Friday, May 29, 2015

The Third Option

My yoga instructor likes to toss out homilies. Amid the instructions to inhale, exhale, up-dog and down-dog, she adds pithy quotes from feel good gurus like Zig Ziglar and the Dali Lama. Sometimes I agree with her advice and sometimes I don’t. Today she said, “One of the hardest decisions you’ll ever make in your life is whether to try harder or to walk away.”
I think there is another option, a more peaceful option.
Let’s suppose you’re wrestling a problem—and it’s a bear of a problem. Stinky, mean, slobbery. And you get to the point where you’re just too tired to wrestle any more. So you stop. What happens? Consider what would happen if you stopped wrestling your bear.
Maybe he wouldn’t be so mean if you weren’t always chasing him with sticks.
Maybe he would go and play in the river and wash away his stinkiness if you gave him some space and time.
Maybe he would still be slobbery, because he is, after all, a bear, but now that you peaceably coexist, you discover that all his fur makes him a great snuggle-buddy, he’s awesome for scaring away optional burglars, and he sleeps a lot, so for half of the year he’s pretty much a non-issue.
I’m not trying to make light of anyone’s problems, but I do think that sometimes the path of least resistance is superior to the runaway trail or the warpath.
Sometimes we think that we need something to make us happy, but the real answer isn’t gaining something, but letting something go. And that something is generally our ego and unrealistic expectations.
Dylan Thomas wrote:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
But remember that Dylan might have been a brilliant poet, but he was reputedly a melancholy alcoholic who died at age 39. His daughter wrote, "But ours was a drink story, not a love story, just like millions of others. Our one and only true love was drink.”
I don’t know the Thomas family and I hate to make judgment calls, but maybe Dylan, who was so gifted with words, could have had a happier story with a different ending if he hadn’t raged quite so much.

Not every situation is bearable, and not every bear is worth the bother of our time and attention, but sometime today between my yoga breaths it occurred to me that fighting and walking away aren’t the only two options.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

So Now I'm a Wasteful Liar, and a Cooking Cheat

On the days I write, it seems as if the sun always shines (which isn't surprising, since I live in Southern California and we're in the middle of drought) and all of my lights are green. But when I'm not writing, all of my lights are red.

Or is it that when I'm involved in something creative I'm happy, and when I'm not, I'm cranky, and it just seems as if everything goes wrong? Anyone else have this problem?

Tonight is the cooking class at our church where we're supposed to demonstrate how to effectively use food storage. I said I would make cookies made out of whole wheat. Sadly, my whole wheat flour was bug infested. No problem, I have wheat and a wheat grinder. But the wheat grinder decided not to work, at least not very well. I tried making the cookies with partially ground wheat. It was like eating cookies filled with pebbles.

So, I threw it all away and started over. (Not really the most practical or economical choice and if we really were starving and trying to conserve our food, we'd probably gnaw on the cookies, but pride rules over economy.) I had to open a new package of brown sugar and it was almost as rocky as the wheat--but better tasting. And as for the whole wheat flour? That didn't happen. My cookies are full of white flour, even though the recipe I'll pass out tonight will say differently.

So now I'm a wasteful liar, and cooking cheat, and the hero in my story is still floating out in the middle ocean, minutes away from being captured from the British navy. But at least I have cookies.
And they're actually pretty good.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups rolled oats
2 eggs
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon milk

1 (12 ounce) pkg semisweet chocolate chips

More about the Kindle Scout Program.

If your book is published by Amazon Kindle Press in e-book, here is the breakdown from the Kindle Scout website:

Royalty Table: 
E-Book: 50% of Net Revenue 
Digital Audio: 25% of Net Revenue 
Translation in e-Book format: 20% of Net Revenue 

So cool. I love the thought of my book being published in all sorts of different languages. Here's the first chapter of Witch Ways. It's only .99 for a limited time. You can get yours here

It happened in Biology when Troy, the kid who liked to chew paper, blinked at me through his Stephen Hawking glasses and said he would be honored to go to the dance with me. If it had just been Troy, I wouldn’t have been so mad, but Troy was the final paper-chewer who sent me over the edge. Earlier, I’d learned I had supposedly also asked Harrison, the kid who wore a Justin Bieber button on the lapel of his school blazer, and Frankel, the lead singer of the Wanna-be Lounge Lizards, a band that serenaded the Hartly cafeteria every Friday with Sinatra tunes.
Three dates to Homecoming. I didn’t even want one.
And so when I found out Melissa Blankley was to blame, I lost it.
Rage is like that. It builds up inside of you, like pressure in a teapot, until finally when the steam is so hot, so big, you let go—because really, there isn’t another choice. And everyone lets go differently. Some people use body language—tight lips, a simple eye-roll. Others swear and name call. A few actually become violent, and throw punches or people.
Some of us burn stuff.
Although, not always intentionally.
Don’t ask me how everything caught fire. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before.
And because it was so frightening, I hope nothing ever happens like that again.

