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Monday, October 10, 2011

NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month

For many of you the arrival of October signals that the holidays are just around the corner.  Though for us writers it also signifies that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) will soon be kicking off.  Ah it is that time when procrastinators near and far hunker down and pledge to stop putting off beginning or continuing work on that great novel and get serious about filling numerous blank pages with at least 50,000 words in 30 days.  Really serious about this ambitious effort?  Great, just go to the NaNoWriMo site and officially sign up to be a participant.  Do not forget 11/01/11 is the kick off date.  Good Luck:!)
Happy reading, writing or whatever:)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Vanessa's View

In the past I had the pleasure of interviewing author Vanessa Van Petten.  A dialogue in which I posed questions from my view as an unpublished writer.  Well now Ms. Petten is back here at with juicy tidbits about her new parenting book, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded? and this time we get her view:!) 

By Vanessa Van Petten, creator of a parenting website written from the teen perspective to help parents understand them.

When I was 16 I thought it was my Dad’s goal in life to make me miserable. I was convinced that he had a running list of all the ways he could embarrass me in front of my friends, trick me into doing more chores or make my curfew earlier.

Our relationship would have continued to devolve until one day I saw my Dad reading a parenting book. I flipped through it while my Dad was in the bathroom and realized a lot of the things he did that drove me crazy he was getting right out of this book! I looked at the other parenting books on our shelves and realized that they were all written by adults. I wondered—has anyone ever asked teens to write to their parents?

Video: Author Video: Vanessa Van Petten
I decided to build a website where teens could answer questions and write to parents called  I couldn’t believe how quickly it grew and how happy both teens were to get their voices out and parents were to have a new outlet for connecting with their kids! We now have over 120 teen writers who give advice.

Teenagers, when given a neutral space LOVE talking to parents and often offer some of the best insight because they are going through it themselves. We have also be so excited to help parents who feel like they cannot reach their kids and teens.

I think teens and parents can work together to overcome their differences and learn to work best together. We have just come out with our book: Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded and it is a radical approach to parenting because it is written from the kid’s perspective! We would love for you to check it out—if you are brave enough to see what kids have to say!

What is this book about?
So, you have to forget the old parenting book approach - this book gives parents a totally new way to reach their teenagers because it's the only book that tweens and teens helped write - so we are hearing first-hand advice that actually works! It gets right to the heart of the problems and offers straightforward prescriptive - and effective advice. This is a very different approach to parenting that tackles these modern problems.
What makes this book different?
Before now there has only been resources written from one side of the family equation....the adults. This is the first book that gets both sides talking. What's more, the book goes a step further by using techniques that human lie-dectectors use: What does a teenager's face look like when they are lying? What questions do parents need to ask to get the truth?

You are not a parent, what experience helps you write this book?
Actually me not being a parent is what makes teenagers feel comfortable opening up to me about what they really need from their parents. It allows me to be a translator for what parents need, what teens need and then bringing the two together so they can be on the same side.

You are not a doctor, what experience helps you write this book?
There are already amazing resources out there from doctors and psychologists, we take a very different approach to parenting. We believe that for most families there are really simple miscommunications happening that we just need to decode. With this book, I teach parents what kids really mean when they say, "I don't care" or "Can I have a later curfew." This is advice from teens in the trenches of family life.

Here is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say:

“Van Petten, founder of the popular Web site, offers parents a candid view of the contemporary teen’s world in this eye-opening text. Van Petten uses actual stories about teens and their often anxious, angry, or befuddled parents to introduce each chapter. Pointing out that she is neither a parent nor a teen (nor a doctor, therapist, or counselor), the college-grad author has nevertheless earnestly investigated her subject and includes current research on teens as well as hundreds of “real quotes, interviews, e-mails and advice from actual teens.” Van Petten explores a variety of timely subjects, including peer relationships, teen/parent communication, bullying, technology, and “risky business” (smoking, drinking, sex, and more). Her outlook on technology and “Internet savvy” is particularly incisive, emphasizing not only the hazards of “time-suck” activities (i.e., Facebook, chatting on IM, and texting) but also the many social and academic benefits of the digital universe. Like a crafty spy, Van Petten comfortably segues from parent to teen perspective, and while noting that each adolescent is unique, she skillfully opens doors to the collective teen psyche. “
–Publishers Weekly

Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation's youngest experts, or 'youthologists' on parenting and adolescents. She now runs her popular parenting website,, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers to answer questions from parents and adults. Her approach has been featured by CNN, Fox News, and Wall Street Journal. She was also on the Real Housewives of Orange County helping the housewives with troubled teens. Her next book, "Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I'm Grounded?" is being released in September 2011 with Plume Books of Penguin USA.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What’s All the Buzz About?

Tina Wells Buzz Marketing Group Founder.  She is the It Girl of getting the word out about must have products and the author of the Mackenzie Blue series for tweens. 

Tanya Yvonne:  How did the concept for Mackenzie Blue come about?
Tina Wells:  I was doing research on tweens and their moms at the time. I found that moms felt material such as the Gossip Girl series was too controversial. While they loved that their girls were reading, there was a dilemma of how to keep their tweens entertained with content appropriate for their age group. As a marketer and a writer, I thought I could come up with a solution to the “mean girl” culture, hence Mackenzie Blue. During my Christmas holiday, I developed the story and wrote the proposal in two weeks and showed it to a few friends in the business. Fortunately, one of my clients is an editor at a publishing company. She referred me to an agent to sell the concept of Mackenzie Blue.

TY:  You had built this successful business prior to penning the Mackenzie Blue series and brand extension is what you do, so while composing the first book did you make sure to craft it in such a way that it would indeed be marketable?
TW:  I learned that if I focus more on creating something a customer will want, it would, by definition, be marketable. Often times, products are marketed to people that they neither want nor need. However, in the case of the Mackenzie Blue series, there is a definite want and need. I focused more on what girls were going through at the age of 12 and created a brand the customer would want.

TY:  What hurdles did you face during the writing and publishing process if any?  How did you deal with them?
TW:  I am fortunate to have a fantastic agent and publishing company that provided an amazing experience this first time around. The only challenge I had during the entire process was time management. I had to dedicate myself to developing a brand and running an entire company.

TY:  One teen understanding what it takes to successfully market products to other teens is understandable, even as a twentysomething but now as you delve in to your thirties do you ever worry about there being a perception of a disconnect between you and your core base of teens?
TW:  No, and that’s mainly because of the 9,000 buzzspotters around the world. It’s been my role to serve as a liaison between teens and companies that market and target them. At 31, I listen to thousands of teens about what they want so no, I do not see a difference.

TY:  There are many unpublished writers -like myself- whose blogs are growing in popularity are there any services that you offer which could create some buzz for a brand that is still in its infancy?
TW:  Yes, Buzz Marketing Group offers private consulting services for clients who do not have the budget for a larger marketing campaign.

TY:  How important was it for you to develop a charitable side to your business with ventures such as Project Friends and SisterHood, Inc?
TW:  I think cause marketing and social responsibility are very important to this generation as a whole. It’s not just about the projects but also about my role on board committees for The Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

TY:  Please pass along a piece of advice you wish you had received at the start of your endeavors.
TW:  I don’t have any. I am fortunate to get good advice from my parents. I would say that the best advice from my Dad was, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

TY:  Writers deal with a lot of rejection how have you handled any professional disappointments? 
TW:  I think it’s about brushing it off and constantly moving forward. The difference in starting a company at 16 is you don’t really register the disappointments. I just kept moving.

TY:  What is your favorite thing about your new book, Chasing Youth Culture and Getting it Right?
TW:  As a whole, I like it because it helps people understand a misunderstood generation.

