Monday, March 30, 2015

Putting the Creative in Creative Writing

I've been working on a new novel lately. While that isn't particularly worthy of admiration in itself, maybe you'll be more impressed when I tell you that I've been writing it with my thumbs on a keyboard 2" wide.
You see, I have a nine-month-old baby. I also freelance from home, and my hours have been steadily increasing. These two facts combined mean my large blocks of time to write have shrunk to zero. I could have given up, decided to put writing on hold until my son is older or until I can carve out more time.

Instead, I figured out that I can squeeze in ten to fifteen minutes of writing on my phone while I'm feeding the baby. Sounds a bit rough, right? But you know what? I'm managing 500-600 words a day. At that rate, I'll be done with my draft by early June. Not too shabby.

If I can do it, so can you. Pull out your phone or your pocket notebook in line at the bank, on the train during your commute, or while waiting for your coffee. You might only get a few lines down--but that's a few less lines you need to have a completed draft. Need uninterrupted time to get in the drafting groove? Jot down some ideas instead, or write a few journal lines for one of your main characters.

I'd be remiss if I didn't close this post by mentioning the app that I use for my writing. Evernote is an app with versions for your phone and computer that syncs automatically, so there's never any need to do a complicated transfer. My only quibble with it is the lack of a word count feature on the iPhone app, but I get around that by taking a few seconds to copy the text I wrote and pasting it into the window. I'm hoping they add word count functionality in the next update!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Recently, I, along with roughly 200 other High School  
Mitchell getting ready for Carnegie Hall
singers, performed at Carnegie Hall. It was not only
an honor, but a thrill. Since then, people have asked
me many questions.  The most popular being how do
you get to Carnegie Hall?  The answer, of course, is
 practice, practice, practice.

This same statement is true of anything in life, but especially writing.  But remember to keep the balance - or keep it real.  Don't shut out life, but instead embrace it to make your writing that much more alive.  Here are some of my favorite writing suggestions and a great way to experience life:

Make friends.  They make great beta readers.


Get a hobby - more things to write about.


Play a sport.



And who knows where this will lead you.  Maybe someday even to Carnegie Hall or even a bookstore!!! 


Party Boat

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Writing Disabled Characters

Last month I attended a really insightful meeting at WGA in Los Angeles, and I met the coolest writer/totally adorable new friend there, the lovely Lara Ameen. The best part of it is that she's an expert in writing characters with disabilities (she even has a degree to prove it), and she's willing to share her wealth of knowledge with us.

In her own words:

Why Disability Portrayal in the Media?
As a woman with cerebral palsy, I think it's important for people with disabilities to be represented both in front of and behind the camera. There are taboos associated with disability. That it's scary or something to be feared. People don't know what to say or will not know how to provide proper accommodations, etc. Disability is the most underrepresented minority in the media yet anyone at any point in their life can become disabled. It's important to include accurate portrayal of disability representation in fiction, film, television and online media because otherwise those stories will not be told. There's a saying that originated in the disability community: "Nothing about us without us." 

Will you tell us more about how to write characters? Of course. Here is a link to a presentation:

Some of the highlights from the presentation (totally worth watching the whole thing just for the video clips alone):

*There are two models of disability studies. 1. The medical model: The problem with the disabled is that there is a problem with the person, and they are miraculously cured of the disability by the end of the story (BAD) 2. The social model: Stigmas, attitudes, etc. in society about someone with disabilities are more problematic than the disability itself. 

*Don't be afraid of going to all the normal places you'd go with other characters (if you would've written a sexy scene for your character, don't stop just because they're disabled! Everybody needs some lovin')

*Introduce people by their NAMES and not their disabilities (person-first language)

*Avoid these common stereotyping traps: The victim (don't define your character as a victim just because they're disabled), the hero (don't define them as a hero because they overcame their disability to become more normal) , and the villain (portrayed in crime/taking revenge as a portrayal of mental illness and how that makes them bad).

