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Today we signed a lease for a new place in LA, and we’re so excited, but not just because it’s bigger, with a yard and a pool and a cute little patio, on a quiet tree-lined street, but because we just did a thing neither of us ever really expected we’d do. And we LOVE surprising ourselves.

Six years ago, we were living in Brooklyn, and we needed to move. Our grocery store had closed down, which had changed the landscape of our neighborhood dramatically – something you can really only understand if you have lived in New York City. I couldn’t imagine committing to another apartment, because that meant committing to Brooklyn for another year. So we didn’t. We found a house back in Texas, and we left.

For years I have gone back to that moment, the moment I chose to leave. I’ve examined it from different angles, in different light, under a microscope of new experience, lessons learned. I never question my choice, but recently I began to question the reason behind it. I was afraid of that really being where I lived. I was afraid of not making it there. I couldn’t commit because I didn’t believe I was capable, or it was right.

We don’t have to move in LA. Our apartment is nice. We have a Starbucks right across the street. Our landlord is low-key. But still I knew— as I began to make new commitments in LA, and my son wanted friends over, wanted space, more autonomy, and my dreams began to take shape in big ways— we were starting to outgrow the walls of our apartment.

Examining your feelings can be SCARY. It always surprises me what I’m actually feeling at all when I take the time to look closely. When I saw this house was for lease, I knew, in that small place reserved for absolutes, this was my house. It was easy to choose it, and then easier to pursue it with bulldog tenacity. Then easier still to work through the challenges that arose, the fears, the stretching. It was easy because I DECIDED it would be.

Guys. I cannot stress to you enough how important that part of the equation is. Deciding to believe, or not believe, will make the difference. Faith is not about what it visible and proven, it is about what you believe without seeing.

So when I signed the lease today, sent the money, drove by again to glimpse my future, I wasn’t scared of all the unknown ahead of me. I was excited for all the growing I get to do in that bigger, brighter house. Because now there is space for something MORE.

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W*nt

I put a timer on my life in LA.

Subconsciously, in subtle, but subverting ways, and because I thought that wanting to be here, wanting this life, this spot, this experience, needed to be justified in order to be valid. Then, and WAY WORSE, I realized, it wasn’t just LA I had put a timer on – it was EVERYTHING.

Somewhere along the way I made my DESIRES something I had to prove valid.

Something I had to justify wanting at all.

Over the summer, my family spent time back in Texas. A lot of time. More than we expected. And it was good, and joyful, and meaningful for us to be close to our families again, living alongside them and seeing all the changes, laughing, crying, complaining about the heat. But it also opened my eyes to something surprising.

I WANT to live in LA – and not because I don’t love Texas. Not because I don’t long to be near my family. Not because LA is better — life is much more complicated than better or worse. And it wasn’t because I want to MAKE IT. It wasn’t for any other reason than…

I wanted this – that’s it.

I choose this place. This journey. We all choose it – my husband, son, and I.

And we don’t have to validate our choice.

I don’t have to validate it and I don’t need a timer.

I never DID.

I only thought I did because…

I thought WANT was a dirty word.

Like NEEDING is better. Like SUPPOSED TO is somehow more justified or noble.

As if something deemed noble — like a calling, like a destiny, like a purpose — is better than wanting it and going for it and that’s it. Want is not inherently selfish — though, yes, it can become that way. Just like money is not evil, though many evil people seek it, acquire it, misuse it. Same with power. Same with fame.

WANT is desire, and passion and drive. WANT is why we keep going when supposed to, need to, because I should, dies on the vine.

And also…

Choosing is scary AF.

Because when we choose, we say goodbye to option B through D. We can’t keep daydreaming about the what if because now we’re living the RIGHT THIS EFFING MOMENT.

Choosing means saying yes everyday even when we want to throw in the towel. Choosing means not blaming anything, or anyone, for the shit along the way, because WE chose, and we DID have other choices — we always have other choices. It’s scary because..

What if we choose from that want then what IF we are wrong?

The day after I got back to LA, carrying all this new WANT, and CERTAINTY, and HELL YES, inside me, I went shopping with my friends. It was one of those afternoons where you talk deep and long while winding through Bloomingdales, trying on make-up and dresses and dreams, where you end up sipping Rose at an outdoor cafe, bathed in sunset and satisfaction.

