Sunday, July 27, 2014


     And now we pause from our regularly scheduled grown-up, thoughtful, literary content to bring you a photo retrospective of what happens when three women who have known each other for almost 40 years and share a mutual delight in idiotic behavior get together and visit the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, as Ann, Jocie and I did last Sunday.
     First of all, the Grounds for Sculpture is a beautiful natural site.  Just as one example, here are two photos of stands of weeping blue atlas cedar:

and here's me, grooving on nature:

       But there are also sculptures:
     and more sculptures:

And lots and lots of sculptures by Seward Johnson, heir of Johnson & Johnson and apparently the unofficial Kitschy Sculptor Laureate of New Jersey:

and for perspective:

And you know Renoir's The Boating Party, right?
Well, Here's Seward Johnson's take on it (the water in the background is real):

     But of course, the most important feature of the Grounds for Sculpture is the aptly-titled Friends Acting Stupid.



     It was a lovely day.

Saturday, July 19, 2014



Anyone who reads my blog, even sporadically, knows that I'm a devoted Holly Schindler groupie and that I have excellent reasons for being one.  One is that she's always willing to challenge herself by trying something new and different with her writing.  Her first published novel, A BLUE SO DARK, was a YA about a girl dealing with her mother's mental illness.  Her next, PLAYING HURT, also a YA, was a (hot!) romance.  Next came a middle-grade novel, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, about a girl who both helps her community and discovers her own "shine" by creating folk art.  And now I'm delighted to share some news about Holly's next achievement: FERAL, a YA thriller due for release on August 26th.
     Here's a link to a spine-tingling video/reading by Holly of an excerpt from the book:  Watch it... but not just before you go to bed!  And here's what the Publisher's Weekly starred review has to say about FERAL:
"Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler's third YA novel hardens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A Blue So Dark...This time, the focus is on women's voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking...This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees."
     Ready to pre-order?  Go to Holly's blog and she'll tell you how:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


     GAK!  I thought it had only been a week since I last blogged, not almost two!!  I've been doing other things (I say defensively), among them:
     1. Revising like crazy - trying to plug up plot holes and move some things around in my book to create a better fit.  Still miles to go before I submit, but I'm getting there.
     2. Went on a lovely ride with my husband on our new tandem bike.
     3. Traveled to Baltimore last weekend to visit my mother-in-law and see my son.  His 25th birthday was on Saturday, and he and his girlfriend drove in from D.C. for dinner that night to celebrate with us (before heading back for his REAL party - the one with his friends).
     4.  Worked.  That thing I do at my office every day.
     5.  Planned a getaway at Princeton with my two law school buddies for this coming weekend.
     6.  Took my daughter shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond for bags and bags full of stuff for her dorm room.
     7.  Had a farewell dinner last night for Michele, the very soul of my longtime critique group, who is moving from New Jersey to Cape Cod at the end of this month, although I've decided to pretend that she really isn't.

     Wow.  It actually sounds like I've been busy, doesn't it?  I can't always keep track.  Anyway,  I know this is a crappy post, but I haven't had any time to write/revise so far this week, and I need to get back to it.  Wait - Isn't summer supposed to be relaxing or something?

Friday, July 4, 2014


     Is there anyone out there who doesn't know what "oy" means?  In case there is: it's the verbal equivalent of a face-palm.  It's the way an ethnic Charlie Brown would say "good grief."  It's an acknowledgment of frustration.  In short, it's this:

