Monday, September 15, 2014

Writers Not Alone! (Or The 2014 Colorado Gold Writer's Conference...)



I still remember last year's writing conference. I might not remember the exact details of the workshops, or exactly what tips I took away, but I remember how it felt to be around other writers. It's the same way I felt after this year's RMFW Conference.

This year, I wasn't a newbie. This year, I was actually on a panel! My books were in the book store! I got a gold pen!  (More on that later.)  This year felt a little less like a deer in creative headlights and more like a deer just chilling in the meadow, being all deer-like, munching grass and daisies and being like "Oh, this is where I belong. That's cool."

The conference started bright and early on Friday. My writing partner and a friend of both Ryan and I, Mason Torall, (future famous author of The Dark Element Series) had decided to stay with us during the conference since we lived so close to the hotel and then he and Ryan could have unlimited board game time in the evenings.  Mason and I started with a nourishing breakfast at Panera, and showed up ready to get our learn on...only we were three hours early.



We thought the conference started at nine. It turns out registration started at nine, but the classes started at one.  We were like those nerdy kids who show up two weeks early for college, eager beaver faces with binders and pens clutched in our hands. After our joy was deflated, we hung out and worked on our novels in the lobby, and went through Mason's agent pitch.



Wendy Darling Book Two has begun! Book One is in edits, though it was supposed to be with the test readers like two months ago.  I can't imagine what has changed....

Oh right. That one cute kid.

Finally the conference began, and we couldn't have started out on a higher note than William Kent Kruger's "Setting."  What sounded like a simple and perhaps boring class was ANYTHING but. He was such a dynamic teacher and speaker that I went to another class of his titled "Suspense", even though I am not, and probably never will be, a mystery writer.  He was an amazing teacher.



His examples of simple, short descriptions that convey a world of description were mind-boggling in the best sort of way: "Cold as a meat locker."  *Shiver* Yes. That sounds like a freezing place I will never want to go.  Thank you. Was that from Gillian Flynn? William Kruger proved to be a great way to start the day.  We ended up cutting out early, probably since we got there three hours early, and Ryan and Mason had plenty of time to play some board games and I got some baby time, which was sorely needed after being gone all day.

Saturday we were ready to go!  I started with a presentation by Angie Hodapp, who I borderline worship due to her savvy fashion-sense and amazing presenting style, on dialog. It was snappy, it was sharp, and I walked away chomping to write some killer conversations between Hook and Wendy.  After that was the "First Sale Panel", where myself and seven other authors got to talk about our individual experiences leading up to being signed with a publisher.  I was nervous and sweaty and SO glad that I chose to wear a silk shirt, but in the end it was still a great time.



Connecting with four other YA authors was absolutely the highlight of the panel - I'm hoping to form a group of some sort. I also got to have coffee with Lisa Roberts, who is going to be my new YA author friend. She just doesn't know it yet.


Mmmm..Caribou Dark Hot Chocolate. Seriously the best thing ever.

Afterwards, I signed some of my books in the bookstore. So fun!




 After the panel, I went to a couple more workshops (one terrible, one fantastic) and headed to the banquet. This is my first RMFW banquet, where they hand out awards and feature the keynote speaker.  I was super nervous as I was getting the "Golden Pen" award, for having my first novel published.  This was a busy year for me with the release and re-release of four novels, but alas, I did not get four pens.  Ryan: "Are they real gold? Can we melt them down and sell them?" 

After the awards for the Colorado Gold - all talented writers, but I couldn't help feeling Mason should have been up there as well - they called up the golden pen nominees and I walked up to the stage, mentally telling myself that "As long as you don't trip, you'll be okay."  I didn't trip, but I definitely awkwardly held my belt when I was up there, because you know, I can't do anything normal.



Our keynote speaker was Mark Coker, not really important, only the CEO OF SMASHWORDS! He was amazing. Talk about someone who has fought tooth and nail for their dream in the face or insurmountable critics, finances and naysayers. His end note: "Be delusional", was absolutely inspiring.  This is a man who understands the futures of books - and authors.





 I was glad when it was over.  After that - brace yourselves - I made an attempt at being social, for like two hours!  I went to the hotel bar and chatted it up with other authors - mystery, paranormal, romance, sci-fi...all of them.  It was fantastic, only I wish I wouldn't have been so tired. I decided to head home at about 11pm. Mason partied until much later.  He's, you know, cool.

The next morning was filled with last minute workshops on social media, kickstarter (for Mason) and publishing etiquette.  I attended my first PAL meeting (Published Authors League, unfortunately no superhero outfits or powers allowed), which was a mix of behind-the-scenes and a church meeting about coffee. 

