Friday, December 30, 2011

Chocolate and Gratitude

"Every day I OD on chocolate and gratitude." Such apt advice from my sparkly friend. Who wouldn't pick chocolate if given the choice? And who doesn't feel satisfied and grateful after such indulgence?

But, do you ever feel like you've made a hasty decision that changes your life forever? Or it could even be well thought out with hundreds of crumpled "pros & cons" lists littered around the trashcan. I fully realize now how every action or inaction I make has an impact. There's really no "right or wrong" choice, only consequences. Well, I've made a huge change recently...I moved from my home for the last 11 years in the DC metro area to the west coast. Hello Powell's, yummy coffee and constant rain...welcome to Portland, OR.

I didn't make the choice lightly. My family & friends all live on the east coast. I owned a condo. I had a great job. I had a comfortable routine. But I wasn't happy. I knew in my gut that DC was no longer right for me. And ever since my first day in Portland back in 2009, I sensed that this was my new home.

I've relocated before. Left Florida for DC back in 2000 without knowing a single solitary soul. It wasn't easy and it took awhile to build a strong foundation. I finally had a core group of friends that were my family. So, I knew it would be a challenge, but that I could handle it.

But what made the decision next to impossible was my brother. He just relocated to Baltimore, his girlfriend (who I absolutely adore) the year before. I loved having him in my backyard. We hung out all the time...AFI Theater, restaurants, sports events, concerts. Sometimes some of the consequences are painful, like the tummy ache when you consume too much chocolate goodness, but I knew that distance would not come between our friendship.

So, left the Saturday after Thanksgiving and drove cross-country with my fabulous friend. Plowed through 11 states (MD, DC, VA, NC, TN, OK, TX, NM, AZ, CA & OR) and every weather scenario possible (hurricane force winds, snow, sleet, rain, blazing sun and fog). At our final destination we were exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally, but SUPER excited to be in Portland. I was home.

Once my friend left, reality sunk in. I was in a new strange place where I knew NO one. I felt my lightness spiraling into darkness. Thankfully, my sparkly friend who just relocated to LA came for the Christmas weekend. We reminded one another that despite the fear (which will rear its ugly head time and time again), we are strong, intelligent, intuitive, creative and passionate. We know what we want to do and that it not only feeds our soul, but serves a larger audience and a greater cause.

Every day I choose to OD on what is right for me by tuning in (and tuning out outside distractions) and express my gratitude for all those blessings. So ever grateful for chocolate.

with gratitude,

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Love of Reading Alive and Thriving

I can't believe after ten years of calling DC home, that it wasn't until a few months before relocating that I finally attended the National Book Festival. I hadn't even heard of it until the year before, after the fact; and if it wasn't for a friend I would have missed it yet again.

I'd rolled out of bed, an hour late, and arrived to the young adult pavilion for the tail end of Sarah Dessen (the modern day Judy Blume). I was shocked that the large tent was standing room only, predominately with children and teenagers. During the fifteen minute break before Katherine Patterson (Bridge To Terabithia) I scored a seat, dead center, only about four rows back. My skin tingled like back in my concert groupie days. I was home. And despite my rumbling tummy (thanks to nothing but a cereal bar for breakfast), I decided to maintain my sweet seat and listened intently to Jack Gantos, Gordon Korman, and Cassandra Clare.

My absolute favorite was Jack Gantos. It was like watching a stand-up comedian, where the conversation focused on, well, Jack Gantos. Don't just take my word for it; you must, must, MUST check out his presentation here.

But what made me happiest was seeing the young fans. When Cassandra came on the scene, the fan base changed from Gap teens to tweens dressed in goth. Seeing their excitement and feeling their passion as they asked their favorite author questions reminded me of the reason I am a young adult/children writer. To befriend that spunky girl and let her know that she is not alone in her fears, doubts and pain and that love and happiness is a choice always available to her. Thank God they were there to remind me.

