Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Some of the Whys Behind Sugar

Some of the whys behind penning the novel, Sugar. In case you were wondering...

In the storm of a doctor sanctioned elimination diet wherein I couldn't have caffeine, alcohol, sugar, gluten, in other words all the yummy things, the seed of a story—where a girl, struggling with her relationship to food—took root. As my body detoxed and my mind rebelled, insisting that one cookie would be okay, I had an epiphany moment where I asked myself, do I want my health or do I want a cookie? (And let me tell you, I LOVE cookies.) In other words, the question became, what's more valuable, my life, livelihood, and well-being or the temporary gratification that sugar was going to provide: the hit to erase how difficult my health/dietary situation (among other things) was. 

Suffice it to say, I won. But my curiosity caught on what that cookie represented. Why did my battle come down to a standoff with a baked good—and not even a very good one. It was dry and stale, certainly not soft-in-the-center with just the right amount of crispiness around the edges.

As weeks turned into months and my health was restored, I gained clarity that pointed me to ask questions and examine my own habits. I explored the ways in which I ate and the reasons why—those beyond nourishment—and how emotion tied into them.

I sifted through memories of times of difficulty where I turned to food (or turned away from it) so I could feel full, complete, and forget whatever was troubling me. I stuffed myself to dull the emotional strain of those moments, tied to pain and feelings of helplessness and fear. I created a secondary form of suffering to mask my original hurts, in the form of over-eating, under-eating and at times, an unhealthy relationship with sweets. This realization jolted me not only because of the physical health ramifications for my particular issues, but because I was, in effect, dimming my spark, sinking beneath a belief that I was somehow inadequate, and incapable of handling whatever challenges I faced. The message I gave myself was I am not good enough, I can't come through this, I don't deserve to…instead, I'll have a cookie, or ten.

But I refused to believe that faulty memo. What I do believe in is hope, strength, and resilience. I believe in the power of asking ourselves what we want and taking action. From there, the story for Sugar—a girl snagged in emotional abuse, which essentially resulted in forms of physical abuse vis-a-vis food, along with actual physical abuse—went from seed to sprout.

Sugar, the character, is a person who is heavy, big, most would call her fat but the story isn't commentary on what particular size a person should be. Or that people with a certain number on the scale all binge eat or stuff down their emotions with food. It's not an attack on body image or about a girl chasing an ideal. 

Sugar is a person who gets a peek at who she is beyond the mirror. With that single glimpse, she sees her inner beauty; she understands that her life is worth fighting for despite obstacles, challenges, and the message of worthlessness from her family and community. With support and the abiding belief that she is not alone, mixed with a hefty measure of determination, she creates a recipe that results in her ability to see her outward beauty and experience body acceptance. She meets herself where she is and learns to love that girl, curves and all. This allows her to offer the gifts she has to give: friendship among them.

I wrote Sugar to convey one version of the human experience, to inspire hope where there might be bullying, self-hatred, and pain, and ultimately offer girls and women the courage to experience the triumph of embracing our lives so that we, like Sugar, will bloom.

Adapted from an essay I wrote earlier this year.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Writing & Publication Journey

Photo: Morgan Sessions

In the Beginning...

Long, long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, I was a young mother with children who adored reading: picture books, board books, treasured classics on high shelves that kids with sticky hands ought not chew on. Nestled in my lap or leaning against my side on the sofa, in waiting rooms, and on beanbags at the library, these kids and I would read. A lot. They loved beautifully illustrated stories, but they also liked me to tell them tales on lengthy car trips that had all of us goofy with laughter as the ridiculous turns "Elvis & JoJo" took as I tried concentrating on the road and keeping the threads of the characters' adventures straight.

Like many writers, I claim to have always "written" and while this is true, the more honest answer is that I wrote abstractly and sporadically since I was a child. My favorite and most memorable grammar school activity was when our class wrote and made a real book: the binding was cardboard and the cover: wallpaper. We stitched it all together like pros with thick string. It was magic.

