Thursday, June 30, 2011

Just a Reflection (Nothing writing related at all)

Missing my BFF

My best friend visited a couple of weeks ago.  It was 15 years ago this year that we met in our Chemistry 101 class in college.  I had this chronic habit of sleeping through the class (the professor would start talking carbon atoms and my eyes would glaze over – if only I had his lectures now on my nights of insomnia!).  The class met in a large lecture hall and one day, I happened to sit next to Jill.  I turned to her, asked her to wake me if he talked about something important, and fell fast asleep.  Jill – being the far more responsible chemistry student – did.  And from that moment on, we’ve been best friends. 

We shared much laughter and many adventures throughout college and then both moved to the East Coast for work.  She’s a huge history fanatic and couldn’t wait to live somewhere with battlefields and stuff (I know, she’s so weird!).  I just wanted to move to a place where winter lasted only four to five months, instead of Michigan’s ten months (this may be a slight exaggeration – but very slight).  We lived in different cities, but met at least once a month at our halfway point, Washington D.C.  Those were some great years.

Jill eventually moved back to Michigan to be close to her family and my family moved down to Virginia for me.  Virginia was my home for six years and then life pulled me out to the Southwest where I met my husband. (Jill gave the world's greatest speech at our wedding!)

As a military wife, I’ve moved many places since, but one thing remains the same: my friendship with Jill.  Some years, I am only able to see her once.  Others, I’ve been lucky enough to see her a couple of times.  It’s never enough.  Traveling has made me weary.  Beginning my life anew every few years has made me homesick – not for a specific place (I’ve lived in too many), but for my people - my friends and family. 

My husband and I sometimes talk about where we’d like to live when the choice is finally ours again.  I used to name what I considered to be the coolest cities or most beautiful regions, but now I realize that location really isn’t as important as the people with me.  I am tired of being alone and trying to forge new friendships, which just seems to get more difficult as I get older and in all honesty, my introverted personality has definitely been an obstacle.  And they are never as close as my friendship with Jill (and Laura – a story for another day).  Besides my husband, no one knows me as well.  And let’s face it, as wonderful as our husbands are, they can never completely replace our best girlfriend. 

Saying good-bye is always so hard and never without tears.  My husband jokes that Jill and I tear up at the same time, hug, pull ourselves together, and then, tear up again at the same time to repeat the cycle.  We’re so alike.  And watching her walk away to get to her gate at the airport that night just over a week ago, I cried and cried.  It breaks my heart every time.  I know that it’ll be a long year.

People always say how important family is and I agree, but sometimes friends are family, too.  Jill is family.  So, this message is for you, Jill:  I love and miss you, girl.  Thanks for being awesome. J

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It Gets Better -- Authors and Illustrators Unite

Thank you, SCBWI (, for providing me with this information!  

YA/Children's authors and illustrators have joined the It Gets Better Project by creating a video.  The It Gets Better Project began in September of 2010 when columnist and author Dan Savage created a video in response to the recent suicides of primarily LGBT teens as a result of bullying.  They could not see that life gets better.  They could not picture life beyond their pain.

His video offered hope and a promise that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Its message was, of course, that "it gets better."  Within months, the project grew to an international campaign with celebrities and other organizations jumping on board to send messages to these bullied, lost, hurting teens.  The project's website,, offers a safe haven, support, and guidance to young people who struggle with these issues and also to family members of these youth.

Here is the video, thanks to the contributions of many children's authors and illustrators:


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Purple Heart (A Review of the YA War Novel)

The Purple Heart 
by Patricia McCormick

Set in Iraq during the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom, this novel follows soldier Private Matt Duffy as he awakens in a hospital room and receives the Purple Heart for an event he cannot fully remember.

If you have never read author Patricia McCormick before, then you have been missing out.  Her work is powerful, and while it usually tackles horrific or traumatic experiences from around the world (Sold – one of my students’ favorites - is about a girl sold into the sex slave industry of Southeastern Asian by her stepfather), it is written with compassion and an often shocking, but gripping and enlightening candor.  The Purple Heart, a finalist for the National Book Award, is no exception.

McCormick enfolds us in the realities of war.  Articles and news clips of both Iraq and Afghanistan have been a daily part of our lives for almost a decade now, but how many of us stop and think about the experience and sacrifice of the soldier?  It is easy to scan through an article and set it aside because the reality seems to exist in a place so far away.  If it doesn’t affect our daily lives, we can’t take the time to think and feel about each tragedy. 

The Purple Heart brings the soldier’s story to life.  It awakens us from our cloud of avoidance or denial to show us who is fighting for our freedom and helps us to understand the demons he may bring home with him.  “I hate it.  And I love it,” one of Private Duffy’s comrades comments about the war.  The novel focuses on the psychological complexity involved in fighting a war and the gray area between good and bad, love and hate, ally and enemy.

