All We Left Behind: Cover Reveal!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had wonderfully merry holiday and New Year.

I’m excited to start the new year with a BANG! Yup, I have something super special to share with you all. Today you get to see the book cover of my forthcoming debut novel All We Left Behind! This is a big milestone in my life, and I can’t wait for the book to hit the shelves in December 2015. Are you as excited to see the new cover as I am excited to share it?

Cue the dramatic music …

behind-the-curtain

To heighten the dramatic tension …

You actually have to go to another blog to see the cover! (Doesn’t this feel like an exciting “choose your own adventure” book?)

The Cover of All We Left Behind can be seen on TWO blogs:

In addition to showing off the book design, you can also read exclusive excerpts of the novel on both blogs. Each blog has a different snippet – so be sure to visit both!

2014 was a good year to me, I hope 2015 is even better. Thank you all for being here to share in the excitement!

A Merry Merry Dr. Seuss Display

One of my childhood dreams came true this year. I designed and created a window display!

Yes, I am a child of the 80’s and it’s possible I watched the film Mannequin one too many times. But when I was little, I wanted to grow up and be a window dresser. My local independent bookstore — Vroman’s Bookstore — made that dream come true. They asked me to create a Dr. Seuss holiday window and of course, I accepted!

As we drink egg nog and celebrate with our families, I thought I’d share a few images of the window’s creation. Here are my adventures with foam core and paint.

I sketched out the Grinch.

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I painted all the Whos playing with their toys.

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Russell helped me install the window. He’s very tall, which made stringing up the elements with fishing line nice and easy.

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The display is based on this illustration in Seuss’s classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

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And here is my interpretation of it.

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The Grinch isn’t in the original illustration, but I had to add him in!

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And, voila! A small girl’s dream of creating a window display comes to life!

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May all your dreams come true this holiday and New Year. Be Merry Merry everyone!

Get It Done!

It’s the last few days of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Many of you have already gotten to 50,000 words already (or blown right past it). But I haven’t. I’m still chipping away word by word. Yesterday I filled my belly with turkey and in my current state of post-food bliss I’m thinking about throwing in the towel. Who was the crazy person who decided NaNoWriMo should be in November?

But I shouldn’t give up. The fact that Thanksgiving is part of NaNoWriMo month is a lesson. I should write every day, even with a turkey coma, even when it’s a holiday.

I’m almost there. If you’re in the same boat as me and pushing these last few days to get your word count — let’s do it together! Let’s keep writing.

Here are some words of encouragement for you (and me!).

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You’re almost there! Let’s do it together. I’ll see you on the other side of the finish line!

Keep On Writing

I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this month. It’s a mad-sprint to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month, and we just reached the half-way mark. This means we’re wading through the murky middle of our novels when it feels like nothing is happening and it’s hard to keep our momentum.

If you’re like me and you need a little internet inspiration, I’m happy to provide these pep-talks of writing wisdom:

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Keep calm and write on

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Why are you still here?

I thought all that was pretty clear.

Get to your keyboard, and remember…

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Happy writing everyone.

8 Terrible Titles

Choosing-a-Book-TitleI’ve been tagged by Sweet Sixteen debut writer Shannon M. Parkerauthor of the forthcoming novel CRUSHING, to find 8 Terrible Titles within my manuscripts. The irony is that I have about 300 bad titles that I brainstormed for ALL WE LEFT BEHINDbefore my editor and I came up with one that stuck (and I’ll admit, my editor named my book!). Horrible titles are in my blood. So this challenge is right up my alley!

Challenge rules: Scroll through my manuscript and stop at a random spot. Wherever my cursor lands…That’s my title. There’s no hunting through my pages for the perfect phrases. This challenge is to see how truly awkward my title could be.

Here are my #8TerribleTitles from my YA Contemporary novel ALL WE LEFT BEHIND:

1. This  Should Be Our Best Year

2. She Riles Me Up

3. Dripping Sticky Gold Onto Wax Paper

4. How Blind We Must Be

5. Swinging Against My Elbow

6. Far Less Important Than a Soccer Ball

7. Skin Through Soaked Cotton

8. Blinking From Orange to Ash

There they are, in all their terribleness. Wahooo! I tag Melanie Fishbane and Mackenzi Lee for this challenge. Happy title-creating ladies!

