Five Things.

“If you want to know where your heart is, look to where your mind goes when it wanders.”

1. Seeing Les Miserables for the first time is quite an experience. Seeing it from the second row at the Academy of Music, one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Philadelphia, makes the experience even more fabulous. So many kudos to the amazing cast and crew of the touring company. They did a phenomenal job. (Also: “On My Own” has now been running on constant repeat in my head since yesterday afternoon.)

2. Whoever came up with the idea for antibacterial hand sanitizer is a genius. I cannot even begin to count how many times I’ve used it this past week. New favorites from Bath & Body Works: Iced Gingerbread, Vanilla Buttercream, and Paris Amour. Such pretty scents to go along with the germ-fighting.

3. As of last Friday evening, my query letter and synopsis are both finished(!!). I’m working on my agent database for the next couple days, and then it’s time to jump back onto the emotional roller-coaster also known as querying. I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous – for some reason, the process just feels even more important and electrifying with this novel – but I’m excited, too. It’s been a joy to send the book out to a few readers, and I can’t wait to see what agents think.

4. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are beyond awesome. Can they please host every awards show from now on, even the ones that have nothing to do with television?

5. There is nothing better than a flash of writing inspiration. I haven’t begun any official planning for my next book – wanted to focus on getting the first Mine to Love queries out there first – but even so, ideas have been flying into my head and I’ve been rushing to put them to paper (well … computer). So, so excited to start fleshing out this manuscript even more in the days and weeks ahead.

Your turn: tell me something that’s on your mind today!

30 Before 30.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
~T. S. Eliot

Know what’s fun? Taking a 330 page novel and encapsulating it in two paragraphs that not only paint a picture of the main storylines, but also entice readers to crave more information. I’m actually being serious about this. I just might be the only writer who enjoys drafting a query letter. The synopsis, on the other hand … let’s just say I almost tossed my computer out the window on several occasions. Pretty sure it was easier to write the actual book. I finished a draft on Friday and decided to give myself a break over the weekend before editing it down by a couple pages this week. Here’s hoping the laptop doesn’t go sailing through any glass. Ha.

In between my summarizing, I’ve been doing a lot of blog reading, and something Kelsey posted really struck a chord. I love the idea of “30 before 30” — basically, a list of goals/adventures/hopes for the coming year. I’ll turn thirty on September 9th (YIKES!) and am going to try my best to accomplish these things before then. Wish me luck!

1. Sign with a literary agent for Mine to Love.

2. Write my fifth novel.

3. Travel to Nantucket and visit some of the places that proved so inspiring for my MC Sofie.

4. Try two new restaurants.

5. Volunteer at and/or donate money to an animal shelter.

6. Take a long walk at least four days per week (weather permitting).

7. Read two books outside of my “normal” genre.

8. Go to Washington D.C. for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

9. Find a quiet spot by a pond where I can sit with my writing journal and fill its pages with story ideas.

10. Meet a General Hospital star whom I haven’t yet seen in person.

11. Eat five new foods.

12. Score a 100+ point word in Scrabble.

13. See another Broadway musical.

14. Get my photo albums up-to-date.

15. Win a game of miniature golf (go on and laugh, but this is a seemingly impossible task for me).

16. Attend a book signing.

17. Visit NYC again.

18. Travel to a state where I’ve never been before.

19. Send five “just because” notes to people.

20. Re-read two favorite books.

21. Bake a cake.

22. Volunteer at a senior center in some capacity.

23. Watch the complete series of another show that Lucille Ball starred in … gotta love Lucy!

24. Walk along the beach during a sunrise.

25. Walk outside during a snowstorm.

26. Organize and hang up all the wall hangings and plaques I’ve been collecting for years.

27. Attend a concert.

28. Write a guest post for another blog.

29. Take a trip to the mountains.

30. Learn to play a new board game.

Your turn: what are three things you hope to accomplish before your next birthday?

Tuesday’s Tunes: Querying Edition.

