Cover Reveal and #Giveaway!

There are few things more exciting than finding out that one of your former critique group members is getting her book published! So, obviously, I was thrilled when Catherine Bailey contacted me about the upcoming release of her picture book, MIND YOUR MONSTERS! (Sterling, August 2015). Today is the big cover reveal, and I wanted to be a part of it. As if the cover reveal wasnt intriguing enough, Catherine is also hosting a GIVEAWAY on her Facebook page! Without further ado, feast your eyes on the cover below. Then read Catherines message about how to enter her GIVEAWAY!

Message from Catherine Bailey: 

Here it is – my official, final, fabulous cover for MIND YOUR MONSTERS! I am so, so excited to finally share this wonderful artwork. Thank You Dani and Oriol! I am celebrating with a giveaway. To participate, visit my Facebook page at catherinebaileybooks. Then share this cover on Facebook, Twitter, or any social media, let me know in the comments on Facebook, and Ill make sure youre entered to win. The winner will also receive a monstrously cute goody bag to help pass the time until MIND YOUR MONSTERS stomps forth in August. The deadline to enter is 3/13/15 and the winner will be announced the next day.

Good luck everyone!


This wasnt the Valentine-themed post that I planned to write this month. In fact, this was a post that I was hoping to never write, at least not for a few more years. We lost our beloved dog, Chewy, a few days ago. Im sure many of you can relate to the heartbreak that Im feeling. It is excruciating. We did not realize until it was too late that Chewy had advanced cancer of the spleen and was bleeding internally. He showed no symptoms until the last couple of days. We were thankful to have one last day with him before it was time to end his suffering. But its not those last horrible couple of days that I want to write about. I want to remember the rest of his wonderful life.

Chewy was my once in a lifetime dog. There has never been and will never be another like him. I adopted him from the Anti-Cruelty Society in downtown Chicago nine years ago, just after getting married, but before having any (human) kids. We had two cats at the time, which my husband thought was enough responsibility. But he was out of town. I saw my opportunity and I took it. The shelter had just taken in a litter of Rottweiler mix puppies and I had never seen anything so cute.

Which one of you wants me to be your momma? I asked the adorable bundles of fur.

One furry bundle leaped toward me and I picked him up. It took approximately thirty seconds for me to fall in love with the docile little guy. I promised Chewy right then and there that I would give him the best life possible. When I brought him home the next day, my husbands annoyance with me subsided as he fell in love with Chewy too. About a day later, we noticed a change in Chewys personality. The subdued, quiet dog Id gotten to know at the shelter was suddenly a smart, spunky, stubborn, loud and wild ball of energy.

He must have had a cold, I said to my husband, shrugging.

From day one, Chewy and I were inseparable. It seemed wherever I went, Chewy was right there with me. When I had to leave him behind, I felt like a part of me was missing. We enrolled Chewy in puppy preschool. The first class was such a disaster that I was surprised the instructor didnt ask us to leave. Chewy was completely out of control, jumping up on everyone, biting peoples hands, pulling me around, etc. But, as it turned out, Chewy was extremely intelligent, food-motivated and very easy to train. He ended up winning the award for Most Improved dogprobably because he was so out of control to begin with.

Chewy was a natural guard dog and patrolled our property (when he wasnt sleeping). At times, he was overly protective of me, especially when I had him on the leash. But I always felt safe with Chewy around. I was never scared to be home alone, even living in a not-so-great neighborhood in Chicago. Although Chewy had a fierce, protective side, he also had a gentle, loving, playful side. He and our cat, Chase, became fast friends. Chewy played with, harassed, and pounced on Chase, but never tried to hurt him.

When we found out I was pregnant with our first baby, our family worried that Chewy was not a good dog to have around kids. They couldnt have been more wrong. In fact, I am convinced that Chewy thought my son (and later, my daughter) were his kids. He got up with them for every feeding during the night. He watched over them as they played. He cuddled up next to them during story time. We always reassured Chewy that he was doing such a good job raising the kids.

Over the years, Chewy and my son, especially, became great friends. My son learned to read by reading books to Chewy each night and morning. He learned responsibility by feeding Chewy and helping me take Chewy for walks. He learned that animals have personalities and love their families, just as people do. He saw that love first-hand with Chewy.