“Teenage girls are genetically wired to be unkind to each other.” Uncle Mitch adjusted his glasses and met the hostile gaze of Dr. Roberts, making me proud. Uncle Mitch rarely met anyone’s gaze head-on, not even his students at Yale. “It’s in their DNA. They have to compete for mates.”
“But they do not have to burn down the science room.” Dr. Roberts tapped his pencil on the pile of papers on the desk in front of him and fixed me with his cold stare. He had an uncanny resemblance to manikins: plastic-looking hair, too perfect teeth, and flawless skin.
“But I didn’t—” I started.
Uncle Mitch sent me a warning glance, and I bit back my words. Before our meeting with the principal, he had made me promise not to speak. You are your own worst enemy, he had said. I silently glared at Dr. Roberts.
“As I told you before, we have several eyewitnesses—”
“But teenage girls—” Uncle Mitch began.
“Not just the girls,” Dr. Roberts interjected, “but several of the students including the son of the president of the school board. And Mr. Beck,” Dr. Roberts added.
I liked Mr. Beck, and I hated him to think I would do this. Even though maybe I had. Not that I had meant to.
“It was an accident.” I refused to be hushed by Uncle Mitch’s foot pressing against my leg. “I don’t even know how it happened.”
Dr. Roberts tapped, tapped, tapped his pencil.
“According to Mr. Beck,” Dr. Roberts looked down at his papers, “sparks flew from your fingertips.” Tap, tap, tap. “Can you explain this?”
“Would it matter if I could?” I folded my arms, leaned back in my chair, and kicked Uncle Mitch with my saddle shoe. Ditching the Hartly uniform was the only upside of expulsion I could see. Goodbye, tartan plaid pleated skirts. So long, itchy red sweaters, and knee-high socks. Adios, clunky black and white saddle shoes. But as I thought of what changing schools really meant, I blinked back tears and hoped no one would see.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Roberts said. “Evelynn is an excellent student—a credit to Hartly and a reflection of the outstanding academic program we here at the academy espouse.”
He sounded like he was giving a speech at a school fundraiser and begging parents for more money. I glanced at the papers on his desk and saw my name at the top with a red slash through it.
“Of course, she’s an excellent student!” Uncle Mitch exploded.
I gaped at him. Uncle Mitch never exploded—except when he accidentally ate dairy—but that was a different, smellier sort of explosion.
“Which is why I’m sure she won’t have any problem adjusting to the public school,” Dr. Roberts continued.
Public school? Yes, please.
Uncle Mitch gave a small, almost imperceptible shake of his head.
“Because I was fairly sure you would feel that way,” Dr. Roberts leaned forward, “I took the liberty of speaking to Evelynn’s grandmother.”
Wait. What?
Uncle Mitch blanched and refused to me my questioning gaze when I kicked him. I kicked him harder.
He didn’t flinch, but continued to give Dr. Roberts his best death stare. Uncle Mitch doesn’t have x-ray vision like superman, but with his dark hair, blue eyes, and square jaw, he sort of looks like him. Not that he would ever wear tights. He mostly wore button down plaid shirts with a pencil and small notebook in the pocket, khaki pants, and leather penny loafers. Today, in an effort to dress up for the occasion, he’d worn his favorite wool sports jacket with the frayed cuffs.
Dr. Roberts placed his elbows on the table. “As you are aware, Faith Despaign Academy is an excellent school, and as a former trustee—”
Uncle Mitch pushed to his feet. “This meeting is over,” he said through tight, white lips.
“Have you consulted with Evelynn’s parents?” Dr. Roberts also stood.
Uncle Mitch gave Dr. Roberts a silencing look. “I am Evie’s legal guardian.”
“I just thought Mr. Marston would like to know. I rather hoped to meet him.”
Of course, he did. Everyone wanted to meet my father. Money makes insta-friends.
“I had hoped to see Sophia, Mrs. Marston, as well,” Dr. Roberts babbled, flushing, obviously trying not to look like the money grabber that he was. “Is she—”
“Still in India,” I said.
“I’m sure she’ll want to be appraised of this situation.” He paused and smiled at me. “I knew your mother when we were kids. You remind me of her.”
For a moment, he looked almost human. I tried to picture him with his heavily starched suit and slicked back hair standing beside my mom’s red corkscrew curls and random freckles. They didn’t belong in the same room. Maybe not even on the same planet. They were definitely different species.
“We grew up together,” Dr. Roberts continued. “That’s why I felt comfortable contacting Mrs. La Faye.”
Uncle Mitch headed for the door.
Dr. Roberts scrambled after him. “I would have hesitated to dismiss Evelynn if I hadn’t known she had a place at Faith Despaign.”