As I finally gave into the hunger pains and left my seat to grab lunch, I realized I'd lost faith in the upcoming generation's love of reading. Between smart phones, YouTube, Facebook and everything else visual and immediate, I just assumed that most kids weren't that in to reading. Why would someone choose to read over watching the Kardashians or the latest Gaga video? Duh! For the same reason I read, whether over twenty years ago or earlier this escape into a world beyond live through the eyes of someone I grow to love or even sometimes experience adventures and travel to places I may never otherwise visit. For fun.

love always,

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Don't Hate 'Cause I'm Hating

When I first realized I wanted to be a children's author, my first thought was "Picture Books!". I LOVE picture books, still to this day, and I have all my favorites from when I was growing up (and a few faves purchased as a grown-up). After taking my first writing class - an introduction to picture books - I realized that writing for wee ones was much harder than anticipated. You have to say SO much in such FEW words. Plus, because I see the story in my head, my first drafts are swarming with details. Details that shouldn't be in the text because they can be identified in the illustrations.

Once I learned more about the children's publishing industry, I was heart broken to find out that as an author I have absolutely NO say in the illustrations. "But that's the best part!," I wanted to cry out. So, I made the jump to writing YA.

Over the years, I have completed two picture book manuscripts that are on submission. And sad to say, since publisher budgets for picture books are next to nill combined with me being a no-named nobody, I've given up on finding a home for That's Not Your Mommy and Dizzy, Dance, Wiggle, & Romp ...for now anyways.

So, here comes the hate. I'm SO sick of seeing celebrity children's books taking up shelf space. Now, I can't speak for all, but several picture books I've perused by stars (stars that I like), in a nutshell: STINK. Just because of their name, sparse publishing dollars are being used up by someone who doesn't need or deserve the money and publicity.

Now there are two more celebrities on the scene: Mario Lopez and Perez Hilton (check out article here). I have to admit, that Hilton's title and cover, The Boy with Pink Hair, has me intriguied. Who knows, it may even be a wonderful read. But the publisher, Celebra, only releases one or two chilren's books annually. So what chance do talented, hard-working, yet unknown authors have in snatching a contract? You do the math.

hugs & kisses,

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bye Bye Butterfly

Butterfly Books in De Pere, Wisconsin announced that the independent children’s bookstore will close its doors by mid-July, after 20 years in business. Hard economic times and absolutely no purchase orders from local public schools helped contribute to the store's demise. My fear is that throughout the upcoming years we will continue to see the same trend, especially with e-books, online distributors and bookstore giants like Barnes & Noble. And what I dread more than anything is physical publications disappearing altogether.

Whenever I bring up this thought, most also share that they prefer a book in hand. But we grew up having our parents reading us bedtime stories and fiddling through the card catalog at the public library (yes, I know, I just showed my age). I also grew up with no cell phones, records, and no home computer. So, sometimes it takes me awhile to jump on the new electronic bandwagon. But when a new generation starts off with the new wave, there's nothing for them to miss. And with the cost savings and technology continually improving making color and graphics better than ever, then why would a publishing house waste lots of money on something that may never even breakeven in sales?

My hope, my dream, is so that a young child can feel the joy of holding the book in hand, turning the pages, reading the words and interpreting the vivid pictures...but maybe there's joy in holding an e-reader. I haven't given in yet, so I don't know.

keep reading alive,

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I love this video, this message, and, yes, I love my hair

Black, Bi-racial, Multi-mixed, and anyone else with nappy, curly, kinky or frizzy hair....come together and unite!

If only I had this inspirational diddy to sing along with while watching Sesame Street. Instead, I sat for hours with searing hot chemicals relaxing my unruly, misbehaving curls. Maybe, just maybe, I would have liked my hair and not have felt the need to try and look like my blond, blue-eyed best friend.  Did I really think I could feather my hair? But what the hell did I know? I was only around 9 years old and just wanted to be like everyone else in school. Imagine, running around outside in the rain or swimming with my head under the water, not caring what it did to my hair! Total freedom.

Now it's many, many years later...and I really DO love my hair. I haven't had a relaxer or any other type of chemical reaction applied to my locks in almost 10 years. Just my natural, curly - sometimes kinky, sometimes frizzy, but always fun - hair.

C'mon everyone...whether straight, buzz, braids, curls, waves, bald...and the list goes on, just sing along...."I really love my hair....I love my hair!"

lots 'o love,

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Do young adult novels go too far?

After reading the article "Kid Lit World Responds to WSJ Attack on YA Fiction", I paused and thought, "what's my honest opinion on whether or not contemporary young adult fiction goes too far to expose the dark sides of life?"

In a nutshell, Wall Street Journal's June 4 article, "Darkness Too Visible" by Meghan Cox Gurdon, questions the reason that YA fiction need be filled with such explicit violence and detailed darkness, such as abuse, rape, and suicide. A revolt by authors, librarians, publishers and teens screaming free, creative expression and ban censorship literally happened the same day the article published thanks to Twitter and the internet.