Chewy made us laugh every day- no exceptions. At times, he tried to be a lap dog, despite his large size. When the kids played hide-and-seek, he didnt understand what they were doing. He would stand directly across from their hiding spots and bark at them, making it way too easy for the seeker. Chewy frolicked in the snow and would plunge his head into the snow drifts, surfacing with his face covered in white.

Chewy loved playing basketball with my husband, but was only good at defense (biting hands and pant legs as he tried to shoot). Chewy did not understand sledding or sit-ups or push-ups or many other strange things that we humans do for recreation.

Whenever Chewy heard the suitcases come out, sheer panic would set in. He would wine and whimper and sit by the car waiting to jump in. He didnt care where we were going. He just didnt want us to leave him behind. And whenever Chewy and I were separated, he greeted me upon my return as if he hadnt seen me for years, even if Id only run out to the grocery store for a few minutes. Chewys unconditional love and affection was overpowering and contagious. He reminded us to appreciate each other and to not hold grudges.

As our family grew, Chewy took his job as protector more and more seriously. We moved back to Michigan into a house with a huge backyard. We bought the house for us and for the kids, but also because of Chewy. The yard was private and protected from the neighbors It was perfect for him.

Chewy loved chasing the squirrels up trees, running after the occasional deer, and just laying in the sun on our deck. He loved going for walks, especially if there was any chance that he could take a swim. We often took him to a trail near our house where he walked while our kids learned to ride their bikes. Chewy knew the routine about halfway through the 3-mile trail, we stopped off at the secret beach, ignoring the no dogs allowed sign. Chewy wasnt really a dog, we rationalized. Hes more like a person. Chewy bounded across the beach and into the water before circling back and shaking the water all over us.

I have so many great memories with Chewy, but one of our happiest days was when I took him to visit the 80-acre farm that used to be owned by my grandparents. The farm was up for sale and the owner gave us permission to walk the property. Chewy had the time of his life running free across the fields, swimming in the ponds, and digging in the mud. Ive always dreamed of living on a piece of property like that. At least Chewy and I got to experience it for a day!

The last few days without Chewy have felt sad and empty and hollow. He would lay at my feet while I wrote at my computer, hour after hour, day after day. It was enough for him just to be next to me. I felt that way about him too. My feet are cold as I sit and write this post. No Chewy dog to warm them up. I keep looking for him whenever I walk in the door, or see a squirrel outside, or find a tennis ball behind the couch, or wake up in the night. Or, as my son told me yesterday, I have no one to pet.

This is the very last movie of Chewy that we took, shortly before we had to take him to the vet. Our son is reading a picture book to Chewy one last time.

And not to be outdone on the tear-jerker scale, our five year-old daughter made this Valentine for Chewy a couple of weeks before he died.

How can it be possible to love a dog so much? I saw this explanation written in the heartfelt article On Losing a Dog, and it rang true for me:  We hold our dogs so close that parts of ourselves overflow and fall directly onto their furry heads. So when we look at our dogs we see our worst sorrows, our greatest joys and the deepest part of ourselves for which there is no name. The story of our dogs is the story of us.

I think I did see myself in Chewy. The best part of myself. So when he died, a part of me died too. I knew this was the deal when I adopted him so many years ago, but it doesnt make it any easier. Chewy, thank you for choosing us as your family. You were the best and we will never forget you.

Five Things I Learned at Write on the Red Cedar

Its been a week and Im (almost) fully recovered from Write on the Red Cedar, an intensive twelve-hour day of lectures, round tables, networking, and writing workshops. As promised, Im reporting back my top five takeaways, and Ill also let you know whether or not I accomplished the goals I set for myself prior to attending the conference.

First, here are my Top Five Takeaways

1. Genres are Blending

Keynote speaker, Donald Maass, talked at length about the changing characteristics of the books appearing on the New York Times Bestsellers list. No longer are books categorized simply as literary fiction or commercial fiction. The genres, more often than not, are blending together. The most successful writers of commercial fiction all have one thing in commonthey utilize the techniques of literary fiction to write genre fiction. The result: great story-telling meets beautiful writing. He recommended that writers pick a genre as a framework for a story, rather than as list of genre-specific rules to follow. This blending of genres allows writers a new level of freedom that has not been seen in the past.