It was the kind of day where you choose something just because you can. I chose Jimmy Choo sunglasses. I am really happy with my choice.

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What you want can be yours. You just have to CHOOSE.

And then you have to be willing to live that choice everyday.

 

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The Art of Goal Making

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I’ve been thinking a lot about goals. What they actually are. How we achieve them if they are dependent on outside forces. Where we draw the line in our pursuit and shift the goal so we can find success. I’ve been thinking a lot about it because, from the outside, it looks like I must have a lot of goals. But recently I realized, I don’t.

Before you roll your eyes and point to my Instagram, listen.

Eleven-years-ago, I was a receptionist at a title company in Texas. I vehemently despised this position. People irritated me. Having a boss irritated me. Making cookies for house closings, irritated me. I was irritated about getting up in the morning, and irritated about going to bed at night. The job was a means to an end. My husband was in school full-time, and we needed the income until he graduated.

What I really wanted was a baby. I didn’t actually know if I could ever want anything more.

It was an all-consuming desire that turned into an unachievable goal.

Every month I wasn’t pregnant, my mind whirled with fear. All the trying in the world (and believe me, we tried A LOT) wouldn’t make it happen. I did everything right. I ate well. I cut back on caffeine. I was active. I spiraled and spiraled. All around me, friends jubilantly announced pregnancies, sent photos of sonograms, cried happily into the phone. I wanted to be happy for them, obviously I did, but there was a tiny, barren place in my heart where true joy for them, and real hope for me, went to die.

And, oh yeah, I still really hated my job.

During that year, I began working on a screenplay I’d had in my head for years. And even though I still had the desire for that baby, and even though I still wanted to burn the cookies and tell off my boss, I began to want something else, too. I didn’t yet have the words for what it was or the courage to say it allowed, but I was changing. The goal still mattered, but it wasn’t the only goal.

Ten years ago, I was fired from my job as a receptionist. They were downsizing and looking for fat they could trim. I literally volunteered — I might as well have been Katniss. My husband was about to graduate, we had some savings, he’d get a job — whatever. We agreed it was the right time.

Free from my desk job nightmare, I threw myself in writing. I finished the screenplay. I began planning something new. And the week before I found out I was pregnant, I had a straight up gin martini and told my husband I was glad I hadn’t gotten pregnant when I wanted to.

I had found peace in the pursuit.

At no point in this journey did I consciously alter my goal. Never did I make a declaration— privately or otherwise — that I didn’t care anymore about being pregnant. I never stopped pursuing it, even though there were times I really believed giving up would at least lead to some inner peace. I continued to do my part, which, let’s face it, was super fun, and somewhere along the way I stopped holding so tight to the when.

It wasn’t until my son was two-years-old, that I genuinely started to imagine a life as a writer. I’ve talked about this before, but I made some serious missteps in my goal setting there. Because, I made the goal something totally outside my own ability to control, and I have spent years undoing that. I’m still undoing it.

The goal is the work — the creative life. Everything else is external, and in case you didn’t know, you have no control on the external. You cannot make an agent love your book. You cannot make a publisher buy it. You cannot make readers run to bookstores or download it on their Kindle.

You cannot make anyone give a shit about you. It is more important that you give a shit about yourself.

Love the hell out of your work. Write the book, the screenplay, the poem. Take your time. Do all the work. Learn all you can about the work. Love every minute even when that particular minute majorly sucks. Then, take a seat, have a gin martini straight up, and thank God you didn’t get it when you wanted because look at all you have learned along the way.

You never know when it’s going to change.

All the Dreams

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I’m going to tell you a story about why I write for young readers. Years ago, before I had my son, moved to Brooklyn, or ever wrote a YA novel, I wrote one act plays for kids. They were produced locally, and I always ended up directing for lack of anyone else stepping up. During that time, I met and worked with a slew of 7-12 year olds who had never acted or read a script in their young lives. They didn’t know they could or should.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be famous. My mother and father were familiar with big dreams, so they encouraged me, but parents are usually the last person you want to hear from when you’re young and ambitious. It would have been something to have a teacher, or a cool, successful artist, a someone other than my parents tell me I should keep shooting for the stars. In spite of that, I never lost my drive, though occasionally it did get waylaid.