TY:  What is next for you?
TW:  What’s next is growing the agency and creating more multimedia projects.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Girls of Summer

Looking for a good summer read?  Well check out writers Gigi Amateau and Meg Medina's new blog, Girls Of Summer. 
Happy reading, writing or whatever:!)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Chasing Jane

As contributing editor for Writer’s Digest, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, full-time professor at College-Conservatory of Music in its e-media department and --yes there is more-- chair of the award snagging There Are No Rules blog Jane Friedman is publishing’s cool authority.

Tanya Yvonne:  Prior to the start of a writers’ conference I am nervous (really nervous) yet optimistic, what are your emotions?
Jane Friedman:  I'm usually speaking at writers conferences, so I look forward to meeting or networking with the other speakers, as well as seeing writers who I may know only from their online personas.  It's an excellent time to get out from behind the computer screen, and be present with people.

TY:  How important are Blogging, Facebook and Twitter to the new crop of wannabe writers?
The No. 1 priority for new writers—especially fiction writers—is to read and to write (practice).  After that, you should be getting feedback on your work from trusted peers or mentors.  The social media must be a part of every writer's career, of course, but sometimes I worry that writers get too distracted by the Internet to focus on the real work of writing.

TY:  What was the one moment professionally that made you doubt yourself? What pulled you out from it?
JF:  There were a couple months, after I was promoted to publisher of Writer's Digest, that I worried about my ability to grasp the financials of the business, and to put together credible forecasts and budgets.  I really had no one to train me on these duties, and I don't have a business background. However, if you sit in enough meetings where these issues are discussed, and ask the right questions of people who are willing to help, you learn the game.  It's no different than anything else in life. Persist and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

TY:  I am aware of Beginning Writer’s Answer Book yet have you written any fiction? If not what would the Friedman novel read like?
JF:  I wrote some fiction in college, but it's a genre that doesn't interest me any longer.  If I did write fiction, it would probably be like an Alain de Botton or Milan Kundera novel.  Heavily philosophic and pondering.

TY:  Quick, we are in a crowd about to be separated and there is one bit of key advice you wish for me to pass on to other aspiring authors what is it?
JF:  It's about determination, not talent.

TY:  What form does procrastination take for you?  For me it is munching on Spicy Doritos dipped in fat free cream cheese while watching Sex and the City reruns. You?
JF:  I tend to cycle through TV series. Right now, it's Firefly and Six Feet Under.  In a couple months, it'll probably be Deadwood.

TY:  Should the yet to be published be troubled by the demise of traditional books and Borders' bankruptcy filing?
JF:  I wouldn't be troubled.  I would just realize that the model for successful authorship is changing. These days, you don't necessarily have to be selected by a traditional publisher, or have your books distributed in print form, to sell books.  You can do it on your own if you know how to reach your audience.

TY:  Should self-publishing even be on an authors list of options?
JF:  It's a more viable option than ever. Just read JA Konrath's blog to see why.

TY:  Is it wise to post chunks of an unpublished novel online?  I often wonder why writers do this when my first instinct is to keep my work close to me.
JF:  It depends. First you have to ask: What you want to accomplish by sharing or posting your work online?  Posting your work online isn’t going to lead to a traditional book publishing deal—at least not by itself.

But: You're not killing your chances of traditional publication when posting your work online, no matter what the reasoning behind it.  But you might be wasting your time.  There’s not much point in posting it unless you have a strategy or goal in mind, and a way to measure your success.  If you have no interest in marketing your work and connecting with readers after posting your stuff online, don’t do it.

TY:  Freelance work, I know you cover this in your book, is it a good way for newbies to build publishing credentials?
JF:  For fiction writers, freelance work isn't unlikely to make a difference in getting a novel publishing, aside from giving you writing practice.

TY:  How could one use available technologies to find good opportunities for such work?
JF:  Several sites are helpful in identifying freelance opportunities:,, and are a few good places to start.

TY:  Moreover, does it necessarily have to be a paying gig? For instance through your blog I discovered, Words with Jam which welcomes work from new writers but offers no pay.
JF:  Every writer has to make that decision for themselves.  Sometimes reaching a new audience is valuable enough that you'll want to put the time and energy into it.  As you gain experience and credentials, then it's wiser to save your time and energy for paying opportunities.