2. Dont Focus on the Eyes

While listening to Kristina Riggles lecture, entitled How to Make your Characters Walk off the Page, I was struck by her thoughts on physical descriptions. Mainly, that the eye color of your characters doesnt matter. What? Eye color doesnt matter? Oh, man. At that moment, I realized Ive been spending way too much time describing the colors of my characters eyes and not enough on their other mannerisms. She said to give your characters one or two memorable distinctive features, that arent necessarily physical. Kristina Riggle used Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby as an example of a character whose physical appearance is barely described throughout the novel. Yet, the reader picks up on the formality and correctness of Jay Gatsby from the description of his posture and the statement that Gatsby had the look of someone who had his hair trimmed every day. Nowhere in the book is there any mention of Gatsbys eye color, hair color, etc.
3. Things Can Always Get Worse

In the writing workshop segment of the conference, Donald Maass asked us to write down  our protagonists main conflict or goal. Then he asked us to think of one way to make the goal matter more. For example, who else would benefit if this goal were achieved? In what new way can character discover that the unfulfilled goal hurts?

Then, he asked us to think of a way to make it more difficult for our protagonist to achieve his or her goal. What is the worst consequence the protagonist can face by not achieving his or her goal?

Then, he asked us to write down a way things can get even worse for our protagonist. How does he or she screw up? What trivial problem can pop up at the most inopportune time? For example, maybe on the day the protagonist is supposed to attend an important meeting with someone who can help him achieve his goal, his car wont start and he misses the meeting.

Then, believe it or not, we were asked to make things even worse for our protagonist! What if the protagonist failed completely? How does the house go down in flames? The readers should be taken on an emotional journey where they fear that all is lost before the protagonist, at last, figures a way out of the mess.

In other words, always raise the stakes.

4. The Importance of Networking

Like many writers, Im an introvert who would rather stab toothpicks in my eyeballs than try to make small talk with a bunch of people who I dont know. That said, there is something encouraging and revitalizing about meeting and connecting with other writers face to face. There are few people who can relate to the emotional roller coaster of writing like other writers. Theyve experienced rejections and occasional successes, theyve thrown first drafts of novels in the garbage, theyre struggling to build author platforms and promote their books, and they take the craft of writing seriously otherwise they would not have spent the money and time to attend a conference.

So much of a conference depends on who is sitting next to you. I totally lucked out in that department, as I had two awesome women writers sitting next to me. One of them was in the process of writing a memoir and is the editor of Grand Traverse Woman magazine. The other just had her writing published in the childrens magazine, Spider. Even though we dont write the same genres, they are two more connections Ive made in the writing world. I traded cards with several other people as well. So, now I have more people to email with writing questions, more people who might help promote my book, and more people to cheer on as they continue on their unique writing journeys!

5. Never Give Up!

One of the speakers told a story of an agent who received 7,000 queries last year. Out of those 7,000 queries, she requested 138 partial manuscripts. Out of those 138 partial manuscripts, she requested 30 full manuscripts. Out of those 30 full manuscripts, she took on seven new clients. Thats one-percent. Lets face it, the numbers are dire. The speaker said, that if a writer believes in his or her work and is interested in signing with an agent, that person should query no less than 100 agents before seeking another alternative. And, more importantly, if writers put in the requisite work, they should believe that they can be a part of that one-percent.

What did I learn from this? I gave up WAY too early on finding an agent for my last novel. I think I only queried twelve agents. Dont get me wrong, I believe my novel ended up with the perfect publisher for that particular book. But, in the future, Ill query at least 100 agents before throwing in the towel.

As for my other goals, heres how I did:
Goal #1: Pitch my book to agent Katharine Sands without sounding like a mumbling idiot.
Result: I did it! I practiced my pitch tirelessly for the few days leading up to the conference. Thankfully, my agent appointment was in the morning, so I did not have to stress out about it all day. I sat across from her. She stared at me and said nothing, so I recited my pitch. I didnt stumble or forget how to speak. I didnt sweat profusely or turn bright red. The eight minutes went by in the snap of a finger. In the end, it didnt seem as though the agent really connected with my book, but thats okay. My goal wasnt to get a book deal. It was to make my pitch without sounding like a mumbling idiot. Mission accomplished!

Goal #2: Learn three ways to improve my current manuscript

Result: This is a big YES! (See Top Five Takeaways above).

