February 23, 2019

These Old Bones

Last night I sat at a folding table at the Santa Monica Homeless Shelter, playing dominoes (aka Bones) with a few clients who live there.

Jason (aka Yoga Man, a forty-five-year old pole of a man who doesn't look a day older than twenty-eight) said to the group, "Look at Tina (my aka because they say I look like Tina Fey). She even bought new dominoes for us."

I gazed down at the rows of white tiles with their black dots laid out in the formation of a cross and shook my head.

"No, no fellas. I've had these bones over twenty years," I paused, "And they've seen some darker times, my friends."

The mental montage of the places these bones have traveled flooded my thoughts ...

A sticky table in a smoky joint nestled somewhere on Bush St in San Francisco where I accidentally fell in love with someone as broken as me.

The white formica desk in my office as Ice Cube blasted from the boombox and the rancid smell of some unknown brown liquor wafted in the air.

The round patio table on my deck in Venice surrounded by bottles of Coronas and ashtrays crammed with cigarette butts.

To the folding table in the Santa Monica Homeless Shelter ...

Sitting with those three men who've seen their fair share of darker days, I felt a split-second of grace. The kind that comes with redeeming love and forgiveness and a ton of letting go.

I set my tile on the table. "We've been through a lot, me and these bones ..."

The men nodded, mmm hmming. Because they knew. They got it. Their eyes held the weight of their own brokenness.

Yet ... there we were. Slouched low around a table playing dominoes. Our laughter and shit-talking (which is part of the game) danced through the room--Chris involuntarily shaking from some sort of neurological disorder, all-smiles Jason dropping slang like, bolt de doors and follow dat cab, and OG Art slamming down tiles and taking everyone's points--as we shared life together. We made new stories, not concerned about the endings because all that mattered was that moment. The place where love enters. The kind of love capable of gluing the broken pieces back together.

I lost by two houses (aka 100 points), per usual. After twenty-plus years of playing dominoes I still suck. As I hugged my friends goodbye, Art handed me the spiral notebook for score keeping.

"You hold onto this for when you come back," he said.

I took the notebook and grinned. "We're gonna fill this up. Maybe I'll even win a few!"

Art let out a hearty laugh, Chris jerked a nod, and Jason cracked that twinkly smile. "Yeah, Tina. You gonna win a few."

I walked out into the chilly Santa Monica night thinking, I just did ... 

Me in my younger rookie days. Not much has changed. I'm still one of the fellas. Only sober. 


If you ever feel called to volunteer in the city of Los Angeles, there are plenty of life-giving opportunities right here: http://hopeforla.org/volunteer/


January 10, 2019

Girl on Mission 6


The last nine days we’ve been in Kerala, staying on IEM’s campus with the Bible College students and orphans from the Children’s Home. The campus is located in the south of India where canopies of verdant trees decorate the countryside. The energy here is slow and pleasant with room to spread out and breathe. Except for the constant campfire smoke from people burning leaves and trash. Unlike chaotic and frenzied Mumbai, Kerala is more peaceful. The soundtrack is an ensemble of cawing crows, kooky sounding birds, college students singing, children’s laughter, the occasional Hindu parade marching down the road banging drums and chanting, and packs of wild dogs howling at night like they’re on a murderous rampage.

I love the ministry Dr. G.V. Mathai (Papa) and Mariamma Mathai started back in the 70s. Their work has flourished and blessed thousands of people throughout India. In September, Mariamma passed away, so this trip has been bittersweet as we celebrate the work she poured into this ministry and share the loss with many people who loved and adored her. Their son, Dayan, has been speaking and giving sermons throughout the trip––encouraging the pastors and students. And he's had a terrible cold the entire time, but keeps showing up.

We’ve met many friends, like Uncle Joy who lives in Los Angeles and loves to sing, and little Abagail who has helped the team tremendously. Her mother, Shirley, who has translated every single bible study lesson, while helping serve food and chai at every meal. Kunimon who has prepared the most deliciously flavorful dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And Blessy, who called every store in town, trying to locate some coconut spoons we want to give as gifts to our donors. We've sat in on some of the college classes and shared testimonies and listened to the students sing old hymns. I've never heard harmonies so powerful and melodious. We've literally met hundreds of people, all of them warm and welcoming and radiating love.

Papa has shared stories about the many lives that have flourished because of God’s work with this ministry. Not only in Kerala, but in Mumbai and throughout northern India. God has truly blessed IEM. And it’s been an honor witnessing the fruits of their labors firsthand.

The children living here in the Children’s Home are magnificent. Attentive and eager. They memorize scripture way better than me. They’ve loved our lessons, songs and crafts. But what they love more than anything is playing Duck, Duck, Goose. Oh man, if you want to taste true joy, come to Kerala and play this game with these kids. Their shouts and laughter is an explosion of joyful noise. I’m not sure if the lessons are clicking, or if they’ll remember any of us, but I know––indubitably––they will always cherish Duck, Duck, Goose.