And then it was over.  This year, I was happy to head home, my head buzzing with information, but missing my two best guys.  While last year was all about learning and preparing to enter the scary world of publishing, this year, for me at least, was about networking and meeting other authors.

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to be among peers in a creative industry. So often I feel like I'm insane, like I'm pursing some imaginary dream on the horizon.  Being a writer is, on your good days, trying to convince yourself that this career is real, that this dream of words and tired eyes and old coffee is substantial - more than that, it's sustainable.  Writing can be lonely, for even though you are surrounded by people, they all exist in your mind.  It's a career that is totally self-propelled.

Being at a writer's conference allows you to have fellowship with those kindred, burning souls, each pushing their way through the muck of life and their own head to tell the world a story.

Also, it's a hotel full of introverts trying very hard not to be introverted.

These are my people.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sleep Baby Sleep


 I know I should be blogging about the writer's conference, and I will, but right now I want to talk about sleep training. Yes, it's that time - we are sleep training and I was at the point until tonight where I wanted to call it quits.

A little history: LittleM was always a wonderful sleeper.  When he was an infant we used this amazing book called 12 hours by 12 weeks. It walked us through creating healthy sleep habits and getting our child to sleep through the night. It worked like a charm. I am a walking commercial for that book because it worked so well. At 12 weeks, LittleM was sleeping 12 hours a night, from 7pm to 7am.  Having our nights back was so liberating. We had time to be a couple! Time to blog and relax, time to eat dinner together.  Wait, I had a husband? He had a wife?  7pm to 7am was fabulous, and I think it spoiled us a little for the future.





 We have had that wondrous schedule from the time he was 12 weeks old until about two months ago when something changed: he learned to stand up in his crib.

I actually remember the first time he pulled himself up. He was delighted, we were delighted, we cooed and took all sorts of pictures. He was so proud of himself. I feel like I blink and my baby has grown three more months. The time flows like sand though my fingers and I'm always trying desperately to catch it. Milestones are celebrated in this house, no matter how mundane.  My baby is not such a baby anymore and it's pure unfiltered joy and heartbreaking loss all at once. We cheered for him pulling himself up in the crib, happy that it was in a soft, safe environment where could learn to move and walk.  It was so...so...cute.

Oh, we were such foolish twits. Naive idiots, really.




(These people...)

That evening, the moon appeared and nighttime came.  Normally our bedtime routine goes: diaper, pjs, stories, bottle while rocking, and then he goes into bed.  I would lay him down from his bottle and there would be nary a peep. He knew it was time to sleep. It was the easiest part of my day: reading to my baby, then rocking him, smelling his sweaty head, always smelling like lavender and salt, feeling his warm breath on my face, the curl of his hand under my cheek.  These are the best moments in the world.  I treasured these little moments with him and then laid him down to sleep.

Except this day, he didn't go down. He popped back up to standing, like a daisy.  Then pop! Up again. And again. And again. 20, 30 more times. It was the world's best game, and LittleM is the player and the referee and we are just the poor schmucks he watched chase his pacifier around.  He would NOT lay down. He was so enamored with standing in his crib that he forget his crib was where he slept. The battle lines had been drawn and we were losing from the first day.

This has lasted for the past three weeks. Bedtime is..well, it's not that fun anymore. He can take between ten minutes and an hour to fall asleep. He could only fall asleep ON us in some capacity, because the second we lay him in the crib, his super-spidey senses say "I AM NOT ON SOMEONE RIGHT NOW!" and he flips out, pulling himself up to standing, half-asleep and delirious and screaming.  It's..yeah. Exhausting. The other night my sister was here visiting and she just hung out and surfed Pinterest on my bed while I took an hour and a half to put my child to bed.  After that night I told Ryan, "We can't do this anymore. We have to do something. We need a plan." Our perfect sleeper had ruined us for when things got hard.   We talked about crying it out, but both of us didn't love the idea, even though it has worked for a lot of our friends.  Then my friend Nicole told me some really bad news:  Her son "S" NEVER cried it out. He just kept going and going...that terrified me because that sounded exactly like something LittleM would do. The boy doesn't' wind down when he cries: he winds UP. Up to hysterical. Up to screaming fits. Up to collapsing dramatically and then getting back up again. Up and up until he is drenched in sweat and shaking and I'm worried he will have a stroke, so I just rock him because I can't take it. He is the world's sweetest kid and angriest crier.



Things were looking grim when Karen suggested a book that they had used called "The Sleep Lady's Guide to Sleep Tight, Goodnight."  (As an author, may I suggest simply "Goodnight, Sleep Tight?" as a title? Just a thought.)