Goal #3: Exchange business cards with at least six people

Result: Did it! Ive already received a couple emails from people I met at the conference. Business cards are crucial to networking. Get them!

Goal #4:  Find a potential online critique partner or critique group

Result: I didnt fully accomplish this one, but I did join a writers Facebook group, appropriately named Finish the Damn Book. Im guessing I can find a critique partner through this group when I need one.

Im going to keep setting goals for myself, whether they are writing (or riding) related. My new goal is to finish the first revision of my thriller novel based on all the information I learned at the conference. Be sure to check back in a couple weeks for my February blog post which will deal with a few of the things that I LOVE the most!

Writing Conference Goals Five Days and Counting . . .

This Saturday Im heading to East Lansing, Michigan to attend the Write on the Red Cedar writing conference. The event promises to be an action-packed, information-filled day highlighting a number of talented speakers and ending in a four-hour intensive writing workshop led by renowned literary agent Donald Maass. In addition to listening to the speakers and participating in the writing workshop, I will also have the opportunity to meet privately with literary agent Katharine Sands of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. My meeting with Katharine Sands will be short and to the pointeight minutes long to be exact! In those eight minutes, I will try to remember how to speak and pitch my new novel to her. Ive never pitched a novel to an agent in person before, so this will be uncharted territory for me.

To help prepare myself for the conference, Ive decided to put together a list of (realistic) goals that I hope to accomplish on Saturday.  Here they are, in no particular order:

1.  Pitch my book to Katharine Sands without sounding like a mumbling idiot

The thought of pitching my book to a real, live agent is making me nervous. Ive been practicing my pitch on my husband. Ill get halfway through it, say um a few times and then lose my train of thought. I wrote the pitch down on paper and tried to memorize it, while still sounding natural. Lets just say, theres still lots of room for improvement! Luckily, I have five more days to practice.

2.  Learn three ways to improve my current manuscript

Ill be actively writing and revising my work during the workshop with Donald Maass. Ive only heard great things about his workshops, which are based on his book, Writing the Breakout Novel. Cant wait to see how my manuscript transforms!

3.  Exchange business cards with at least six people

Im confident I can achieve this goal. I just had new business cards printed and shipped to me. They are shiny and new and all of my contact information is up to date. Im excited to pass them around!

4.  Find a potential online critique partner or critique group

I havent had great luck with critique groups that meet in person due to scheduling conflicts, weather cancellations, etc. Id love to meet another writer (or writers) with whom I could exchange work online and help each other meet our writing goals from the comfort of our own homes.

5.  Come home with at least five solid takeaways

I promise to achieve this goal, mostly because Ive already entitled my next blog post The Top Five Things I Learned at Write on the Red Cedar.

Be sure to check back in a couple of weeks to see how I fared with all of my writing conference goals. Until then, happy writing!

My YA Novel is getting Published!

Happy 2015 Everyone! I was planning on doing my usual January post where I review my writing and riding goals from last year and set up new goals for the coming year, but that all seems really boring now. Why? Because my new year just started out with a BANG! On New Years Day, I accepted an offer from Fire and Ice YA to publish my Young Adult thriller, Trail of Secrets. Somebody pinch me! The release date is scheduled for sometime in August or September 2015 and my book will be available in both digital and print formats. And to make things even better, Fire and Ice YA publishes tons of horse-related books. They are the ideal publisher for my book, as Trail of Secrets takes place at a riding academy in Northern Michigan. I cant wait to read some other books published by Fire and Ice YA and let everyone know when I find some gems.

Ive been overwhelmed by all the congratulatory messages Ive received on my Author Facebook page the last couple of days. Some people have asked how they can help me in these months before the book is released. The answer is pretty simple: spread the word! Id love for my blog readers to like my FB page and share the link with friends. Trail of Secrets will most likely to appeal to young adults and adults who love horses, enjoy ghost stories, or simply crave a good mystery. In the meantime, Ill be sure to keep everyone up to date on the cover reveal, pre-sale opportunities, and the release date.

Ill save the big reveal of my list of 2015 goals for a future post when theres a little less excitement in the air. But heres a hint: I need to get back to riding!

Hope everyones year is off to a great start too!