Uncle Mitch spun on his heel. “Did Beatrix set this up?”
Dr. Roberts reeled back. “No-o,” he stammered. “How could she?”
Uncle Mitch studied Dr. Roberts through slit eyes.
“Arson is a serious crime.” Dr. Roberts visibly wilted and slunk behind the safety of his desk. He shuffled the papers that wore my name. “Again, I’m very sorry about this, Evelynn and Dr. Marston, but I’m sure you’ll find Faith—”
With an angry grunt that sounded a little like the noise Scratch, our bulldog, makes when he has to move, Uncle Mitch headed for the door.
I followed.
My uncle stalked down the deserted hall, out the door, and down the steps. The acrid smoke smell still hung in the air even though the fire had been put out days ago. I tried not to look at the black cavernous hole that had once housed the science department.
I hurried to stay next to him. “Do you want to tell me about my grandmother?” I asked, my voice shaking.
“No,” he said without looking at me. “Do you want to tell me how the fire really started?”
“I can’t.”
Uncle Mitch increased his speed, and I trotted beside him in my clunky saddle shoes. “But—don’t you think having a grandmother is something I should have known before now?”
He stopped and met my gaze. “No.” He strode away.
I stared at his back, realizing I had never seen him angry before. Never. Not even when my friend, Bree, accidentally backed into his 1958 T-Bird with her 2000 Toyota Corolla, or when Scratch was a puppy and chewed up one of his loafers, or when I accidentally knocked over his moth habitat, and we had larvae everywhere in the house for months. Mrs. Mateo had been really mad, but Uncle Mitch hadn’t said a word and just went back to recreating the moths’ home.
Thinking about all the many ways I’d disrupted his solitary life made me once again grateful I’d gotten Uncle Mitch in the divorce. Dad got Maria, Mom got Fred, and I got Uncle Mitch. I had definitely won. But at the moment, my curiosity was having a face-off with gratitude, and curiosity was winning big time.
“I’m sixteen years old!”
“Fifteen,” Uncle Mitch corrected. “Your birthday isn’t until January.”
“I know when my birthday is. What I don’t know…or didn’t know…was I have a grandmother!” I stopped chasing him and watched him stalk away from me. “Isn’t that something someone should have told me?”
“No.” He didn’t turn around, but marched toward his car.
I ran, afraid he would drive off and leave me in the nearly empty parking lot. I climbed in the T-Bird, closed the door, and stared at him.
“Why not?”
After sticking the key in the ignition and putting the car in gear, he met my gaze. “I promised your mom and dad.” He lifted his shoulder in a defeated shrug. “You’ll have to ask them.”
“Did my grandmother know about me?” It stung that not only would my parents and Uncle Mitch keep such a huge secret from me, but that the mysterious Beatrix grandmother hadn’t even wanted to know me.
Uncle Mitch, grim faced, didn’t answer, but steered his ancient car out of the parking lot and down the tree-lined street. Red, gold, and yellow leaves fluttered past the window.
“Do I have a grandfather I don’t know about?”
“Aunts, uncles, cousins?”
He didn’t answer.
“So, I do.” I chewed on this. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Anger, frustration, and curiosity built like a dark cloud. Growing warm and agitated, I curled my hands into tight fists.
Taking three deep breaths, I looked out the window and watched the familiar landscape flash by. I had lived on Elm Street my entire life. I had started Hartly in kindergarten. I didn’t even know anyone who went to Faith Despaign.
“Where’s this school?”
For a moment, sympathy flashed in his eyes. “North Harbor, off the Merit.”
“It’s expensive, then.” I knew my dad had money, but I’d always assumed my mother’s family was poor. I don’t know why, except my mother was always, as Grammy Jean used to say, a free spirit in sandals. Mom wore long gypsy skirts and gauzy blouses even in the winter when everyone else wore itchy wool.
A thought struck me. Maybe Mom’s clothes were more than just a fashion statement! Maybe, like me, she had a temperature problem.
I scrounged through my bag, looking for my phone. Then I remembered. Sticking out my hand, palm out, I said, “I want to call my mom.”
Uncle Mitch glanced at me before reaching into his pocket and pulling out his phone.
“Aw, come on! I can’t even have my phone for two minutes?”
“By orders of your dad, you’re grounded.” He slapped his phone into my palm.
“Ugh.” I started to press Mom’s number, then froze.
“What’s the matter?” Concern touched Uncle Mitch’s voice.
I shook my head, blinked back tears and stared out the window. How could I ask my mom—or anyone, really—if she sparked, too?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My LDStorymakers Conference