While writing for and directing these kids, I uncovered heaps of hidden talent — kids who went on to become YouTube famous, stars of high school plays, dreamers of other big dreams at top tier colleges.

A few months ago, while visiting Texas, I ran into one of the girls I’d plucked from shyness and set center stage. She’d been twelve at the time, with long brown hair and a tiny button nose, and she’d never been asked to sing in public before, never been under a spotlight. I had a gut feeling she could sing, and so I promised her she wouldn’t regret singing during her audition. She landed the lead role in the play. A lead role with a difficult (original) solo. She’s now a senior in college, a stellar violinist about to graduate with a music and vocal major.

As we talked, reminiscing about that special time all those years ago, she said, “I just want you to know, if you hadn’t made me play that role and sing that song, I would never have studied voice in college. You showed me it was an option.”

Even writing this now, I’m tearing up. I’m thinking how my certainty we should always do the very scary, big thing created an opportunity, her trust that I would protect her in the room gave her the confidence, but her talent carried her onto the stage. She was always gifted, she just needed someone to provide a spotlight.

I am not a teacher. I know teachers must know how this feels, much more profoundly than me. But in that moment I knew, my investment in that child had paid off in ways I never imagined. And it was so incredibly worth it.

This weekend I spent time with my friend Sara Biren— a fantastic writer and award nominated author —and her two kids. Actually, mostly her two kids. I was in town for a Book Awards ceremony to honor Sara, but now that I’m homebound, I wonder…maybe I was in town for her kids, too.

I talked to her daughter about the possibility of traveling the world, of never limiting yourself to a safe and obvious path. We filmed a YouTube video. I talked to her son about becoming a filmmaker, discussing themes and shot composition. How he’s not getting off with any excuses that he’s too busy or it’s too hard. How his love of movies is more than entertainment.

We are never too old to pursue our dreams. We are never too young to believe they can one day be real.

We sometimes do need a push in the right direction.

High Anxiety Day

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Here is something you may not know. Since my early teens, I have battled anxiety and OCD. Maybe, before that, there were symptoms — signs I coped with the world in a different way. I was little, and I was good at playing pretend, so I can’t be certain. It was a different time, and diagnoses wasn’t easy to come by.

The battle began in earnest, though, when my family moved away from Texas when I was thirteen. It felt as if the bottom was falling out of my life. In one fell swoop, I had lost my best friend, my support system, and the only place I’d ever called home. It would take years for me to get a grip on what was happening to me. Even longer to own my recovery.

But that’s a long story, and today is not a good day to tread back over it. Why bring this up now? I woke up this morning and knew: today is a high anxiety day.

This is what that can look like:

When I got out of bed, I felt heavy. My chest was tight, my skin hurt. The sound of my son’s voice seemed far away. I couldn’t close my eyes again because my thoughts were racing, wouldn’t settle on any one thing.

When I drove my son to school, the world was too bright. Cars were changing lanes too close me. Pedestrians were too near the curb. My adrenaline kept spiking, and my hands were shaking.

When I dropped my son off, I thought of how many parents drop their children at school and never see them again. How horrific a thought, and how shitty I was for allowing myself to feel the way I was when so much bad was everywhere, so nearby. I hugged my son, held his hand. He humored me because he’s intuitive, and maybe he needed it a little, too. I told myself that.

When I got home, I was in a fog. I knew what was happening and I felt powerless to stop it.

I cleaned the living room. Put on laundry. Made the bed. Cleaned the kitchen. Stay moving, stay ahead of it, that’s my mantra. I cried when the floor got some soapy water on it.

I started making dinner that was supposed to go in a crock pot. I had gotten the wrong potatoes, and one of them had roots on it. I had to cut that off. I mused over how no matter how hard I scrubbed, I couldn’t seem to remove all the dirt.

I questioned the recipe, mistrusted the portions, wondered why the author had used different forms of measurement for the same kinds of root vegetables. Pounds, Milliliters, Grams. PICK ONE. I was agitated, for a second, that was better.