Private Matt Duffy is haunted by fractured memories of the events leading up to the explosion (IED) that led to his hospitalization for TBI (traumatic brain injury).  He remembers only that a young Iraqi boy he had befriended was killed in gunfire and he fears that he is the person who killed Ali.  He remains in the hospital for what seems to be a surprisingly short amount of time considering his injury and is released, almost unwillingly, by his doctor to return to duty.  It is a chilling example of the military’s need to press on in battle although its soldiers may not be completely healed, mentally or physically.  What is also shocking is his superiors’ avoidance of learning the truth behind the death of the boy, sweeping it under the rug - so to speak - in order to continue the fight.  It exemplifies the theme that in war, there are no clear-cut answers.  Things are never black or white.  The officials understand this, but it is Private Duffy’s turn to learn.

McCormick writes with clarity and honesty, fully creating characters and a war that is realistic.  The soldiers are loud, crude, and heartbreakingly loyal and the war is brutal, unforgiving, and complicated.  Matt’s journey to understanding is filled with sorrow and betrayal.  It is captivating and tragic.

I recently reviewed another book about the war and its effect on the soldier’s family (The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt).  This novel, The Purple Heart, encompasses the experience of the soldier.  Both are excellent books from different perspectives.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in a realistic account of a young soldier’s tour of duty.  It is well researched by Patricia McCormick, as she traveled the country speaking with parents of soldiers and veterans of the war.  As one can expect from a novel about war, it depicts violence and contains profanity, but it would be a wonderful book for a parent to read and discuss with their child (recommended for older adolescents).  I encourage parents to do this with the controversial books their children might read.  What wonderful teaching and learning opportunities!

Author's Website:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Signing off for the next couple of weeks!

It is finally time for my husband and I to take a vacation!  We're heading down to the Caribbean for my sister's wedding and some fun in the sun.  My family hasn't been together since last summer and then my husband was in Iraq, so we weren't complete.  I'm very excited for the trip, but will be leaving my computer and all work at home.  Sooooooo, have a great couple of weeks and I'll be back at the end of June with more book news and reviews!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Summer Writing Contests for Kids

Upcoming Writing Contests for Kids

Several young writers have approached me about poetry/short story contests to enter this summer.  Well, I did some research and thanks to the Brimful Curiosities blog (written by a stay-at-home mom and is full of great information about children’s books and acitivites), I am able to give you a brief list of contests with entries that haven’t quite passed yet.  Here is her website for more contests and great information in all things kid-related:

Here are contests, so you’d better get writing!  Good luck! J

Short Story Contest
Write about anything you like!
1,000 words or less
Deadline:  July 11, 2011
Ages:  8 - 12

Walden Media Juniper Berry Story Contest
Read the first two chapters of Juniper Berry and write your own story!  See website for official rules.  Be sure to read them carefully!
Deadline:  July 1, 2011
Ages:  9 – 14

“Riding Shotgun with Kyle Busch Motorsports” Essay
Write an essay of 150 words or less on an experience or achievement in the last year that has affected your life in a positive way.
Deadline:  Varies (see website)
Ages:  5 – 12

Save the Frog Contest
Bring awareness to the amphibian extinction problem by writing a poem about an amphibian.
Deadline:  October 15th, 2011

Also, don’t forget to check your local library.  They often have contests and other great activities planned for kids and teens throughout the summer.  Your library is a great resource!  Check them out. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Great Blog that Summarizes YA Lit Debate: YA Highway

This blog summarizes through quotes by authors, editors, agents, journalists, and bloggers the debate that began this week with an article on the "darkenss" of YA fiction. Quite the controversy!

Here's the link to the original article by Megan Cox Gurdon:

Here are my favorite highlights from the YA Highway blog:
  • Author Laurie Halse Anderson: "As a preacher’s kid, and as someone who loves a lot of conservatives, and lives in a rural, conservative community, I understand the adults who are terrified of YA books. I feel compassion for them. Because it’s not the books they’re afraid of."
  • Author Ellen Hopkins: "Step up to the plate, parents. Read with your kids. Open the lines of communication and discuss your kids’ favored reading material with them. That’s parenting. Censorship is not.
  • Blogger Travis Darling: "Should YA novels be full of a deceitful joy and beauty or should they instead contain realism, characters and situations that we can identify with and be inspired by?"
  • Author Courtney Summer (whose post is brilliant illustrated with gifs, because that's how we do in YA): "I am so thankful for writers who confront the darkness rather than hide from it. I am equally thankful for writers who show us the brighter side of life as well. AND OH MY GOD do you think there are books out there that do BOTH? I bet there are. Wow."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Music: Inspiration when I have lost my way

Creating (and Maintaining) Character

Sometimes I get a little lost in my writing.  I stare at the computer screen, waiting for inspiration to flow through my fingertips. Sometimes I need to take a step back and see my novel as a whole.  I need to feel the impact of the entire story.  I need to connect with my character and keep her consistent.  I need to remember who she is and what’s she been through before I can move her forward.