My AP English teacher in high school accused me of being too analytic, but looking back, I appreciate how she pushed me toward unleashing my creativity. College was a hodgepodge of misguided living, but I distinctly recall a creative writing class wherein I stared at a blank page and thought to myself, I can do this then proceeded to fill it. It was somewhere in the soup of those years when I forced my way through the challenge of transferring thoughts to the keyboard, instead of pen and paper. It felt strange, almost unnatural, but now I thank my fleet fingers for getting the words down much more quickly than I can write. Plus, my penmanship is rubbish.

And then...

It was around the frenzied time of toddlerdom, that I bought a trusty "good spiral" and started jotting down fragments of story ideas, mostly delightful picture book type silliness. Then when I was emerging from those diapered, gonzo, cheddar goldfish and cheerios everywhere years, I deluded myself into thinking I'd be a screenwriter. I learned the form and wrote a couple rom-coms. I can't speak to their quality because I haven't looked at them in over five years and I imagine it will stay that way.

Enter Twilight. No, not an opaline sunset, vanishing behind majestic hills, the vampire-werewolf story. One of my besties kinda insisted I read it. Actually, it may have been New Moon, but it was like, read this or we're not friends anymore. Kidding. But I took the book recommendation on good authority and started at the beginning.

I didn't make it through the first chapter before I was at my desktop, sketching a story that involved a girl who accidentally invoked mythic characters to life. It was about falling in love and overcoming the sometimes small perceptions we have of ourselves. It started with a lot of telling, was all over the place with dialog breaks, and generally didn't stand a chance. But I put on my rose-colored sunglasses, my whirl-a-gig hat, and queried it.

Photo: Blair Fraser

Crickets. If crickets were playing the song, no.

The ms was called The Spark and I was in love. With writing. Not the book. It's tucked away, shelved, only the cat knows where it is. But my father enjoyed it and that's something. He also bought me a word processing program and that was a big help.

Nevertheless, I had the bug. I read whatever I could get my hands on by Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott, along with the rest of the Twilight series. Sorry not sorry.

It was around this time that I'd taken up surfing, which on the northern Atlantic, supports a short season. Actually, unless you're a right whale, it's a really short season. To satisfy my longing for salt, I wrote a book called To the Sea. Then a little heart breaker called Sugar. The seed of the story came about during a health crisis that ultimately forced me to ask the question what if… What if I became an active participant in my mental and physical health. Then that morphed into more inquiry like, what would happen if we obsessed about the things we love about ourselves instead of our perceived failings, shortcomings, and the rejoinder, my butt looks too big in these pants. Things really got cooking as I poured words onto the page, creating a patchwork of chapters and scenes. I gave a voice to Sugar's relationship with food and the difficulties, as well as the triumphs that she faces. 

It was around this time I started blogging regularly, with a group of friends, mostly about women's health and parenting. In addition to a related resource guide—a journal of sorts for women's health. Eventually... leading me to create this blog.

And I kept querying The Spark, To the Sea, and Sugar. Remember the girl with the rose-colored sunglasses, thinking I was going to burst into the publishing world singing a Broadway show tune about my arrival? I've done it! I'm here, guys! Read my beautiful words! When in reality it was more like the Impossible Dream from Man from la Mancha. 

Wah, wah.

But I didn't let the chorus of nos coming from agents and publishers stop me. Nuh uh!

I kept writing.

I delved into fantasy with a couple romances about a boy falling in love with a mermaid, a pre-dystopian world where I girl is drafted into a camp where legions of children are taught combat, and back to contemporary with a novel about a young girl breaking the cycle of addiction. Actually, I may have this all out of order, there were so many words I've lost track of which came first and next.

Photo: Jeremy Ricketts
Around this time I became aware of a little fiction category called new adult. It was bold, salty, smexy! And that surfing story I wrote so long ago, kinda fit neatly into the contemporary romance slot. Along with writing, I started to create a social media presence and participated in forums, contests, and peer critique sessions, mostly hearing that I wasn't quite there, yet.

Summon Shiva & the ever-helpful Parvati and/or the sword of Gryffindor. (Made strong by taking in that which is otherwise soul crushing and transforming it into an opportunity for growth.) 

