My Summer of Boys

summer-of-boysThe clock hits noon. Time to wake the dragons. With a deep sigh, I do my best to wrap-up whatever contracting project I'm working on and close my laptop. Fortified with a big gulp of cold coffee, I start my rounds with a knock on the 15-year-old's door. Though his alarm has sounded every nine minutes for the past two hours, my knocks and gentle greetings are met with deep, moaning growls.

"Good morning," I say. "Time to get up and go have some fun."

"Grrrr, hmph. Agh."

On to the next...

This summer, I volunteered to play ringmaster to our extended brood of kids. My daughter, plus my husband's three sons. The youngest kid is eleven, the oldest fifteen. I work from home and convinced myself I could complete all required contract work by noon each day, leaving us the rest of the hours for grand adventures and happy family bonding experiences.

These are amazing kids. Smart, funny, remarkably conscientious, they arrest my attention and affection with ease. For the summer, I constructed grandiose plans. Perhaps we'll start our own reading club, or volunteer two days out of the week, or maybe decide on a subject we all find interesting and spend the summer visiting museums and experts to learn all we can about it.

We're one week in.

What a week it's been. I have learned that the boys' beautiful empathy and manners extend to everyone but each other. Two meals out with this hungry crew drained my entire entertainment budget for the week. My goal yesterday narrowed to simply getting out of the house before 3pm and to convince them to stop referring to each other as retards.

Now I review with great skepticism the activities I planned for next week. A trip to the museum. Yeah, right. Cross that one off. Wild Waves? Even if I can find the money to afford the entry and snacks, how will I possibly manage to keep them from shoving each other off one of the slide towers to splatter on the cement below in gory spectacle?

I haven't written in my novel for five days. I'm tired of explaining how deriding your brother by calling him gay diminishes us all. I'm tired of passive aggressive tactics meant to stall our departure so someone can spend just twenty minutes more on their online game campaign. I'm tired of constantly trying to find food to keep the boys full while working within the confines of their incredibly limited palettes.

Did I mention we're just one week in?

Most of my difficulties boil down to the fact that despite having lived part-time with these bonus boys for the better part of six years, I still don't know them very well. When we first started dating, their dad and I waited a full year before we started "blending" our kids for joint activities. Even when we eventually moved in together, I still treated them cautiously, with removed respect and interest.

My father shuffled through an entire deck of girlfriends. Some of them I loved, some I reviled. He even married a few of them. These women drifted in and out of my life with every passing season. I learned to keep my heart closed, guarded, least a bit of leave me as well at their hurried departure. When I first met these boys, I promised myself that I would not hurt them. I would not court their affection and loyalty when I was uncertain about the permanence of my place in their father's life. I would be a friend, and not a very close one. Yet always nice and welcoming.

While this may have been a good approach in the beginning, it doesn't work anymore. These aren't my boyfriend's kids. These are my step-sons. My family. Yet now that we've spent years establishing remote relationships, building greater trust and intimacy proves difficult.

Without trust, my disciple is timid and rare. I still worry about them "not liking me" and hold back in moments when I should be calling out bad behavior and shutting them down. These brothers act out complex power struggles every moment they're together. When I fail to intervene, these battles may become horrifying ugly and destructive.

My daughter and I are reduced to gawking. How can people treat each other so mean? As I am one of six sisters, I actually know this is normal. My daughter, an only child for many years, regards the boys as though an invading alien species.

In thinking through this post before I wrote it down, I came to the realization that not only did I remain aloof to protect the boys and spare myself the guilt of breaking young hearts, I did so to protect my own heart. Did I mention that these kids are amazing? If I love them a little, I can't help but love them truly, madly, deeply. Nothing is ever certain. If I lost my husband, I'd suffer three more losses in the same terrible moment.

The time for hesitation and reserve has past. These kids are my kids now. I open my heart. How they respond is up to them. I'm leaving the museum off the list, but I'm keeping the volunteer work, hard-labor if I can find it. We'll ask their grandma to come to Wild Waves with us. Reinforcements.

Noon tomorrow, I'm going to do the rounds once more. "Good morning," I'll say. "Get up. I can't wait to go have some fun with you."