“It’s an endless ride
Sometimes it takes you up
Sometimes it tears you down inside
But it’s the butterflies
That keep you feeling so alive…”
~David Archuleta, “Elevator”

When Caryn and I were chatting last week and she suggested a “Songs to Query To” for Tuesday’s Tunes, I immediately fell in love with the idea and couldn’t wait to brainstorm a list. It was such fun to see how many lyrics relate to the emotional roller-coaster that is the querying process – and so tough to narrow them down for this post! Below is just a sampling of my favorites:

“Elevator” – David Archuleta: This song is an ideal way to describe the craziness that defines querying. Seriously, you’d think it was written with that sole purpose in mind, that’s how closely some of the lyrics align. Because it DOES feel like an endless ride sometimes, the elevator going up and down, up and down, up and down some more. It’s hard, so hard, to always go with the flow when so much of it is beyond your control, but it helps to remember those butterflies that keep us so alive – the wings of inspiration that our books and characters become to us. They make the ride so worth it.

“The Story” – Sara Ramirez: Okay, this one may not correspond as specifically, but there’s no denying that the emotion behind the lyrics so passionately sums up exactly what we feel as writers. I firmly believe that each manuscript we create leaves a handprint on our hearts – and, like Sara sings, they also leave imprints on our face, lines that help tell the story of who we are. For our characters, we’d climb across the mountaintops and swim across the ocean blue. Querying is no easy task, either, but we do it for them, and for ourselves, too.

“Misery” – Maroon 5: This is Caryn’s brainchild and the reason why I HAD to do this post, because the song was just begging to be included. Favorite part: I wrote you a hundred letters. Seriously, could it be ANY MORE PERFRECT? Nope, didn’t think so.

“Crazy Dreams” – Carrie Underwood: This one is for the day when agents fall in love with our book-babies, make THE CALL, and all our crazy dreams come true. For the day when wild magnolias bloom. And until then, for the times when we need a reminder that a bad day should never be enough to talk us into giving up. Persistence and passion, hard work and hope – here’s to wishing it all turns into crazy dreams lived out loud every day.

What songs would make your must-listen list while querying? What songs inspire you to dream big and work hard?

Blank Page.

“Whatever you do or dream you can do – begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


If your answer involves someone who is so seriously overjoyed about this new beginning that she feels the need to shout about it in all capital letters, then you’d be correct. I am so, so, sooooo excited, y’all. After spending the better part of the past two weeks researching, brainstorming, and plotting out plans for the new manuscript – which will be the third and (likely) final story about Sofie’s journey – today was finally the day I’ve been looking forward to for forever. Okay, actually it’s been more like six months, but when writing is akin to a heartbeat for you, half a year feels so very much longer.

So sitting down at the computer this morning? Skimming the last pages of this manuscript’s prequel, shuffling through my writing journal, mulling over the (tentative) ending I decided on for the new book yesterday? It made me want to dance a jig. And opening up a new Word document, staring at the blank page and letting myself be inspired by all the possibilities that can fill it? It may or may not have made me actually clap in glee. After almost a year and a half with these characters – spanning two novels, over six hundred pages, and countless moments in their lives – they have become like friends to me. They’ve become, in a way, my family. I am so excited to go along on this next journey of theirs, to be part of their ups and downs, their setbacks and successes, their tears and triumphs. It honestly fills me up in a way words cannot describe.

This is why I write. Sure, it will always be my dream and my active goal to have my books published, and to that end, I’m still on the query trail and still adding to my agent database all the time. But when it comes down to it, this is why I fell in love with the craft. It’s feeling so energized, so invigorated, that you jump out of bed while the morning air is still quiet, unable to wait even a few minutes longer to dive back into your characters’ world. It’s feeling pride in your heart as you watch them grow. It’s feeling that constant pull towards them, even when you’re technically not supposed to be working anymore. It’s feeling so lucky because that work … well, it’s not really work at all. It’s a work of heart. It’s magic.

