I love Halloween. The rustle of the leaves, the cool of the night, the damp shine of a rain-slicked street, the quiet of fog. I love the flicker of candles in jack-o-lanterns and black cats (I’m very partial to black cats), the caramel apples and chocolate everything. The only part of Halloween I’m not crazy about is the scary part. I’m much more of a Disney scary movie girl than a Freddie Krueger kind of girl. I like my monsters on the light side, like mayo.
The thing about monsters, for me, is that nothing is scarier to me than what human beings can do to one another and animals. I can’t make myself believe in ghosts or sasquatches or werewolves. Even if those things do exist, how many times do they actually attack human beings? How many documented cases of murder by ghost are reported each year? Human beings, well, that’s another story completely. They scare the daylights out of me.
But monsters, the really scary kind, whether they are human or otherworldly, make for great stories. As writers, we have to seek out the monsters in our stories to create tension. Every protagonist needs an obstacle. Even if that obstacle isn’t, technically speaking, a monster, it needs to act as a monster. It needs to knock the protagonist to his knees and make him fight for his life, whether that’s literally or figuratively. Monsters are the stakes in the story, the obstacle that wants to take away the protagonist’s dreams. And every story deserves a monster as scary as Samuel Whiskers, an obstacle that can materially alter the course of the protagonist’s life for the worse. It can be hard to unleash monsters on our protagonists. We love our protagonists, because, after all, we create them. They are like our children, so we don’t really want to put them through the darkness that a true test will. Our instinct is to shelter and protect them. But just like our real children, our protagonists must face the world with all its darkness, and we can only hope we’ve given them the strength and tools they need to succeed. Okay, with our protagonists, we get to choose if they do, so it’s a lot better than when we have to watch our kids struggle through life. So bring on the monsters in your stories not just at Halloween, but all year. Your readers will thank you for it.emma
Spooky Tortie

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For Teens (And Their Parents): Shutting Out The Noise

I’ve written before about the totally real stress of being a teen: decisions about college and what you are going to do, every day, with the rest of your LIFE. Yesterday, I was reminded how that can feel when I was talking to a kid I’ve tutored. He plays hockey at an elite level and is trying to get a D1 athletic scholarship for college. He started out the season strong, but then he got sick and he’s been struggling since then. His team  hasn’t done well either, and there have been a lot, and I mean a lot, of player cuts and trades. His coaches are really big on team bonding, but the revolving door for players reminds me of that scene in Lady and the Tramp when Lady is at the shelter and we see Nutsy, in shadow, being taken out to be euthanized. Lady asks where he’s being taken and one of the dogs says in a gangster’s voice “true the one-way door, Sister. True the one-way door.”

My advice to him was that he needed to shut out all the noise that’s not relevant to his story. It’s easy to let people into our heads who don’t have any business there. The ones who detract from our self-confidence. The ones who don’t care if we succeed, or not. The ones who have their own agenda in how they deal with us, but it’s an agenda that really doesn’t have anything to do with us at all. It’s really about them.

When I was a junior in college, I decided that I should go to law school. I really had no idea what being a lawyer was about, beyond television. I knew you wrote a lot of papers. I knew some people went to court. I definitely did NOT want to do that. But the papers part sounded pretty good to me. I pictured myself sitting in an office pushing papers and getting paid decently to do it. I wanted to work in copyright law. For a television station. I wouldn’t have to deal with people, I thought, and I conjured up a pretty nice, safe, and boring life for myself. A sweet gig for a nerdy girl who loved books and words but was painfully shy with people. Anyway, when I got accepted to law school, I remember some of the boys who were in my circle of friends laughing at me, basically saying that I wasn’t cut out for law school and wouldn’t make it. I assumed they meant that I wasn’t smart enough. I still don’t know if they meant that, or if they maybe meant I was too shy. I don’t even remember them individually or what they specifically said. But they were the first people outside of my head to openly question my ability to succeed in law school. They cracked open a hole in my confidence.