2014 NaNoWriMo Results

For the last month, Ive been living and breathing NaNoWriMo. I didnt answer my phone, I cancelled dentist appointments, I almost forgot to pick my kids up from school one day . . . But now that November is gone and NaNoWriMo is officially over, its time to emerge from my home office, stretch my fingers, let my eyes adjust to the light, and total up the number of words Ive written.

The goal of NaNoWriMo was to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The bad news is that I fell short. (Why does Thanksgiving have to be in November?) The good news is that I wrote 43,000 words. For me, thats a success story. After all, I wrote 20,000 more words than I did last November, and now I have the bulk of the first draft of my new novel written. In case anyone is wondering, its a thriller about a couple of evil Realtors in downtown Chicago. Theres still a lot more writing to do, but Im hoping to complete my first draft by January so I can begin the revision process.

The 23,000 words that I wrote in NaNoWriMo 2013 became my first equestrian young adult novel, Trail of Secrets. Im still trying to locate the perfect publisher/agent for that book. Ill be sure to post updates of any developments.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is starting to get in the holiday spirit!

Do you have a NaNoWriMo success story? Please share!

Countdown to NaNoWriMo!

Ive been thinking about how to best spend my time while waiting to hear back from agents and publishers regarding my recent submissions of my YA novel. Time ticks by so s-l-o-w-l-y while waiting for responses from these mysterious and slow-moving entities. So instead of staring at the clock and checking my emails fifty times a day, Ive decided to throw myself into a new project. After all, NaNoWriMo starts in less than three weeks and I have a killer story (literally, a story about a killer) in my head. Sadly, my next book contains no horses, but I will have some horse-related news to report very soon. (Fingers crossed!)

Ive signed up for NaNoWriMo, starting November 1st. For those of you who dont know, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a novel in thirty days during the month of November. I participated last year and, although I fell short of my goal to write 50,000 words in thirty days, I ended up with the bulk of what eventually turned out to be my YA novel.

This year, Im going into the challenge more prepared. First, Ive been using the templates from Mary Buckham and Dianna Loves BREAK INTO FICTION: 11 STEPS TO BUILDING A STORY THAT SELLS, to familiarize myself with my characters, their motivations, and key twist points in the plot. The worksheets include such subjects as Powerful Characters Template, Powerful Openings Template, and Conflict Template. Each template contains 8-10 questions that force aspiring authors to think about (and write down) major characteristics, motivations, settings, conflict, and internal/external changes that will make up the overall story. For anyone just beginning to think about writing their next commercial fiction novel, this book is a great place to start.

Second, Im utilizing some exercises I learned at VCFA Day in Ann Arbor to really get to know my characters before I start writing. During the conference, speaker Coe Booth reiterated several times that character is the beginning, middle, and end of a successful story.  Here are some questions she suggested answering when creating believable characters:

1. What is the characters earliest memory?

2. Does the character have any irrational fears?

3. What is the characters biggest fear? How does that drive him/her?

4. What sadness does the character carry with him/her?

5. Where are YOU, the author, in this story? The author needs to look within herself to incorporate emotion and feeling into her writing. For example, this is what anger does to my body: _________.

6. What were the three biggest defining moments in this characters life?

Remember, all of this information does not need to appear in the book. These are exercises meant to help the author get to know his/her characters better and to know how they would react in different situations.

Finally, Im developing my To Read list  to include books similar to the one Im writing, as well as books on craft. The next book on my list is Donald Maas THE BREAKOUT NOVELIST: CRAFT AND STRATEGIES FOR CAREER FICTION WRITERS. I recently signed up to attend to the Write On the Red Cedar winter writing retreat in Lansing, MI on January 16-17, where veteran agent Donald Mass will conduct one of his highly sought-after writing seminars. I cant believe Im going! Woo-hoo! Im sure Ill have plenty of material for my blog on January 18th.

Check back on November 1st when Ill be kicking off my NaNoWriMo and updating my progress on  my blog as I go.

Are you participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge? What are you doing to prepare?

Back to School, Back to Writing!

After a very eventful summer, my highly-energetic five and seven year old kids are back in schoolKindergarten and second grade (Sigh!)so now I have plenty of time to focus on my writing. No excuses! Its not that I didnt spend time on writing over the summer, but I didnt have the large chunks of undisturbed time that I craved. (See the part about my highly-energetic kids.)