I disagree with Gurdon's view, but now as an adult, and despite not being a parent, sometimes I agree (gulp - is this what grey hairs do to my brain?). To me, it comes down to intention. If the author is conveying an "uncomfortable" situation that they or someone close to them went through and their hope is that they can help a teen in a similar situation no longer feel so alone or to reach out and get help, then this is authentic writing and the reason I want to be a young adult author.  Case in point, Laurie Halse Anderson's amazing novels, Speak and Wintergirls.

The truth is that teen years are filled with darkness, pain and despair, for some more than others; and it doesn't matter whether you grew up in the '60's, '80's or today. Every generation has it's own unique characteristics, but EVERY person encounters dramatic downturns. And for every dark story (eating disorders, date rape, physical abuse, bullying, etc.), there's an author with a different point of view to share with the masses.

But, what about the intention to just make big bucks? You know the movies, video games and literature that continue to top itself with more violence, gore, sex, and profanity. When the only point to the darkness is pure shock value or to spark curiosity within the dark side in all of us, this is when I believe that the author (and publisher, distributor, etc.) may have gone too far.  The author has sacrificed art and authentic voice for a well padded bank account. But shouldn't every person have a right to expression, regardless of opinion?

I would never in a zillion years advocate censorship or take away someone's right to read, write, watch, paint or listen to what they want. But, every parent does have a right to police and dictate what's allowed for their own child. I feel this is a great opportunity for parents and guardians to open a dialogue on some of the distasteful occurrences in our society. But this also means that publishers need to let the public know what the content contains (like the movies rating system from G to NC-17). 

But even I admit that it's hard to determine when one has crossed that line of art to shock value, which is different for every individual.  I personally enjoy scary flicks, not so much the gory ones, but rather psychological thrillers. My mom would argue that (some) of these films go too far. So, who's opinion is right? And who makes that determination?

Your guess is as good as mine...


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Highs, lows, back up, down and up again

When I came back from my South Africa trip last August, it was my goal to really take my writing seriously to the point of making it reality. No more dreaming, no more talk...straight up action. That meant writing everyday; attending conferences; but most importantly, entering contests and submitting manuscripts. It's the only way I'll ever get published. And the scariest part of writing...possible (and most likely) rejection.

I submitted to my first contest this year in February for the WOW (Women on Writing) Ezine Winter 2011 Flash Fiction Contest. The piece had to be a minimum of 250 words and maximum 750 words on any topic. Only the first 300 submissions would be accepted. Elaine Spencer, Literary Agent with Knight Agency would be the final judge. And who knew, maybe she'd love my piece SO much that she'd write me personally wanting to see more of my work and then sign me on (a girl can dream, right?). I submitted Hit (read my May 29 post "Hit" here). Let the worry and wringing hands begin.

I received an email on March 26 that I made the first cut and beat out 200 other submissions. Woo-hoo! In your face!!! Of course I was elated. I might just get my first real fiction writing credit. I could also win money! Something to finally offset all these writing expenses I've accumulated (credit card debt anyone?).

Every time I received an email from WOW, my heart skipped a beat. Then it deflated when it was just a workshop advertisement. Knowing that the final judging should be done around April 30, once May arrived and no "You won!" email arrived I was pretty much without any hope. But then I argued with myself that maybe the voting was delayed, maybe there was still a chance. I'd peruse the website for any mention of winners, with no luck...just a statement to check back in May, even though it already was May.

Deep down I knew I'd lost. They would have contacted me by now if I was in the top twenty for my bio and picture. And then one Sunday when I innocently surfed the site, the winners were listed. All twenty. None were my name. Oh yeah, and on the same day I also found out that I'd lost the Carteret Writers 20th Annual Writing Contest. Talk about hitting a low.

Today, a week or so later, I received a critique from one of the round table judges. It was $10 to enter the contest and an additional $10 for the critique. I hesitated opening the email, afraid of what some stranger thought about my story. I was provided a score (1-5, 5 being the highest) in four categories. My scoring was as follows:

Subject: 5
Content: 5
Technical: 5

I'm perfect! Was I reading this right? Yup, that's right, I'm perfect! But if my work is so darn good, then why wasn't I in the top 20? Then I realized that this was just ONE judges point of view. Maybe every other judge thought my piece sucked (see how quickly I can take great news and turn it into a pity fest).

