being completely new to the process of submission-- I have scoured books and the internet for the proper way to right a "stand out" query letter. And the more research I do the more dumbfounded I have become. I think that like all things, the query letter has morphed and changed over the years. Opinions abound. I have revamped my query letter three times so far during my initial agent querying process. The more I browse the internet the more I question my query letter. I know I read somewhere that leaving out the ending is a "rookie move" but the more I browse the more I've discovered you want it to read less like a synopsis and more like a book jacket. And who wants to read the end of the book on the back cover? So my query letter currently lives somewhere in the middle. I have less than twenty queries out there right now. I was hoping to get a little feedback as to which of my three queries seem more effective before I start querying more aggressively. Unfortunately the process is so slow I don't know if I can be that patient. The good news is that they have not all bounced right back as instant rejections, which as I have read, does happen. It has been a very tedious process researching agents. And because I am still so uncertain of my query letter, I prefer to query agents that require a page submission along with the letter-so that my letter, be it awful or awesome, is not the only thing deciding my success.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Welcome to my new blog! Unpublished was created as a forum for new writers to share their thoughts and experiences on the quest for publication.