I pulled out the crock pot and loaded the now cut, rootless, and stupidly measured ingredients in. I worried they wouldn’t fit. They did. I couldn’t celebrate the victory like I’d like.

I plugged in the crock pot, put on the lid, and realized this was not a crock pot, but a rice cooker. That would not work. Dammit. Why had I thought this was a crock pot? It’s not even the right shape. My throat felt like it was going to close.

I began frantically searching for the crock pot. Through the depths, a memory emerged. Me, cleaning out the kitchen before we moved from Texas, claiming I did not need to bring the crock pot at all.

I began to cry. It was easy. Every nerve had already frayed somewhere between waking up and that moment. It wasn’t hard to believe that my sudden lack of crock pot would be my eventual undoing.

I realized, through my tears, that my tea had gotten cold. I guess I had made tea somewhere in there, probably as part of my OCD attack plan, and forgotten. For a second, that felt like a tragedy and then —

I could heat it back up. I could pour it out. I could choose a different tea bag. The world of that cup of tea felt limitless. Slowly, my ribs stopped trying to squeeze out all my other organs. I could breathe again.

My adrenaline slid back to neutral. I turned on the kettle, pulled out a fresh tea bag, and decided to cook dinner on the stove and fuck that recipe it was shit anyway. I DID NOT need a crock pot.

Anxiety and OCD do not look the same on everyone. For me, they look like a roller coaster, full of hills and loops, rocketing motion and sudden stops. Most of the time I’m not on the ride. Not now, not after years learning to cope and facing my fears. That doesn’t mean I am not still occasionally in the line, or like today, buckled precariously in and imagining all the ways the coaster could kill me. Like today, I know I will be on the coaster for a while. I am past the worst part, but not in the clear yet. That’s okay.

Some days are harder than others. Pretending they aren’t won’t help. There isn’t any one way of coping, but coping and caring for yourself in the midst of it all, is a must. Reach out, whether to a friend, by writing a strongly worded critique of a recipe (which you don’t send but feel vindicated by nonetheless), or crying in the kitchen while your husband stands nearby knowing that’s better than touching you right now.

Remember: This does not make you weak, or wrong, or less.

Remember: You are not alone.

Remember: Eventually, this too shall pass.

 

 

 

 

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Author Mentor Match: That’s a Wrap

Keep-calm-and-write-on-e1390258489967What a wild ride that was. When the Author Mentor Match submissions window opened it felt more like a floodgate had broken. There was a wealth of brilliant ideas, kernels of genius, clever characters, and inspirational concepts. There was a lot to work through and a very hard decision to make.

We conferred behind the scenes about how hard it was going to be to actually PICK one when it came to that time. It was the first time I feel like, as a writer, I could put myself in an agent’s shoes for a minute and understand the conflict of weighing out the love of a submission against your knowledge of the industry and the strength of other submissions your pile.

I would have loved to take on more than one, but since I can’t, I do want to offer some feedback (super general) and shed some (hopefully) welcome light on this process.

First, I must remind every writer out there — whether you submitted to Author Mentor Match, are in the querying trenches, or are on submission — reading truly is a subjective experience. It is not line we’re feeding you. What works for one reader (editor, mentor, agent), might not work for another. What makes me fall in love is not always as predictable or as easily explained as I would like. What I fall in love with, you or someone else might loathe.

Query widely. Get a lot of feedback. Make your own choices about who you listen to.

Now to my thoughts.

Query letters/description:

This is the hardest part to get right in a submission. Learning to write a brilliant pitch, and also subtly pitching yourself as the author, is a craft in and of itself. These pitches were not expected to be perfect, but I did read the pages faster for the ones that felt more polished.

  • Length: I believe in 250 words max to talk about your book. It’s clean. It means you have boiled down the concept and understand the story at it’s foundation. As a screenwriter, the logline (which is one single sentence) is the king, and so I am particularly hard on this element. If the description needs too much lead in or meanders in the pitch, then you probably have a problem in the pages.
  • Concept: I am a commercial writer. I look for something I think will sell. I am looking at the story concept. I am looking at the author concept(who you are and why you wrote this story). I know very well how much both must line up to make a project viable.
  • Passion: I am a Gryffindor. Passion is my middle name. (Not really, it’s Faith. But close enough.) If I can feel the author’s heart pulsing in a pitch, I know it will resonate on the page, and that is something I can work with.