Each lesson has been on a fruit of the Spirit. For my non-Christian readers, these are spiritual gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We start with a Bible verse, then teach them a song with hand movements. Oh Lord. My heart erupts with glee every time we start singing. Their big brown eyes beam as they shout out the words and do the hand motions. After singing, we do a craft that coincides with the lesson. I wanted to die when we handed out packs of crayons and the kids were like, “Where’s the brown and black for their skin and hair?” Clearly a white person put together the color palette.

They love tape. Yes, tape. I can’t tell you how many times they call out for us, “Auntie, auntie, tape. Tape! Two. No, three pieces.” They don’t even need the tape. They just want it. After they finish their craft, they hold up their artwork, waving it to get our attention. Their sweet faces radiate with satisfaction with every validation and approval. I’ve been telling them their work is “delicious” because I’m a dummy and thought I was saying “super.”

At the end of each class, I hug them and kiss their little brown cheeks and do exploding fist bumps and repeat over and over how much I love them. I really do. I love them so very much. Tears are rolling down my face as I write these words because tomorrow is our last day with the children. Will they remember us? Will any of the seeds we planted take root? Has our love given them hope? What will happen when they turn twelve and have to leave the Children’s Home because of government regulations? Will they look to Jesus and learn to trust him even in the worst circumstances?

Personally, the time in India has had an enormous impact on my heart. It’s been a blessing and a struggle. I might be the only person––ever––who has gone on a missions trip and felt more confused about God and life and every single thing. I will say, though, the time I’ve spent with these darling kiddos has been some of the most gratifying, soul-filling I’ve ever experienced.

Of all the things I’ve learned on this trip, the main one is: missions is not for me.

I don’t like navigating through team dynamics. I don’t like being away from home for extended periods of time unless I’m on a 5-star cruise or at my parents’ house. I’m uncomfortable spending successive days with people. Especially 17 days. In a row. Like every single day together ... It drains my introvert battery and triggers the worst in me.

I do believe everyone––regardless of spiritual beliefs––should go on at least one missions trip in their lifetime. It’s enriching to experience different cultures and serve those who are often ignored or left behind. It will break your heart into a thousand pieces, but God will put it back together and shine His light through the cracks.

Some tips for those who’ve never been on a missions trip before:

1. Go somewhere closer to home (9,000 is far!)
2. Go for a short amount of time (17 days is too long!)
3. Bring Myco-shield, charcoal pills, hand sanitizer, hand wipes and TOILET PAPER
4. Bring snacks and pack them in something that could survive a nuclear holocaust (ants)
5. Have pre-planned workout routines and sweat every day

Lifesavers: travel clothing line, microfiber towel, flip-flops for shower, and adaptor with surge protection.

If you can, travel with a spouse or close friend (especially if you’re deeply insecure/paranoid and struggle in groups and think people don’t like you and are laughing at you behind your back).

Remind family and friends to check in with you because they get busy and forget basic things like how lonely it is in a foreign country without your tribe.

This is my last installment of Girl on Mission. When I return to the states, I’d like to get back to writing the novel I started and stopped a few times. I have no clue how God will use my writing. But I do know where He calls, I will go.

Except to Mumbai.

Thanks for taking this journey with me. 

(I'll add photos later, the wifi is spotty and it'd take about 12 hours to upload)


January 6, 2019

Girl on Mission 5


The city of Mumbai is jam packed with 23 million people and operates like a frenetic assembly line of relentlessly moving rickshaws, motorcycles and pedestrians. The constant chaos pulsates through the city at a jarring pace to the soundtrack of sharp horns, engines revving and your heart pounding as you watch your life flash before your eyes. And the stray dogs. The skinny, mangy, malnourished doggies make me weep inside. But these rugged survivors amble along just fine, making a home wherever they lay.

As I’ve mentioned––to anyone who’d listen––I didn’t want to go on this missions trip. Mostly because India was never on my list of places to go, I've struggled with fully understanding the reason for short-term missions and I don't like going outside of my comfort zone. But since I work on the global missions team at Pacific Crossroads Church, helping “send” people out into the world for discipleship, and since Jesus gave clear instructions to his disciples to, “go out and make disciples among all of the nations,” I figured I probably should do at least one trip before I die.

When I first arrived in Mumbai I thought I’d made the worst decision in my life. The noise and pollution and crowds of people are excruciatingly unbearable for an HSP (highly sensitive person) with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). But it’s a good thing I’m traveling with a group of beautiful and compassionate people. We’ve rallied together through each other’s ebbs and flows. The girls held my hand when crossing the streets because I just couldn't do it on my own. Yes, I have issues.