TY:  Every frustrated writer should read your post, You Hate Your Writing? That’s a Good Sign!soooooo true.  I stopped working on my latest manuscript because I could see how I was forcing the story just to stay within a time frame.  But reading through it I could literally spot the sentence where the forcing began. Therefore, I walked away from it not sure if I would go back to the story.  Fast forward a few weeks and the words, the right words, came to me and I have resumed work.  The next day there was your blog post on spotting crap.  During those few weeks I had panicked unsure of what was happening.  I knew it was not writer’s block because I was still able to write but that it was something else.  Do you think my reaction is a common one?  Now that I know what it is and how it feels I must admit that I dread another such episode.  I want the story to just flow from me like the others.  The ones that were not published, oh, okay now I get it.  

Your ability to spot crap in other’s work is that how you got one of your nicknames, Dream Crusher?
JF:  Your reaction is very common.  Try not to dread its arrival, just don't be surprised when it happens, and know that it will pass.  This is really why success is about determination, and not talent.

The nickname, Dream Crusher, arose out of a conversation I had with my landlord.  When he learned that I worked in publishing, he asked if I rejected a lot of people.  I said that I did, that I was regularly crushing people's dreams.  Next time I saw him, he introduced me to his friends as the "Dream Crusher."

TY:  Blogging for me is a form of writing exercise that tightens my craft.  Do you agree with this sentiment?

JF:  Anything that pushes you to write more often will help you improve your craft.  So yes.

TY:  While attending a writers’ conference I witnessed one person storming off and at least two others nearly brought to tears during their novel pitch critiques. In the beginning, we authors seem to have such an emotional attachment to our works.  Isn't it true that for most of us publication will not happen until we learn to let go and think of it as a product we are trying to market?
JF:  You are exactly right. I could not have said it better myself!

TY:  I always like to end with looking ahead so what is next for you?
JF:  I am working on a new book for writers, to be released by Writer's Digest in 2012.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vanessa Van Petten:!)

Sex, drugs and pop topics that most adults try to avoid having teen and tweens write about, but Vanessa Van Petten is building an empire by having them do just that.  One of 100 top bloggers to watch well according to Women’s Magazine anyway at 25 years-old she is a self-proclaimed youthologist.  A person who is in the know regarding all things teen and tween.  She blogs at where she enlists the raw talent of numerous teen writers.  If you think you can’t learn anything from her, think again.  At 25 she has already self-published two books, is on the cusp of releasing her first traditionally published book and travels the world speaking to groups interested in her unique brand of knowledge.  
                                   Tanya Yvonne: What propelled you to write, Your Grounded!       
Vanessa Van Petten: I was angry at my parents and other parenting books that I thought were very out of touch with what real teens wanted. I wrote You're Grounded for a new perspective.  

TY: Did it go through several revisions?
VP: YES! At first it was just teens then as I started adding to it I wanted to hear from parents. Then three years later I went back and interviewed teens once they had grown up a bit and asked if anything had changed. This gave it a real rounded out feeling.

TY: Was self-publishing your first choice or did you first try the traditional route?
VP: I didn't even try to get a traditional publisher. I heard in self-publishing you can make more money and have control. I am glad I did it for my first book, but will most likely stick with traditional publishers in the future (I have a book coming out with Penguin/Plume in the Fall!)

TY: Why self-publish the second book, Radical Family Workbook and Activity Journal for Parents, Kids and Teens also?
VP: I wanted more control and bigger margins. Although my book has done extremely well for a self-published book, I quickly learned that really you just get more work and less sales when you self-publish.   

TY: What was your major in college?
VP: I was a political science and Chinese double major. I thought I might do investment banking until I realized I could never give up writing or helping teens and parents.