You may have noticed that the above is only 3 out of 4 categories. Under "Overview", a score was not received but rather the following comment:

I really enjoyed your story. You did a good job of subtly infusing the word “hit” into your story, but it has a big impact. I also like the way the story starts with her revelation and slowly disintegrates, finally ending with denigration and hypocrisy. You wove a lot of elements into a short story—nice job. Thanks for sharing!

Okay, so I didn't win in the top twenty. But I DID beat out 200 other submissions. That deserves a pat on the back. And at least one judge enjoyed my story and thought it was "perfect". Hopefully I can ride this high for more than just a few minutes.

On to the next WOW contest, due May 31...wish me luck!



The following is my submission to the WOW ezine 2011 Winter Flash Fiction Contest on February 28, 2011.

by Sonja Thomas

I pull another armful of clothes from my closet and add them to the pile on my unmade bed. "God and I are no longer on speaking terms."

Julie raises an eyebrow. "Why would you say that? We just rocked your last church choir rehearsal."

"My love of singing has nothing to do with him." I hold my favorite punk band's t-shirt against my chest. The Celtic triquetra symbol is barely legible after a million washes. I throw the tee into the plaid suitcase. "Life sucks and God doesn't give a damn."

Julie shakes her head. "Jesus, Kelly, tell me how you really feel."

I roll my eyes. "I'm all right with it. I've made my peace and moved on." I yank a few more shirts off their hangers and toss them into the suitcase.

Julie picks up a navy baby-doll dress and eyes it up and down. "You've outworn this. How about donating it to my closet?"

"Whatever." I shrug.

She digs around in my jewelry case and pulls out my silver chain with the key heart shaped pendant. I rush over and tear it from her grip.

Julie leans back. "What is your issue?"

I sink onto the bed. I stare at the necklace cradled in my cupped hands. I look up at Julie as tears streak my cheeks.

She falls onto the bed beside me and strokes my brown curls. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."

"No." I shudder. "I should be happy. I have a free ride to NYU. Who wouldn't be ecstatic with the opportunity to chase their dream? But..." I pause, take a deep breath and exhale. "It's the anniversary of the accident."

Julie claps a hand over her mouth. "I totally forgot. Kelly, I'm so sorry." She wraps an arm around me and lays her head on my shoulder.

I shut my eyes. My thoughts drift and replay that awful moment from thirteen years ago. Raindrops pelted against the windshield. Mom warned Dad to slow down. Dad laughed, said not to worry. I fought falling eyelids in the backseat. Mom smiled at me, the heart shaped key pendant dangling around her neck. A horn blared and tires screeched. The car swerved. Mom screamed. The oncoming car's headlights blinded me. We hit. I fell forward, only to be strangled back by my seat belt. The next thing I saw was the midnight sky filled with a glowing full moon. An unrecognizable voice said, "We're right here with you. Stay with us, Kelly."

I open my eyes and shake away the memory. I rise from the bed, drop the necklace back into the box, and close the lid. I march back to the closet and resume packing.

As I put more clothes into the suitcase, Julie lays a hand on mine. "You don't have to do this right now. I can help you later tonight or even tomorrow. Your train doesn't leave till late."

"I know, but I need to keep busy." My hand quivers. Julie squeezes lightly. I inhale deep through my nose, pulling in the tears as deep as possible. "I appreciate you being here, but, I'd really like to finish up on my own. Okay?"

She nods, but I can see in her eyes that she wants to say so much more. She hugs me as my arms remain numb by my sides.

"I'll be by tomorrow to take you to the train station. Love you, Kelly."

I force a half smile and close my bedroom door behind her. I bolt to my dresser and open the jewelry box. I hesitate as my eyes glance at the necklace. I pull out the fake bottom and remove a small black pouch. Inside is a folded note, lighter and joint. I light the joint and inhale deep. My throat burns. I cough and take another hit.

I chuckle. My ex gave me this bag of goodies after I'd broken up with him because of his drug addiction. I unfold the worn paper.


I hope you know I didn't lie to hurt you. I thought I could handle everything and keep it separate from you. Here's the last of my stash as my way of saying I give it up to hold onto you. Give me another chance.

I love you.

I crumple the note and toss it in the trash. Just one more hit. And then I'll move on.

thanks for reading,