During our time in Mumbai, we met a plethora of people, attended services, posed for group photos, and heard powerful testimonies and stories of healing and redemption. It was a blessing meeting the pastors and church members from the slums. These are churches are supported by India Evangelical Ministry (the incredible organization we’re on missions with). The folks in India sing praise songs, talk about scripture, and pray like each breath and melody is a celebration of love and joy. Their reverence for God is inspiring and contagious. When they shake my hands they love to say with bright gleaming smiles, “Praise the Lord.” I might do this back in Los Angeles just to see how many people run in the opposite direction.

I had anxiety about going into the slums. I thought seeing the utter lack would crack my heart into pieces (it did on some level). But the radiant light shining from the faces of these Christians is a glorious thing. They have remarkable gratitude for the Lord. It’s almost incomprehensible when you compare it to their living situation. They’re a lot happier than most Christians I know back home!

Every Sunday, 40 – 50 people cram into these pastors’ homes (a 12 x 12 room) to worship God and study scripture. The spaces are so tiny, many members have to gather outside the front door, standing on their tiptoes to see inside. They need larger spaces to gather, but it costs money to expand. Not a lot, but it’s money they don’t have. Money I want to help raise.

After the initial shock of “what have I gotten myself into” I began to soften and see the bigger picture of short-term missions. At first I thought it was only about sharing the redemptive love of Jesus with others, but as each day passes, I see it’s about experiencing a completely different way of life. A way of life I never could've comprehended deep down in my soul without having been here in person. Each day gives birth to a fresh perspective about missions trips, the world, humans ... My spiritual lens has most definitely widened.

We’re now down in Kerala, staying on IEM’s campus with the Bible College students and the orphans who live in their Children's Home. More on that later ... Enjoy the time lapse video and photos of the streets of Mumbai.










December 13, 2018

Girl on Mission 4

On Tuesday I had an appointment with my shrink, and when I mentioned my upcoming missions trip she went on a tirade about how much she loathed India. She said it's the most depressingly horrible place she's ever visited. She then stated someone like me will be absolutely miserable. Not uncomfortable or challenged, but absolutely miserable. All this from a professional who's entire job is to help keep my anxiety in check.

She's not the first person to say something slightly less than encouraging. Just this morning someone I don't even know said, "I hope you have an iron stomach. A friend of mine went on a missions trip there and had bad GI symptoms the whole time. Still had a good time, though."

Still had a good time, though ...

Every day a new challenge hits me in the gut. Like the amount of medication I'm having to ingest. If you know me, then you know I'm super weird about pharmaceuticals. It's taken me years to surrender to anti-depressants. I can't tell you how much I suffered from heavy, suicidal darkness because I refused to be "a pawn of the pharmaceutical companies" or to "poison my body."

Anyway, this...  (not including the hep-a shot that gave me a rash)



I know I sound like baby. But that's my point! I'm a huge baby. I prefer the luxury of my comfort zone rather than the vast unknown. But I heard the call. The relentlessly loving and challenging call of God that's impossible to ignore ...

Somewhere deep in my heart, I know this trip will be amazing. Spending time with fellow Christians in one of the toughest, most harrowing places will be an enormous blessing. Helping those orphans will be an even larger blessing.

And if I die from malaria or cholera or typhoid at least I will have gone out reaching my goal weight.


December 1, 2018

Girl on Mission 3

So ... last night my husband just out of the blue starts playing a movie without consulting me or having any sort of discussion/argument. I found this odd since we usually spend at least an hour scrolling through our lists on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, making sure we're selecting the best possible movie ever made by anyone ever.

I grabbed the remote, hitting pause, and asked, "What's this movie even about?"

I know I sound controlling and annoying, but we've had some "issues" with my husband's movie picks in the past, i.e. He Never Died and The Boy and His Dog. He's been put on movie-picking probation on a few occasions. He openly admits some of his choices have been questionable. Some have been dreadful. And he's an editor, guys.

Whatever.

He tells me, "It's a movie about missionaries who went into the Amazon during the 1950s. It's called The End of the Spear."

"Ugh. Is it a documentary?"

I mean, you really have to be in the mood for those.

"No."

I settled down and said, okay, fine. Why not? I'm going to India in 28 days, maybe this flick will inspire me. It's based on a true story. I've been talking about the Amazon for a while. Not because I want to go there (Dad), but because it's fascinating and enormous and they've found the ruins of ancient cities tucked away under the dense canopy of trees.

ANYWAY ...

About a third of the way into the movie, the missionaries finally make first contact with the native tribe they've been trying to meet with for years.

And then this happens:



 


All five of the missionaries are killed. The End.

No, that's not really the end. It was actually a beautiful story about how the wives and children went back and lived with the tribe, teaching them about a loving God who doesn't want us to kill each other.

I woke up laughing at my husband's either ironic sense of support or his cluelessness. Look, I'm not worried about getting killed. Come on, I'm not that hyperbolic. But I am worried about the trip--like having explosive diarrhea and dying of malaria--and would like to be encouraged rather than terrified. 

So, if you have any movie recommendations where people don't die, let me know!