There were a couple times* when I walked into the brick wall of "Sorry, this doesn't fit our list," and "Thank you for your submission, but it's a pass," and "Best wishes in your writing career, but this doesn't work for us" ad nauseam, causing my eyes got a little misty. Along with the refrain from my peers, SHOW DON'T TELL! None of it made me bitter or want to quit or throw my computer and every stupid thing I'd ever written out the window. Okay, maybe once. *I've logged hundreds (if we're rounding, we'd go to 1,000) queries over the years. There were requests, hope, but they all ended up being no. The brick wall I refer to was when I took the nos personally.

But there was a lesson in all of this, aside from simply writing more and better. It was patience.




Do you get the idea?





Going Indie...

But I wasn't particularly patient. Maybe a little on the third Wednesday of the month and on Sundays, also when I was at the beach. Instead, I decided to delve into the world of indie publishing with my new adult novel To the Sea. Whoopie! That was me, jumping off the side of a cliff into the roiling water below, sans life raft. Good thing I know how to surf. 

After researching layout, format, publishing options, and promotion, in February 2014 To the Sea went live for Kindle and in paperback. It flopped. But I'd published a book that I believed in, that I could read, along with some supportive friends and members of my family. And…some amazing folks I met on Twitter who were doing the same thing. It gave me momentum. 

I dove in deep writing over the course of the year putting out a novella follow up to To the Sea called Surfaced. I'd been seeing that one of the keys to indie success was volume, but I wasn't willing to sacrifice quality either. I wanted my stories to stay true to my voice and intentions so I conceived the theme: Follow your Bliss and created two more full-length novels and two complementary novellas, releasing them over the course of the year. I also wrote a novelette, Through the Jungle, that acts as both a prequel to the series and a sequel involving all the Follow your Bliss characters providing a richer reading experience of the series. And true to my indie roots, it's forever FREE! You can find out how to follow your bliss, here.

In the midst of that, I'd continued to sporadically query agents who popped up on my radar and I also wrote: a middle grade book and a young adult fantasy reimagining of the goddess Kali. I also entered a few contests, promoted the Follow your Bliss series, and maintained my presence on social media….and then I received an email. 

THE EMAIL that changed everything...

The editorial leader of Skyscape Publishing inquired as to whether I'd be interested in pursuing traditional publishing with my novel Sugar.

Yes, yes I would because that story in particular was written from a brave place in my heart and if given the opportunity to share it wide and far, then yes please, sign me up!

Thereafter I embarked upon a wonderful journey with the team at Skyscape, instantly feeling like a member of the publishing family from the way my editor clearly understood my vision and worked with me to give Sugar wings. 

The editing process taught me that while writing is a solo endeavor, everything afterward is a partnership, a collaborative process; one I'm thankful I've been incredibly supported in. My editors offered insights, helped me excavate the gems, and polish them to shining.

There was a lot of sending the manuscript back and forth, tinkering with the words and getting them what my editor called, "Deirdre perfect." 

Then we started with the cover design process and golly gee what fun! Three initial concepts were drafted and each one was beautiful, but the stunner, the one you see here stopped me. There was another close contender, but the sugar dissolving into the water, the ripples, the sparkles, that cover spoke tension, change, poignancy. 

There were more edits (not changes to the manuscript at that point, but little grammar corrections here and there.) I think I read Sugar a total of twelve times and with each one, I cried a bit. That's the kind of book it is.

After this, we moved into the marketing and promo phase. Yeehaw! It started to feel more real, especially when I received the batch of advance reader copies, created bookmarks, and brainstormed swag. I was also asked to reflect on Sugar, why I wrote it, and what the story means to me, which brought me back to why I write to begin with. 

On writing...

I could write an entire essay on why I write, but the simplest answer is to connect.

I write to connect the dots between my heart and my mind.

I write to connect with worlds real and imagined.

I write to connect with readers, people.

I write to connect innocence and vulnerability, courage and doubt, friendship and independence.

I write to connect to wonder, the power of an awe-inspiring "first time" experience.

I write to connect to possibility.

I write to connect to freedom.

I write to connect to words, stories, to shared human experience.

Then this happened...

Then Sugar launched as a Kindle First book, rocking the #1 spot for books> teens > romance > contemporary list on Amazon.


I did not see that coming. Seriously. 