My amazing friend and critique partner, Melanie Jacobson, is the head chair of the LDStorymakers conference, and she convinced me to go. Almost immediately after I paid my  registration fee I began to have second doubts. Not that I don’t think the conference is wonderful, but the last time I had attended I felt that it was geared toward the traditionally published and those hoping to be traditionally published, and since that wasn’t my hope or plan, I really regretted my decision to go.
At one point, I decided that I didn’t want to pay for the flight, the rental car, or the hotel, and I considered ditching. I felt so conflicted I made it a matter of prayer. I received a strong prompting that I needed to go, and I needed to put my finished but unedited book Witch Ways in the Kindle Scout program and ask people that I met at the conference to vote for my book. So, I polished the book, sent it to my editor who got it back to me in a remarkably short period of time, went through the edits, asked my daughter to make my cover, and made up business with a “vote for my book” sticker that I placed on the back. Finally, I put the book in the Kindle Scout program and announced to the world that I had done so.
Witching Ways has been in the program for a week and it’s been rocking the hot and trending list since day one. (You can vote for it here. ) I never would have put the book into the program if I hadn’t waffled over my decision to attend the LDStorymakers Conference.


Further more, once I decided I would go a series of amazing things happened. My friend who owns a 125-year-old house just a few blocks away from the conference told me her house was empty (aside from a sofa—my bed) and that I was welcome to stay in it. My sister, who lives in Utah, asked if I wanted to borrow her spare car. She also provided a sleeping bag, towel, and umbrella. And suddenly, the cost the trip didn’t seem like such a big deal. I think it’s interesting that I had to decide to go, finish the book, enroll it in the program and make up the cards before my friend offered up her house and my sister mentioned her spare car. On a very small and minor scale, it reminded me of how the Children of Israel had to enter the Red Sea before the waters parted and gave way to dry land. We have to prove we’re willing to wade in before the amazing things can happen.
And yes, I still had to pay for the flight, but it was less than $200. And yes, I still have to be social and rub shoulders with friendly strangers, but the workshops have been wonderful and the speakers inspiring. I’m glad I’m here.
I don’t know if Witch Ways will be picked up by the Kindle Scout program, but it’s been exciting to watch it bounce around the hot and trending list. I’m glad it’s there.
I believe in prayer. But I also wonder if prayer isn’t more effective when I don’t have my own agenda. I was really ready to stay at home, or go. Either one. I was open. And I’m glad.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Review of John Green’s Paper Towns and also Profanity is Stupid

I just read John Green’s Paper Towns. And I loved it. Except for the language. Maybe in the interest of being authentic, Green felt he had to pepper on the profanity. But can I just say that profanity is stupid. Why ruin a good book with important things to say by douching it?

When my son braved the brand new world of kindergarten, he learned that most words were “good” and some were “bad.” This new concept shocked him, and he wanted me to list all the “bad” words so that he would know what he could and could not say on the playground or in the classroom.
Not having a potty-mouth, I didn’t know how to respond. Finally, I came up with this solution. “If it’s a word that you’ve never heard me say, then you know it’s probably not a good word.” A few days later, my son returned home and said, “Mom, I’ve never heard you say the word oviparous, does that mean I shouldn’t use that word?”

Which begs the question—why are some words relegated to the sewer? Why is the middle finger so offensive? It’s silly when you think about it. But it seems that all cultures have “proper” and “improper” words and actions.

My daughter is currently serving a mission in Taiwan, and here are a few things that you must and must not do there:
If you give someone something, try to use both hands (especially if they're older).
Never stick your chopsticks straight up in your rice, that's like a death wish on the family.
Also never write someone's name in red without asking for permission first.

If you want to travel the world, all these dos and do nots can be a lot to remember, but don’t you think you should at least try? Why not try and get along with prudies as well as the potty-mouths? Even if you think it’s dumb?