The Sleep Lady book suggested a gentler method: something called "The Shuffle".  The basics of the Shuffle are: Nights 1-3, you sit by their bed in the rocking chair and wait for them to fall asleep. You can quietly comfort them and pat them occasionally, but you are not supposed to take them out of the crib.  Nights 4-7, you put the rocking chair in the middle of the room. Then it's out to the hallway and so on. The idea behind the shuffle is that you are teaching your child to self-soothe, that you are "there" with them even if you are not beside them, or in the same room.  It helps them attach to a "lovey" - a stuffed animal of your choice, our choice is awesome Tigger my sister got him - so that they can be comforted at night by something other than you.

 The first night Ryan sat by his crib for two hours. I was at the writer's conference that evening, so I wasn't there for that trainwreck, but Ryan said it was rough. Luckily, he loaded up his ipod with a dozen gaming podcasts and "This American Life" to listen to while LittleM did a variety of things: crying, yelling, cooing, bouncing and at one point assuming a position that was described to me as "lounging with both arms on either side of the crib, leaning his head back and laughing" as if to say "I hear you are here to watch me sleep. That will not happen my friend."   After two hours, he finally collapsed.  Night two, Ryan wanted to keep it consistent, so he did it again. This one went even worse. LittleM was furious and he finally, in a moment of exhausted weakness, Ryan picked him up over the crib and rocked him until he fell asleep. (While this isn't the plan, it also is allowed, as long as you don't sit down to rock him and stay over the crib.)



 Tonight was my first crack at it, and tomorrow I will be on as well.  I had a pep talk with Karen today who reassured me that it was the same process with her LittleL. I was convinced that this wasn't working for us and she talked me back into it. I'm so glad that I didn't throw in the towel (patience is not my strong point.)  When I came home from FOCO tonight, I braced myself for the worst.  And actually - it wasn't bad!  Sure, my phone died about five minutes in which was terrible and so I just sat in the darkness and stared at my son like a total creeper, or rather the glow-in-dark pacifier than bounces around the crib, like some alien moon eyeball. He would fuss, I would shush. I did a lot of patting him and patting the mattress, which thankfully he has learned is the signal for "lay down". (Thank you Sleep Lady book!)  At one point, I had a brilliant idea: what if I put an empty suit of clothing in the rocking chair right by his crib, and he would THINK it was me and could sleep?  Then I thought, no...empty clothes wouldn't work - what about like a mannequin?  But it couldn't have a face, otherwise he would know it wasn't me....

And then I thought about it and realized that I had created something straight out of a horror movie - a faceless suited mannequin that sits by your bed all night, still and silent in a rocking chair - and that that was maybe the WORST idea I had as a mother, ever, when suddenly I heard...nothing.

I leaned closer. I heard heavy breathing. Then I heard a sigh, which every mother knows is the mark that her baby is finally, truly asleep.  LittleM had fallen asleep. THE SHUFFLE HAD WORKED - this phase of it, anyways. It only took 45 minutes! That's mere seconds compared to the two hour marathons of the nights before. I'm overjoyed!  I quietly snuck out of the room and went to make some pumpkin cookies.

I'll keep posting about this as we go, but I'm feeling pretty good about myself right now - not only did I get my child to sleep by outlasting his craziness, but I also didn't terrorize him for life with terrifying movie props.

Mom win. 
For now.

Any other sleep tips from you guys? Horror stories? Things your parents did that traumatized you for life?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Queen of Hearts The Wonder Cover Reveal


Arriving on September 23rd, The Wonder will roar onto Amazon.  I can't tell you how excited I am about this book.  While the first book took a look at life inside Wonderland Palace, the second book really dives deep into the whimsical and twisted world of Wonderland. 

It is The Wonder of it all and it's bloody good fun, I think.

First of all, I have to give a shout out to the entire Booksparks and Sparkpress Team for their work on the cover, particularly Crystal Patriarch for helping me push through the design, and Julie Metz for her brilliant cover design. You can check out her amazing portfolio here.

 You may notice a little book in her portfolio called The Poisonwood Bible.
That's only my favorite book ever.

Now, let's talk about that amazing cover.




First of all, the clarity of it all. It's so sharp and crisp, like a click of a skilled pen.  I could crunch it in my teeth.

The colors leave me speechless. You wouldn't think that all these colors would work well together: reds, whites, blacks, pale blues and greens. It sounds like it would be a disaster. In reality, it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen and the thumbnail of the cover practically leaps off the page.  It shines among other books.

The title and the silhouette are the same as book one, and each time I look at it, I love it even more. The silhouette with the castle for a neck, the sweep of the "Q", like a slit across a throat.

