Triple crud with crud on top ~ Lesley Downie, Tunnels.

1970563_786922988017212_302255201772193018_nBACK from a wee break to introduce my friend, Lesley Downie’s, new Mid-Grade novel, Tunnels. It’s an archeological adventure that takes 12-year-old Kat Goldberg sleuthing deep into the underground tunnels of her hometown. This is Lesley’s second outing in the MG genre. I twisted her arm to join me here on the blog page because I totally enjoyed  this book and it’s quirky female protagonist,  Kat.

59328_477288252314022_597751525_nKat is leading a normal teenage existence with a demon child brother, a first crush and a quest to become the next Margaret Mead. Soon her discovery of underground tunnels in her hometown brings her face to face with some scary urban legends and a decades old mystery.

*****

You look like a fully grown  woman. What made you want to write about a twelve-year old, thrift store shopping, archeologist in training?

Lesley_Downie_crop-150x150The good thing about escaping in writing is that you get to be who you want to be. Kat is the twelve-year-old I wish I’d had the guts to be at that age. Actually, she’s who I’d like to have the guts to be now! It took me a long time to learn to go after a dream and not to let anything stop you. Plus, her style is eclectic and cool. She gets away with fashion choices I’d never have the nerve to pull off.

Did Kat’s personality hit you immediately or did it take time to develop?

It’s been developing my whole life and was pretty much in place before the actual story idea came to me. I don’t mean I intended to write her as a character since I was a kid, but I think it goes back to question number one. She is an ideal I aspired to be always. Also, I’d been writing a series of short stories called The Dot Chronicles and my writing mentor said that Kat was Dot as a kid after he read Tunnels. I can see parts of the story where the shape of her character has been there a very long time.

Her sidekick, Evan, is a hoot, and a great BFF. I’m going to ask one of the most annoying questions anyone can ask a fiction writer. Did you know someone like him?

In my twenties, I had a great friend name Danny who is very much like Evan. Always did lots of good-natured teasing and complaining but in the end was always there when I needed him. And he was a great shopping pal.

The underground tunnels in Citrus Grove sound intriguing and, frankly, kind of creepy. What inspired those?

As a kid I grew up in a place that Citrus Grove was modeled after. I always imagined secret tunnels existed below the city. Most old cities or towns have that element and it’s a great way to let your imagination grow. And, since the Native Americans lived here and built intricate irrigation systems that many times ran underground, I just expanded that in my head. I was alone a lot as a kid. Very shy. It was then a lot of the story formed.

Your debut novel, Chaos Cave, was based on history and Kat is addicted to history. Is that a passion of yours?

I love all history. Yes, you could say I’m addicted to history and any archaeology related stuff. I dragged my husband and son on many a road trip to check out sites. The Chrystal Cave in Arizona is a place everyone should check out! Magical, just like the cave in my story.

Working on anything new? Yes, I just finished My FORTUNEate life and can’t wait to introduce readers to Abby Howard. She rocks! Abby has some similarities to Kat because they are both bold and outspoken, but beyond that it’s a completely new story.

Thanks, Les!  To learn more about Lesley and Tunnels checkout her website http://www.lesleydownie.com/   or download her book on http://tinyurl.com/KindleTunnels

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“’You’ll stay with me? Until the very end.’” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

There are more gun stores in the United States than there are Starbucks.

The NRA, which is against virtually any type of gun control, including waiting periods and background checks, spent over 17 million dollars this year alone in political contributions, lobbying efforts, and advocacy ads according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The same NRA also just two days ago celebrated 1,700,000 likes on its Facebook page.

And each time we have a tragedy such as the horrific event that played out yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary, we begin another round of gun control debate on TV, in the newspapers, and on social media. Everywhere, that is, except congress. Gun advocacy fronts argue that more guns are the answer. School respond with more metal detectors, higher security and warning systems and more restrictions on the movements of our children simply to secure their safety. One Facebook friend posted that she was grateful her child was home schooled and safe from such risk. I’m grateful that’s where her child was, too, but what about the movie theater, the park, or a place of worship? Should we make those places off limits, as well? What about the Zoo or the amusement park? Why should our right to bear arms matter more than the rights of our children to grow up without the threat of this type of harm?

There is no official word yet exactly how Adam Lanza secured his weapon. But we know he shouldn’t have had it and we know whomever he got it from likely had no real reason to own a weapon. That person was probably not law enforcement or military. That person did not need the weapon to make a living. Most sources say it was his mother who purchased the guns legally, and who, incidentally, was among the dead.