When the fall rolled around and I started law school, people were talking a lot about The Paper Chase, a television drama about kids at a top law school. I think it was Yale. I had never watched it, but I knew about it the way you know about the Kardashians. Everyone knew about this show. The kids in it were put through hell by teachers who, I believe, ultimately cared about them and wanted them to succeed. But in a drill sergeant kind of way. But all the talk about the show made me nervous. Especially when, my second day of Property class, my Property professor picked me to be his that student. You know, the kid who gets picked on. Every class. All class.

It started out innocently enough. I was sitting in the back because, hey, that’s where the shy or bad kids sit. He asked me to close the door. A simple enough task. Except that, I couldn’t figure out the mechanism that released the door. Everyone began to look, then stare. My professor started to say things about how he hoped I was better at law than closing doors. My heart was racing. I was frantically looking at the door, completely clueless, like in algebra class when my teacher had asked me about those two stupid trains that are traveling in opposite directions, but somehow I was supposed to know how fast they were both going. I knew there was no way I was going to get out of this situation with any dignity, but I was frozen there, trying to figure out the door because what alternative did I have? Then, one of my male classmates took pity on me and rescued me like a prince riding in on a charger. He got up and walked over, reached up and pushed the release. The door closed and I slunk back to my seat after a few whispered, fervent thank you’s. But the damage was done. I was that student.

Then people started the law review talk. Nothing matters more in law school than who will be in the top 10%. Because, if you are in the top 10%, you basically can go work anywhere you want. The bottom 90% will be lucky to get a job that doesn’t need to be supplemented by a bartending gig on the weekend. Some people bragged that they were sure they would be law review. Others just speculated on who really had a chance. Constantly. Someone ripped pages out of books in the library that we all needed for a research project, apparently with the hope that this would make everyone else look bad. The competition was fierce, to the point that people were willing to cross ethical lines to be on top. It was crazy to me, one of the least competitive people on the planet. I just wanted to get out alive and go push papers quietly in an office with a window.

I wanted to change schools. I had been wait listed at another school, and I planned on applying as a transfer student. Finals week came for the first semester. There was so much noise in my head between my Property professor picking on me daily and the competition between my classmates that I let myself get ridiculously worked up about my Property final. I was so nervous by the time that I took the exam, I couldn’t even focus. All I could think about was getting out of the room.

When I closed my exam and walked out of the room, I felt terrible. I knew I hadn’t done well. It was an easy subject, but I didn’t even remember what the questions were, let alone the answers I had put down. I ended up with a C. I wasn’t going to be transferring anywhere.

But it was, maybe, one of the best lessons of my life, even if it came at a high price. I learned from that experience that, if I’m going to fail at something, it’s going to be for the right reasons. It’s going to be because I didn’t understand the material, or because I’m not smart enough or not talented enough. It will never again be because I let other people’s noise get in my head and psyche me out.

And that’s what I told my hockey player. Because he’s amazing, but he’s making mistakes because he’s not focused. I told him to shut out the noise of who just committed to what school. Shut out the noise of who has better numbers or which teams passed him over that he now has to play against. I told him to shut out everyone who doesn’t belong in his head. I told him to embrace the chance to fail, but only fail for the right reasons. I told him that, if he’s going to fail, fail because he wasn’t fast enough, or because he couldn’t read plays well enough, or because he’s on the small side for a hockey player. I’ve watched him play, and I don’t think any of those reasons can beat him. But, if they do, at least he’ll know he did everything he could to make it. I told him don’t ever fail because you let other people rock your self-confidence. Anyone who isn’t invested in your success should be irrelevant to you. Sometimes easier said than done, but it’s a mantra that you have to actively practice, just as you practice or prepare for anything. Just as you work on your homework or practice at a sport or music, you have to work at shutting out the noise that can derail your success. We all have enough of a critic in ourselves, constantly questioning if we can really pull off that new thing we are trying to do. Letting people outside of us influence how much power our self-critic wields is the quickest way to satisfy the doubt demon.