     There was a very nice agent at the conference last weekend who asked to see the whole manuscript of my next-to-most-recent book... after revisions.  Well, I do know what "revision" means, as much as I try to avoid knowing it.  When you have a book that you've worked on for months, years, until you believe you've done all you can with it - that the characters are distinctive and well-drawn, that the plot moves along at a decent clip, that the reveals come at the right times, that the conclusion is satisfying - THEN you break it down, line by line, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, to analyze it as objectively as you can.  Is there enough variation in the length and rhythm of the sentences to sustain a reader's interest?  No matter how funny you think that line is, does it serve a purpose in the narrative or are you just showing off?  Is the backstory delivered in small and palatable doses, interspersed between action and dialogue?  Does each individual scene carry the story forward?  If not, what the heck is it doing there?  Does each chapter have its own internal story arc?  Are there plot holes you couldn't see before you had the cold hard glare of an outline staring you in the face?
     So here's where the "oy" comes in.  Oy, do I have plot holes.  For starters, one does not simply walk into Mordor, and one does not simply open a book in July AND NOT EVER MENTION HOW THE 15-YEAR-OLD PROTAGONIST IS SPENDING HER SUMMER.  Sure, the focus at the beginning is on her getting to know her new therapist, but since she's only seeing him once a week, and since the school year doesn't start until Chapter Eight,  what is she doing in the first seven chapters during the six days and 23 hours each week when she's not in the therapist's office??????  Reader: she is barely doing anything at all outside of that office.  Well, golly.  Do you think that could maybe be a PROBLEM?????
     That's what one might call the Major Plot Hole, but it does not mean that there aren't others. Oh, there are others, believe you me.  Oh, I have work ahead of me.  And oh, even though the book has been through what feels like ninety revisions already, I never even saw these issues before.
     Now do you understand what I mean by "oy?"

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


     I spent this past weekend at the New Jersey SCBWI annual conference, and came home on Sunday evening feeling overwhelmed.  For one thing, I'm just not used to being around that many people for two days straight.  Even though after dinner on Saturday I retreated to my hotel room for a couple of hours of alone time, two days is still a lot of public time for an introvert.  For another thing, there's always an awful lot that goes on at this conference, and it's hard to try to process it all afterwards.
     I'm not going to try to summarize each of the two keynote speeches and eight workshops I attended.  And I can't say there were any crucial new nuggets of information - the keys to the castle, as it were - that I was handed so that I became suddenly equipped to storm the fortress of the publishing world.  But some ideas I'd been vaguely aware of before were strongly reinforced, and those are what I'm going to try to summarize here.

1.  Becoming a published author does not change one's character.  Sure, it changes one's writing goals, and it adds a book launch party and an editor and a contract and a schedule of deadlines to one's life.  But an anxious prepublished author who gets a book published will become an anxious published author; only the focus of his or her anxiety will change.  Instead of "Will I ever get published?" the question will become "Will I ever get a second book published?" or "Will this book sell?" or "What if I don't have enough of a social media presence to promote my book?" or...  You get the idea.  Anxiety is a very flexible trait which can be easily integrated into virtually any situation.  So: writing books really, truly is about the journey.  I've hear this said so many times before, but it's finally starting to sink in.

2.  Every author needs to play to his or her own strengths.  Does a critique group work for you, or would you rather just work with one cherished beta reader?  How tech-savvy, or un-savvy, are you?  Blog if you like to blog, tweet if you like to tweet.  If the thought of doing school visits gives you hives, don't do them.  Find the kinds of book promotion that feel comfortable to you, and stick to them.  There are as many ways to lead an author's life as there are authors, and you need to find your own rhythm because nobody else's will work for you.

3.  Try to acquire writer friends whom you like and trust.  Writing can be so lonely, and your nonwriter family and friends, no matter how much they love you, don't really understand what it's like.  Go to writing conferences.  Make contacts, even if you're shy and it's hard.  Become part of a supportive writers' community, and give back to it as much as you can.  It'll be the most valuable writing tool you'll ever find.

4.  Read as many books as you can in the genre in which you're writing, and read some in other genres too so you can understand what the differences are.  Find favorite authors and analyze their books to learn what makes them work as well as they do.  Finish reading books you don't particularly like so you can try to figure out what's missing.  Learn something from every book you read.  Read book reviews and author interviews.  READ.

5.  Write.  And then revise.  And then revise five, ten, thirty, fifty more times.  Keep asking yourself "why" questions: Why did that character say that?  Why did the conversation end when it did?  Why is the antagonist behaving so badly?  Why is the protagonist behaving so badly?  Why is this scene necessary to advance the story?  Why, why, why?  Every time you ask yourself a "why" question to which you don't already know the answer, your knowledge of your characters and your story deepens.

     So that's it.  Not the keys to the castle, but maybe a road map to point you in the right direction.  Do you have "keys" of your own that you'd like to add?  If so, please leave them in the comments.  We're all in this enterprise together, you know.