White House Press Secretary, Jeff Carney, said yesterday that it was not the time to talk gun policy. He is right. It was last week, last year, before Columbine, Aurora, Trayvon Martin or Sandy Hook could happen. While I understand not wanting to politicize a tragedy, there is no better time to talk about gun control than when emotions are fired up. And I’m fired up.

My heart goes out to each and every person affected by Sandy Hook. I can’t even imagine their pain. Their memory will stay with me, and the deaths of those children and teachers should not be in vain.

There are more gun stores in this country than Starbucks.  There is more regulation on a car than there is on a gun sale. In many states it is harder to get a driver’s license than it is to purchase a gun.

Now’s the time to talk about it.

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When will you realize, Vienna waits for you – Billy Joel

IN some cosmic clash of the planets, the Billy Joel song “Vienna” came up on my Pandora while I was practically plotzing about how much I needed to get done.  (Yes, in honor of Hanukkah, the Catholic girl decides to bring the Yiddish. Go for it. Correct my usage.)

The song lyrics refer to slowing down, not getting ahead of yourself and not being everything you want to be before your time. Clearly, when he wrote this, Billy Joel did not have my “to do” list. On the agenda for today there is shopping to finish, decorations to get up, prep for Christmas Eve dinner in which the entire family descends, and caring for the aging parents who, while adorable and dear, can at times act somewhere between the ages three and thirteen. Let’s not forget normal chores, errands & bookkeeping, the day job, blogging, publicity, a bit of exercise, and oh yeah(!), some desperately needed ass-in-chair writing time to meet the work-in-progress deadline—all of this while traversing those dangerous, brain-altering, trantrum-inducing waters of menopause (for those who don’t know the feeling, trust me, you just have to be there).

Of course, I can’t blame the holidays. If it’s not that, it’s something else. Balance between life and writing is concept that I continue to reach for and seems just beyond my grasp. There are days when it’s an effort to make sure the tender, tightly wound tentacles of my nerves don’t slowly unravel into a character in a Sylvia Plath novel. I can’t imagine how younger writers do it with kids afoot, a social life to keep.  Maybe they can because they are, to put it bluntly, younger than me. When my memory is working, I do vaguely recall not worrying about balance when I was in my twenties and thirties. As Norah Ephron put it: The past is slipping away and the present is a constant affront. I can’t possibly keep up.

Okay, I may insert tongue in cheek slightly, but seriously, tell me, should I relax? Is Billy Joel right?  Does Vienna still wait for me? Or do I need to continue to walk that tightrope and stay my course of using wine and humor to deal. How do you in the blogosphere do it? How do you do all the things to keep your writing going when life demands so much of your time? 

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“Life is What Happens When You’re Busy Making Other Plans” – John Lennon

ImageStaying true to one of the themes of this blog, I have to confess that my own life sucked a little bit this week. But then it didn’t so much.

First the sucky part: my cat died . . . on my birthday.

While I understand there are worse atrocities playing out in the world right now, I had never experienced the death of a pet in this way. I was devastated. I was heartbroken on a day that was supposed to be celebratory. How could a pudgy, stressed-out, misfit, rescue kitty with a flair for drama end up stealing my heart? He hid in my bathroom cabinet for the first three weeks he lived in my home and was scared of most people, including his own shadow a lot of the time. He wreaked ten kinds of havoc with his tendency to escape and hide for days under the crawl spaces of neighboring houses. But when he wasn’t escaping or being neurotic, he was an affectionate little guy with soft green eyes and a heart of gold. At the risk of being called a crazy cat lady, I have to admit, this Woody Allen of felines was my constant pal. Throughout the last twelve years we chartered life’s rough waters together. He will be missed.

Now, the not so sucky and actually inspirational part: the Breast Cancer Angels.  Over the weekend, by complete happenstance, I attended the Breast Cancer Angels luncheon.  By happenstance, I mean I had not intended to go. I intended to spend my Saturday the way I usually spent it—crawling into my writerly cave to dive into the WIP. But a friend called, said she had an extra ticket and I thought, why not? Good cause plus champagne plus distraction from work at hand equals win-win.

I had heard of the Angels before through my sister-in-law’s family, but had not been exposed firsthand to this amazing organization, the stories of the people it assists, or the generosity of the people who founded and support it. Faye Dietiker, a stage 4 breast cancer survivor, started Breast Cancer Angels after meeting women during her treatment who were struggling not only with their disease, but with the mammoth task of affording treatment while trying to house and feed their children. Many were uninsured, homeless or faced with being separated from their children.