Where it says "Volume Two" and The Wonder is one of my favorite places on the cover. The fact
that the card on the first book was a Red Hearts Card and that this one is Black Spade Card is no accident. The Spade Cards have a big role to play in this book.



 I'll let you guess which card the third book will feature.

In the first book, the curled vines and roses represented a couple of things: the roses outside the palace, the twisted roots of the Black Towers, and the strangling danger of the politics of power. In this book, I see the vines and the roses as the wondrous nature of the flora and fauna in the Twisted Wood, some lovely, some deadly.   The fact that it curls just under the girl is perfect: there is a twisted darkness inside Dinah as well - the danger comes from within.



































The figure is perfect here: from the red dress that represents the royalty and privilege to which Dinah was accustomed to her tangled, free-flowing hair, the symbol of a new, untethered existence.  The motion of the figure is perfect; one hand holds the dress like she still a lady of the Wonderland Court, but her hair pulling forward implies that this was someone who was running. Someone who is being chased.

Dinah is definitely being chased in this book.

The branches overhead, so dark, thick and foreboding are an ideal representation of the Twisted Wood. They way they arch over our former princess implies that they are closing in on her, and when you read the book, you will understand that this isn't waxing poetic. They reach for her.

I have been so privileged to have stunning covers to all my books. They are art, pure and simple.  The Elly series is so lovely and warm, and the first cover for Queen captured that first book with absolute perfection.

But this one, I have to say, is my favorite.  

You can pre-order The Wonder here.  
Add it to your Goodreads list here: 

What do you think of the cover? What is your favorite book cover ever?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Elly in Love and other Booksparks titles are 99¢ on the Kindle!!

For this Labor Day Weekend, a load of Booksparks titles are on sale for just 99¢ on the Kindle!!


We're talking Serenade, The Revealed, On Grace, Ways of Leaving, Girl Unmoored, Gravel on the Side of the Road, and The Curse of Van Gogh.

These are amazing books!
 For 99¢!
Seriously!
People, load up those Kindles!

Of course the sale includes...



I would look into it, that's all I'm saying. Here's the link: http://amzn.to/1vSu4MK

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Movie Reviews: Noah, Budapest, Spiderman and The Lego Movie

Every once in awhile I have this mini freak-out where, as a Mom, I think "I am so out of touch with everything! With pop culture! With music! With movies!"  About the only pop culture that I'm totally up with is book culture, which just makes me a bigger nerd than I already am, but I'm okay with that, I'll wear it like a badge of courage, but - I wouldn't MIND knowing what is up in the rest of media culture.  Like, I don't even know who that Izzy chick is.

So, this last month I had a freak out where I went to Redbox like three weekends in a row in a desperate attempt to catch Ryan and I up on the pop culture that we have missed.

Here's what we watched:

 

The Lego Movie:
 Not gonna lie, there were times when I was watching this movie where I thought "The seizure that accompanies this movie is coming ANY minute now", but overall I thought this movie was witty, cute and very original. It had a great message and the animation was absolutely incredible. Sure, I maybe edited a novel while I was watching it, but I'm not that into Legos, but I would have to say for anyone that IS, that this was probably the most fun they've had in a theater all year. There were parts that actually made me laugh-out-loud, which is more than I can say for a lot of the comedies I've seen in the past years.  I liked Will Ferrell as the serious Dad in the movie, because I actually really like Will Ferrell when he plays serious. He is a surprisingly talented actor and I wish he would do more meaty roles. Who would have thought I would have found that in the Lego movie?



Noah:
 We need to talk about Noah.  After the first dismal 20 minutes, Ryan and I actually turned it off. We had heard that it was completely non-scriptural and terrible, but we wanted to see it for ourselves, especially so that when congregation members ask Ryan about it, he likes to be informed so that he can answer their questions.  Well, first we saw the weird opening which involved strange coal transformers that walked across the earth, "The Watchers" - WHAT THE WHAT?  I turned to Ryan, who was actually laughing. There were magic flowers and weird armadillo dogs and a terrible moment where Russell Crowe is asked to sing and I waited for him to burst into his terrible rendition of "Stars."  But he didn't, and after we confirmed that the only thing Noah has in common with Noah of the Bible is that the both stories involve men named Noah and a flood and that's about it.
Yeah, NO. On to better movies!
After that, I was I'm left with one question: how did the genius who made Black Swan make this terrible movie?