That being said, here are some of my favorite lines from John Green’s Paper Towns:
Maybe by imagining these futures we can make them real, and maybe not, but either way we must imagine them.
If you don't imagine, nothing ever happens at all.
Margo wasn't not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.
You gotta stop looking up at the sky, or one of these days you;ll look back down and see that you floated away, too.
All those that houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning their future to stay warm. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too.

Such great thoughts. Why dirty them up?

(Don't forget to vote for my book, a young adult novel without cussing. vote here)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, a review

I really loved this book, except for one (kind of big for me) thing. First, I loved the prose and I loved the characters. I liked the way Gus called Hazel Hazel Grace, and I liked how mature they were. I think pain and disease would do that. Having watched my mom die of cancer, I liked how honest this book was. It wasn't afraid to talk about vomit, pee, falling down, and the stupid things people say. I really loved Peter Van-what's-his-name, who showed us that cancer hurts and destroys more than just its victims. But here's the big thing that bothered me. I just don't think 16 year olds, even those with cancer, are mature enough for sex. And when they went to Amsterdam, they hadn't even kissed yet. I guess Gus just carried around some condoms because he was optimistic? This could have been a perfect book. But throwing the sex in was just messy (and irresponsible.)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Curious About the Kindle Scout Program?

My Kindle Scout winning book, Witch Ways, is now only .99 cents. Get yours here.
Don't know what the Kindle Scout program is?
Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books.
Browse new books.
Every book has 30 days to earn your nomination.
When you discover a book that you think is great, nominate it.
Update your nominations whenever you wish.
When a book’s 30-day campaign ends, you will receive an early,FREE copy of all the Kindle Scout books you nominated that are published.
Submit your book to Kindle Scout and be considered for a publishing contract with Kindle Press in 45 days or less. Welcome submissions for English-language books in the following genres: Romance, Mystery & Thriller, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Literature & Fiction. Action & Adventure, Contemporary Fiction, and Historical Fiction will be accepted within the Literature & Fiction category. Any adult with a valid U.S. bank account and a U.S. social security number or tax identification number is eligible. Checkout the Kindle Scout Eligibility & Content Guidelines.
Under the agreement, you grant us a 45-day exclusivity period to consider your work for publication. That is just long enough to allow for Amazon to review your submission and the 30-day nomination period for your book's campaign. At the end of your campaign they will let you know whether your book has been selected for publication by Kindle Press. If your book is selected for publication, Amazon will have the exclusive, worldwide rights to publish your book in digital and audio formats in all languages for a 5-year renewable term. Otherwise, you automatically get all your rights back at the end of the 45-day exclusivity period. Please be sure to read the Kindle Press Submission & Publishing Agreement in full before you submit your work to Kindle Scout.
Synopsis of Agreement
If your book is selected for publication by Kindle Press, we'll have the exclusive worldwide right to publish it in eBook and audio formats, in all languages, for a term beginning on the selection date and auto-renewing every five years. If you do not earn at least $25,000 during any 5-year term, you'll have six months after the end of that 5-year period in which you can choose to stop publishing with us and request your rights back.
You get:
An opportunity to get paid for your writing. They're looking for never-before-published books of about 50,000 words or more. If selected, you will be entitled to a $1,500 advance and royalties on net revenues at a rate of 50% for eBooks, 25% for audio editions and 20% for translations.
If your book is selected for publication by Kindle Press and you later want to stop publishing with Amazon you'll be able to get your rights back in a variety of circumstances.
You can vote for my book here:

(Please nominate my book to get a free copy.)

Friday, May 8, 2015

How to Fall,by Jane Casey a review

I really enjoyed reading about Jess, Will and their summer in small English coastal town. Jess was definitely plucky--which I always like--but at the end she sadly wandered into that "stupid to live" zone so common in mystery novels. But other than that glaring bout of stupidity, I really liked this book. Except for Dan Henderson. No one could like Dan Henderson...Jess' mom needs to wise up.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Witch Ways Blurb. Needs Help

Click for Options
As soon as I write this 500 characters or less blurb, I'm going to enroll my book in the Kindle Scout program. But first, the blurb...which is always hard, but now it's especially difficult because 500 characters... so here it is. Suggestions please.
I didn’t mean to burn down the science building. But I got mad, things caught on fire, and I was expelled. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, and because it was so frightening, I had hoped nothing like that would ever happen again.
I was sent to Faith Despaign Academy, the only school that would accept me. Steeped in superstition and riddled with rumors, Faith Despaign was once home to Connecticut’s last convicted witch.
The most important thing I learned at Faith Despaign is a fire isn’t the most frightening thing that can happen in high school.