Since then Faye and the Angels have personally touched the lives thousands of women and their families by helping them cope with the financial and emotional burden as they journey through treatment. 100% of donations go to assistance. The stories of women helped are endless, gut wrenching, and ultimately inspiring in their strength and perseverance. For more information visit: http://breastcancerangels.org/

That was my week, the ups and the down. Now back to my regularly scheduled life.

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Had to post this addendum to my NaNoReWriMo post. The cartoon was initially posted on Novel Matter’s FB page.  How appropriate!

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“There is no great writing, only great rewriting” – Justice Brandels

ImageSkirting this in just under the wire of November’s NaNoWriMo, which for selfish reasons I have renamed NaNoReWriMo. Yes, that’s because my entire November writing time has been taken up by the dreaded rewrite. This is the rewrite where you thought it was done. You thought it was perfect. You thought that every ounce of your creative being had been poured out, critiqued, reorganized, reworded, re-plotted, and critiqued again until you’re not really sure where the sentence/paragraph/chapter came from in the first place. And then someone—an agent, editor, writer’s group, or most oftentimes moi, the writer—says, “What if you were to (insert brilliant idea here)?”

I would venture to guess we’ve all been there. Depending on which stage your writing is in there is always more work to be done. As a very wise editor once told me: first drafts are made to throw up on. In my case, it’s sometimes the second or the third and so on. And with each revision, though I want to scream and tear my hair out, the new draft is always better. It becomes a whittling process where each pass goes deeper, sculpting and fine-tuning until shapes take form, and then shining it up for the world to see.

So if you’ve spent NaNoWriMo actually writing, then good for you. Fantastic, in fact. Now sit down and go back through it.  Read it aloud and take it apart from start to finish and from finish to start. Clean up those adverbs, cut out those extra words, those clichés, and those gawd awful metaphors that sounded so inspired when they first flitted off your brain. And then, when you think it’s perfect, when you think you’ll douse your body in gasoline if you have to read it one more time, do it all over again.

You can do it. Because that’s what writing is.

Happy NaNoReWriMo.

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God Bless the USA

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Taking a moment from writerly-type posts to say how proud I am to live in a country where we can stand up for our beliefs, disagree as we might, and come together as Americans in the end.

There is still hard work to be done. When you gain 50 pounds, you don’t lose it in a day. There are those who suffer, injustices that abound, and yes, mean-spirited rhetoric that is oftentimes louder than rational conversation. But we move forward, we stand side by side in peace and connected in the knowledge that we have an electoral system that does not involve guns and tanks or bombs. We don’t riot in the streets–okay, not true-mostly it’s over the Lakers or the Giants or whoever has won the latest championship title, and not who will be our next president.

We ain’t pretty sometimes, but I’ll take our fractured democracy over the alternative any day.

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“I am half agony, half hope” – Jane Austen, Persuasion

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Our Book So Far…

After several months on the shelf while I toiled at my day job and filled sparse free time on edits for my adult mystery, Lost Innocence, I am finally set to return to a new labor of love — a young adult novel that I am working on with my talented writing partner, Lesley Downie.

This project has been such a revelation.  It’s allowed me to personally reconnect with Les, now a friend for life.  And, as my first foray into the YA genre, it has required dipping my toe into the psyche of that oddly elusive sect called the teenager (scary!).  Best of all, it has debunked one of my steadfast, back against the wall, defend‑my-point-of-view-at-all-costs beliefs that I am not the co-writer type.

My day job involves film—producing tiny frames of digital media that (after collaboration with directors, editors, composers, creatives, account, business affairs and marketing people) somehow translates into thirty seconds of storytelling. After that, one would think I would be perfectly suited to partnership. Not so. Like many writers, I’m the introvert, the loner, the person in the crowd who dances to the beat of their own drummer. In school I shied away from teams, and at a cocktail party you’ll usually find me hunkered from the crowd.

But this…I am addicted and having a blast. Lesley and I are half way through our book and I’m super jazzed at the way it is shaping up. I’ll post more as we go along and might even convince Les to do a guest posting or two. Until then: Not the co-writer type? Here are a few simple tips to make it through and make it thrive:

Divide duties; be flexible. Allocate jobs and be prepared to adjust when surprises arise. Sometimes “surprises” are gifts in the making. Being rigid or resistant to compromise because of a need to control can lead to creative disaster.

