Thursday, November 26, 2015

Give Thanks for Picture Books

November: the best month of the year. Snuggly fall weather, a hot cup of chai, Thanksgiving, my birthday and now...a celebration of picture books.

Check out Picture Book Month's website for posts from picture book authors or illustrators explaining why they think picture books are important. With critics predicting that "digital will kill the print book star", print books, especially picture books, need our love and gratitude.

I could never fathom a world without The Story of Ferdinand, The Little House, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Picture books take you on a journey. It starts with lovable characters and rhythmic language and colorful pictures. It opens up the imagination and you find yourself sitting along with Ferdinand in the middle of a bull ring refusing to fight. Or fright takes over when you accidentally become a rock when Sylvester couldn't think of anything to wish for and you wonder how you'll ever get out of this mess. The story doesn't end once you turn the final page. It lives on in your heart and imagination. And all the better if the story is shared with a loved one, snuggled side-by-side.

So give thanks, not only for good food, good friends and good times spent together, but give some love to all the wonderful picture books.

flip the page to a world of imagination,

Monday, August 24, 2015

Oops!...I used it again

You ever really pay attention to casual conversations and take notice of the words repeatedly cluttering the ether, including what falls out of your own mouth? Like most people, I am guilty of overusing the word "like" more times than I can count...and that's only within one sentence.

Writing is no different. So...that...just...then...walk...look...was...just a few of the words that continually show up in first drafts. That's where revising comes in handy. Most of these words can be deleted on the spot. Sometimes it fits and should be left alone. Sometimes tweaking is necessary: rephrasing, rearranging, or plain old cutting. But be careful when turning to a thesaurus for help. Replacing "look" with "gaze" over and over just creates a new monster. Plus, the mood you're trying to convey can change the instant you replace "walk" with "strut" or "stomp" or "slink".

Repetition isn't limited to a single word. Phrases and actions and ways we show emotion tend to pop up over and over. It's one thing when a character has a unique trait or a certain way of expressing herself, but if every single time my main character shows her fear through a "racing pulse" or "rapid heartbeat," readers' eyes start to roll.

When revision fails to pick up all the redundancy, that's where critique groups and beta readers swoop in and save the day. It took one of my beta readers to point out my overuse of "beating hearts". I dumped the "pounding chest" and unfortunately picked up a new bad habit, the "twisted tummy". Thankfully, not within the same manuscript.

No matter how many other eyes review your work, overused words, cliches and actions will slip through. Putting a draft aside for a good chunk of time is essential. Then you can take a fresh look and catch anything that drowns your story in repetition.

So, just know you're, like, not alone. Look over your work, get feedback, then set it aside for refreshed eyes. That's the key to ending redundancy.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Ambivalence is key to querying

Ambivalence the key to success?

As a person who's focused and passionate and determined, how can success (which in my case is to become a financially thriving full-time children's author) be achieved by having mixed feelings?

But when read in context, Ms. Amy Poehler is onto something.

"...ambivalence is the key to success.

I will say it again. Ambivalence is key.

You have to care about your work, but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look."

- excerpt from Yes Please by Amy Poehler

As any writer can attest, the writing life is a lonely road that should only be traveled for the LOVE of writing, NOT the destination. If you want to be published...fantastic. If you want to go the traditional route...great. Just be sure to suit up in some armor because the skin you were born in won't be thick enough.

I started querying my YA fantasy earlier this year. Almost half way to triple digits. But as the email rejections start to crowd my inbox combined with those who never even respond, I start to question my abilities and wonder does my writing really suck that bad?  

Art is not universal, but rather personal taste. And just because I love my writing, doesn't mean anyone else will. Not even my own mother. Publishing is a business. One where agents and editors will read and reread again and again to get that manuscript just right.

I love books. But there are only a select few that I love that much to want to read over and over and over. So, yeah, I get it. When the form rejection letter says "[we] are not a good fit" (aka "it's not you, it's me"), I have to remind myself to not take it personally.

And hey, my writing can't be all that bad. Four "positive" rejections (aka personally addressed with some positive feedback) and two full manuscript requests ain't bad. In an industry where only 0.01% get a partial/full request from the slush pile, I'd say I'm doing pretty darn good.

Moral of the story? Ambivalence is the key to querying. Enjoy writing. Love your words. Care about the craft. And let go of others' opinions. No one can take away your passion, unless you let them.