Already on list even though I've already seen:
- Slumdog Millionaire
- Lion 


Again, if it's on your heart to donate to this trip, here's the link. Otherwise, keep on praying for me!
https://www.givesendgo.com/IndiaIEM

November 24, 2018

Girl on Mission 2

I sent out my fundraising letters and people are starting to donate, so there's no turning back. I'm going to India.

Over Thanksgiving, I was worried about engaging in conversations. First of all, I'm not a fan of verbal expression. Second of all, I have zero filter so if you ask me a question you're getting the whole truth. I really didn't want to talk about my writing or what's next. And I didn't want to talk about my weirdo missions trip to India because I was convinced my non-Christian friends would not be interested.

But they were!

Everyone I talked to beamed with excitement. They assured me it's going to be life-changing. Friends who have gone. Friends who haven't. So that was encouraging.

Meanwhile, there's my father ...

God love him and his big Italian heart. The man still calls me "his little girl." FYI - I'm old. He's always been over-protective of his kiddos. But for some reason he singled me out. It might have something to do with a dream he had about me dying before my fifth birthday. I'm pretty sure we're probably in the clear. But he worries. So. Much. Worrying.

Regardless of his neurosis, he's supported everything about me (with the exception of a couple categorically horrible decisions in the late 90s). Yet, he worries. About everything. Like me dying before my fifth birthday ...

So, for the next month I can look forward to these sort of messages from my father.

Note: he uses phone dictation, so many of his messages are difficult to decipher.















November 21, 2018

Girl on Mission

So ... I'm going on my very first missions trip this December. To India. The slums of India. Me, the OCD queen, neurotic to the core, control freak, highly sensitive to every single thing, manic depressive. I'm going to a place with A LOT going on as far as an abundance of people, smells, noises, people, germs, humidity, people ...

To be perfectly honest, I really don't want to go. I've never ever wanted to go to India. Even when I was reading Eat, Pray, Love I was like, when is she going back to Italy? But I heard God's call on my heart and He's hard to ignore. Thanks, God!

I'm going with a team of 5 - 6 people. We're visiting the slums of Mumbai and meeting with fellow missionaries to give support and encouragement. Then we're going south to Kerala to visit India Evangelical Mission's campus to spend time with orphans at the Children's Home. 
Between bouts of diarrhea and fits of malaria scares, I'll be spreading God's love to people who need it badly. Sharing my testimony of how loving Jesus has transformed me (by 32%).

To say I'm nervous about this trip is an understatement. I'm kind of terrified. And my left arm is killing me from the Hep-A shot I got yesterday! I have to take typhoid and malaria pills. You guys! Last week, I thought I was dying because I had a stupid cold that wouldn't go away. This is whole next-level shit, right here.

By the way, I signed up for this... 

It's becoming increasingly clear I'll have to rely on God for strength and endurance and divine protection. I don't think this trip could've come at a better time. I'm in a tough season with my writing. My hope tank is empty. Most days I feel like I'm just bidding time until I die and go to heaven to be with Jesus. This sounds horrible. No wonder I'm depressed.

Over the years, I've rarely blogged about my faith or my relationship with Jesus because I feared what other people would think. But what is so wrong about loving Jesus and wanting to share his boundless love with others? This love is so powerful it can change hearts and lives. I've seen this happen in my own life. Right now, not so much. But I'm hoping this trip changes my heart. I'm hoping it breaks me so far out of my comfort zone there's no turning back.

Check back for updates on this crazy Christian's mission from God ...


If your heart is telling you to donate, below is the link. Please put my name in the comments section so we know who you are supporting. Link to fundraising page: https://www.givesendgo.com/IndiaIEM

October 5, 2018

Adventures in Querying Literary Agents

A year ago I made the decision to step away from self-publishing. After four years and sixteen novels, I was burnt to a crisp. It was fun for a little while, especially when I was bringing in money. Who doesn't love money?

I didn't step away from writing because that would be suicide to my soul. I started writing in junior high, filling up spiral notebooks and reading my stories to classmates. Spiral notebooks were the blogs of the 80s. I did, however, decide it was time to switch from dystopian fiction and fantasy and go back to my love of darker, realistic contemporary fiction. 

My latest book, This Isn't Happening, is loosely based on my teen years and what it's like living with an addicted parent. It's not a story about bitterness or resentment. It's a story about one girl's struggle with shame and paranoia and her inability to share what's going on. And it's redemptive. Because who doesn't love redemption?

I've been shopping the manuscript with agents since July. I've sent out 67 query letters and have one more batch of 21 agents to hit up. The rest are closed to submissions or didn't fit my genre, otherwise I would've hit my goal of 100 letters. To date, I've received 37 rejections. Yes, that number is correct. Some rejections weren't form letters but exceeded the agent's noted response time, and I'm considering those passes.

