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How to Acheive Success in Writing

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How to Acheive Success in Writing

Nearly four years ago, I decided to quit my emotionally-draining full-time job teaching high school math and move to Cape Cod to live rent-free in a tiny bedroom with my friend Nikki as her “writer in residence.” My plan was to sponge off Nikki (hey, she offered!) and work on writing for one year. If, at the end of the year, I was finding success with writing, I would continue to pursue it. If things were going nowhere, I would go back to teaching and give up on my dream, at least until retirement.

But that’s not exactly what happened. First of all, I didn’t end up staying on the Cape for very long. Soon after I moved there, I met my future husband, and I ended up making another risky decision: I moved to Seattle with him after we’d been dating for less than eight months.

Second of all, I realized that “success” is hard to define, and that giving up on my dream of being a writer wasn’t such an easy thing to do.

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Eva on a Cape Cod beach.


Back then, my idea of success was a book deal. A novel published with a major house and hopefully many more books to come. Making a living writing, being on the best-seller list, having my book made into a movie – these things would be great, too, but to me the measure of success was simple: a published novel. How hard could it be, right?

Really hard, as it turns out.

But is is it the best measure of success? I know of a lot of authors who reach the published novel stage and still feel like they still haven’t “made it.”   Now they’re worrying about sales, or writing the next book, or winning awards.

My husband and I are currently reading The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. Chopra says that success “is a journey, not a destination.” He says that success “includes good health, energy and enthusiasm for life, fulfilling relationships, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability, a sense of well-being, and peace of mind.” Nowhere does he mention having a published book. Of course, he is the bestselling author of a bunch of books…

My point is, I’ve been working with a narrow definition of success. After all, in those four years I have had success with my writing.  I started making (small amounts of) money by writing, and by doing writing-related jobs. I received a real writer-in-residency position in Mexico last summer. I’ve completed four novels and am working on another. I’ve gotten articles and short stories published online. I’ve made writer friends and learned how to use Twitter. I even had an agent for a while before he quit his agenting job. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’m getting better at writing novels. That’s success, isn’t it? If success is a journey, I’m definitely making my way up the hill.


Success is a journey, like the multiple cross-country moves I’ve made in the past four years.


It’s still hard, though. I’m still looking for a new agent. I’m still wondering if my books are good enough. And it’s often really hard for me to admit to people that I’ve been working at this for four years but I still don’t have a book deal. Sometimes, my ego hurts something terrible.

But then I read this in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success:

“Attention to the ego consumes the greatest amount of energy. When your internal reference point is the ego, when you seek power and control over other people or seek approval from others, you spend energy in a wasteful way. When that energy is freed up, it can be rechanneled and used to create anything you want.”

Anything I want, huh? Like a really awesome novel?

In other words, if I can stop spending my energy worrying about how I don’t have a book deal, maybe I will have the energy and creativity to write something super awesome (that will then get me a book deal).

It’s frustrating, of course:  the old stop-trying-so-hard-and-it’ll-happen advice.  It’s sort of like when I was a perpetually-single thirty year old and people told me I’d meet someone when I stopped looking. Annoying advice, but in a way that’s what happened.  I mean, I was still looking — I was still doing online dating — but when I moved to Cape Cod I dropped my expectations of finding someone during that year. And that’s the very year I found someone.

Chopra would call this “The Law of Least Effort.” He would call it the principle of “do less and accomplish more.” I don’t know if I believe it exactly, but I like the idea of working hard at the things you want, but letting go of preconceived notions and rigid expectations about the outcomes.

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I still want a book deal. Let’s be honest. But I should remember that in some ways I already am successful. My days are less stressful and more creative than they used to be. I think I get sick less often — I certainly feel healthier and get more sleep.  I have a lot more time to spend doing the things for which I feel enthusiasm and energy, and I usually wake up excited about the day instead of dreading it.

That’s the way Chopra describes success, isn’t it? I’m doing what I love, and all I need to do now is learn how to enjoy it. Learn to give up those greedy ego concerns and find some peace of mind. (As always, easier said than done.)

Chopra says, “when your actions are motivated by love, there is no waste of energy… your energy multiplies and accumulates – and this surplus of energy you gather and enjoy can be channeled to create anything you want.”

Well, I want a book deal. But more than that, I want to spend my life writing.  Because I love it.  At the end of the day, my actions are motivated more by love than anything else. That’s why I’ve continued to piece together part-time jobs and blush when people ask me if I have a published novel yet. Embarrassing as it is for my ego, I just can’t give up the dream.

So I’ll write because I love it. I’ll embrace the success I’ve already had. And I’ll remember that success is a journey, not a destination.