The Case for Morning Writing

morning-windowI know everyone isn’t a morning person. I wasn’t always a morning writer. I used to be a mid-day writer, believing I was like a flower that fully bloomed when the sun was high in the sky. But in the last few years I’ve changed my tune. I’ve started to brave the dark cold morning hours away from my cozy bed. It isn’t easy. Who wants to give up those precious hours and minutes of sleep before the day begins? But I gave it a shot, and I’ve discovered I’m a lot more productive as a result.

I know morning writing won’t work for everyone. But I want to share a few of the ideas that influenced me to give it a try. Finding a process that works for you is essential to being a successful writer. For me, morning writing has become a staple of my process. It affects both my productivity and the quality of my work. Who knows, maybe it will work for you too.

Three reasons to consider writing in the morning:

1) It Helps You Find “The Zone”

One of the most inspirational reasons I started writing in the morning comes from Robert Olen Butler’s craft book From Where You Dream. Butler argues that to write you must enter a dream-space away from your intellectual thinking brain. This dream-space is a “zone” that lets you tap into the unconscious, which is where true creation comes from. Writing from the unconscious allows “a work of art to become an organic thing, where every detail organically resonates with every other detail.”

Realms Of Human MindTapping into this space is not an easy thing to do. Butler suggests writing in the morning because it helps you to find “a way to clear your sensibility of abstract uses of language,” which is important for helping you get into the zone. The problem, according to Butler, “is that we naturally use language in so many non-sensual ways all through the day. It’s helpful, then, to buffer those hours in which you necessarily use language in those analytical ways from the hours in which you dive into your unconscious and seek language in quite another way. One obvious way to do that is to put your night’s sleep in between. You go to your writing space straight from another dream state and go to language before you’ve had a chance for all those other uses of language to intrude on you. So after you wake up, don’t read the newspaper, don’t watch CNN; if you have to pee don’t pick up the back issue of The New Yorker in the basket nearby. You go to your fiction without letting any conceptual language into your head.”

Of course, there are different philosophies on writing. I was pretty skeptical of Butler’s “unconscious dreaming” concept. But I’d never tried it before. I’d intellectually talked myself out of its benefits before giving it a whirl. I’m a convert now. My writing has new depth because I write in the morning and I’m able to tap into that dream-zone.

For more information on this writing process, I highly suggest reading Butler’s craft book From Where You Dream. 

2) It Creates a Sense of Accomplishment

making-bedAdmiral McRaven’s gave a commencement address to the University of Texas earlier this year in which he said, “if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” That may sound odd, but consider his outlook: “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

Morning writing works in the same way as making your bed in the morning. Many of us say writing is a priority in our lives and yet we struggle to find time for it. If you start off your day by writing, then this important priority has been accomplished first. Now you can meet the rest of your day without guilt because you’ve already accomplished your writing goals.

3) Don’t Check Your Email

Email_Bad-resized-600Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Work Week suggests you never check your email before noon. He makes a strong case, pointing out the importance of making room for the tasks you need to get done before you open your email and see what the rest of the world wants from you. Sid Savara adds to the conversation with his 7 reasons you shouldn’t check email in the morning. Both authors point out that checking your email first thing in the morning makes your day about someone else’s to-do list, not yours. Write first! Resist the temptation to check your email and put your priorities first.

Anyone else out there a morning writer like me? Have you found it beneficial? Please share in the comments!

My Writing Tribe

Last week I spent a long weekend at a lake house in rural Illinois with ten of the closest friends I’ll ever have. They’re the Dystropians, fellow classmates and writers who graduated from VCFA with me. We live on all sides of the country, from California to New York to Florida, and once a year we get together to talk craft, laugh, and write.

Many of us don’t have writing communities back home, and this weekend is one of the few times we get to geek out, be ourselves, and embrace all things writing. This is my writing tribe. I can’t describe how important it is to have a writing tribe. It’s the one group of people who are going through the same highs and lows with me and understand what it is to sacrifice to write, and to love it with your whole heart.

This year I brought my camera, and I put together the following photo essay of our weekend. Enjoy!

Note: Scroll over the images with your mouse and you will see the full color contrast versions of the images.

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Mary-and-Jen-writing

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It was a magical weekend!

Learn all about writing from this brilliant group of Dystropians. Check out these amazing blog posts they’ve shared:

Want to hear about last year’s lake house retreat?