You think by now I would've walked into oncoming traffic or given up. But nope. This isn't my first gilly ride. I sent my first round of query letters for a children's book idea back in 1993. I had NO clue what I was doing and after a few rejections I hit the pause button and went into advertising. In 2005, equipped with some knowledge of the industry, I sent more queries for a humor book I wrote. I ended up self-publishing that book and some personal essays. In 2011, after years of toiling over my memoir, I sent out more query letters to no avail. And rightly so, it was a retched downer with zero story line. To my poor writing group who suffered through months of my pages, I deeply apologize.

When the writing coach I hired told me the memoir would never work, I dropped it and focused on a science fiction idea I had about people living in a city they didn't know was actually a prison for human breeding. Uplifting it was not. But dystopian fiction usually isn't. Before going down the traditional publishing route again, I devoted my time researching how to self-publish. I pretty much have the equivalent of a master's degree on the subject. In 2013, I self-published that book and several more, thus bringing us up to date.

I'm currently existing in a place I lovingly call "Query Hell." That's what it feels like sometimes. I'm unabashedly certain that nobody enjoys this part of the process. It's brutal. Drafting one paragraph that's supposed to sell your 70,000 word novel is enough to send you into a spiral of madness. But when the rejections start coming, good Lord, you begin questioning your entire existence and reason for living. A bit dramatic, but I am a writer.

I don't say this to discourage anyone from writing. I'm actually hoping to encourage you. Do you see the pattern?  

I still keep writing no matter what.

I also know it doesn't get easier, even for authors with the success I dream about. I know because they tell me. It's continuously stressful and competitive because after you get an agent, you still have to sell your story to the publishers, and years later that book has to sell to an audience. It's pretty much a never-ending cycle of torture. Except for the writing part. Although that's debatable for some. 

I wrote This Isn't Happening because I had something to say. I wrote about something many people don't want to talk about but really need to. Especially in the midst of an opioid epidemic. There are teenagers out there -- right this second -- who feel alone and anxiety-ridden and helpless. My story gives a glimpse of hope. And who doesn't love hope?

Even if the only people who ever get to read this book are the beta readers, that's okay. I know enough to know I must keep moving forward. I'm already working on the next novel. It's dark and twisted and borderline crazy-making. And I love everything about it. 

I'll keep you posted on my adventures in querying.

Until then ...

Keep writing. It saves lives.

November 20, 2017

The job of writing

If you've been following my blog the last eight years, you know I'm in love with writing. I love it so much, I've jumped through hoops to figure out how to do it full-time. Four years ago, I charged into independent publishing like a hurricane. The result is sixteen books under my belt (for now).

Over the years, I've spent as much time writing as I have studying the craft and various aspects of marketing. Because if you're publishing books -- independently or traditionally -- you're running a business. And it's a lot of work. 

I've done many things right, but I've also made mistakes. There have been delightful moments when a launch is successful and heartbreaking moments when nothing works. Many times I've wanted to quit and hide under a rock, yet I've moved through each experience and learned something new.

After this last year with the goal being sell, sell, sell ... I'm pretty spent -- mentally and financially. However, I'm grateful for reaching this place because I gleaned a powerful lesson ---> I can no longer be motivated by my financial insecurity, but rather my passion for writing.

The project I'm currently working on is close to my heart in a genre I adore. One that probably won't pay my bills, but I can't let that stop me from writing what I'm most passionate about. It doesn't feel like work. It just feels right.

I wouldn't have made the decision to follow my heart had my last couple of launches crushed it. I would've continued down a path that wasn't a good fit.

As I move in a new direction, my pastor gave me three important things to remember: 1) tell the truth, 2) ask good questions, and 3) stay out of the results. I'll let you know if I ever figure out that last charge. And I'm writing this on my blog so I remain accountable.

This business is most definitely hard work, but I must always remember the most important job is to keep writing -- no matter what.



Keep writing. It saves lives.

October 8, 2016

Powered By Indie

I love writing. I'd much rather write than talk. Anyone who knows me can confirm this statement. Though I started writing when I was about twelve years old, I didn't publish my first full-length novel until I was forty-three. Why? Because I kept getting distracted by things. So many things ... Boys. Problems. Wine. Husbands. Work. The eight-year memoir that died a slow death. The list is endless.

Not once did the tiny voice of creativity stop whispering in my ears. In fact it was relentless. And I'm grateful for its perseverance. That it didn't give up on me. Thankful that I released my fears and stubborn will and finally conceded to getting down to the business of writing.

At the moment, I have ten books available on Amazon, and a new series launching in March. I plan to write one book after the next book until I run out of steam or ideas. Since the universe provides a never-ending explosion of ideas, I suspect I'll run out of steam first.

I want to help writers finish their novels. So, check out my "Hire Me to be Your Outline Coach" page (link is in the top right column). If you're interested in working with me, use the contact form.