As a reader, I find that it is the characters that determine my opinion of the story.  If a character is weak or inconsistent, I lose interest.  And I love my main character, Echo.  She is a complex combination of average teenage angst mixed with an inner strength, wit, and wisdom that develop from her grief after a tragedy.  It would be such a disservice to her to force the writing when I have “lost” her. 

So, what’s my answer when I’ve lost the heart of my story?  I listen to Echo’s Soundtrack.  Yes, that’s correct.  While it may have seemed like a waste of time, I put together a collection of music that connects me to my main character and her story.  It is a fairly eclectic summary of my book.  When I am lost, the music shows me the way.  It captures the tone/mood of scenes and the emotions Echo battles. 

I love how other forms of art inspire writing.  Writing itself is artistry with words.  In the classroom, I try to incorporate all forms of art in lessons in order to inspire or emphasize the techniques all artists use in creating their work:  style, tone, mood, form, etc.  We can learn from all of it.

Without further ado, here is some of Echo’s Soundtrack.  While it is a YA sci-fi thriller, there are definitely quieter moments of reflection and an immense battle with emotions.

Echo’s Soundtrack:
1.     Human – The Killers
This song was an original inspiration to the story; it is actually perfect for this book.
2.     Any Other World – Mika
Again, so perfect for Echo and her story.
3.     This is War – 30 Seconds to Mars
Title and words fit. Echo must fight for freedom and the world itself is on the brink of war.
4.     24 – Jem
I love the rhythm and the mood it sets; exciting, desperate – could work for a couple of scenes.
5.     Wait for Me – Moby
I LOVE Moby; his work is a great example of setting mood; this one is a bit chilling and sad.  This genre so perfect for sci-fi.  I recommend his music to anyone needing music to inspire you.  There are few words and he shows great variety.
6.     Breathe – Prodigy
This is great for the high action scenes.  It really inspires me to keep those moments of the story fast-paced and suspenseful.
7.     Heard the World – O. A. R.
A light-hearted feel at first, but serious lyrics which closely reflect Echo’s battle/emotions
8.     The Great Escape – Moby (again)
What can I say?  I love, love, love his work! This song could be taken very literally in the book.
9.     Time Won’t Let me Go – The Bravery
The theme of looking back on the past and homesickness for a life that never really existed is very relevant.
10. You Wouldn’t Like Me – Tegan and Sara
Echo becomes a person she doesn’t really recognize and isn’t sure she likes.
11. Talking to the Moon – Bruno Mars
Loneliness – very fitting
12. Why Does my Heart Feel so Bad? – Moby (Yep. Again.  I just can’t get enough!)
13. Just Breathe – Pearl Jam
Looking back at things/people taken for granted; saying good-bye
14. What I Cannot Change – Leanne Rimes
Acceptance of mistakes; coming to terms with who we are, which is something Echo must do.

These are just some of the songs that inspire me in my writing.  They help me find my way back to the heart of the matter.

What inspires you?

Video made with Moby's Why does my Heart Feel so Bad? If you don't know the song, this is a great way to check it out:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wonderful Twist on the Infamous Tale of Two Star-Crossed Lovers - Great Read!

by Anne Fortier
(A Review)

I love, love, love the idea behind this book and think it could even be particularly interesting to those teaching Romeo and Juliet.  The book is based on the idea that Shakespeare didn’t create the characters of Romeo and Juliet – that these two lovers were, in fact, real people who lived a couple hundred years before Shakespeare’s time and not in Verona, but Siena, Italy, and were named Guilietta and Romeo.

In the novel, Italian-born, American-raised Julie Jacobs discovers that there are questions surrounding the death of her mother and father when she and her twin sister, Janice, were children.  It may not have been accidental as the girls were raised to believe.  After her American aunt and caretaker dies, Julie receives a letter from her will, explaining her mother’s involvement in a mystery of some sort in Italy.  She is also given a key to a safe deposit box in Siena. 

Julie Jacobs has always felt like a shadow to her twin, who is vibrant, impulsive, and beautiful.  When the opportunity comes to do something without her twin and find out more about her mother, she jumps at the chance.  But what she finds awaiting her in Siena are characters still all-too-involved in a feud between families, spanning centuries.   Her mother actually married into one of the feuding families, making Julie a descendant of the original Juliet. 