I'm so grateful. And now I'm crying. I'm thankful because for all the reasons listed why I connect through writing, the best feeling is knowing that readers connect with the story I wrote. It's a reminder that us humans, we're all linked by invisible thread, we can related and commune and I think that's spectacularly special.


In the meantime, I've written three more young adult novels. 

Writers write, yo. That's what we do. 

I'm pleased to share that Pearl, formerly known as Girl on the Edge, one of the manuscripts I mentioned writing above is slated for release in March 2016 from Skyscape.

That was mostly the tale of my writing and publishing journey. Thank you for joining me. And now what? Now, I write.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Sugar Countdown—It's On!

So there's this: my debut young adult novel, 
Sugar, Skyscape, June 1st. 
Wha? Yes.

That's less than one month. 


If you're as excited as me you'll be pleased to know I'll be posting weekly until then about all kinds of publication and Sugar related stuff as I gear up for launch. I'll be returning to regularly scheduled programming sometime in June. Sorry not sorry because guys! For once I'm at a loss for words, but I'll give it a shot:

I'm stoked. 
It's tremendous—that just beyond reach sense of dreams coming true. 
I feel stupid happy.
My stomach is in a constant state of fluttering with the excitement. 
Oh geez am I nervous.
And a little obsessed.
Caught in a whirlwind. 
Extraordinarily lucky. 
Panting as I try to keep pace.
Thrilled beyond! 

But mostly I'm grateful because this book carries a piece of my heart and it's such an honor that it'll soon be available to read.

So am I feeling everything at once? Yep, pretty much. Kind of like this, except I don't wanna be everything at once, I FEEL everything at once...Get the picture?

This calls for capital letter kinds of celebration with a pop and a fizz and confetti! Are you with me?

I hope so. In the meantime, I'm going to slow things down a whisker and reflect and share what the last 11 months have been life during my publication journey, why I wrote Sugar, and a round up of Sugar-related addenda like articles, etc.

Also, you can pre-order your paperback or audio versions of SUGAR so you get your copy right when it's released (and do my publisher a solid by letting them know you're pumped to get your hands on the novel.) Also...Sugar is available as part of the Kindle First library, meaning, you can get your ecopy now! Like RIGHT now

Also, ahem, Sugar is the #1 book Teens & Young adult. Yes. #1. *Thud.* That's me collapsing. Ok, now I'm on my feet again, jumping up and down. Woo hoo!

Thank you for celebrating with me, guys, this is pretty flippin' (as Sugar would say) AWESOME!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How to Help an Author

Rah! Rah! Rah! 

We all need cheerleaders whether we work in an office, spend the day with the kids, teach the care and taming of dragons, or write for a living. And most people—authors included—want to earn a living wage writing stories and we have you to thank, dear, wonderful readers!

I've had a few people ask me lately what they can do to support the upcoming release of Sugar (my debut young adult novel from Skyscape. 6/1/15. Squeee!) 

First, again, I thank all of you because you've already helped provide a strong foundation with kind and thoughtful words of encouragement. It means so much, knowing that this little book that started as a fledgling has now grown wings and will end up in your caring hands.

But since you asked, here's a solid stack of ways you can help spread the word about Sugar or any author and novel you enjoy. The literary world is a rich and wonderful place so I invite you to join in the community if you haven't already. Full disclosure, I'm going to toss in a few specifics for Sugar, but the general ideas apply to any book and author. 

1. Pre-order the book. The bonus here is occasionally you'll get it before the release date or right on, meaning you won't have to wait or have picking up the book slip your mind. Find Sugar here.

2. Buy the book in whatever format works for you. Despite our best intentions, so many of us have to put reading for pleasure toward the end of the to do list. The good news is you can listen to your fave stories or keep a copy on your ereader or tablet when you have a few minutes between commitments or while traveling. 

You can get Sugar in paperback from Amazon, Kindle, audio book, Barnes and Noble, online or in store, IndieBound, and of course at your local bookstore. If you don't see it in stock, politely request it from your bookseller.