In the meantime, to celebrate Indie Author Day here's a lovely video my author friend, Jessica Watts put together.

bit.ly/2dCv3z7








May 5, 2016

How YA Fans Started a Bookstagram Movement on Instagram

Whoever said paper books are a dying thing must not be on Instagram. I can't stop seeing books in my feed. I wanted to dedicate an article to a very special group of ladies I've been fortunate to find. They are book lovers who have cultivated an entire movement creating art with books. Their official title: Bookstagrammers. Their photographs are lovely and creative -- and they make me want buy more books! I wanted to celebrate them and their unique artistry, so I interviewed each one asking why they started taking pictures of their favorite books.


Alexandra Ling aka @twirlingpages  (40.9k Followers)
"I created my #bookstagram after realizing Instagram would be a wonderful platform to share my love for books and challenge my creativity through photography." 




Tracey Spiteriaka aka @youngadultbookaddict (83.7k Followers)
"I originally started my Instagram account in the hopes of finding one or two people who shared my love of books, since none of my friends or family are really readers. I never in my wildest dreams expected my photos to garner as much attention as they do, but I've met some truly wonderful people because of it!"




Adriana Vélez aka @booksthetics (16.7k Followers)  
"I started bookstagramming because in it, I found a community of people that share the same passions as I do, which is to say books and photography and arts and everything that relates. And I must say, that my passion for all of these has grown and grown ever since I joined. Not to mention I've met so, so, so many loving, caring people, and in them I've found friends that I don't doubt I'll cherish forever. I love it, and I love them!"




Cherry aka @_forevermint (14.1K Followers)
"I started taking photos of books because I needed an outlet for my inner fangirl, at the time I had no idea bookstagram existed but I was quickly introduced to the amazing community and it's been my second home ever since."




Taylor Knight aka @taylorreads (63.4k Followers)   
"I wanted to share the books I love with fellow readers and connect with others about books."

    

Jeanette Le aka @myriadinklings (50.6k Followers)
Jen wanted me to write something about her, so I'll tell you why I love her pictures. Her color palettes are impeccable and she's incredibly charming. Oh, and her room is pink!




Raeleen Lemay aka @raeleenlemay  (18.3k Followers)
"I've been making videos about books on YouTube for over four years now, and I'm finally getting into taking pictures of books (and loving it). It's another great way to express my creativity, while also including my love of books."




Tamsien West aka @babblingbooks  (15.9k Followers) 
"One of my favourite things about sharing book photos and reviews is all the incredible friends I have made from all over the world. It is a joy to connect with inspiring, encouraging & sometimes challenging people. They motivate me through reading slumps, blow me away with excellent book recommendations, press me to read outside my comfort zone, and enrich my world far more than I ever could have anticipated.

To me, it's not just about taking photos of books, it's about sharing stories on pages and the stories in our hearts. It has been said that readers live a thousand lives, and I think that truth is only amplified when shared with friends."



Gabby Gibson aka @_myfictionalworld/  (23.3k Followers)
"I started taking pictures of books because I love instagram and I wanted to share my love for books on a platform that I know and love."




Allissa Lemaire aka @abookishloveaffair (80.1k Followers)
"My reason for starting my bookstagram account is simple; I love to read and I needed some way to express and share that love with people who could fully understand just how much books mean to me. Bookstagram is such a beautiful and inviting community of people we book lovers can relate to."



There are plenty of #bookstagrammers on Instagram, so go out there and find your tribe! Your feed will be filled with endless streams of beauty. And your TBR pile will increase exponentially. 


Keep writing. It saves








March 12, 2016

That wonderful amazing incredible phenomenal feeling

It's been MONTHS since I posted here. I've been incredibly busy writing and editing my latest novel. Today when I finished editing the last paragraph (took about two hours for four sentences), I felt that feeling. The one I love so dearly. The feeling that keeps me going when I want to quit everything. The feeling of being a writer. There's something so deeply rewarding about spending months outlining, developing characters and plots, writing and re-writing (and re-writing) until you're finnnnnallllly ready to send your draft to that one friend who won't let you off the hook. It took months to get here, but this is what I live for. Writing.

These last few months, I've had to re-engineer my perspective on the indie publishing business. I was starting to lose my mind. All of my tried and true marketing tactics just stopped working. And I kept banging up against a very stubborn wall.  Marketing is only fun when it's working. Right? It sucks when you spend countless hours and money for very little return. So I decided to take a step back. I stopped trying so hard. I know this is the EXACT opposite of what smart marketing people practice, but man I feel SO much better. I also stopped looking at my sales reports. Now when I get royalty deposit it's like a sparkly gift from a friendly unicorn.

For my last book series I wanted to go the self-publishing route so I could learn about the industry. But for this novel I'm going to send out query letters. I hope I'll miraculously find a young adult agent who will fall in love with my book (and me). Simple, right? Yeah, rejection blows. But I want/need to try something different. Honestly, I have nothing to lose.

When all else fails -- keep writing. It saves lives.





Follow me on Instagram for #keepbookmarching. 