*Hint: Check out My Gimpy Life

Finally, who is Lara Ameen? I've wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old (3rd grade). I had a Spottie Dottie notebook from the Sanrio store that I would write in all the time. I also wrote short stories and plays that I would perform with my friends. I love singing and acting, too, and participated in musical theatre, various community theatre productions and was active in choir class from third grade until community college. I also took some private voice lessons. So I have some performance background, but I LOVE to write! I wrote songs, poetry and fanfiction in high school. I've actually known I wanted to go to graduate school and get an MFA since I was 15. Later, in college when I wasn't in screenwriting classes (there are only 2 at Berkeley), I was writing on my own. I'm interested in TV writing, so I started to write comedy and drama spec scripts and my friend and I wrote a drama pilot together. I also minored in Disability Studies and interned at various disability rights non-profits in Berkeley, which ignited my love for disability advocacy and activism. My minor has definitely influenced my work in many ways. My Screenwriting professor, Mira, at Berkeley also ended up becoming my mentor. I credit her in my decision to pursue an MFA in Screenwriting at Cal State Northridge. 

To stay connected to Lara's witty insights, follow her on Twitter at @trucherrygirl and follow her blog at

Monday, March 16, 2015


Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

This month's book pick is ORDINARY MAGIC by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway. I'm cheating a little, since it's technically upper-middle grade rather than YA (a 12-year-old protagonist), but I liked the book so much I wanted to spotlight it anyway!

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In Abby’s world, magic isn’t anything special: it’s a part of everyday life. So when Abby learns that she has zero magical abilities, she’s branded an “Ord”—ordinary, bad luck, and quite possibly a danger to society.

The outlook for kids like Abby isn’t bright. Many are cast out by their families, while others are sold to treasure hunters (ordinary kids are impervious to spells and enchantments). Luckily for Abby, her family enrolls her in a school that teaches ordinary kids how to get around in a magical world. But with treasure-hunting kidnappers and carnivorous goblins lurking around every corner, Abby’s biggest problem may not be learning how to be ordinary—it’s whether or not she’s going to survive the school year!

First Line: "The day of my Judging dawned bright and clear and hot."

Like so many of the books we feature for Book Picks, this one has a great first line. We immediately want to know what a Judging is (and why it's important enough to be capitalized).

I heard this book talked about as "a reverse Harry Potter," and I think that's an apt description! The author turns the fantasy trope of the chosen one on its head by making the main character the only one around who wasn't chosen. This makes for a refreshingly different story.

A huge highlight for me was Abby's large, extremely close family. This is another way this book is the opposite of Harry Potter--when her family finds out she doesn't have any magic, they rally around her and protect her fiercely rather than casting her out or being ashamed. Since it's common for middle grade and young adult books to feature dysfunctional families, reading about a supportive and loving one was a nice change of pace.

Notes for Writers:
Although this is billed as a MG novel, I think it almost works as young YA. Some of the scenes are very scary (especially one with a goblin attack!), which I would have loved when I was twelve or thirteen. The author does an excellent job of balancing issues that would matter to the younger set (family, making new friends) with older ones (living apart from your parents for the first time, a budding romance).

A Good Read For:
Anyone writing books that fit into the space between funny middle grade and dark YA. This book expertly blends elements of both.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

LITTLE MISS EVIL book birthday, review & contest

I am so, so excited to celebrate the book launch of LITTLE MISS EVIL, written by the amazing Kristy and Bryce Shen.  I met them while powering through the contest and query trenches a few years ago and immediately fell in love with their witty writing style. Then I got to read an early version of LITTLE MISS EVIL, and I was completely blown away.

See below for my full review, and make sure to pop over to their website to watch the hilarious book trailer and enter to win a Kindle Fire, $50 Amazon gift card or a signed copy of LITTLE MISS EVIL.

My review (also on Goodreads):

Fiona lives inside a volcano, rides to school in a helicopter, and gets birthday gifts of the exploding and flame throwing variety. It's what you'd expect from the daughter of a super villain, but Fiona wants no part of it. She would do just about anything to avoid following in her Evil Genius father's footsteps, but when her dad is kidnapped her plans for a normal life are thrown into a tailspin as she fights to rescue him, and the city, from destruction.

I had the good fortune of getting to read an early version of this book, and I can't tell you how much I loved it. The world Fiona lives in is at times laugh-out-loud funny as she struggles to balance the normal life she wants and the reality of the super villain life she's surrounded by. I especially loved her evil genius father and his antics, although the whole cast of characters is unique, well developed and highly entertaining. I can't wait for the rest of the world to get a chance to read it and love it too. Highly recommend!!!

A Little Bit of This and A Little Bit of...Awards!

Row of Award Statues
When it rains, it pours, and the beginning of March saw not just snow and rain, but also a slew of awards. So where to start? Well, there was the Scottish Children's Book Awards which saw Cathy MacPhail win for her young adult thriller Mosi's War.  