TY: How did come to be?
VP: When I turned 21 I realized that I was no longer a teen and the whole premise of my platform was to provide advice from the teen perspective. I started RadicalParenting to continue to give teens a voice for parents.

TY: Did you always hold the vision that your site would be in the form as it is today?  Meaning shaped by a bunch of talented youths versus just yourself?
VP: It has really stayed on the path that I wanted for it except on a much larger scale, which I feel very lucky for.

TY: How important has blogging been to the writing aspect of your career?
VP: Blogging has been a great practice platform for my writing. I write fiction, non-fiction and self-help and blogging is a great practice stage. It is also an awesome way to reach people in a bite-sized format.

TY: Dish, what was your biggest professional disappointment?  Ever a moment when you doubted yourself and how did you rebound? 
VP: I actually keep a failure file of my failures and what I learned from them. A big one for me would be the failure of a project I started called I wanted it to be a website where both teens and parents vote on their favorite house rules and it was a wiki so both parents and teens write advice together. It just never took off...time, money, it just didnt work. I decided to cut my losses and go with what worked. Thank goodness Radical Parenting was going strong. 

TY: Are there any services that you offer for writers like myself who want to get to that next level?
VP: Yes, I do help authors get their book out there and I help authors build their platform if they want to sell a book. Publishers want authors with audiences and sometimes you need to build a blog before selling. You can check out my services for authors and bloggers here: Parenting Author Partnerships

TY: Your prior books were self-published, yet with your third you have a traditional publisher.  How different is your publishing experience turning out to be this time around? 
VP: It is sooooo much easier. Everyone told me it would be terrible working with a publisher, but I have found the opposite. Now, I have not started selling the book yet so I still have more to learn as I know even with publishers authors do a lot of the work anyway. But, already it was worth it. Getting an advance was great. Having a editing and marketing team behind you for cover and design and layout. It's really great (right now at least). 

TY: Do you feel constricted at all in regards to how you have to present the content?
VP: A little. For example I wanted to have subheadings in my chapters but my editor was not a big fan. Not a big deal, but I definitely had to give that desire up. They have also been really accommodating to me in other areas about my content.

TY: Do you feel that you are an example of where publishing is headed?  Because in the beginning you kind of broke the rules by putting out the first two books yourself, then used the internet to gain the spotlight before finally obtaining a traditional book deal.
VP: YES! Publishers either want famous people or authors with a following online. I think building your platform is essential to selling a book or getting a good deal from them. 

TY: Do you feel that in addition to writing something publishable an author today also has to consider branding? Like with you, when I see your name I instantly think of teen parenting expert.
VP: Branding is big. But branding is big for everyone, not only authors. I think it is important to stay true to your voice and your passions. If you are all over the place you confuse publishers AND readers. 

TY: Please give me details about the new book.
VP: It is: Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I'm Grounded? The title is a mouthful but we wanted something funny and this title was actually submitted by one of my teens. It is a very untraditional guide in to the world of teens and how to reach them as a parent. It will be out in September!

TY: What is next for you?
VP: Working on getting the book out there and always doing blogging. I also work with a lot of brands on their branding for teens and parents. I hope to be writing a lot more book--both fiction and non-fiction hopefully!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Publish Like a Rock Star:!)

You have heard of partying like a rock star, well how about publishing like one?  One evening I was hunched over my laptop click clacking away at my latest manuscript when the phrase, “JWoww’s book” yanked my attention away.  I scrambled for the remote control and fumbled yet managed to click the volume up in time to hear most of the segment on MTV reality star turned author, Jennie “JWoww” Farley.  My mouth fell open from utter disbelief and, yes I must admit, envy.  While I, Tanya Yvonne have spent the last few years conceptualizing, writing, reading and revising Ms. JWoww and other reality stars like her have been putting themselves out there, breaking rules and scoring book deals because of it.  Moreover, by adopting a publish like a rock star type of attitude we aspiring authors can too.

First, create an alter ego.  Mine is TANYAYVONNE.  Accompanied by jazz hands the name flashes in my head just like that.  When she comes out, I am no longer just some wannabe writer but the writer that everyone wants to know.  Suddenly I have the moxy to send out e-mails requesting interviews from notables in publishing for this little blog.  Normally prior to making contact, I would have researched how others went about obtaining interviews.  However, with a newly adopted publish like a rock star attitude I assumed that I would grab their attention, simply went for it and in most instances succeeded.  Next is to brand thyself.

The Situation became a reality rock star by boozing and fist pumping the night away.  Instead of trying to class up his act to move toward sharing a stage with more traditional stars he embraced the public’s perception of him and is now using it to market himself.  I am well aware of the fact that people do not view me as the intellectual type, despite my college degree and having read through James Joyce’s, Ulysses: )  Ordinarily I would have wasted valuable time trying to convince everyone of otherwise.  Yet with my publish like a rock star attitude instead I happily accept the view others have of me and even try to find ways to exploit it.  Like with this piece entitled, Does This Genre Make My Writing Look Phat?   Last but not least, make sure to be wherever the “party” is taking place.

For reality rock stars the “party” is a red carpet where there is a chance for a photo opt, for aspiring authors like us it is a writers conference where you have the opportunity to have your printed name grazed by the eyes of an agent or editor.  So the next time logic threatens to stop you from making a bold move towards being published, pause, summon forth your alter ego and set about publishing like a rock star.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Yeah, but I Know why I'm not Published

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with someone who I shall refer to as Mrs. Blind.  During the course of this conversation, she told me that her husband had just finished his first book and it had only taken him a few months to write.  I remarked something like now the fun part, revisions.  Mrs. Blind gave me a curious look before informing me that Mr. Blind had already begun trying to get it published.  Suddenly I knew what it felt like to be an emergency room nurse as question after question tumbled from my mouth as I tried to come up with a diagnosis.  Some reason as to why Mr. Blind had sent out a first draft.  However, it only took one question from Mrs. Blind to force me to stop, “I thought you just had a blog you do for free?”  After I fixed my face with a polite smile, I gathered my child and excused myself.  It was then that I realized that she, like her husband, was blind to the true inner workings of the publishing world.

There is not a week that goes by where I am not asked about the status of my book.  The book in question could be any of the three I have already completed or the fourth one that I am currently working on.  Book number one was self published.  I managed to find a PR firm to represent it, muscled my way in to several local Barnes & Noble Booksellers, scored an invite to the first local Books in the Park event and snagged some good reviews.  My second book was better than my first.  Since I viewed my self publishing venture as more of a learning experience rather than a lucrative one, I decided never to do it again.  So with book number two I did research, the writing conference thang and queried it until I grew to despise the whole process.  With my third book I started this blog discovered some great writing communities and only sent out two query letters before moving on to my current manuscript.

You see I get that the writing, revising, researching the industry, more writing, revising, querying, rejection and starting it all over is all apart of my education.  One that, as long as I do not give up out of FRUSTRATION, will lead me to finally obtaining my goal.  The difference between writers like Mr. Blind and writers like me is that I know why my previous works were not publishable (this is a good thing:-).  And it has little to do with the quality of writing.  Knowing why your manuscript(s) gets rejected or ignored is just as important as continuing to write.  Otherwise you run the risk of never getting published.      
Happy reading, writing or whatever: )

Monday, February 7, 2011

Is Anybody Out There?

A date is circled on my calendar, it acts as a glaring reminder as to when my latest manuscript needs to be complete.  Therefore, after posting the piece on writer Gigi Amateau I buckled down and went to work on it.  Great right?  Yeah, well you would think so until a few days turned in to a week then two at which time I remembered that I had some other kind of writing to do.  Writing of the social media kind.  I am on Facebook, I do Twitter and of course I run this blog.  All things that I started doing either for fun or at the urging of others.  Yet in the almost year since I have been doing this I have found that my social media activities are like a toddler who is always screaming for my attention while my unfinished manuscript(s) silently waits like an obstinate teenager to be noticed.  As a new writer in the digital age, I feel that it is important to utilize social media yet by doing so I also run the risk of having it distract me from the one thing that will move me from writing for free to being paid to write -which is the ultimate goal.  Sorry but I am not the starving artist type: )  While the pace of social media is enough to make one shy away from it or want to throw in the towel not knowing if anyone will even care about what you tweet or post is even more daunting.  So why bother?  I often tell people that writing is private.  It is not like when a band composes a song.  When I write, it is just me and my computer or my spiral notebook and I.  And it is just us for months.  Words flowing from me to the blank screen or page.  Moreover, after sometime of this one cannot help but to raise this question: Is anybody out there?  Anybody meaning a potential reader, eyes to move over carefully selected words.  This blog, my Facebook author page and Twitter are like me getting a response to that question.  So while social media can be overwhelming at times, like writing novels, it is something worth partaking in.  For more on this topic click here: A Writer's Guide to Social Networking or here: When (or Why) Social Media Fails to Sell Books
Happy reading, writing or whatever:!)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Who's That Girl?

by Tanya Yvonne

Gigi, JaeLynn and Tanya Yvonne
 Only a few patrons were inside the eatery, Café Gutenberg when my daughter, JaeLynn, and me entered. Breathlessly I asked to be pointed in the direction of the nearest bathroom. As we rushed over to it JaeLynn spotted something she hoped would be yummy, a chocolate chip cookie. While she and I waited for Gigi to arrive I ordered that cookie which was indeed as yummy as she had hoped it would be. While JaeLynn sipped on her grape soda spritzer and me, my tasty white mocha a soft ding sound bounced around the space just before the sound of a voice. Soon after I found myself face to face with writer Gigi Amateau. While JaeLynn chatted her up a bit I could not help looking her over. Everything about her that day resonated the term fresh. From head to toe Ms. Gigi was clad in winter white. A look I wish I could wear but have had to set aside for a future when my daughter is no longer enticed with such things as red Kool-Aid or sticky, sour gummies. As Gigi marveled at my most prized possession her genuine smile caused my nerves to melt away. After gently shifting JaeLynn’s focus back to her cookie I began what would turn out to be an enlightening conversation.

I started off with a basic question about how she made the transition from non-profit work to writing. It was with this inquiry that I first got the sense of how much her relationship with her now 17-year-old daughter had influenced her decision to get serious about her writing aspirations. I saw myself in Gigi as she spoke of how she wanted to be an example for her only child as to why when there is something you want to obtain you should actively go for it. And that is exactly what she did. Unlike myself and most writers I know Gigi sat down and charted out a path to publication. At her day job as a grant writer she approached each proposal as if it were a short story. With great enthusiasm she briefly explained to me how what she was doing at the time, drafting grant proposals for non-profit organizations, was indeed akin to story writing because she was telling someone’s tale. She also did something you all may already have done and I have thought about doing, freelance work. Even after all this time her eyes danced as she recalled the feelings upon learning that an article penned by her would be published in a local magazine.

From writing for the pure love of writing, to freelancing, to achieving the ultimate goal of novel publication, Claiming Georgia Tate (Candlewick Press) Gigi’s debut young adult novel garnered a golden review by none other than queen of children’s books Judy Blume who stated this about Claiming Georgia Tate, “I was hooked on the first page and couldn’t put it down until I finished. Then I read it again.” Hello:!) This little tidbit is something I discovered during the course of my research. Miss Modest Gigi did not bring it up at all during our conversation. If it were me, I would have found a way to interject it in to the discourse at least a half of dozen times: ) Having received a rejection letter or two during the course of my writing adventures I pounced on the chance to hear a former aspiring novelist’s tales of rejection woe. But my hopes were soon dashed as she sheepishly told me of how she “got lucky.” After letting a friend (who loved it) read the manuscript that friend (who also loved it) then handed it off to someone who (that’s right, loved it too) handed it off to someone who eventually helped her to find a publisher. Now before all of your eyes turn green with envy, as mine had threatened to do, read on please.