Will the love affair ever fade as the days and weeks go by? Will the whimsy I’m swept up in now spin in a different direction? I think it’s impossible to feel that unadulterated joy all the time – writing is a challenging craft for everyone, and that’s a good thing, because it keeps us pushing ourselves further, higher, deeper. Sure, there’ll be days when the words don’t flow easily. There’ll be roadblocks that seem to throw the story off-course and questions along the way. Mine for today: which format should the new manuscript take? My first two were written in first-person, present tense. My third was written in a combination of first and second person, past tense (aka: diary style). And while the game plan for the new novel was to return to present tense, I found myself slipping back into past as I was writing this morning. It may be force of habit or maybe something is telling me that this is the way the story should be told. I’m still not certain, but I’m excited to see what happens. Fellow writers: do you have a format preference?

Going back to that love affair – yes, the light will dim every now and then. That’s only natural. But more often that not – and, as was the case with the first two books in Sofie’s story – that glimmer will be there, shimmering with a bold, bright glow. For me, that’s what writing is. It’s filling those blank pages with part of my heart and soul, and, more importantly, parts of my characters’ hearts and souls. And to know I get to do that all over again now? To have this new beginning that’s so full of hope?

No wonder I feel like dancing.

Tuesday’s Tunes: New Year Edition.

“Play on when you’re losing the game
Play on ’cause you’re gonna make mistakes
It’s always worth the sacrifice, even when you think you’re wrong
So play on…”
~Carrie Underwood, “Play On”

I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve always found January, especially the first few shiny and new days, to be innately rejuvenating. Reinvigorating. Refreshing. There’s something very inspiring about the chance to have a clean slate all over again. It’s sort of like a new manuscript – the pages are blank, just waiting for us to fill them with our discoveries, our journeys, our stories.

It probably comes as no surprise that my plans for 2012 involve linking my own story to those of my characters. Though, if I’m being honest, those tales are already connected. The ties are written in an indelible kind of ink that has less to do with printing and more to do with feeling, with understanding, with relating. That makes each day I sit down to work a new adventure, and let me tell you, I couldn’t WAIT to get started today. I’ve spent the last week updating my lit agent database, and even though there’s still a long way to go and many more names to add – how many colors do you think my spreadsheet will be filled with by the time it’s finished? – now that agencies are reopening for 2012, this morning was the start of Querying Week. You’d think the roller-coaster that is querying would have taken its toll by now, and to be sure, there are certainly times when it has, but when I sat down at my desk today, it didn’t feel that way. Somehow, even after querying ROM all of last year, it still felt just as hopeful, just as filled with possibility, as the morning I sent off the first letters to the first agents.

agent database

Fellow writers must be laughing at me right about now.

You’re excited to be querying again?

Well … yes. I am. Because even with its emotional challenges, even with its put-your-heart-on-the-line vibe, querying is what it takes to share your baby with the world. It’s given me some really great and memorable experiences in 2011 and I’m optimistic that the same will be true this year. We can’t predict the future, of course, but I am wishing and praying so, so much that 2012 will finally be the year I – and ROM & its sequel(s) – can take the next step on this journey. So, along those lines, the song for Tuesday’s Tunes today is one filled with positivity and encouragement.

“Play On” – Carrie Underwood: This is the title track from Carrie’s third album and also the one she named two tours for back in 2010. It’s uplifting, it’s imaginative, it’s a song that reminds us obstacles are only challenges to overcome. If we believe in something, if we hold a dream, then we have to keep pursuing that shooting star until it becomes reality. We have to play on.

This week, I’m doing that by sending ROM into the world all over again. Next week? I FINALLY get to begin formal brainstorming and planning for the new novel, and I’m so excited you’ll all probably hear me squeeing in joy. There are so many blank pages to 2012 and I can’t wait to fill them with good, wonderful, lovely things. I am going to make SURE this year is better than last. I am going to play on and on … and on some more.

How about you? What song is motivating you this New Year?

A Labor of Love.