Care, don't care, who cares? Me, but only when it comes to my craft and my words.

feel good,

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When life gives you lemons...

...sometimes everything sours. 

photo credit:
The last couple of months have been...well...pretty sucky. I hurt my knee in early April and ended up having surgery in mid-May (who knew karaoke could be so dangerous?!). At first, my outlook was pretty positive. So many amazing friends showed up for me...rides to the hospital, mac-n-cheese for easy 'post-surgery' meals, texts checking-in and grocery store runs. And then...

I found myself alone. Here it was summer and while everyone else was camping and hiking and driving out to the coast, I was trapped on my couch with nothing left to watch on Netflix. Before you knew it, I found myself spiraling into a dark place. No inspiration or motivation to write. No concentration to read. No mobility to get out of the house. Soon I was getting sick of my own company.

That's when you pucker up, kiss the crap goodbye, and make some lemonade.

There's some truth to the saying "happiness comes from within." You can't always control the 'bad' things that happen in life. But you can choose your perspective. I'm not saying to ignore your emotions, but rather than drown in depression or lash out in anger, listen to what your feelings are telling you. Then do something about it. Or accept the situation and move on.

I tried putting pen to paper many times. Even tried playing with different genres, hoping something new would spark some enthusiasm. But when the few words that trickled out were pure garbage and just made me feel worse, I started reading instead. All kinds of books. Memoir, YA romance, middle grade folklore, adult fantasy. It took some time, but finally a spark was lit and now I can't stop writing.

So when life knocks you on your arse...pick yourself up, dust off, take a breather if needed, then take one step forward.

life can be sweet

Friday, July 17, 2015

Three Great Lies Book Launch

Check it out! Vanessa MacLellan's book launch for her debut novel THREE GREAT LIES is Thursday, August 6th at Powell's Cedar Hills in Beaverton.

From Publishers Weekly review: "MacLellan's fun debut drops Jeanette, an American tourist in Egypt, into ancient Thebes....A great sense of character evolution drives the plot...Supernatural elements help develop the world around Jeanette, but don't overpower it....A strong conclusion sets this light fantasy a notch above its peers."

Don't miss it!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

This I know for sure

Ever wonder: what's the point?

Don't you love when you have a goal, a tangible task where all the steps are laid out and all you have to do is take action? And oh that wonderful feeling when you cross off the completed steps, one by one, until you've reached that final goal. As much as "everyday life" like groceries, dishes and laundry always gets in the way, there's such satisfaction in setting out to do something and actually completing it.

Well, what if that goal is not so easily or quickly reached? 

Writing is my greatest joy...and at times my worst enemy. Sure, putting pen to paper isn't hard per se, but writing with an authentic voice, crafting an engaging and entertaining story, and characters that an audience empathizes with is no small task. It takes an infinite amount of hours to find and hone your voice, to read and learn from the masters, to open up to critique readers, to get as comfortable as possible with rejection, to build a community, to build an online platform...and the list goes on.

And as the days, months, years go by, your eyes are still on the prize (NY Times bestseller, yo!), you find yourself forgetting why you chose this path in the first place.

I may be stubbornly stubborn, but when there are long gaps between achieved tangible goals and the weight of rejection leaves you wondering if you're any good and if you should pack your bags and head down another road, you start to wonder, what's the point?

That's when you take a moment, along with some deep breaths, and answer that very question. Why did I ever want to write in the first place?

There are many reasons, but the one that makes this long, bumpy road the right journey is that I want to inspire, entertain and empower readers. I want to provide young readers with the opportunity to see themselves in a new skin (a different race, religion, social status, whatever) and discover that despite differing journeys, we all feel the same emotions. That ultimately, we are all one. 

So when the roller-coaster of life seems to always be stuck climbing that hill, remember the reason why you got on this ride in the first place. If you believe and stay strapped in your seat, you will reach the top.

taxes, death and writing...these things I know for sure

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My Reflection

My beautiful friend forwarded this video, saying "...this is a perfect reflection of your inner child..."
Talk about opening up my heart and putting a huge, silly grin on my face.
And she's time to let that inner child play. Get up and show your true self!

I'm definitely wearing purple tights, Mary Jane's and letting my wild curls free as I bust a move to a hip-shaking groove.

what's your reflection?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Share the love

Window Lego display on NW Glisan

Oh Portland. 
Thank you for the reminder that it's not (always) necessary 
to go big, break-the-bank, over-the-top. 
Most times it's the little things that spread sunshine and smiles. 
Happy Valentine's Day, Portland, all year long.

give a little love with your heart,

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I want to be a writer

every wish, one dream

Every dandelion blown
each Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight. 

