Thursday, December 27, 2012


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

It’s that time of year when people make resolutions, or at least talk about making resolutions. But there’s something about that word “resolutions” that scares us, makes us feel we are entering into a contract for which we will be punished if/when we break the resolution. It makes us feel as if we must succeed or fail. No middle ground.

I prefer the word “goal.” I belong to a group of writers, who call ourselves Goal Buddies, and we list our goals for a week or month or whatever time period we designate. We email a list of goals to the other buddies, and at the end of the time period, we report on how well we did on those goals and send our next list of goals. I much prefer this system to those once-a-year, sink-or-swim resolutions.

First of all, a list is much better than one mega resolution. If you resolve to do one thing and don’t manage to do it, no matter how much effort you put into the attempt, you feel you have failed. If you have a list and attain only three of five goals, you have accomplished something, and the remaining two goals can be moved into the section for future goals. It is progress. You have succeeded in three goals.

I also try to avoid the “never” resolutions. If you begin the new year with the promise to “never swear in front of the children,” and you hit your thumb with a hammer while you’re hanging Junior’s dart board on January second, you may feel that you’ve blown your entire year’s assignment. So what’s the point of even trying for the rest of the year?

It’s also good to vary your goals, from a few more easily attainable to those far-reaching aspirations that make you shoot for the moon. Because after all, there are those “Right Stuff” kind of people who do reach the moon. Put the opportunity out there, but don’t make it your one-and-only goal for the whole year.

Also, keep in mind that some goals are not in your power to achieve, and word them accordingly. Don’t say, “This is the year I’ll be offered a contract on my novel.” That’s not a goal; it’s a wish, a hope. Make it something you can control. Say instead, “I’ll send my novel manuscript to five different publishing houses, and each time it comes back, I’ll send it to another one.”

With resolutions, as with most aspects of my life, I like the “baloney method.” Don’t sit down and try to eat a pound of baloney. Slice it up and eat it one slice at a time. It’s more realistic. Instead of making a resolution to write a novel, set the goal of writing an outline for one. Or writing a first chapter. Or first paragraph. Work at your own pace. One step at a time. But remember, a writer can’t accomplish anything if he/she doesn’t make time to WRITE. Thinking of a story won’t accomplish any goals until you actually get the words down.

And if you don’t succeed with a goal, don’t beat yourself up over it. Move on and try harder next time.

Finally, don’t limit yourself to only professional goals. We’ve all heard what all-work-and-no-play can lead to.

My remaining goals for 2012:
1) Finish my annual Christmas story.
2) Enjoy my holidays with family and friends.

My initial list of goals for 2013:
1) Submit novel LIKE A RIVER to five editors.
2) Finish rewrite of novel REBECCA’S BRANCH, and submit it.
3) Rethink and rework novel HARD TO TELL.
4) Go over previous Christmas-themed short stories and research possible publishers.
5) Write outline for 1968 novel.
6) Continue research for Harlan novel.
7) Write at least one blog post a month.
8) Attend two conferences or workshops to improve my craft.
9) Attend monthly meetings of two critique groups.
10)  Teach a workshop session.
11)  Get together with as many Swaggers as I can during 2013.
12)  Spend time with loved ones every week.
13)  Hug often.
14)  Treat myself to some ME time at least once a week.

Maybe I’ll update you on how I’m progressing with my list as 2013 moves along.

Whatever YOUR goals are, take time to enjoy yourself and have a happy 2013!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Memories

by Jon Egan

I'm not sure how old I was when the Christmas carol, Silent Night began bringing tears to my eyes every time I heard it, but it still does. Tears that aren't accompanied with sobbing, or shoulder wrenching, or deep belly gulps and snot bubbles, just damp, rolling, polite, waiting-in-turn-for-the-previous-one-to-make-its-way-down-my-cheek tears.

It's not sadness that creates the tears. I think it's more of a sense of expectation that this will be The Year. No matter how bad or good the past year was, we get to wash everything away and hit the re-set button. It also really gets me thinking about the innocence of youth, and the opportunity they face. So for me, that's when the Christmas season begins: the first time I hear Silent Night being played. And this year it was actually the 1st of December. Andy Williams came on the radio, and Christmas 2012 officially began.