My oldest child is a senior in high school this year. He really has no idea what he wants to do or how he wants to do it. As I’ve talked about before, his learning disability has made his journey a pretty tough one. But I’m constantly being asked by other, well-intentioned people if he knows where he’s going to college next  year. So I smile and say no, he’s still figuring it out. And that’s okay with me. Because the frenzy of senior year is just noise, and the only thing that really matters is that he ends up somewhere where he can thrive.

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Curating Joy

The idea of curating joy has been trespassing on my thoughts lately, perhaps a little too persistently. This year has been a sandpaper-on-an-open-wound kind of year for me so far. Too many things that are out of my control have been controlling my happiness. It’s easy enough, in theory, to say “cut them loose,” but reality is always more complicated than a simple act of slicing away the infected bits. Sometimes the infected bits are essential to your survival.

So I’ve had more days than not this year when I’ve been close enough to tears that my eyes burn with them. Pushing them back is sometimes a monumental effort, sometimes a lost cause, and sometimes a barrier to some temporary relief. Instead, I try to judiciously dole them out, hiding them from plain view and even hiding them from closer scrutiny because I’m learning to hate talking about the reasons I’m sad, even with the people who love and support me the most.

Instead, I’ve spent time trying to carve out joy in a meticulous way, at times using an Exacto knife to chisel away at the barriers to happiness. It’s been pretty exhausting. Slivers of joy come, but they’re continually covered back up as if the small depressions I make are just holes to be inlaid with more pain as soon as they are carved open. So I carve a bit harder and wonder at the futility of it all.

Platitudes of finding joy and practicing gratitude certainly have their place in our lives. But the reality of finding joy when you are walking down a long corridor of darkness requires more than clichés. It requires space. It requires solitude. It requires light, even if it’s no more than a small recessed beam directed at a fragment of art hanging in that corridor. It requires moments of peace and reflection. But most of all, I believe, the effort to be joyous requires love. At every moment in this year when I have felt the burden to curate joy to be stronger than my will to be happy, I have forced myself to take a step forward with the realization that our own joy is not something we hold just for ourselves. Ultimately, when we are faced with a choice between sadness and joy, we curate joy in ourselves because of our love for others. As a curator in a museum protects treasures for others to see and enjoy, we curate our own joy for others to have peace and happiness. When I see my little girl’s face troubled because she knows I’m hurting, when I hear my ache reflected in the voice of my mother because she is worrying about me, when someone dear to me lovingly lectures me on the similarities of our problems and the need for me to find my way, I know that joy is a shared emotion worthy of protection. Joy is not an individual beast, but a communal one. The joy I am responsible for is not just mine but is shared by those who love me. And that makes the burden of curating it a little bit lighter, a little bit easier, and a little bit more sure.



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Mothers Always Write

I’m happy to announce that, last Friday, my poem about a mother’s struggle to watch her son deal with a learning disability was published by Mothers Always Write. You can check it out here.

Because this is such a personal and important issue for me, I am particularly pleased that this poem found a loving home.

If you are struggling with a learning disability of your own, or with one for someone you love, please check out my archives and links for resources where you can find help. You are not alone. This can be a dark and lonely struggle, but there is help available. Please reach out, because there are compassionate people who care and can help.

Posted in Dyslexia, Executive Function, Learning Disabilities, Poetry, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Like a Girl: Perspectives on Feminine Identity

I just wanted to share this news from Lucid Moose Lit on their upcoming anthology. For more information, or to pre-order, you can follow the link on the right, or visit Lucid Moose Lit. This is a small press committed to diversity. I have a small memoir piece included on having a daughter who plays a traditionally boys’ sport (ice hockey):

Please join us September 26, 2015
at Half Off Books in Whittier, CA – 7 pm

The day is here, folks! We’ve spent a good portion of a year putting together our second anthology, Like a Girl: Perspectives on Feminine Identity. This 182-page collection of poetry, prose and art featuring over 90 contributors aims to honor a multiplicity of feminine identities and spark conversation about women’s issues.

Lucid Moose Lit will present a reading and reception-style book launch, once again in collaboration with 100 Thousand Poets for Change, a global organization dedicated to celebrating poetry as a vehicle for social change.