First Page:

The most critical moment in the submission process. Does your first page make me (an agent, an editor) want to keep on reading?

  • Starting in the wrong place: By far my most common hang up when reading submissions. There were submissions where I felt the first page was confusing, either because of opaque writing or character’s voice not feeling defined enough to carry me through. I was more inclined to read when it started too late rather than way too early.
  • Prologue: Please take caution when using a prologue as your first chapter. I encountered this a few times, and it was frustrating. Please take caution when writing a prologue at all. It must be deeply vital to the story and just as gripping as your main story pages.
    • Try cutting the prologue and then having a fresh reader take a look at the first chapter on it’s own. If they can read on without the prologue, find a way to integrate the most boiled down, crucial information from the prologue into the first few chapters.
  • Voice: This is so frustrating and I genuinely am sorry to include it! Voice is critical. The voice has to be right, or there has to be proof that it can be revised, and that is a fine line.
  • Hook: The hook needs to be on the first page. This sounds impossible, but I promise it isn’t. No matter your genre — I write fantasy, horror and contemporary— there must be something on page one that makes the reader need to know more. Commonly in my submissions, the hook didn’t come for a many many pages and by then I was starting to lose interest.

Plot/Pacing/Structure:

As a screenwriter, these elements of story rule my world. If I can see there is a plot buried inside, then I am much more inclined to read or want to work on something.

  • If you are in the second act and your story still hasn’t taken off, you have some problems. BE BRUTAL in the first thirty pages.
  • I see story as a series of tiny shifts in the character’s life until BAM the inciting incident throws them into a new reality. Those first twenty or so pages are doing a lot of work, and if they aren’t, then ask yourself why.
  • All stories take on a similar structure. Whether you are telling a non-linear literary character piece or a punchy action adventure, you are working with the same story moments. When too many are missing or misplaced, the plot will not work. Very often I found this with submissions and ended up having to weigh what WAS working against what WAS NOT.

Character:

The part of the story that makes us care.

  • Character is so closely connected to voice that it almost feels like the same thing. When one is lacking, the other can’t shine. I had a lot of submissions where voice oozed but character didn’t grab me, and vice versa. I am going to go with character every time.
  • Secondary characters are VITAL. There were some submissions that I LOVED, that had so much of what I was looking for in the main character and the plot, but the rest of the characters felt flat.
  • Along the same lines, there were some stories where I felt like too many character personalities were at play or that the dynamics were wrong. It made reading the pages harder as I went along.
  • Often, I would love a concept and even like the characters, but then just couldn’t find a personal way in to the story. To work as a mentor, much like it is with an agent or editor, I really need my own way in. I need to see that I can add something to your pages.

I hope this sheds a little light on the submission process — even if you did not submit to me or to Author Mentor Match at all. This will not be the last time you submit your work and receive a pass. That is a hard reality that I am sure you are aware of.

There is a saying the screenwriting (or that’s where I’ve heard it):

Throw work at it. Rejection, feeling blocked, discouragement, fear, whatever. Throw work at it.

Or, as I like to say: Throw writing at it.

Keep writing no matter what.

 

 

 

 

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Author Mentor Match: Seeking Unicorns

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In the YA and MG (that’s Young Adult and Middle Grade, for those accidentally wandering onto this blog) community, helping other writers find their voice and reach their potential is a common, time-honored tradition. This community is one built by readers, and many writers working to be a part of the published YA or MG world, believe that the more strong, beautiful voices, the better.

Author Mentor Match is not a competition. It is a space to link a more seasoned or further along in the journey author with one getting ready to dive into deep waters. I am excited to be a part. To find a writer to mentor and help flourish on their way to greatness. (Just like Slytherin House could have helped Harry embrace his dark Horcrux.)

Below is the link to my personal mentor page, where you can find more about what kind of manuscript I am looking for. I am also linking the main page, because you may not want to submit to me. There are AMAZING mentors all around and so much opportunity, peruse and find your perfect fit. Plus, all the rules and details can be found on the website.

You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) as they come to me.

My Mentor Profile || Author Mentor Match Main Page || Twitter || Instagram