In June, I sent my YA manuscript off for a professional critique by Kelly Hashaway. It was money well-spent! She gave me so many great ideas, insights, and areas to cut/expand. Lets just say, after receiving her critique I had my work cut out for me. Using her comments as a road map, I spent every minute of my (very limited) free time revising my manuscript. The revision process took two solid months. After giving my manuscript to several friends and relatives to read and making a few more changes based on their comments and suggestions, I believe I have the closest thing to a polished manuscript that I can write.

Heres a sneak peek.

Title: Trail of Secrets

The Query Meat:

“It’s scary because it’s true.” Brynlei warms her hands inside the sleeves of her sweatshirt as she listens to the ghost story around the bonfire. The glossy pages of the Foxwoode Riding Academy brochure hadn’t mentioned anything about the girl who vanished on a trail ride four years earlier. But while the other girls laugh over the story of the dead girl who haunts Foxwoode, Brynlei begins to notice signs that the girl—or her ghost—may be lurking in the shadows. Brynlei’s quest to reveal the truth interferes with her plan to keep her head down and win Foxwoode’s coveted “Top Rider” award. Someone soon discovers Brynlei’s search for answers and will go to any length to stop her. When Brynlei finally uncovers the facts surrounding the missing girl’s disappearance, she realizes the world is not as black and white as she once believed. Now she must choose whether to protect a valuable secret or save a life.

So, there it is. Now what do I do? Ive started researching agents and publishers that would be good matches for my book. Ive written a hook, identified several comparable titles, and written both a short and long synopsis of my book. Ive drafted query letters and begun the process of sending them out. To be completely honest, Ive already received a few rejections. But thats part of the deal, right? Now its time to grow some thick skin, buckle down, and focus on finding the perfect home for my book. I know it will be a big project involving waiting, never hearing back, and rejections. I only need one YES, and thats what Im working for.

Are you refocusing on your writing this fall? Are you in the process of submitting your manuscript? Tell me about it. Lets cheer each other on!

Horse Show Hangover

Well, its taken me almost three weeks to even recover enough to write this post. My recent horse show trip with Louie was fun, exciting, stressful, expensive, exhausting, thrilling . . . Did I mention exhausting? It was four straight days of waking up at the crack of dawn and going non-stop until collapsing into bed and waking up four hours later to do it all again. Im so glad I did it though. Louie was a champ literally. We won Reserve Champion in the Adult Low Hunters division! My husband and two-kids came out to watch my jumping classes on Saturday afternoon, which meant so much to me. I posted some videos of our first and second place rides below. My adult medal class was on Sunday the very last class of the day. I was so exhausted by that point that I almost told my trainer I wanted to scratch, but I decided to push through because I didnt know when I would have the chance to compete again. And good thing because we came in second place (out of eleven entries). I was happy with the way I rode, so I cant ask for much more.

It wasnt all sunshine and rainbows though. After my last class on the fourth day, after cleaning up and checking out, after returning to our home barn, I suffered what can only be described as a meltdown. Im going to blame it on pure exhaustion. The way I felt can only compared to my condition after being in labor for 37 hours when my first child was born. I think I may have been suffering from a bit of heat stroke and dehydration as well. Somehow, I made it home and my husband was so shocked by my appearance that he considered taking me to the hospital. Although I was starving, I couldnt eat anything. I wanted to take a shower more than anything, but I couldnt even stand up. I went straight to bed, still wearing my breeches and show shirt! It was bad.

Its been a couple of weeks now and Im feeling normal again. But I made a very difficult decision to take a break from riding (and from half-leasing my buddy, Louie) for a while. The demands that riding makes on my time and on our bank account are becoming too much to handle. My kids get out of school next week and will be home with me for the summer. I want to spend more time focusing on them and on helping them pursue their activities and goals. I want to clean my house, weed my garden, bake muffins, take day trips with my kids, and spend more time on writing. Taking a break from riding will, hopefully, give me time to do all these things and possibly free up some money for a dinner or two out with my husband.

I am sad though. Although I am leasing Louie until the end of June, I miss him already. He is such an affectionate horse with a heart of gold. Ive been half-leasing him since last October and he truly has become a part of our family. Ill miss my friends at the barn too. I always look forward to hanging out with them and their horses. I wont say I am quitting riding, because I dont believe that is what Im doing. Ive tried to stop riding before and my breaks usually do not last more than a few months. I just need some time to step back and regain that passion that I seem to have lost a little of over the last few weeks.