In SIX WORDS or fewer, write a story about brothers.



In SIX WORDS or fewer, write a story about brothers.

(Leave your story in the comments below.)

What the heck is this? Based on the response to my six word challenges on twitter, I decided to move the prompts to my blog so that you may all enjoy the responses. Hemingway was the first to write a six word story, though the truth of that is up for debate.


The Most Inspirational Self-Publishing Success Story I Have Ever Heard

self-publishing-success-storyPublishing success is something that happens to other people - people with MFA's from Iowa, people who dine with agents in New York, people sprinkled with fairy dust and set apart from us mortal writers. Right?

Not so much.

The most inspirational self-publishing success story I have ever heard begins with two parents facing an incredible family crisis. Jack and Jasinda Wilder were just 30 days from losing their home. They stretched the one small salary between them to the breaking point while supporting their five young kids. Their wildly daring solution? Start writing - and publishing!

In just six months, the husband and wife team published 20 titles, including many romance and erotica. Then, their fast-paced and deeply felt novel "Falling Into You" zoomed to #4 on the New York Times Bestseller List and hit #1 on Amazon.

Through, I had the great luck to talk to Jack and Jasinda about their amazing publishing journey and ask what tips they have for authors seeking such success. Open, intelligent and incredibly real, these authors shared some gems. Watch the video and just try not to feel inspired, I dare you.

~~~~~~ About Jack and Jasinda Wilder ~~~~~~

CBS video:
Amazon Author Page:


How to Write a Query Letter That Will Have Agents Begging for More

how-to-write-a-query-letterThis post was first published on

Do you want to get a publisher to pick up your book? First, you likely need an agent. To get an agent, you’re going to have to write a query letter. I recently sat in on a PNWA presentation by Marilyn Allen, a respected agent and remarkably engaging person. Here’s what I learned from Marilyn on how to write a query letter that will have agents begging for more.

First impressions matter. The three most important things to include in your query letter are the hook, the book, and the cook.

  • The hook: Why would someone drive across to the city to buy this? Grab attention. Make the agent want to read more. This can be what you do for a living, an award, a creative line, or a scientific fact.
  • The book: Include a couple of lines about your book. Don’t write out your whole synopsis, just enough to get the agent interested. Show your passion and energy. If your book is fiction, write the setup, conflict, and resolution.
  • The cook: Tell them why you are the perfect person to write this book. What are your qualifications? What do you do for a living? Degrees? List the three to four most important things on your author platform. Bullet points work well here.

Double check for dumb mistakes. We are all overwhelmed with emails and submissions. You need to stand out and not give one reason for dismissal. As soon as an agent sees typos, attachments, or mistakes with her name, she moves on. Be smart and sharp.

Tell us about your platform. How will you help your publisher announce your book? Speeches? Organizations? Clubs? Start your own newsletter? Can you have 40,000 people on your newsletter?

Describe the audience. What is the age range? Gender? What kind of person would buy your book?

Provide smart comparisons. My book is like [INSERT SIMILAR, WELL-KNOWN BOOK NAME HERE]. Be careful here. Don’t be too ambitious or obscure.

Include genre and categories. Where does your book fit? Where will it be shelved? Have focus. Publishers want one proper home for your book. Understand the competition.

It’s a good idea to have your query letter reviewed before you send it out. Get a writerly friend (or five) to read it over and look for any mistakes you missed. Consider hiring a professional to critique your query and help you bring out the most compelling, salable aspects of your book.

In SIX WORDS or fewer, write a story about an experiment. (#6words kickoff!)

Many of you answer my six word story challenge prompts on Twitter. Your creative responses have given me great pleasure. Some stories turned out shockingly insightful, others made me laugh out loud. However, I often hear from followers that you wish you could see all the responses. Let's try an experiment to make that easier.

I will post the six word challenge here on my blog. Please leave your story in the comments below. Let's see how this goes! First prompt....


In SIX WORDS or fewer, write a story about an experiment.

(Leave your story in the comments below.)


My Daughter Lies: Karma Bites a Writer in Her Skin-Tight Dress

liesMy daughter lies in the best way possible – in her writing.

For her sixth grade language arts class, she wrote a story based on an experience from her life. She titled the story “Betrayal.” It opens with me telling her we’re going to get a new member of the family.

The early version that I helped correct varied greatly from the final draft that came home in her end-of-the-year mass of papers. When I first saw the final, I thought, Oh, she changed the title. I read on. This copy included a line that read, “My mom wore a fancy skin tight dress that looked more like a swimsuit than a dress.”

She described my car as poop-colored, wrote that it smells like left over fast food and that mysterious stains cover the upholstery.

A flash of embarrassment and anger flickered in my chest. My car doesn’t look like poop! My dresses aren’t that tight, are they? These thoughts quickly gave way to, wow, those are really good details.

The story documents the day I took her to the rescue center to get her a pet cat. You’d think I’d be the good guy in this story. No. Not so much.

She thought at first that we going to adopt a child. She writes of how all she’s ever wanted is a sister in her world of loneliness and step-brothers. When she learns that we’re just getting a cat, she feels “heartbroken and betrayed.” The grand resolution comes when she meets her cat for the first time and deems her perfect in every way.

My reaction upon finishing the story: My daughter sure is lucky she has such a dynamic mom to give her messed-up experiences to write about.

When I view myself from her eyes, I am an extraordinary creature. I move her around the world, sometimes to live, sometimes to visit. Her earliest years she bore witness to my rotating cast of loves. I wear heels and tall boots. I get my hair done. She watches me start companies, win investments in San Francisco, but spend weeks at a time in jogging pants while working on writing projects at home. Sometimes we are wealthy-ish, sometimes we haven’t a single dollar to our names. I’m a great character!

I really did leave it open to interpretation when I told her we were getting a new member of the family. I didn’t think she’d believe me and it would be funny when she learned she was finally going to get a cat. I didn’t anticipate that she’d instantly go all-in on the idea of bringing yet another kid into our cramped apartment. The day that story took place, I learned that my daughter has incredible capacity for love and generosity. She learned that her mean mom thinks it’s funny to trick her sometimes.

I do still think it’s funny. She’s so damn savvy. I have to work really hard to fool her these days.

The lines I’ve written about my own mother horrified her. For the sake of story, I limited the perspective to focus on particular aspects of personality. I chose details that reveal, that make her human, that show impact. These were not the ones she wanted to see recorded. I know a little bit better how that feels.

I do occasionally wear tight dresses. My daughter says they look more like bathing suits. Exaggeration, but oh how it improved the paragraph.

The fact that my daughter is a writer shouldn’t surprise me. Even if she never writes an another story her entire life, she’ll always be a writer. She knows how to carve a page, how to build from nothing an entire world populated with character, emotion and action. How grateful I am to be a part of the world she creates, even if I play the role of wayward mom.


The Poet's Advice: Don't Write Crap

crapWhen I told my writing group that I planned to write one blog post per day in June, Kay, a poet, gave me a warning.

“Don’t write crap.”

I laughed, promised her I’d do my best. My goal was to set habit, routine. I’m a decent writer, so I figured the content would be decent.

“A little crap may creep in,” I said, “But I’ll aim a higher.”

Writing quality content every day proved to be more of a struggle than I imagined.

Even the fact that I use the word “content” reveals part of my problem.

For years, I have been a content machine. I post how-to’s. I share articles. I record tutorials. I think in terms of traffic, clicks, reach and relevance.

Fiction, or creative work of any kind, may completely lack discernible relevance. Creative work may have no goal other than to exist, resonance with another soul the only bonus.

The first two weeks weren’t too hard. I could write some cute little pieces and fill in the dry days with new summaries of old work. My posts are decent enough. Go take a look.

Then, on a Tuesday night date at a jazz club, I heard a vocalist sing a song so beautiful, so full of story and raw emotion, that it arrested me physically. I held a mouthful of wine for an entire song.  I gulped it down at the applause, just as my husband leaned in to kiss me, fearing he’d notice I’d been holding a swig of alcohol in my mouth.

Oh. That’s what art looks like.

I’m fighting my way back to art. I write my way past business and expectation, through weary and worn, shallow and slighted. There is art in me, though now years of key word excrement may coat it thoroughly.