“I’ve got a theory that if you give 100 percent all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end.”
~Larry Bird

Confession: I am really, really, R-E-A-L-L-Y ready to be finished with edits for this book. In fact, that point was reached … hmm, probably sometime last week. Or the week before. Or the week before that. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but the gist of it is true. It’s super cool to see the book come together into its tightest version, but sometimes the thought of journeying through more rounds of revisions has me wanting to pull my hair out. There’s just so much to condense. Yes, it’s been a fabulous learning process in more ways than one. Yes, it’s taught me things my previous books haven’t. Yes, the story is stronger for it, and that alone makes the countless hours worth it. And yes, most of the time I sincerely do enjoy the work. The actual writing will always be my favorite part, but there’s something almost enlightening about the revision process. But in terms of practicality? Here’s an equation:

Five hours of consistent editing per day + another hour or two of query research and writing + a mind that absolutely refuses to turn off, even during downtime = bleariness. Seriously, it’s no wonder that my vision’s swimming by the end of each day. Fellow writers – or anyone who spends the majority of the day sitting at a desk – I need your help. Any tips for reducing eye strain? Neck aches? My back has been bothering me, too, but that’s my own fault, because I tend to sit very far forward in my chair when I work. Apparently my subconscious thinks that the closer I physically am to the computer screen, the closer I’ll be threaded into the folds of the editing process. Ha. I’ve been making a point to keep better, straighter posture, though, and it’s helping. Does anyone have any ideas for easing neck pain? Mine has been bugging me a lot lately, and given that I spend so many hours with it in the same position, that’s understandable. I’m really trying to fix it now, and any suggestions anyone has would be most appreciated. Thanks in advance, y’all.

Back to the editing process. I’m proud to say that, 3/4 through the third round of revisions, I have officially cut out nearly 40,000 words and 119 pages. How crazy is that? I think back to the first book I wrote, when deleting more than a sentence at a time had me cringing. It, quite literally, makes me laugh out loud. Writing this manuscript was the catharsis I needed during such a terribly horrendous time in my life, and continuing work on it now … it’s done more than simply teach me about the craft. It’s taught me how to let go, how to part with things that aren’t necessary – no matter how attached I may feel to them – and that sometimes less really is more. Maybe those are lessons I needed to learn. Maybe they’re ones we all need a reminder of sometimes.

And, because I find this too cool a phenomenon not to share, one of the things I wasn’t expecting as much from revisions is how surprised I’ve been – surprised by things I wrote that I honestly have no recollection of typing out. I guess it’s because I was so completely and fully immersed in the story, so wrapped up in the mindset of my characters, but there have been a few times when I come across a paragraph and am literally taken aback by it. “I WROTE that?” I think to myself. It’s kinda strange, but kinda cool, too. Has anyone else ever had that happen?

I’ll be at the shore next week – we’re squeezing in a few more days there since Hurricane Irene rained on our parade last time, and I am DETERMINED to finish this round of edits before leaving on Monday. I have been working on this one for two and a half weeks now – I’m being so strict about deletions that I only get through 20-25 pages per day – and will be forcing myself to take an actual break while we’re away this time. As much as I love these characters and telling their story, my eyes need a rest. My neck, back, and head need a rest. But my mind? Well, no promises about not beginning some outlining and planning on the next book in the interim. This may be a labor, after all, but it’s one of true love. It’s one where giving anything other than a hundred percent is unfathomable. It’s a true, deeply entrenched work of heart. And that? It makes it all worth it.

Knowing It All.

“Well ya think you know it all
But ya don’t know a thing at all
Ain’t it something, y’all
When somebody tells you something ’bout you
Think that they know you more than you do…”
~Kelly Clarkson, “Mr. Know It All”

Anyone – actually, pretty much everyone – who knows me will tell you that I’m a loyal and devoted Kelly Clarkson fan. I own all her albums, have seen her in concert thirteen times, and cried both before and after (but not during!) my long-awaited meet and greet with her. So, with that in mind, it should be no surprise that today’s post comes courtesy of her fantastic new song, Mr. Know It All. It’s the lead single off her new album (Stronger, in stores October 25th … not that I’m counting down or anything), and she hosted a live chat yesterday for its world debut. It has, no exaggeration, been running through my head ever since. That made today’s edit session a bit interesting – “No, Shari, Sofie is not going to walk around humming the song!” – but that’s okay. It’s been nearly two and a half years since KC released her last album, so I’m happy for the catchy, resonant distraction. I also think y’all need to stop what you’re doing and listen. Go on, click the link above. You know you want to!