Has this happened to anyone else? Have you ever felt the need to take a break from riding? Did you get back into it later? Please share. Its cheaper than therapy!

Im taking a blogging break for a few weeks, as my entire family is heading Disney World to help celebrate my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary. Enjoy the beginning of summer everyone!

Five Things I Learned at VCFA Day

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a day-long writing seminar in Ann Arbor, MI, hosted by the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA). The speakers, Coe Booth and Marion Dane Bauer, are current and former professors of writing at VCFA and are both published authors. I’m so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended this event. Their valuable insights on psychic distance and the interior lives of characters have already helped improve my writing. For those who weren’t able to attend, here are my top five takeaways from the day:

1. Character is the Beginning, Middle, and End
Coe Booth began her talk by asking us to remember our favorite book from our childhood. (For me, that would be Little House on the Prairie.) She suggested that readers love a particular book, not because of the plot, but because they love the main character. In fact, readers often don’t remember anything about the plot. A character who resonates, on the other hand, will stay with someone for a lifetime.
A giant light bulb turned on in my head when Coe Booth highlighted the importance of character. When I think back to Little House on the Prairie, I don’t remember a single event that happened in the book. What I remember is the character, Laura. I remember her curiosity, her determination, and her love for her family during her childhood on the frontier.
So how does one write a believable, memorable, publishable book? Develop the interior lives of your characters first. Flow comes with character. Character is the beginning, middle, and end.

2. Mine your Own Experiences to Bring your Characters to Life
Coe Booth suggested that we look within ourselves to bring our characters to life. During an afternoon writing workshop, we mined our own childhood experiences to dig up milestone memories, such as the first day of school, a death in the family, or a birthday. Additionally, we came up with ways to recall everyday memories, such as looking through old journals, photos, letters, and yearbooks. Coe asked us to remember times when we were sad, afraid, lonely, jealous, elated, etc. What did it feel like? How did our bodies feel? Go there. It might be painful or uncomfortable to relive some of these moments, but writers can’t live on the surface. The characters in our books had all these early childhood experiences too. As writers, we must describe our own feelings and sensations through our characters. This depth of experience will bring them to life.

3. Don’t Forget to Develop Minor Characters
During her lecture, Coe Booth mentioned one of her pet peeves when reading her students’ stories: perfect parents. Parents aren’t perfect! I immediately gasped and slunk down in my chair as I thought of my own manuscript sitting at home. Yep, the one with the perfect parents. How did she know?
As soon as I got home, I made lists of ways to make them less-than-perfect. I used the questions Coe Booth asked us as a starting point. What are the parents dealing with in their lives? What drives them? What do they want more than anything? What is stopping them? The writer does not need to include the answers to all these questions in the story, but understanding the answers will provide more depth to the parents and other minor characters in the story.

4. There Correct Point of View is Whatever Works in the Story
Marion Dane Bauer gave an informative lecture on psychic distance and the advantages and disadvantages to each type of point of view. For example, using the omniscient point of view establishes an old-fashioned, comforting feel to the story, but may sacrifice intimacy with the main character. Using the first person point of view enables the writer to get as close as possible to the character, but can sometimes sound clunky or false. The third person point of view allows for richer language than first person, but can be hindered by a writer’s lack of experience as far as the ability to inhabit the character completely. While writers often struggle with selecting third person over first person, or vice versa, Marion Dane Bauer’s insight provided me with some peace on this issue. Ultimately, the point of view used to tell the story doesn’t matter, as long as it works. The writer’s ability to connect the main character to the reader is the most important thing.

5. Write YOUR Book
Both Marion Dane Bauer and Coe Booth encouraged us to write the book we were meant to write. They insisted that we not worry about trends and forget about what’s popular right now. By the time our books are completed, the current trend will have passed anyway. Don’t stress about finding an agent or getting published. A well-written book will find a publisher or an agent. The world needs your book, they said. Write it.
Until next time, happy writing!
And for my “horsey” followers, be sure to swing by my blog in a few weeks. I’ll be detailing my experiences with Louie at our upcoming horse show. I’m nervous already . . .