It bothered me that I had this revelation while I was drinking. I don’t drink much anymore. Not since my mother’s intervention. However, I’m better when I’m tipsy. Honest. Accessible. Those careful bars I erect to protect myself become but gossamer threads. If you take a deep breath, puff it out in a burst of air, you’ll knock down all my defenses. And there I’ll be, unobstructed, soulful. Brilliant.

My notebook from that night is full of inky scribbles, fragments, paragraphs and single words to illuminate whole ideas or impressions. If I wish, I have a week’s worth of great content to mine from those pages.

Date night passed, fully sober, I set myself to the task of keeping the door open on my guts. Try not to lose access. I have to go deeper. I need to know what makes me this way and how I may survive myself.

My mother is an alcoholic in the early stages of recovery. Her psyche may currently lack the stability to bear the searching questions of her youngest daughter.

My grandmother doesn’t drink. Did she ever? My dear Renny, from whom I inherited my love of lists and forward motion, does her soul perch on the skin of her fingertips, or does it dwell somewhere deeper, only accessible when the mighty walls have been marinated in moist drink?

This weekend I will drive the windy, tree-lined road up to her ranch. I’ll sit her in the plastic chair in her garden, send my daughter to run wild in the woods as all good young women do, and I will demand answers.

Why am I this way? Why do I fear people? Why does my family drink?  Why did all my aunts despise my grandfather? Why does my sister resent me? What about those old stories I heard, about your husband, my wizard, your sister, a divorce and a remarriage that never happened.

Perhaps if I learn the secrets, I will be free.


Killing the Pirate: The Cutting Pain of Editing a Character from a Novel

This evening, I discovered the ending to the novel I’ve been working on for the past nine years. Glorious. It all makes sense now.

Of course, I also realize that I must now cut a good 20,000 words from the end of the manuscript as they really have nothing to do with the story I am trying to tell.

A beloved character will be lost completely with this dramatic, yet necessary cut. Editing this character out of my novel is like killing a love. He was a love of mine, reimagined for the pages, but real nonetheless. I never see him anymore, and likely won’t ever again. The novel gave me a way to meet him, to spend a little more time in our friendship. To feel again the way he made me feel.

Perhaps I will write him a poem instead. Or simply remember him.

Or perhaps, very sneaky, I will hide his pages somewhere on my website, like right here.



VIDEO: Crowdfunding for Authors Tutorial with Pubslush

RECORDED WEBINAR: Crowdfunding for authors

How to raise funds to publish your book led by Amanda Barbara of Pubslush

It used to be that writers publishing futures were completely controlled by the publishing house gods. You would develop your craft, write your book, send it off to an agent and pray for the best. That path to publishing remains an option. However, for those of you with the interest and energy to take your publishing fate into your own hands, crowdfunding offers an attractive alternative.

To learn more about crowdfunding, I invite you to watch the recorded webinar above. Amanda Barbara of Pubslush generously shared her crowdfunding tips with me and the community.

You'll learn:

  • What is crowdfunding is and how it can help authors?
  • How to create and conduct a successful crowdfunding campaign.
  • How to use your successful campaign for book sales and promotion.

PERSONAL NOTE - You can choose from numerous crowdfunding platforms to raise the money to publish your book. Pubslush is unique in that they are created specifically to support writers and publishing projects. Not only that, the Pubslush team have proven again and again to be the most accessible, helpful crew around.

About Amanda:
Amanda L. Barbara is the vice president of Pubslush, a global crowdfunding platform only for books. Authors can raise funds, understand their audience, and self-publish or traditionally publish their work. A philanthropist at heart, she serves on the board of directors for the Pubslush Foundation, which supports children's literacy initiatives worldwide, and is a founder and director of The Barbara Family Foundation, an organization committed to assisting charities and children in need. Amanda is an advocate for crowdfunding in the publishing world and has spoken at various conferences, such as Writer's Digest, Tools of Change, Crowdfunding East Conference, and the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit, and has served as an ambassador and speaker at CONTEC at the Frankfurt Book Fair.


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