The safe deposit box contains traces of her mother’s investigation into the truth surrounding the real Romeo and Juliet.  It is believed that the families involved have been cursed since the deaths of these two young lovers, as Shakespeare records in his version of the tale:  “A pox on both your houses.”  Julie becomes as equally obsessed as her mother once was with uncovering answers and finding a way to break the curse.  But most importantly, her mother’s work indicates a hidden treasure known as “Juliet’s eyes” exists that could rightfully belong to Julie. 

Complete with intrigue, suspense, history, romance and a touch of the supernatural, this book is an enjoyable adventure.  Through excerpts of a journal, readers learn the accounts of Guilietta and Romeo’s past, but also get swept up in the dangers the present-day Julie faces.  Fortier captures the beauty of Siena, as well as the colorful personalities of its residents. 

Julie is presented at first a mousy, uninspiring girl who seems to have no sense of direction for her life, but as she gets caught up in the mystery, she begins to show courage and perseverance.  She emerges from the shadows in which she has been hiding her entire life and comes face-to-face with her own insecurities as her sister arrives in Siena.  Their complex relationship is relatable as a severe case of sibling rivalry and the dynamic between the two entertaining.

The mystery itself is captivating though the plot was a bit sluggish at the beginning.  I was not completely and overwhelmingly hooked until almost mid-way through the novel when more focus was given to present day Julie and the enigmatic Alessandro, rather than Guilietta and Romeo.  But once I was hooked, I stayed up most of the night finishing the book. 

Admittedly, I enjoyed the present day escapades with heroine Julie far more than those of Juliet and Romeo written in the novel, but I’ve never truly understood the sudden intensity of passion between those two characters even as Shakespeare wrote it.  I found more believable and interesting the developing romance of Julie with possibly dangerous Alessandro.

Fortier told a wonderful tale, weaving into it the Bard’s own beautiful words, which cannot be an easy feat.  I definitely recommend it!

Author's Website:

Book Trailer:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Great Day at Nevada's Illustrators Intensive Workshop

Today, author/illustrator Jim Averbeck presented on “Bringing More to the Story” of picture books through illustration.  Not being an illustrator, I still found the information extremely interesting and valuable.  In fact, I don’t believe I will ever look at children’s books quite the same way.  The saying is true, “A picture is worth a thousand words” and as a writer, it is a privilege to see what goes into the creation of effective artwork in picture books.  Writing and art go hand in hand in creating a powerful story.
As an educator, his slide show offered numerous examples of techniques useful in the teaching of writing – style, design, format, metaphor, the importance of endings, etc.  I took notes on a number of books he mentioned and displayed which will be useful in teaching these literary techniques, but also in introducing topics in the classroom.  For example, Show Way the award-winning book by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Hudson Talbott tells the story of slaves sewing messages into quilts to help with the Underground Railroad.  It is a great way to introduce slavery and literature about slavery and/or the Civil War.  As American history is being taught to my 7th graders, I would like to use literature in interdisciplinary planning to emphasize the concepts.  Picture books are wonderful teaching tools for any grade level as people of all ages can understand and appreciate them and they can generate interest in a subject matter as well as teach a moral lesson.
The Las Vegas Chapter of SCBWI is continuing to grow and develop and I’m honored to be a part of this organization.  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has been around and successful for 40 years and is holding their 40th annual summer conference in Los Angeles this August (5th-8th).  I encourage anyone with even the slightest interest in writing or illustrating for picture books, middle grade or young adult novels to look up the SCBWI chapter near you.  You will develop a great number of friendships, receive priceless wisdom and encouragement from professionals in the business, make connections in the business, build a support system, and finally get the opportunity to do something you feel passionate about.
If you are in the Las Vegas area and are interested in getting involved, go to the website:  You could also contact me (see my About Page) and I’d be happy to give you more information.  We have two critique groups – one which is currently meeting the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month at 1 p.m. (but is thinking of changing days) and the other which is meeting at 9 a.m. the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month (illustrators welcome at this meeting!).  If you are interested, check out the website for more information or send me a message.  We’d love to have you!
The Nevada SCBWI annual conference is to be held on September 10th, 2011, here in Las Vegas.  The website has more details, but it will be a wonderful opportunity to learn and meet professional agents, editors, and authors.  I hope to see you there!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

BEA announces new YA books for fall release!

New YA fall releases seem to lean towards the paranormal, combining elements of mystery and suspense – similar to that in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -  and romance,  to alternate worlds where animals speak,  and characters have supernatural powers.
The link gives a brief description of each book and I must say, if they are as well-written and as intriguing as they sound, they may be worth checking out.
I’m excited for fall!

Check out this article for details about each new book: