Sunday, March 27, 2011

Holy Writer OVERLOAD-in a good way

Mary Newell DePalma
Brian Lies
 In one week, I was honored to attend two writer's events.  The first, was  Overcoming Challenges: A Program for Writers and Illustrators.  As a writer who's felt rather challenged lately, every little thing the panel members said resonated deep with in me. The event was small, intimate yet very inspiring.  
Jo Knowles
Barbara O'Connor

Listening and talking to like minded people pushed me to keep going just a little bit further.  And meeting each of them gave me the strength to do it that much better.

Sera Rivers, Jo Knowles, and ME!

And then, I went to a workshop in Pennsylvania: The Write Stuff.
There, the faculty was DONALD MAAS, an agent passionate about great writing and his wife LISA RECTOR MAAS, an independent agent, also dedicated to writing.

On Day One, Donald covered a variety of topics, including character and plot development, emotional conflict, and building of tension.  It felt like eight hours of intensive psychotherapy with my book.  WOW!  It hurt, in every way possible.  

Day Two involved more secondary aspects as minor characters and settings, as well as Lisa's input on sagging middles.  Yeah, another eight hours of yanking, crushing and building up my novel again.

I think the MOST easily shared piece of information I took away from these two days is exactly how much psychology and sociology goes into every great book.  The more tortured the soul, the better-meaning both writers and characters-ha ha!  

In addition-passion goes a long way.  It was so easy to feel the love of words, good books and writers exuding out of the souls of Donald and Lisa.  Just being in the room with them was enough to make me REALLY want to say what I need to say.

So, in closing, I'd like to share what ignites my passion-the very stimulus for my book, titled JUST A GIRL.  When I forget, I listen to this song-LOUD!!! and then I remember.... 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Property of

Okay For Now
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Clarion Books
Pub Date:


As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the "skinny thug" that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain. In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubons birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.  

Many times I've heard the call for great books with male protagonists.  Well, Okay for Now is  realistic, emotional and very well written.  It's no wonder Gary Schmidt has won multiple prestigious awards for his writing.  And I'm beyond honored to write of review of his book before it's even released.

Description:  Gary Schmidt has an amazing way of describing things without the reader knowing it.  Everything is so well blended that pictures just appeared in my head.  I never felt distracted by long verses of description, yet immediately my mind effortlessly disappeared into the world of Doug Swieteck.  I FELT like I was in Yankee Stadium or the Dump or anywhere this story took me.  And to me, THAT is the best kind of reading I could ever find. (Score: 10/10)

Narrative:  Conversational is the only term I can think of to describe Gary Schmidt's writing style for this book.  I always felt Doug was talking to me-even when he was thinking to himself.  Rarely can I find a book that so immerses me in a character's head like this one.  Every word was worth reading, absorbing and loving.  The most amazing part?  Some of the references used were of little or no interest to me before I read it-but now I find I'm curious to learn more.    (Score: 10/10)

Dialogue:  Due to Gary Schmidt's casual narrative style, the dialogue always flowed naturally in the text.  Nothing was forced.  Doug and Lil  and all the characters authentically spoke to each other.  In addition, it felt like, as the reader, I was a part of the conversation, especially when Doug was talking with the school principal.  This book was a great lesson for me that less CAN be more.  Okay for Now speaks in ways I can only hope to imitate someday. (Score: 10/10)

Characterization:  Every character is distinct, interesting and changes throughout the book.  Gary Schmidt REALLY amazed me with the way he showed this.  The story starts with Doug knowing where he stands in his new community but never loses sight of his own beliefs.  I love the way every character responds to Doug and the way it gradually changes over time.  And really, what's shown is more about human nature than so many other books I've read.  And I think that's what makes this book so very readable.  (Score: 10/10)

Resolution:  The end of the book is gradual, calm, uplifting and absolutely perfect for me. I love how not only the character grows but teaches others to as well.  And for a YA book, I couldn't ask for more.  I know kids of all ages can change the world, if we'd only open our eyes and let them.  I know kids have valid thoughts and ideas, no matter the age.  The end of Okay for Now so inspired me to want to be a better writer, so I can help spread the word that our youth is the answer to all of our questions.  (Score: 10/10)

Okay for Now will be on my list of favorite books forever.  It's readable, relate-able, and SO not boring.  There isn't one negative comment I could make about this book, I loved it so much.  I'd recommend this to readers of all ages, boys and girls.  Librarians and teachers should have it in their schools.  I think the world has so much to learn and Gary Schmidt makes the lessons easy and fun.  I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sometimes I Forget...But Then I'm Reminded Secret #6

I fantasize. I believe. I wish.

Most of the time these are great qualities, leading me to be optimistic even during the darkest of winters. I can be a pillar of hope for so many people I love. And often my positivity reaches out to strangers.

But sometimes, even I reach the end of my rainbow. And I have yet to find a pot of gold.

I pout. I cry. I say things I shouldn't to people who may not deserve it.

And during these times, I tend to shut down. I forget about the people who appreciate every part of me. I feel alone and lost with no one to show me the way.

Every time, though, there's always someone who appears, lends a hand and helps me back onto my feet.

This post is dedicated to everyone who reminds me of who I am. Thank you....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Everything I Was by Corinne Demas

Publisher:Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint:Carolrhoda Lab
Pub Date:04/01/2011

Reading Level: 5
Interest Level: 6-10
Ages: 11-16

Author:Corinne Demas

"My walls were stripped, and all that was left in the room was a pile of boxes and my mattress propped against the wall."

So begins Irene's journey from an Upper West Side penthouse to—well, she's not entirely sure where. Irene's investment banker father is "downsized" when his company merges with another. When he can't find work, her family's lifestyle—and her socialite mother's spending—quickly catches up with them. Eventually, they're forced to move in with Irene's grandfather in the big family farmhouse upstate. But what begins as the most disastrous summer of her life takes a surprising turn when she meets a most remarkable family.
Everything I Was is the story of a young woman deciding what she wants for herself after she thought she'd lost everything.

I'm a lover of realistic fiction. If you've read my other reviews, you already know this.  But this book caught my interest because it's so timely.  How many teens now are disrupted because their parents have lost their jobs? When I was a teen back in the *cough, cough*...well, okay, when I was a teen, I nearly faced the same dilemma. I was fifteen when my father lost his job.  Immediately, my parents began talking of options.  All I heard was: MOVING!  All my high school sweet heart heard was: MOVING!  It was a very traumatic time for me and I'm thankful to today read a story that exemplifies my 'what could have been'.

Description:  Corinne Demas has a great talent for providing detail with few words.  Her descriptions are quick, interesting and instantly place the reader exactly where she should be.  I did not get skip paragraphs or words to move the story along.  I loved how she set the scene in my mind without telling me exactly what to think.  (Score: 8/10)

Narrative:  There's a wonderful mix of narrative and dialogue.  The balance is perfect.  The inner thoughts of the main character is varied, emotional and interesting.  It's a simple read, as it should be for its designated age level. The story moves along at a steady pace, neither dragging nor leaving the reader behind.  Very little is predictable and yet, as the reader I felt comfortable immersing myself in Corinne Demas's words.  (Score: 8/10)

Dialogue:  The verbal exchanges in Everything I Was is focused, purposeful and entertaining.  Not only does the reader learn things about the characters, but sometimes I actually learned things about myself.  And that to me is great.  The questions raised really made me thing and apply the situation to myself.  Overall, I was forced to feel...and I loved it!  (Score: 9/10)

Characterization:  I have to admit, I expected Irene to be older than her character actually is.  I'm not sure if it was the cover that led to that conclusion or her character's portrayal-her thoughts are deep and well developed.  And so are all the supporting characters. So when some of the interactions seemed a little immature, I was momentarily taken aback.  But in the end, it fit.  It turned out to be my favorite component in this book.  (I can't tell you HOW irritating it is to read the opposite.)  ALL the characters were easily identified by their personalities, some likeable and some not.  (Score: 9/10)

Resolution:  Climax and ending are key points that I'm studying right now in my writing, so I tend to pay particular attention to it.  What I've learned from Everything I Was is the beauty of the gentle character arc.  Irene grows slowly and subtly.  She thinks.  She learns.  She accepts.  It's not dramatic nor is the issue at hand truly resolved, but as the reader, I felt complete.  To me, THAT is real life and THAT is how realistic fiction should end.  When do we ever have all the answers?  We don't.  Corinne Demas must know this and integrated it with excellent talent.  (Score: 9/10)

Everything I Was is a sweet, realistic story.  It's timely, sensitive and thought provoking.  Irene's voice is distinct. Corinne Demas does not speak down to nor about teens.  It was a pleasure to read and review this book. I'd recommend this book to tweens and even some teens that could relate to this experience.  It's so well written, I may even tell adults who have kids in this situation to read it as well.  I really think it gives great insight to the thought process of a group stereotypically  called egocentric.  I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

It's Complicated...Or is is just me? Secret #5

Everything looks different above the clouds....
Relationships, friendships...people in my life....sometimes I'd rather not deal with any of it.

I want to hide under the covers of my bed.

Forget the world.

Tell everyone to leave me alone.

This, I don't even know when.

And that's why I started writing Just A Girl-because I wanted to explore my personal patterns of relationships.

What I found?  Honestly?  Is that it's so much easier to gloss over the truth, make it something it's not...FICTIONALIZE it.

And yet, something in me yearns to tell my truth.  Something bigger keeps trying to stop it.

After listening to Sara Zarr at the Winter Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, my perspective has changed.  (THANK YOU SARA!  I can't wait to listen to you for an ENTIRE WEEK in June!!)  Her words about keeping a close inner circle of people made a lot of sense, and well, the need to have a good therapist.

She's right.

I now know the truth I need to infuse into my novel.  The crap I still need to cut out because it deflects what I really need to address:  the part of me who fights intimacy only to FINALLY let it in, take a chance, and feel utterly and completely disappointed by human nature.

Are ALL relationships this complicated or is it just me?

I have a feeling, it's not just me.  And that's exactly why I need to tell my story.

Except, it's hard--almost impossible, really.

But thankfully, I have a therapist.  And she's great.

I also have an inner circle of relationships--but that's still a work in progress.  But then again, so am I.

Truthfully, I'm tired of carrying this around with me.  I want to understand it better.  I need to.  I'm done with the same old cycle of fear, intensity, broken promises and pain.

And I'm terrified to post this blog....because even when I kick you away, I'm really thinking "Please, Please, Don't Leave Me"....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The HARDEST Part of Parenting (for me)-Secret #4

I used to think the lack of sleep was the hardest part of parenting.

Or the financial cost-kids are really expensive and I thought that would be stressful.

Even the constant teaching of manners, grammar, behavior isn't nearly as hard as the HARDEST part.  I think sometimes teaching can be fun-as demonstrated in the picture of me, Doug and Anna at the beach.  We're practicing the "MONKEE WALK" and having a lot of laughs doing it.

The truth is, (and I learned this ages ago in my very first child development class but conveniently FORGOT it) as we raise our children, subconsciously we relive our own childhood.

Does this mean we have to grow up all over again?


Though many choose not to and I can't say I blame them-it's freaking harder than doing it the first time, at least for me.

Baby Girl is seven.  We went on a family outing last week.  The souvenir she chose was a necklace.  It was one of those that came with a matching one-two halves of a heart that read BEST FRIEND.  I watched her lovingly box, wrap and label it.  Her eyes gleamed with joy and pride.  When school was delayed Monday morning-she nearly cried.

Selfishly, I flashed back to my own childhood.   A tornado of emotions swirled in me. The purity of friend love and the sorrow of learning life is more complicated than matching necklaces nearly paralyzed me.  Does everyone have memories like this?  Or is it just me?

But most of all, because Baby Girl loves so freely (like me) will she suffer the same hurts I have?  Can I protect her?  Should I warn her that people suck?

And that's where my growth comes in.  People do not suck.  My wounds are that-MINE.  I need to find the source of them and leave her passion alone.

Anna is showing me how.  I can choose to look away, ignore it and force my beliefs on her.  But I don't want to.  I want to grow.  I long to embrace the lessons she is bringing into my life, heart and soul.

But damn, it's HARD-harder than the sleepless nights of infancy and the tantrums of toddlers.  As a matter of fact, I might have a tantrum now!  Just kidding.

Still, there's a part of me that wants to teach her all that I know--bubble wrap her from the world of disappointment.  And I think she intuitively knows that.  Which is why she shared the following song with me and cried.  I cried too, not because I was sad-- but because I was healing.  And it felt really, really good.

Thanks, Baby Girl.  I love you.  And for you, I will push through the hardest part of parenting to be the best person I can be.  I promise to do the best I can to keep learning so you "Never Grow Up."