My wish is always the same.

Every fallen eyelash
and first firefly of summer . . .

The dream remains.

What did you wish for?
To be a writer.

Every heads-up penny found
and daydream and night dream
and even when people say it's a pipe dream . . . !

I want to be a writer.

--excerpt from brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

A brown girl 
with the same dream.

No way!
it may seem,
but the fire
will always burn.
So pen to paper,
continue to learn.

Blow out the candle,
my wish is made.
Let go, believe.
To God I've prayed:

I want to be a writer.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Friday, January 30, 2015

Walk your way

Outside of Rain or Shine Coffee House

Portland, love your way of teaching me to be comfortable in my own shoes
 and to walk, strut, & skip along the path of life, my way.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot announced!

How freaking cool: Journals of Horror: Found Fiction, an anthology which includes my short story "The Anniversary", made the Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot in the Anthology category!!!

A super sincere THANK YOU to Terry M. West and Pleasant Storm Entertainment, Inc. for including my work and CONGRATS to everyone involved in this awesome book. Fingers, toes and eyes crossed for that final ballot.

C'mon, get up and get down. Let's celebrate!


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Let it go

Art Credit: Cory Jensen Art
Just when I thought I had mastered (or at least gotten better with) letting go of attachments...BOOM. Another rejection.

The crazy part, I'd already accepted that I'd lost the contest since there was no word by the January 15th announcement date. But since no winners were named and an email popped up in my inbox a week later, my heart paused. Maybe...just maybe...

"Thanks for your entry. Try again next year."

It hurt. As rejection always does.
I love my story and want others to love it too.

Then the brain went into fear overdrive. Try again next year? Why? Because I'm a good writer? Or is that the canned response? Is this a sign that my story sucks? That my passion for writing doesn't match my skill? Will I need to pack up shop and go get a 9-to-5?

Thank Goddess I had a writing date later that day. Otherwise I would have curled in a ball and moped. Instead, I voiced my disappointment and my friend congratulated me for entering into the contest in the first place. I'm not just dreaming about writing, but pursuing it with full on devotion.

Yes, I wanted to win. Who doesn't love outside validation? To have your work appreciated, praised and loved? I don't want to ignore and push away the pain from failure, only to have it linger, grow and pop up to take me down later.

Instead, I'll have my 5 minute tantrum -- kick, punch, stomp, cry, curse -- whatever to let the hurt move through and out of me. Then I'll reframe the situation. Writing brings me joy. And I will never stop. I will continue to put my work out there and if my audience finds me and experiences joy from reading my stories, then WOO-HOO! (cue happy dance)

happy dance animated gif photo: Happy Dance animated-snoopy.gif
But I can't be attached to this outcome. I can't control how others perceive my words. If that's how I approached the empty page, then fear of failure would rule. So, I let it go, and write for the sheer pleasure and do whatever I can to spread that joy into the world.

let go and let your joy lead the way,

Friday, January 9, 2015

Start off with a bang!

What a way to start off 2015: 

My third short story THE DOOM OF WONDER BREAD is now available on Amazon in the 2015 Young Explorer's Adventure Guide!

This awesome anthology by Dreaming Robot Press includes 24 science fiction short stories for middle grade readers with a focus on diversity. 80% with central female characters. Black, white, Asian, Latino. Human and robot. Everyone belongs.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015: The year of MAGIC

Cue the fireworks, blow the horns, 2015 is here!

So what are your wishes, resolutions, goals (whatever you label it) for the months ahead?

My theme for 2014 was a focus on joy. I swore I wouldn't use an alarm clock and I kept that promise (except for those occasional mornings where I had insane AM commitments).  Travels to Laguna Beach, a retreat at Silver Falls and a quickie east coast jaunt to visit family and my best friend (and her gorgeous newborn twins). Found my spiritual family. There were many warm hugs (and kisses!). And published three short stories. Woo-hoo!

2015 is the year of magic. Writing, writing and more writing (and having fun while doing it). Signing with an agent. Multiple book contracts. More travels. Having faith despite the facts. Letting go of what I can't control. Waking up everyday full of joy and gratitude. And as always, lots of love, hugs and kisses.

What's your theme for 2015?