December 7, 2015

Writing from the heart



So... that's my view all week long. I'm in Ojai, CA on a personal writer's retreat. I finally finished my outline for the next novel and I needed a change of scenery to get started on the first draft. Ojai brings out the best in me. Probably because it's so quiet compared to Los Angeles. And, well, trees. Lots of trees. I come up to the Ojai Retreat at least once a year to clear my head and reboot. This time around there's a little rabbit following me from place to place. It's good to be among woodland creatures.

These last two years of publishing my young adult book series have been a roller coaster ride of excitement, fear and joy. Authoring novels is something I've dreamed about since I was a little girl. No kidding, I used to do imaginary interviews on the Johnny Carson show about being one of the youngest authors out there. Definitely not the case now. It took me decades to step out of the shadows and follow my true passion. Putting off what I really wanted was a helpful cloaking device that seemed safe at the time, but eventually hiding from myself depleted my soul. Fear is such a bully.

I thought once I published my books, I'd be in hog heaven. But I soon found myself forcing solutions and ending up more and more miserable, I finally hit a rock bottom. My selfish ambition was killing me. My efforts weren't bringing me any additional joy, I just wanted more and more. It's our nature, us silly fallen creatures, to want more. To cure this ailment, I've been working hard to be grateful for everything I have and not looking at what I don't.

As I begin my next novel I don't have any expectations other than to do my best and enjoy the process. Learning to deal with my inner demons of wanting more and not feeling good enough has been one of the greatest gifts of writing. I'm happy to say that I'm finally able to move on with a grateful heart. Onward!

This guy.


 Keep writing. It saves lives. 

October 10, 2015

Six things to help launch your book

In October 2013, I published my first novel. As of October 2016, I'm about to publish my ninth. Over the years, I've done extensive research and talked to countless authors about the publishing industry. I love offering help to writers who are just starting out on the journey. First, I want to say, it's not an easy one. It has ups and downs, ins and outs, hours of isolation, grueling hours of solving what feels like trigonometry equations, moments of frustration and discouragement followed by limitless joy. I wouldn't change it for the world.

Whenever someone sends me an email asking for advice about launching a book, I have a go-to list of tips (which you'll find below). I'm also available to hire as your very own author project manager. I help organize timelines, work with you on the outline, share my vendors, and hold your hand until the first draft is completed. If you hire me, you WILL finish your book. As long as you're willing to commit.

For now, let's focus on getting some visibility in a highly saturated market. Let's say you already have a book and you're ready to get it out in the world. Whether you're looking for an agent or going the indie route, you'll need to do a lot of your own marketing if you want to sell books. That's just the way it is these days. There are SO many different approaches to marketing and it changes daily. The more creative and organic, the better. Below are a few things that have worked for me...


1) Get reviews

I try to get about 25 - 35 advanced reader reviewers before I announce the launch my book, but you can do this after it's launched. I email ebooks about a month before the book launch and follow up a few days prior with a friendly reminder to please post their review on launch day.

2) Announce your launch

On launch day, email friends, family, and your mailing list (if you don't have a mailing list - start one TODAY). Email every single person you know and tell them about your book launch. List your book at a lower price and let people know it's "on sale" for the first week. These folks get the ball rolling, and when they start buying your book, your Amazon rank increases, which will attract new readers and move you up the ranks in the "Hot New Releases" category. Also, announce your launch on every social media site -- but find a fun way to share this news with your followers. Try a Facebook book launch with some other authors, or by yourself. Exhausting, but has some benefits.

3) Advertising

When you do promos (free days or discounts), some sites will post your promo for free, others will charge a small fee. My favorites (and this changes): ENT, Ebook Hounds, BKnights, Awesome Gang, Bargain Booksy, Booksends, Fussy Librarian and Book Raid. If you can get a Book Bub ad, bless your heart. This has been a game changer for many people.

4) Publish more books

The more content you have, the more you sell. Just keep writing -- no matter what. 

5) Join some author groups on Facebook

Or start one with some like-minded writers in your genre. If you can get other authors to give your new release a shout out, that really helps a lot. It doesn't hurt to ask. And don't take it personally if they say no. They probably get a lot of requests.

6) Ongoing sales/price pulsing

You'll want to monitor your sales and when they start to drop, you might want to lower your prices and do a promo to announce the sale. This will breathe some life back into your book.

7) Giveaways

I used to do free ebook promos, but after giving away about 60,000 books, I'm no longer taking this approach. If you're new, I recommend enrolling in KDP Select so readers can borrow your book through Kindle Unlimited. These days the only free books I give out are for my exclusive readers on my mailing list. Goodreads giveways maybe. I haven't done one in a while. But they're good if you're a new author.


8) Study the industry and stay on top of the trends

Below are some great websites; some offer free PDFs with marketing tips:

www.kboards.com  (go to the Writer's Cafe forum)
www.thecreativepenn.com/
www.writersdigest.com/
www.thebookdesigner.com/


Hopefully this is enough to keep you very busy as you research your next steps! Writing is the easy part (ha!) -- it's the marketing that hurts. I suggest having fun with all of it and trying out different things to see what works best for you.