I don't specifically remember a lot of my Christmas Pasts, but I definitely do remember the following one:

As most of you reading this know, I come from a crazy household. Lots of fun times. Lots of not-so-fun times. Lots of falling outs between sibling and sibling, between parents and siblings, between parent and parent, but it seemed that no matter the relationship boogie, Christmas was always a time for us to come together as a family and bury the hatchet. (Not just like the time Adrian literally tried to bury it in Julian's leg. Luckily it was blunt and only left a bruise!)

So this one year when the whole family was living in the same little mining town way up North, there were a few of us "not talking," to a few others of us. I forget who was pissed at who, but it had been going on for awhile. My older brother, sister, and me had moved out of the house, so when the first one of us showed up to Mum and Dad's we'd be given the assignment by a sobbing Mum to, "Go get your brother, or sister. It's Christmas damn it, and we should all be happy and together."  Dad would huff and disappear to his bedroom, grumbling something along the lines of, "I'm not talking to that feckin' eejit,", or "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, women, can you not just leave things be?" but you knew deep down he wanted the whole family around as well. So off one of us would trot to get the others that weren't there yet, and the negotiations would begin with the one that was on the out. No matter how long they went on, it typically ended with tears and hugs from the envoy, followed once we got back to Mum and Dad's by sobbing, and hugging, and apologies, and "Where's the fecking whiskey?

So this year it was Linden who was the last to arrive, but when he showed up and all the bad feelings had subsided, and the whiskey was beginning to work its magic, he announced that for Christmas he'd splurged and bought himself (Linden loved buying gifts for himself!) an air pistol. No, there is no line here that goes, "You'll shoot your eye out!" We'd never even heard of that movie in Australia.

Linden, being Linden, runs out to the car and brings in this very fine air pistol and the BB's that go with it, and Dad, who loved anything that made a bang or blew things up, couldn't resist. He disengaged his crazy, mischievous, Irish brain and took dead aim at one of Mum's old glass ornaments that she so lovingly transported the 12,000 miles or so when she moved from England to Australia. He pulled the trigger. Mum gasped, and shrieked, and screamed, and cursed, and managed to do it all in a single expulsion of air, and nothing happened to the ornament.

Dad looked at Mum; Mum cursed at him again; Dad held out his hand to Linden. Linden placed a dozen or so BB's in his hand; Dad looked at Mum; Mum snarled. Dad loaded the BB's; Mum told him not to; Dad smiled, and took aim. All the rest of us sat on the blue vinyl couch, shirt backs sticking to it. (It was always in the 100's at Christmas.) Linden told him to aim a little high, Dad did, and he nailed the green ball of glass, shattering it into a thousand little pieces. Mum screamed; Dad roared; Linden looked very proud, and the rest of us smiled at Dad and looked very concerned at Mum when she snapped her head to look at us.
Target practice
Dad's first hit
Dad took aim and repeated the process, only this time it was a little plastic lamb ornament, then he handed the pistol back to Linden and bet him he couldn't take out one of the three Kings. Extra points for the smug looking one with the box of gold. Mum finally recovered her senses after witnessing the carnage from the first two shots, and away she went. The yelling grew louder; the tears began to flow, and dad calmly proclaimed that, "Your mother couldn't hit the fat end of a slow-moving cow from three feckin' feet, could ya, Hazel?"

Mum, never one to shy away from a contest against Dad, didn't give it a second thought. She asked Linden, "How do I work the stupid gun?" He showed her, and the next thing we knew she'd aimed, pulled the trigger, and put a nice little hole in the dry rock wall. Dad smirked; Mum squinted; Linden told her to aim a little high; and before you could say Merry Christmas, the smug, gold-bearing king was history! Dad howled; Mum told-you-so'ed to Dad; Linden was proud again, and we all smiled at mum telling her what a great shot she was.
Mum's second shot.
Mum's first shot

She asked Dad which one next, and away they went, like a sniper crew: Dad spotting; Mum shooting; Linden reloading. We all took turns shooting ornaments off the fake green plastic Christmas tree, and when they were all gone, including the terrified-looking angel topper, we started on anything around the living room that presented itself as target. It was an amazing Christmas day. The walls were a little worse for wear; the Christmas tree was history, and even though the linoleum floor was swept multiple times, months later when I'd come over, there'd be another piece of sparkled glass littering the floor. It was definitely a less traditional Christmas than most people enjoy, but it was such a great encapsulation of an Egan Christmas.
The angel tree topper that got no respect

Love you, Dad. Wish we could have had a few more Christmases together. Sleep in heavenly peace :)
Merry Christmas everyone.