Date: Saturday, September 26, 2015
Time: Doors at 6:30, event at 7 pm
Location: 6708 Greenleaf Ave, Whittier, CA 90601

You are invited to join us for this author and artist showcase. Full lineup and details to be announced soon – as for now, save the date! Half Off Books is our home-away-from-home bookstore and we are delighted to be celebrating this milestone with them.

Pre-Order Your Copy of Like a Girl

The book will retail for $18, but it’s only $15 when you pre-order! Additional copies for contributors are $10. You can opt to pick up at the book launch or have it shipped for a nominal shipping fee. If you plan to attend the event or are interested in the book, we highly encourage you to pre-order – it’s a great way to lock down your copy and it also helps us defray the costs of printing :) .

We are offering multiple pre-order packages for you to enjoy – please see which one works for you at the link below. Thank you for your support!

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Top Five Reasons that Writers Should Use Twitter

Writers love to write (when they aren’t complaining about how hard it is), so writers would seem a natural fit to embrace a social medium that is all about the challenge of writing engaging content under a strict word count. Or, in Twitter’s universe, character count. After all, Twitter’s 140 character limit makes the 750-1000 word count of a picture book sound easy.
Every time I go to a conference, however, I invariably meet writers or run into old friends who treat Twitter as if it’s some sort of mysterious other world that could only exist in a YA fantasy series. Often, these writers are older and less comfortable with social media in general, but not always. I opened my Twitter account in 2009, after an editor at a large house declared at a conference session I attended that, unless you had a great online presence, her company would need to believe you were the next J.K Rowling to take a chance on a debut author. While I think this editor overstated the importance of social media, it is essential for every author to have a marketing platform. So I’ve put together my list of top five reasons why every writer (including aspiring writers) should embrace Twitter with all of it’s messy wonderfulness.

5. Twitter is quick. Just as you might think about the cost effectiveness of any business decision, a successful Twitter account can be created and maintained even for an author with time management challenges, whether internal or external. Of course, internal challenges are harder to manage, but you can always set up rules for yourself that you won’t spend more than a certain number of minutes per day or week on Twitter. Because Twitter allows you to skim through content quickly, it’s easy to pick it up during otherwise wasted time (sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, or your child’s car pick up line, or when you are stuck on the side of the road waiting for a salt truck to come by).

4. You don’t have to follow someone else back. While there are Twitter etiquette codes, such as not following someone if you don’t intend to stick it out, there isn’t any need to follow someone back just because they followed you. Check out their posts. Are they someone you are truly interested in? If not, do yourself a favor and don’t follow them back. If all they do is promote their own work, it will get really annoying really quickly. Do they promote things that are offensive to you? Skip them. I try not to follow people who promote porn because I don’t like the idea of people exploiting one another. Keep your twitter feed open for the content you really want. Or follow everyone back regardless. The choice is yours. If someone only wants to follow you if you will follow them back, then they will drop you in a few days and there’s no reason to feel guilty about it (you aren’t going to be seeing them at the PTA meeting most likely…if so, then you may want to go ahead and follow them just to be polite).

3. Twitter can be whatever you want it to be. Unlike Facebook, which was designed to allow people who already know one another in real life to stay connected, Twitter is all about bringing people of similar interests together. While you can protect your tweets so that they stay private, there usually isn’t a reason to do so. Because of the character restrictions and the purpose, most people don’t choose to reveal significant personal information on Twitter the way they might on Facebook. I do know some teachers who prefer not to have students connecting with them on Twitter who restrict access, and I do know some kids who also restrict access. But for most people. Twitter doesn’t create the type of privacy exposure that requires limited access.

2. Twitter is a great place to make and/or maintain connections. I couldn’t envision this when I first joined Twitter. How was I going to “meet” people through social media? It sounded a lot like online dating to me-you put your profile out there and hope the right people come along and…what exactly? I already have a husband, and one is more than enough for me. Talk with them about all my book deals that were just around the corner? Live happily ever after? I really had no idea. But, over the years, I’ve found I really like connecting over Twitter with my friends from my MFA program and my regional writing group. I’ve met authors at conferences and become followers. I’ve found authors and illustrators whom I admire and have been able to tell them so. Some are too busy or content with their lives to care, but some have reached out in return. Because Twitter allows people with like interests to find one another, it’s easy to make connections in meaningful ways.