Now, to be fair, I love Kelly’s songs even when the lyrics aren’t something I can relate to directly, but this song … it resounds. It echoes. It strikes a chord. Kelly’s music is often about empowerment, and Mr. Know It All follows that pattern. How many of us have been in the situation she sings about, having someone in our life who thinks they know us better than we know ourselves? It can be someone close or a mere acquaintance … or, beyond that, it can be someone who truly doesn’t know us at all. Yet it’s hard sometimes to block out others’ perceptions. It’s hard not to allow our identities to be influenced by others. When those people lift us up, encourage and inspire us, that can be a wonderfully beautiful thing. But what about when those people bring us down, either purposefully or unwittingly? What about when they make us question our passions, our hearts, ourselves?

I think part of the reason this song resonates so strongly with me is because the issues it raises are very much in line with what Reflections of Me explores. It shows Sofie’s parallel journeys as a mother and daughter, yes, but it also tells the story of who she is as herself. Like all of us, her identity isn’t defined simply by one role. She is an amalgamation of her experiences, a living history of her moments and memories. And as she learns more about what identity is – and what we can make it be – she learns more about herself than she ever imagined. That continues in the sequel, in some similar ways and some different, and I’m already SO. UNBELIEVABLY. EXCITED. to see how it envelops Sofie in even more ways in the next book. Identity is such a fun topic to write about, because it’s like an umbrella canopy with so many directions sheltered underneath. In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, my first novel also takes the idea and bounces it around through the pages. Something tells me it’s a theme that will always work its way into whatever I write.

It’s a universal idea, something we can all relate to in some way. Maybe that’s another reason I find myself listening to Kelly’s new song on repeat. Because I’ve been there. For as many amazing, giving, truly genuine people who I’m so grateful to have supporting me as I continue down this path to (hopefully) publication, there will always be some who have different opinions. And that’s okay. The journey of a writer can be stressful, vulnerable, and highly emotional. Ask anyone who’s put themselves out there time and again, diving headfirst into the insanity that is querying, and they’ll back me up on this. It’s tough, really tough to keep at it, to keep plowing on and focusing on the peaks instead of the valleys. But those peaks make everything worth it, and I’m not just talking about agent requests. I’m talking about the pure excitement of starting a new manuscript, the overwhelming emotion that comes from writing the last word and seeing how much your characters have grown. I’m talking about the connection you feel to the story, the way it becomes an integral part of you and vice versa. I’m talking about all that and so much more.

None of us can know it all, not about others or even about ourselves. But if we listen to our hearts, if we hear what their beats tell us, then we’ll know enough. And ain’t that something, y’all.

An Equation.

“I’m gonna free myself, gonna make a change,
And like a butterfly, I’mma spread my wings.
Been crying for too long, now I’m drying my eyes,
Grounded for so long, now it’s time for me to fly.”
~Pia Toscano, “This Time”

reading Laura’s fantastic new book on the beach


this view




early morning walks on the beach




Idol 2
American Idol concert


Idol 3 - Pia
meeting Pia after the show!


full request from an agent (!!!!)


lovely week so far!!

Next: meeting up with Erin tomorrow (so excited to spend time together in person after six years!) and re-packing for another few days at the shore next week. Yes, we’re the dedicated Idol fans who split up our vacation this year so we could go to the concert. Here’s hoping for less rain and more sunshine next time around. Here’s also hoping that the next two days magically become forty-eight hours long instead of twenty-four, because workaholic me really wants to send out more queries and start another round of edits on the manuscript before we leave. Or maybe I’ll just save that for the shore. After all, what better to act as inspiration than an ocean that glitters like shimmery diamonds?

What has the equation of your week added up to so far?

Organized Chaos.