What are your favorite Christmas memories? What Christmas carol is special to you?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Storm Cover Reveal, Sneak Peek, & Giveaway!

by Melissa Kline

I am jumping-out-of-my-chair excited to share my latest project and soon-to-be-published novel with you… *drum roll* STORM!!!  A young adult mystery-drama about a creative and complex teen boy. Here is the official synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Storm enjoys skateboarding, fixing broken electronics, and building things with his hands. They distract him from the tormented thoughts surrounding the circumstances of his mother’s death. But his problems can’t be avoided forever… Since his mother’s death, tensions are high at home, the girl of Storm’s dreams is dating someone else, and an argument with his father lands him in the school counselors’ office. Will Storm overcome his fears, let go of the feelings that have been haunting him, and reveal his long-held secrets? Can his dad ever forgive him? Will the girl of his dreams ever see him as more than a friend? A true-to-life young adult novel teeming with mystery, romance and intrigue.
This book is full of lots of juicy drama and fun, colorful characters but it's ultimately about relationships, connections and overcoming obstacles. The story has a beautiful message - one that I believe both teens and adults will relate to.

Because this book deals with many issues that teen’s today face, I am donating a portion of the proceeds from sales to youth organizations - something that is very important to me. Some of the organizations that I will be supporting are: Born This Way Foundation, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Hey U.G.L.Y, To Write Love On Her Arms, Love Is Louder, Do Something, and Half Of Us.

Storm is scheduled for print release on December 14th, 2012 by DreamFusion Press, LLC. The countdown to launch is almost over but there is still time to participate in a giveaway for a chance to win a hot-off-the-press autographed copy! Stop by to find the current giveaway and Storm extras such as:

These are just a few of my fun, creative concoctions. Pop in and see what the world of Storm is all about. I can't wait to share this book with you! :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Handling meaty YA topics with skill

by Kim Van Sickler

When my local critique group hit a lull where no one was submitting pages to critique at our monthly meetings (for a variety of reasons to include a couple of beta reading arrangements with completed manuscripts), we decided to morph into a book discussion group as well.

Our last two book selections blew me away. I read them out of order. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is our assignment for January, but I read it as soon as my copy became available. I couldn't help it. That hand-sized paperback screams out to be cozied up with. Plus Perks movie teasers were all over the place to pique my curiosity (A senior high school girl befriends a freshman boy, for real? How is he going to pull this off?).

Stephen Chbosky pulls it off by making the freshman boy incomparably sensitive, ├╝ber-observant, achingly honest, painfully aware (of everything he observes from a distance), but interestingly enough, not at all self-aware. Charlie's missing that self-imposed filter that all high school kids seem to have, whereby they stay in their place and don't question the social hierarchy. How amazing it is to see 9th grade—that drama-filled, uncertain time—through his unique eyes. And we do see the fun, the sorrow, the inane, and the awesome first-hand, because we, the reader, end up being the recipient of a series of letters from Charlie. Letters. It's brilliant. Puts us right in the action.

My reluctant-reader 9th-grade daughter picked up the book and was immediately drawn in by the letter format and Charlie's voice speaking as if directly to her.

Perks deals with a very serious topic. You don't even realize how serious until towards the end. By this time you are so invested in Charlie, and so desperate for him to find his way, that the revelation takes your breath away. Every fiber of your being wants to reach out and hug him and befriend him. And that brings me to our November assigned book, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. A love story between two kids with cancer. Another super serious topic told with a healthy amount of humor and whimsy.

I wondered if I'd be able to relate to this story at first, but my reservations fell away as soon as I met Hazel at her cancer support group. Then seeing her through the eyes of Augustus, the leg amputee in remission from osteosarcoma, and the effect these teenagers have on each other, triggers much broader universal issues like wanting to make your mark so you're remembered after you're gone, and living life today instead of worrying about tomorrow. In a neat twist, Green creates a fictional author and book that Hazel adores and teaches Augustus to love as well. The juxtaposition of the world-weary author, Peter Van Houten, into these cancer patients' lives, is mesmerizing.

Serious themes. Amazingly tender treatments of them coasting easily between denial to honesty to humor to pain, and ultimately ending on an uplifting note. I recommend both of these books to anyone searching for stick-to-your-bones meat in their YA.

And then I found this vlog series that John and his brother Hank do together. Fun!