Prior to all that luckiness Gigi received a type of rejection I would not wish on my biggest rival. She applied to a Master of Fine Art (MFA) program and was turned down. Recently I have been pondering making such a move towards an even higher education so this bitter morsel of information drained all green eyed emotions from me. As she spoke of how the rejection made her feel the pleasant smile faded, replaced by a brief look of sadness then an expression of determination. “I cried over it. Stopped writing for years.” Eventually of course (and luckily for us) the lure of the written word pulled her back. Still in the pre-published stage myself I wanted to know what advice Gigi would give her pre-published self. The kind smile returned as she took a moment to mull this over, “Not to worry so much about what others think. Not to take it personally use that criticism to better yourself.”

And on that note -of bettering oneself- the conversation shifted to the James River Writers Organization of which she has served on the board of directors for the past three years. Whenever I hear the words writing organization I immediately envision a quiet group of people sitting around discussing books. Something I naïvely told to Gigi who attempted to suppress a laugh as she quickly dispelled this myth. “The goal of the JRW is to encourage and help writers get out in to the community.” The organization holds and judges contest. Each fall a writers conference (which I will be in attendance this year) is held in Richmond, Virginia. Basically organizations such as the JRW, “They’re good for writers.” Alright I’m convinced and will soon be a member.

Before we said our goodbyes I managed to snag a little known piece of information about Gigi, she is going for her yoga teacher certification. At first I thought this to be very odd, from writing great YA to yoga instructor yet once again it did not take long for Gigi to enlighten me, “I relate it to writing…very personal.” All wide eyed trying to ignore my daughter who is growing more restless by the second I poised this final question, “What’s next for Gigi?”   

“I’ll continue to write.”
So who was that girl? Gigi Amateau of course: )
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Happy reading, writing or whatever: )

Monday, January 3, 2011

Standing Out

This past weekend I was able to steal a few JaeLynn free hours.  You think I curled up with a good book right?  Wrong, I opted for the easy pleasure of television.  After popping in the Sex And The City 2 DVD I settled back with the yummy takeout my honey had gotten me and prepared to be entertained.  After all I knew today was coming and I simply was not ready to think about anything that had to do with writing.  But as with most plans mine got derailed.

Deep in to the first thirty minutes or so of the chick flick and I found myself thinking about story.  Just the word and what it means.  It was during the scenes in which the graduated “It” girls arrived in Abu Dhabi that my mind began to wander.  You see this is where I noticed the story that had pulled me in during the first half hour shifted its focus from story telling to showiness.  Somewhere, someone must have stated that the second installment of the movie must be bigger or needed more, I’ll use Ms. Bradshaw’s word, “sparkle” than its predecessor.  Yeah I get it, in a vast sea of sequels they had to dream up some way for theirs to standout, but along the way they forgot about story.  And how a well written, relatable tale can pull in and take hold of an audience every time.

In college, for one of my classes, I had to write a paper on any story or play found in my literature textbook.  Already bogged down with a heavy work load I flipped through the book simply looking for the shortest story I could find.  Yet as I scanned the many first paragraphs it was the opening of an absorbing play that drew me in and won the honor of being the subject of my essay.  The play was, Mother Courage and Her Children it is a story about a woman who makes her living off of a war that she does not want her offspring to participate in for fear of losing them.

At the time I was a new mother and the text spoke to me just like that scene in Sex And The City 2 when Charlotte sought refuge in a kitchen pantry while her toddler cried for the sake of crying and after her eldest daughter purposely put red paint on her white, designer label skirt.  As writers we do want our work to standout but at times we have to remind ourselves that although "sparkle" is eye catching, it should never be used as the sole means when trying to draw someone in when there is always the tried and true good story telling.
Contest alert: Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award
 You can submit Adult and Young Adult manuscripts from 1/24/11 to 2/6/11.  Good Luck!
Happy reading, writing or whatever:-)