Best of luck to you in your writing career!


Keep writing. It saves lives.

August 18, 2015

Friendship, forgiveness and staying gold

This is guest post by my dear sister-friend Stefanie Timpke. I could say all of these words back to her (but probably not as eloquently or heartrending). Stefanie taught me how to show up for a friend and stay there - no matter what. Also, I want this read at my memorial one day. 

      1985                                                                                                                2015



It happens all the time, this crazy love of mine…

…wraps around my heart, refusing to unwind:

Simone and I have been friends since we were about 10 years old. I'm not sure how it started, logistically speaking, but we were neighborhood kids. She lived two streets away, which I predict prolonged our union by about five years. It seems you have to be at least ten before your world grows beyond your immediate block.  It may have been Erika that introduced us; maybe Adrienne and Erika—but either way—Simone and I always had something special; a language we spoke that was ours alone. We were always tirelessly trying to perfect the art of being as cool as humanly possible--and sometimes that caused us to fight.  And we had some blow outs.  But we always made up.  Simone and I always made up.

These days we don’t fight. We have earned this sweet spot. And it has been worth every single bad break and misunderstanding. This is friendship gold. And you can’t get here without putting in the time and staying the course. This kind of thing is not a rite of passage—it’s an earned mosaic that not everyone will have; only the brave ones with the courage to continue and, when the truth calls for it, admit they’re wrong, will have a thing like this.

When I opened my hotel door at Farmers Daughter Hotel in LA (I highly recommend this spot) and saw Simone, I felt 12 years old again. I always feel somewhere between 12 and 16 years old when I am with Simone.  Not because I feel especially immature—but because my heart feels courageous and youthful and unfettered by any of the shit storms that have hardened it a little as life has happened. Simone’s presence melts that away, and I have the eyes of Rusty James from S.E. Hinton's Rumblefish. She can remember vivid details of the past because she has a shockingly sharp memory. And I rely heavily on her to tell me about things from back there because my memory is spotty.  I have some crystal clear Polaroid's in the archives that I can access and scan if I want to—some diamonds for sure--but there is not much in the way of entire events. Simone has all that, and she can jog my memory as if she’s been trained to do it. I used to get upset about the blank spots—but I think God does what’s best for us. 

It always seems unfathomable how time has stood still when I see her. Whenever I'm with her, I tell her how young she looks. I don’t think she believes me. I think she hears that platitude kind of sentiment you say to someone in their 40’s that you’ve known your whole life—that “Oh my God, you haven’t aged” kind of thing. But to me, Simone legitimately still looks 20.  Maybe when you've gone through your formidable years side by side it’s the face that prevails. And maybe when you’ve looked up to that person and they have shown you the kind of love that involves giving you their coveted Matt Dillon poster because they knew how bad you wanted it, or have written songs with you and given you the courage to sing them on a stage because they knew it was a dream of yours, or took the risk to open their arms wide to hug you when you were charging towards them in rage--maybe when you have that kind of history—maybe that face is just always the face of youth. Or maybe the youth and beauty in the face comes from the spirit that shines through it.

The thing I remember most vividly about my last visit with Simone in LA, was when we were in the pool at the Palomar and she pushed off the bottom into a dolphin-like back flip; our signature childhood move.  I knew when she did it I had one of those priceless Polaroid's in my mind that I would be able to access forever. And I believe this image of Simone, and others like it compiled over time, will be the things that will continually strengthen my character. These things make me brave. This kind of love gives me the courage to continue. And, oh man, the laughter . . . so much laughing . . . all the time with the laughing. 

What a gift to have a friend where there is no such thing as linear time.  And how remarkable it is that we have stuck by each for well over 30 years, and that at every sad time when it was hard to breath—like when my dad died, or that God-dang wedding disaster -- she was there somehow. And she has always told me the same thing in the toughest times -- she says, “Stefanie your spirit is bigger than this and your heart is stronger.”  Simone will walk right into the dark and bring the hope right there to you. That is friendship gold. And she is a friendship warrior.

Some days you just need to sit with someone who understands about how you went to that weird alternative high school because you just couldn’t stay awake in class or stay at school, and how much you truly loved that boy in Colorado and how bad it hurt when he left us, and how it felt to pretend I was her when she was too shy to call the boy she loved, and what it’s like to have the cops chase you away from another perfect night at Parkwood Elementary, and how much we love our parents, and all the times we fell and got up—just all of it . . . every bit of your life is understood.  And you don’t even have to say a word. Sometimes you get on a plane and you fly to a person like that. And you just sit with them. And you are braver for it.

When Johnny told Ponyboy to stay gold we knew he was talking to us.



Thank you, Stefanie, for your beautiful words, your love, your light, your soul and for being here for me -- through it all. I love you, Simone


Keep writing. It saves lives.