1. Drum roll please…Twitter is a great repository for content, or, perhaps more accurately, a great content aggregator. Love YA? If you can’t find anything interesting about YA on Twitter, then you must not know how to spell it. Want news? @BBC, @NPR, @Reuters,are all at your fingertips. Al Jazeera America? It’s there. Do you speak another language? It’s there. Are you passionate about ______________? Fill in the blank and it’s there. Search for people, search for topics, or search by hash tags (#thosethingsthatstartwithahashtag). Or simply follow trending news on the discover tab. There is a myriad of content out there and I continually see fascinating photos, videos, article links, quotes, and ideas on Twitter.

What are your best reasons to for writers to use Twitter?

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A Novel Competition for Unpublished Women Writers of Young Adult Fiction

Whenever I find a competition that includes a YA category, I feel really good that YA is getting some of the recognition it deserves. Mslexia Publications, LTD, is once again offering its novel competition for unpublished women writers, and they include a Young Adult category. The deadline is September 21 to submit the first 5000 words of a completed novel in any genre.

Mslexia states that: The competition first prize is a rather marvellous £5,000, plus we have The Literary Consultancy on hand to offer four other finalists free manuscript feedback. And did we mention all shortlisted authors will be invited to meet literary agents at a special networking event in London? Being placed in the competition really is a unique opportunity to get your work out of the slush pile and into the hands of influential industry insiders.

Mslexia is a UK organization dedicated to the advancement of women writers. You can learn more about them at their website at Mslexia

For contest rules, click here

You may enter as many novels as you wish, although each comes with a fee of $25 pounds. So polish up those novel manuscripts and get them submitted!

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Following Your Heart for Your Learning Disabled Child

My son was in kindergarten when my heart first told me something was wrong. I started asking questions. I was told he was completely normal. My heart kept telling me something was wrong. I kept asking questions. And the road I was on suddenly diverged into two distinct paths. Those who cared enough to help me and those who didn’t.
I bounced around between these two paths, trying to find my way, trying to know whom to trust, whom to seek out for help, whom to follow. The harder I tried to do the right thing, and follow the right path, the more I stumbled and fell.
When my son was in seventh grade, he crashed, emotionally and academically. I stumbled along and reached out to another diagnostic agency. I sat in the office of Watson Institute in my son’s evaluation interview and, with tears in my eyes, I told them that if they didn’t help me, I was going to lose my child either to suicide or to his ever-increasing risky behaviors. They listened. And they helped. They diagnosed him with uncommon disability issues that finally made sense for his difficulties. They recommended a cognitive behavioral therapist to treat his depression “from not being properly accommodated” at school.
At the same time that we started therapy with a good therapist who cared, I met the woman who handles disability issues at my local school district’s high school. I had no reason to trust her because I had had my son tested through the school district when he was in first grade and had been lied to about his test results. I had been told he had no disability, despite the fact that he qualified under our county intermediary standards. But she seemed to care about her job and I was desperate for information. I started asking questions. She helped.
Slowly my son’s school began to realize what he needed at the same time I began to understand what I could ask for. I began to have hope. I began to believe.
The problem, though, with believing when you are the parent of an LD kid is that you aren’t the one that has to believe. Your child has to believe, too.
My son has never learned to believe. I have thought, during the last two years, that there were times when believing was within his grasp. He finally has all the tools available for him to have a real chance to level the playing field, but he still can’t find his way onto the path I plowed for him. He is an angry, desperately unhappy, floundering mess and I am helpless at this point to influence him. He may someday get it together, but it will be too late for his best opportunities. He may also never get it together, and that possibility is just a little too much for me to bear.
I’m sharing this because I want other parents of LD kids to know that you have to keep testing your child until the answer you get makes sense. You have to keep asking questions until you understand what your child is entitled to. And then you have to demand what he is entitled to, no matter how many people try to keep your child from getting the help he needs. You have to keep advocating for your child every day, no matter how emotionally exhausting it is. But just as important, you have to win these battles before it’s too late. Before your child is in middle school and is too ashamed of what his peers will think of him if he asks for help. Before your child doesn’t believe you when you say there is always a compensation, we just have to find it. Before your child wanders into adolescence alone and afraid and not believing in himself. The path to finding out what is wrong can be long and challenging. But don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t a race, because it is. It’s a race you have to run every day from the moment your heart tells you that something is wrong. And, most importantly, it’s a race you have to win at any cost.
For help with LD issues, please contact the National Center for Learning Disabilities and your local bar association (they can direct you to legal help regarding your child’s rights at school).