The Lambda Literary Award announced its finalists for its LGBT Children's/Young Adult which included Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speek Out by Susan Kuklin and Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. 

SCBWI just announced their Golden Kite winners. Revolution but Deborah Wiles won the fiction category. 

Finally, the Los Angeles Times awarded its book prizes for young adult literature to five authors including Jacqueline Woodson for Brown Girl Dreaming and E.K. Johnston for The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim. 

Congratulations to all the lucky winners!

Bologna Children's Book Fair
If that's not inspiration enough to get your hiney back in your chair and start writing, here's an interview with Betsy Bird, Youth Materials Specialist of the New York Public Library who also happens to be a successful blogger and author. Here she talks about going from "Invisible" Introvert to Author, Critic, Blogger and Librarian

Finally, a bit of industry news. Want to see what's coming up in the YA world?  Check out what the U.S. Agencies will be selling at Bologna later this month. It's an exciting year for sure!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Keeping it Real - POV

An incident happened the other day in my community that has everyone rallied up.  A man shot a dog while at the dog park.  My community is by no means sleepy, but it is peaceful, so this incident came as a shock.  Now everyone is talking and everyone has an opinion.  Some are against the man, some neutral, some support him, and some say lets wait until all the facts are available (that would be me).  So in other words, everyone involved has a different POV and then of course there is the truth.  Hmm?!

 This got me thinking about POV.  The topic of point of view is a big deal in the pub world lately.  Or maybe it always has been.  Recently, however, there seems to be all kinds of toying around with POV.  A few years back the industry wanted books written in first person, but now gears have shifted.  Lately, it is all about multiple POVs.  Even the movie industry is embracing the multiple POV.  It has been said that there are two sides to every story, but now it looks like stories have way more than just two sides and story tells are chomping at the bit to explore this whole new world.

 So POV is indeed very important to our writing and it can be hard for writers to know what exactly the industry may want. A writer friend of mine is currently writing a novel with multiple POVs and asked my opinion on how many POVs to include.  I told her that the best advice I've seen is to tell the story from the POV that works best for you and your story.  Trust your instincts.  The industry changes, but if you tell the best story possible, then the story will do just fine.  But then that's just my POV.  So writing community what is your POV?  How do you like your stories to be told? 

And for those of you with more than one POV to your stories, here's a site that you might find useful:

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Write Dialogue Tags With Action

I stole the idea for this post from the fabulous Janet Eoff Berend who wrote the great YA novel Vertical (a staple for my classroom of reluctant readers). While we all probably know that it's generally best to use the simple "____ said, or ____asked" because it's less distracting than a whole bunch of "mumbled" "guffawed" "whispered" "shouted" etc. tags, we often want to include action right after speaking. 

Janet found herself using the same actions too frequently so she started writing down actions associated with dialogue as she watched people in real life or in her reading so she could break herself away from old patterns. I started jotting things down as well and found it insanely useful. Here are some of my findings. Feel free to add ones you discover in the comments section. :)

  • scanning the titles of books in the bookcase.
  • shook his head
  • sat back in the soft leather chair.
  • unwrapped a stick of Juicy Fruit gum
  • motion to the radio
  • bite my lip
  • give him a small smile
  • waved my unasked question away with his hand
  • he fumbled about for silverware
  • he coughed again and took a deep breath
  • he gazed at me intently, his eyes narrowing
  • his voice had a strange almost wistful quality to it
  • put my hand on his shoulder
  • closes her computer
  • gets herself a generic soda that is clear and citrus-y
  • took a single step and was swallowed up by the crowd
  • he did not turn
  • glancing down at his program
  • leaned forward toward him, smelling his familiar smells
  • extending her hand to him formally
  • reaching for a plate of cake
  • a tear edged itself out of her eye
  • I replace the chair beneath the desk
  • Janet Eoff Berend
  • Plus a TON of the usual "he sighed," "she smiled," etc. etc. 
*Note: None of these involve the character doing something else with his/her mouth while talking (okay to do after character finishes speaking) as that is quite difficult to do in real life. :)

Personally, I've loved flipping through my favorite authors' books & discovering the way they use dialogue tags for effect and seeing the ones they tend to rely on. Thanks again to Janet Eoff Berend for the tip and if you haven't checked out Vertical yet, I HIGHLY recommend it (especially if you're looking for a book for reluctant boy readers that involves cool San Diego skate park kids) :)