Play to each other’s strengths. You’re a brilliant researcher and your partner is fantastic at outlines? Great! Take advantage of not having to carry the full load. With a little honesty and compassion, this can be a valuable learning experience.

Make regular meetings. Schedules are busy with day jobs and individual projects, families and responsibilities. But a regular touch base is essential to refine the goals and make sure you are both on track. You wouldn’t try to make a marriage work without seeing your partner, right? Plan times to get together or Skype, review pages and outlines, go on research expeditions or just plain talk it out.

Be prepared. It ain’t easy. Writing never is, right? Most of us can honestly say it’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done. A second person in the mix only means you have to challenge yourself to be better than you thought you could be. Raise the bar. You’ll thank yourself and your partner.

For more on Lesley Downie visit her website: http://lesleydownie.com/

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I Dwell in Possibility – Emily Dickenson

Inspiration. We all get inspired. Where does is come from? Is it beautiful places or motivational speakers? Maybe it’s eloquent words in a book, or larger than life characters in movie or newspaper article. Sometimes it’s the elderly couple holding hands at a bus stop as you sit waiting for the stoplight to change, and sometimes it’s a single blade of gold falling softly into a bed of autumn leaves as you walk to the train station. The moment can convey a high that carries you through the day or even stimulates the epiphany for a lifestyle change, or it can be as fleeting as a dream on the edge of wakefulness, vibrant and lifelike in one moment and then gone the next.

As writers, we are always looking for moments we can use. And we have to take them, fleeting or heart pounding, and start asking, “what if . . .?” For mystery writers, the “what if” can get pretty twisted, let me tell you. But it’s only by asking that question can we turn an ounce of inspiration into a character, a scene and sometimes an entire story. It’s like the game I used to play when I traveled a lot for work. I’d sit in airports and to pass the time, I’d watch people, trying to guess their professions. I’d put together entire biographies, many, I’m sure, much more interesting than reality.

Recently, I was out researching a new young adult book with my writing partner, Lesley Downie. (I’ll blog more on working with a writing partner later.) It helped that the day was gloomy and cold, but coming across this desolate road, abandoned bridge and lonely gated property provided a mountain of inspiration. I’m sure you can imagine; the “what if” possibilities came out of the woodwork.

Where do you get your inspiration, and what do you do with it?

Road to nowhere

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Bridge to trouble

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Gates to hell
 
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Easy Reading is Damn Hard Writing -Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

And there isn’t a truer statement I can think of right now. 

Long time since I’ve posted here. Not because I haven’t met tons of inspirational people (I have!), but my butt has been positively plastered to the chair doing some seriously damn hard writing and polishing up my latest mystery novel, Lost Innocence. I was shamelessly slogging it over the weekend at the Writer’s Digest West Conference. Thanks to all the agents and faculty who attended. They listened to our pitches, answered our questions, fielded our gripes and provided much need inspiration (and more than a few reality checks). You can check out the storyline for Lost Innocence here. I’ll post a first chapter soon, along with news about my adventures in the publishing world. Major kudos on the concept art go to my talented and wonderful friend Michelle Shibata-Schwartz. It is quite masterful, if you ask me. 🙂

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Sometimes you can run from the sins of your past. But sometimes, they will get you killed.

With her career on the upswing, reporter Francesca “Frankie” Reed is attempting a makeover in her personal life, too—a swear jar, a hopeful romance and an honest effort to reconcile with her mother, a prominent surgeon who lost her medical license over the circumstances surrounding Frankie’s dad’s death.

Karen Mancuso is a fugitive from the law, executing a horrific bombing twenty-five years ago. Frankie was a child when the bombing occurred, but it was her father, an L.A. Times photographer, who took the last, iconic pictures of Karen’s band of extremists barely a month before he died.

Now, Karen resurfaces, risking everything to contact Frankie, proclaiming her innocence and begging for help. But when the two are ambushed and Karen disappears again, it is Frankie who is left to unravel the mystery. After the discovery of three dead comrades, Frankie hunts down the radical group’s reclusive leader, igniting a deadly feud that also shines a light on the devastation of Frankie’s childhood. From celebrity defense lawyers to enigmatic ex-cons to Frankie’s own mother, it seems no one can be trusted to tell the truth. Soon every belief Frankie’s held since she was ten is questioned and tossed upside down until a revengeful killer sets sights on her. Then the only thing that matters is staying alive.

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