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Parenting, Pre-teens, Teens, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

PiBoIdMo for the UnPiBoIdMo-able

I am always fascinated by the flurry of activity surrounding the writing challenges of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), and PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). It seems funny that it’s theoretically easier to write a poem every day than it is to write a picture book. I confess, however, that if I had to choose between writing a full picture book every day for a month or a complete poem, I would take writing the poems as the easy way out. Not that picture books or poetry are my strengths, but getting a “complete” (albeit bad) poem down on paper would be easier than a complete (very) bad picture book.
But PiBoIdMo is all about ideas. That should be easy enough, yes?
The person who says that it should be easy is also the person who thinks that writing books for kids is a cute thing to do in your spare time. The truth is, good picture books are difficult to write. Incredible picture books are, well, incredible to write. Within 300 to 1000 words, you must create a compelling protagonist who faces a significant challenge or challenges to achieve a meaningful goal. Your story should be funny, surprising, clever, and, most of all, meaningful (at least to the 2-6 year-old crowd) (and did I mention it needs to be meaningful?) And don’t forget that you want to make it multidimensional so that parents and other adult readers won’t throw the book into the nearest bonfire when they are asked to read it for the fiftieth time in three days.
Try coming up with an fresh idea to support all that for thirty days in a row. Now you are doing PiBoIdMo. So, I confess, I am not. It seemed too far beyond me as I struggle to keep up with my teaching job, a presentation I had on writing at a local college this month, and my own writing.
But every day I get my email from the blog of Tara Lazar, who concocted this whole crazy thirty-ideas-in-thirty-days thing, and I get to enjoy all of the motivation that goes with this amazing challenge. I haven’t come up with any new ideas myself, but I have dusted off a picture book manuscript that had come back with a personal rejection from a slush pile last month. It’s a story I’ve worked on for many years (more off than on) and that has seen many variations. After getting some critique feedback this summer, I had sent it out with high hopes. When it came back with the rejection, I felt really discouraged. The editor told me it was sweet and funny, and that one image was hilarious, but she hadn’t told me what she didn’t like. So I went back to my summer comments and thought about them some more. Had I fully addressed the concerns of the critique comments? I realized that I hadn’t. There was still work to be done. So now, with a little inspiration from PiBoIdMo, I am sitting down once again and making sure I work a little harder, a little better, and maybe just a little faster.
So, if you are struggling with your picture book manuscript, or you have one (or more) sitting on your hard drive that you know you could do something with if you just had the right inspiration, or if you think you could come up with some fresh ideas but need a little kick start, then check out Tara’s blog at Writing for Kids While Raising Them. It’s too late to register for the official challenge for this year, but it’s never to late to write great books for great kids.

Posted in Books, Picture Books, Uncategorized, Writing | Leave a comment

Happy Halloween

To celebrate Halloween, here’s a poem to share with your favorite little ghoul. Enjoy!


The moon is just a crescent
hanging low against the trees,
The leaves are wild and crackling
tumbling on the breeze,
And my black cat is rushing home to me

The clouds are rolling fast now
the night is gathering steam,
But here the fire sizzles soft
it’s time to stop and dream,
And my black cat is rushing home to me.


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