3. Gift the book. Books are great gifts for holidays, birthdays, or just a little special something for someone sweet. You can also gift a copy of the book to your friends, family, coworkers, or book lovers. I also like doing "one for me, one for you." Sometimes if I spot something I fall in love with, I'll get a second one for someone else who I think would enjoy it. You can also leave a second at a library, coffee shop, participate in events like Rock the Drop, and super cool projects like the Little Free Library.

4. Read the book. Duh, right? But you can introduce it to your book group. (Or start one! They're great fun, there's usually food, and lots of laughter.) Check the author's website for questions or talking points specifically tailored for the book to get you started.

5. Spread the word. Ask for the book by name at your bookstore or library. Tell your friends, family, coworkers, fellow booknerds what a great read you've discovered! If you know people in influential positions, for example, those who work at magazines, for websites, in schools, libraries, media outlets, or just during casual dinner convo, talk it up!

6. Leave a review. Don't let this intimate you. Or if you enjoy sharing your opinions and thoughts, let the words flow. You can leave reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other book review sites. Hint: if you're not a wordsmith, just leaving a star rating is very much appreciated. You can also use the same review across sites.

7. Post a blog. If you have a blog, even if it isn't a book review blog, write up a post, recommendation, or request promo materials (media kit) from the author for an easy cut and paste. If you don't have a blog, but there's one you enjoy reading that is open to contributions, inquire about sharing a post of that awesome book that you just couldn't put down.

8. Amplify. If you're active on social media, take a photo of the book and post it, retweet or repost items related to the book to followers and friends. It isn't called the world wide web, for nothing. (*Gets memo. Oh, we don't call it that anymore? Got it.)

9. Spread the word! Yes, again. Share what you enjoyed about the book with the author in a tweet, FB post, email, or in person at an author event. Which brings me to...

10. Attend an event. Check your author's website for appearances. The folks who host the event are always happy when you purchase books, have them signed, and participate with friendly enthusiasm.

11. Hangout Online. Chat up your favorite titles on book forums or other related online communities.

12. Follow and Friend. Follow your favorite author's Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter feeds. Not your jam? There's also Pinterest, Instagram, and G+. Wink wink.

13. Subscribe. An Enewsletter is the gold standard for authors. Not to worry, I'm not spammy. Get your quarterly, non-spammy and totally sparkly news from me by signing up here

14. Swag. Some authors have book swag, some don't. You can always make your own. Luna Lovegood's raddish earrings, anyone? There's some Sugar dazzle on Zazzle. That didn't quite work did it? These items also make great gifts along with a copy of the book (and chocolate or tea always goes over well with readers!)

15. Pin it. Add the cover to your bookish board.

16. Donate. Need to donate something to a raffle, giveaway, or auction. A book is a great contribution and it does double duty by promoting literacy!

17. Author pages. Both Amazon and Goodreads have Author pages with a feature where you can "follow" your favorite authors. This way you get info about upcoming releases and recommendations for similar books you may enjoy.

18. Turn it out. At your brick and mortar bookstores, if you see a favorite book, turn it cover out to get more views by other customers.

19. Expose. If browsing Kindles, Nooks, or other ereaders, search for the book and leave the page open. The next person to check out the ereader will see it.

20. Listicle. Amazon and Goodreads both have "lists" There's the wishlist, which you can add books to for gift ideas or so you don't forget to buy when you have some extra scratch. There's also listmania and favorites and recommendations to share. Explore your accounts and list those books you love!

21. Vote. If you see your fave books is in the running for an award or recommendation, your vote matters, cast it.

Phew. That was a long list, but as you see there are both big and small ways you can support books and authors. Some of which you may already do. Thank you for reading this and in general for being a champion of the written word. If you know of any other great ways to help support and promote your favorite authors and books, please share in the comments below. 

Happy reading!

P.S. Here are few sweet little notes to share with your friends. (If you please—and thank you!)

Copy & Paste to Twitter:
Sugar, a bullied teenager who learns to love the reflection of the girl she sees in the mirror. 
#yalit #fiction 

Copy & Paste to post on Facebook: 

Through friendship, Sugar discovers she amounts to more than a worthless daughter, an annoying sister, and the target of the senior class prank.