 The Grand Budapest Hotel:
 
We love Wes Anderson films! We were actually introduced to them by Karen and Michael, and we have now watched them all and just love them.  Wes Anderson films are like the most detailed, delicious little pastry, filled with imagery that is so lovely that you just want to die. His humor is dry but very quick, and the plot twists are adorable and unpredictable. Take the Grand Budapest - one minute you have a beautiful pink hotel that just glows with beauty and light, and the next you have a very bloody scene in a prison.  While we didn't love Grand Budapest as much as Moonrise Kingdom, which is, in my opinion, his best film - and one of my favorite films EVER -  it was still a really fun watch, and reminded me that Ralph Fiennes is also awesome when he's not being Voldemort.




The Amazing Spiderman 2: I wasn't even sure I wanted to watch this. I'm still waiting for Hollywood to ask me how I feel about everything they do, but can I just say WHY ARE WE REMAKING SPIDERMAN?  The most recent Spiderman was like, what, 10 years ago? And it still looks awesome, no seriously, we just watched them a couple of months ago!  I feel like if we you are going to remake something like Spiderman, you need to remake it in a different way, like how Christopher Nolan pivoted and changed how people saw Batman forever and along the way made brilliant movies.  Okay, awkwardly climbing off soapbox now.  With this being said, I actually didn't hate this movie.  Mostly because of the actors - not only do I really like Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, but I also LOVE Dane Dehaan, because I loved him in Chronicle, which is the superhero movie everyone SHOULD see and no one does.  I was pleasantly surprised by this one, and that was pretty surprising for a girl who can go on a ten minute rant about Hollywood is just recycling movies these days.

What TV Shows I've been watching this summer: Lost reruns, Silicon Valley,  and I reluctantly let Ryan introduce me to Dr. Who, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but I know "Blink" was scary as all get-out, but the next one had cat-people and I'm like "Uhhh...those were cat people, so maybe no."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Late Summer Days


I apologize for my lack of blogging lately. Usually I hate it when people blog about how they don't blog, but here I am, being super lame, apologizing for not blogging.    Life, as of late, has been crazy.

Here's a quick wrap up:

LittleM visited his first splash pad.  At first he was wary but fascinated, watching the shrieking children run in and out of the fountain, totally overcome with joy.  Katie and I wondered why they didn't have these when WE were children?  Now they are everywhere, and it's a lot less work than a pool.   I watched with amusement as my son explored the tiny baby fountain at the very edges of the pad:

At first he was like:
 "Mom.
MOM.
WHAT IS THIS?
WHY HAVE YOU LEFT ME NEXT TO THE FOUNTAIN OF DEATH?"








  















Then he was like, "Oh, nevermind, this is kinda fun."

STAY HERE FOREVER.



































It was so fun watching him explore the new sensation of water bubbling up from the ground, all without getting his hair washed, which is his least favorite thing EVER.  He also really dislikes getting out of his swimsuit, which is something everyone universally hates, since it makes you feel like a wet walrus getting pulled through a piece of saran wrap.

Later in the week we went to the Denver Zoo.

I'm not a fan of the zoo.

The zoo for me can always be summed up by that lame moment when I'm watching a monkey do nothing because THEY ALWAYS DO NOTHING and everyone is cooing and I'm like...why am I not watching Orphan Black right now?  I could spend all day at the Aquarium, but the zoo is kinda meh.

Especially the Denver zoo. It's better now than it was, but once you've been to the Omaha Zoo, there is no going back - everything pales in comparison. We took LittleM to meet my stepsister Jen, who he has never met before. She couldn't get enough of him.  The best part of the trip for LittleM was that my stepmother, who recently had some minor surgery, was in a motorized wheelchair since she still tires easily.   He rode on it the entire time with her. She loved it, he loved it, and the rest of is almost got run over a dozen times.



It had a horn button.  He honked it approximately 13,492 times through the zoo.  I'm not even sure he noticed the rhinos, or any other animals, because it was all about the scooter.  His stroller is now going to seem pretty lame in comparison. 

While we were at the zoo, we were caught in a rare Denver downpour.  In Colorado, it rains for about four minutes every three weeks.  This time, the day we go to the zoo, there was an absolute deluge of water. We were trapped in the MONKEY enclosure - seriously? Of course it was the stinky monkeys - for about 15 minutes.  My flip flops were not having it.



The fun thing about the deluge was that afterwards, all the animals came out to play, including the most incredible flock of pink flamingos, happy to flutter the rain off their wings for our cameras.



Look at this pretty guy!


We came out of hiding, soaked but happy to be leaving the smell of monkey poo and took a few family photos.

This is Jen, my stepsister. Isn't she pretty? 


So that's the summer, as of late. Our home buying plans have changed, but that's for another blog.  Right now there's a glass of moscato and Les Miserables calling my name.

Kisses and hugs to all you readers enjoying the waning summer moments.

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