“Creativity is the ability to introduce order into the randomness of nature.”
~Eric Hoffer

After spending six – seven hours every day for the last two weeks doing the first round of edits on my manuscript, then spending almost as long researching and sending queries for ROM today, my eyes are staging a protest at even the mere thought of a blog update. Seriously, when your vision gets bleary just from reading a few sentences in a book (true story from today), that’s when you know you perhaps, maybe, just might be spending too many hours staring at a computer screen while working. So instead of writing today about how well the revisions are going (fifty-one pages trimmed from the manuscript so far!) or how glad I am to be back on the querying rollercoaster after taking some time off to process real life’s difficulties, I’m opting for something different. I’m opting for randomness.

There’s this “7 random things about you” post that’s going around the blog world, so why not join in? It’s always so fun to learn interesting facts about other people, and my hope is that everyone reading this will post – in the comments or on your own blog – some random facts, too. Please?!

Okay, here goes:

#1: Ever since I accidentally burned myself with a hot glue gun during a Girl Scouts meeting in fourth grade, I’ve had an irrational fear of fire. I know, I know, it’s not like I got burned on fire originally, but my mind associates the incident with it anyway. Would you believe I made it through all my high school and college science courses without ever lighting a match? Whenever experiments called for that, I happily volunteered to be the data recorder and write up the labs for our group, if only someone else would take care of the fire. The only exception is Hanukkah candles; although, to be honest, I’m always super careful about not letting any hot wax drip on my hands as I light the menorah. Hope my future husband doesn’t mind being the one to be in charge of candles on our kids’ birthday cakes.

#2: The first big, multi-chapter story I wrote came about as a result of eighth grade English. We had journal time at the start of every class, and on one of our free write days, an idea popped into my head and I literally had to see where it went. Little did I know then what a sign it was of things to come! The story ended up being something like ten chapters long, and even though there was more description of the characters’ clothes than there was actual plot (ha!), it’s still the experience I pinpoint as being my first jump into the true joy of fiction writing. Pretty sure I still have a copy of it somewhere. Perhaps I’ll dig it out of its box one day and give it a reread.

#3: I have never had a cell phone that isn’t blue.

#4: I have been to more General Hospital fan events than I can count, and have met most of the kind, gracious, witty cast as a result. Favorites include Megan Ward, Nancy Lee Grahn, Rick Hearst, and Brandon Barash … but truly, almost everyone I’ve met has been nothing but sweet. The appreciation they show for their fans is really awesome. They give a hundred percent to their work and even more to the people who watch the show.

#5: While we’re on the subject of meeting people, let’s talk about 10/18/07. That’d be the day I finally met Kelly Clarkson after (no exaggeration) twenty near misses/failed attempts at applying for meet & greet passes. Getting to tell her in person what an inspiration she’s been will always be one of the coolest moments of my life. It took four and a half years of trying, but it was totally worth it. The ten minutes went by in a blur – my friend Mary Kate still alludes to the dazed look on my face when I came out of the M&G – but the memories will linger forever.

#6: I am head-over-heels in love with the idea of having a beach wedding one day. What could be more perfect than saying “I Do” with waves splashing against the sand and the sea breeze twirling its fluttery ribbons through the air? Just thinking about it makes me smile. So, um, future groom, if you’d like to make yourself known sometime soon … that’d be great :)

#7: I was in a soap opera in college. Claire Scwhartz, journalist extraordinaire, that’d be me. I conspired with my best friend Valerie McBride to take over the paper. Oh, and there were vortexes (vortices?), evil twin brothers, and the complex, criss-crossing relationships that any good soap opera has. An actress I certainly am not, but filming that show was a ton of fun and one of my fondest memories from the Arcadia days.

Were those random enough? They were fun to think about and share – and, you know, they also reminded me of something. It’s the random little details that make it especially fun to be a writer. Sofie being in love with musical theater. Her brother always wearing his Georgia Tech baseball cap to home games. Her sister never capitalizing anything in emails. Her husband having a penchant for photography and videography. Her best friend tapping her nails together when she’s nervous. Sometimes I plan these quirks out ahead of time, but they usually just come about naturally as I’m writing. The words are on the page before I can even think twice. It’s like the characters just take on lives of their own: instead of telling me who they are, they show me. And I love it. A lot. So maybe randomness isn’t all that random, after all. Maybe it’s just a way of learning more about ourselves.

So, please, leave a random fact or two so I can learn more about you!