Twitter or Facebook:

Sugar: novel. A girl, a friendship, a motorcycle, and a green light. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My Earth Day Pledge

"Take care of the earth and she will take care of you."

^Insert and ocean in the above quote. I'm a water-woman. I love me mama earth, but I also adore the Atlantic and the Pacific and all that H2O in between and all around. I mean, they're the same, but they're not, too. So I'm taking it upon myself to make it a point to include our planet's oceans in my celebration of Earth Day. That's cool, right? 

I'm starting a semi-new tradition. An earth day resolution of sorts because I believe resolutions can create revolutions. And while we're revolving on this giant, wondrous, gassy, liquidy, earthen sphere, I want to do more than I did yesterday to make the planet better for tomorrow.

Last spring, I summed up my thoughts on "going gradually green" taking small steps to celebrate Earth Day everyday. I also took a portion of the proceeds from my novel, To the Sea and made a donation to the Surf Rider Foundation. That's a start...

Smooshing these two actions together, I've decided that I'm going to take an annual Earth Day pledge. I'll pick a way to reduce, reuse, recycle, or otherwise reconnect me to this wonderful place I call home. 

This year's pledge: beach clean up.

I'm at the beach multiple times per week. (It knocks my socks off to realize how very fortunate I am that I can write that. And then my socks stay off when I walk along the sand or wade into the water, relishing the awe that great big puddle inspires.) 

And sheesh, there's so much trash! From cigarette butts, to odd bits of plastic, fishing line, to random things like a single glove, a CD, and a chunk of a car's taillight. Today I pulled out a styrofoam cup bobbing in a tide pool, three candy wrappers, and more pieces of random plastic than I could identify. 

I'm not going to lie. I'm not perfect. I've walked right past trash on the ground. I'm sure random things have fallen from my beach bag and landed in the water. In fact, the Pacific claimed my wedding ring, the Atlantic a pair of sunglasses, and the Mediterranean, a sock. Don't ask. It's regrettable, especially the ring. But we do what we can.

Me, picking up trash along the beach, may not be much, but it's something, it's a start, a shift in my own impact, and my hope is that it will not only keep garbage from entering the water, but also inspire others to do the same.

Live by the ocean? No? Wherever you find yourself, here are 30 things we can do right now to help protect our marine environments. 

Here are 20 facts about ocean pollution that are urging me to take action.

Wondering how long it takes things to decompose once they reach our watersheds? Check out this infographic citing over 10 common items that take a staggeringly long time to disappear.

Why does all this matter? I can think of 1 reason. This place we call home supports and sustains us—we ought to remember to be good houseguests.

What are you doing to celebrate our planet this Earth Day? Please let me know below. Oh and a sorta P.S. (But it's also up here so you don't miss it) I just read this inspiring post by vegan warrior and awesome mama, Seyward from Bonzai Aphrodite. (We met at last year's Earth Day festival in Santa Barbara and she's a gem!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Few of my Favorite Things...

I haven't done a Polyvore set in ages! I used to do one seasonally, it's kind of like window shopping and curating the loveliest of lovelies without leaving home. It's sort of like Pinterest for fashion, style, and the home, but you get to select the things you love and arrange them on a board. 

While writing the Follow your Bliss series, if I was stuck or felt like I needed to get closer to a particular character I'd create a set of items that connected me back to them or to help me work through a scene. Unfortunately, I didn't save them all properly—sometimes I'm all head-scratching-huhs? when it comes to certain platforms. Ahem, Facebook.

As a writer, I sometimes find it's useful to step away from a project to shift gears, recharge, and then return feeling fresh. Usually it works best to be away from the computer, but if the weather isn't cooperating or if I just want to take five, this kind of creativity is perfect!

Below is a spring-inspired set! Please share in the comments what you like or something you're gushing over this season. 

Spring 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

99¢ Book Blast!


Over 175 ebooks from over 150 authors--including USA Today Bestsellers--are on sale for 99 cents. This promo will last only April 10th, 11th, and 12th. Find paranormal, fantasy, romance, and much more. Don't forget to tell your friends so they can one-click too! Visit the 99 Cent Book Blast.

Including the first in the Follow your Bliss series, To the Sea!

Happy Reading!