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From DC to Cape Cod to Richmond to Seattle to Minneapolis to Maryland.  It’s been quite a journey these past four years:  literally and figuratively.


YA & Middle Grade Literature: TRIVIA!

YA & Middle Grade Literature: TRIVIA!

I want to let you guys know that I am teaching a workshop class this summer for people who are working on YA or Middle Grade novels. We will do a combo of mini-lessons, discussions, writing exercises, and plenty of critiques of each other’s work. I taught the class this winter, and it went really well, and I’m excited to teach it again. Classes will be held on Tuesdays at 2pm at The Writers Center in Bethesda. If you know anyone in the DC area who might be interested, please spread the word!

And so, in honor of my YA/Middle Grade class, I’ve decided to do another round of Literary Trivia — see below. For some reason, I love trivia, even though I’m terrible at it. I went somewhat recently to DC Improv’s trivia night and was ecstatic just because my team didn’t come in last.


Our door decoration is ready for the spring/summer season!


“Why do you like trivia so much?” my husband asked me when we got home. “You’re so bad at it.”

“I think it’s the anticipation of the next question,” I said.  I’m always hoping the next question will be something that is totally in my wheelhouse, like Beck songs, or children’s literature from the early nineties. Then, I will be the only one in the room who knows the answer, and I’ll feel super awesome.

Of course, then the next question comes, and it’s something about golf, and I’m like, “uh… Tiger Woods?” because he’s literally the only golfer I know. This doesn’t deter me, though.  I just get excited about the next question. Thinking that maybe the next one will be the one I magically know.

Every time I go to trivia, I fantasize about hosting my own trivia night, with nothing but questions I know the answers to. And then I remember, hey, I can do that on my blog!  (I’ve done it before.)

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Don’t worry, I won’t ask about the Baby-Sitter’s Club book I wrote in 2nd grade.


So, here you are. In honor of my upcoming class at The Writers Center, I present to you:


Answer as many of these questions as  you can without the help of google.  Answers are at the bottom of the page.

#1 The title of Lewis Carroll’s book about a girl named Alice falling down a rabbit hole is NOT Alice in Wonderland. What is the actual title?

#2 Before writing The Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins was a writer for what American teen sitcom from the early nineties?

#3 This British children’s novel about time travel and girls at boarding school inspired Robert Smith of The Cure to write a song with the same name. What is the title of this novel (and the name of the song)?

#4 In the YA book Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, what day is protagonist Samantha made to live over and over again?

#5 In the book Blubber by Judy Blume, the class bully (Wendy) forces the class victim (Linda) to eat a piece of candy. What does Wendy tell Linda the candy actually is?

#6 Who is the narrator in the middle grade fairy-tale inspired book Far Far Away by Tom McNeal?

#7 What color is protagonist Karou’s hair in the book The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor?

#8  In Francesca Lia Block’s book Weetzie Bat, what is “duck hunting”?

#9 Name at least one of the jobs held by Louis in E.B. White’s book The Trumpet of the Swan. (P.S. Louis is the swan.)

#10 In the John Green novel An Abundance of Katherines, what is the significance of the name “Katherine?”


The cover of The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey





#1 Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland

#2 Clarissa Explains It All

#3 Charlotte Sometimes

#4 Cupid Day (February 12)

#5 a chocolate-covered ant

#6 The ghost of Jacob Grimm

#7 blue

#8  looking for guys to date

#9 camp bugler at Camp Kookooskoos, works for the Swan Boat in Boston, and a jazz trumpeter in a nightclub,

#10 The main character, Colin, has dated nineteen girls named Katherine, all spelled that way.




I Fell in Love with Tanka Poetry: A Review of Dawn Manning’s Postcards from the Dead Letter Office

I Fell in Love with Tanka Poetry:  A Review of Dawn Manning’s Postcards from the Dead Letter Office

At first, I wasn’t going to review Dawn Manning’s book of poetry, Postcards from the Dead Letter Office. After all, I don’t consider myself a poet. I don’t read much poetry. What would I have to say about her book? Certainly nothing intelligent.

But then I read the book, and I fell in love with it. I decided to review it (even though I might not say anything intelligent) because I want other people to discover this beautiful little book and fall in love with it, too.

One reason I’m so intent on sharing is that the poems in Postcards from the Dead Letter Office are accessible. You don’t have to be a literary scholar or have a degree in poetry to understand and appreciate them. And that, to me, is so wonderfully refreshing. These poems remind me that poetry isn’t supposed to make me feel stupid. Poetry is supposed to make me feel. And these poems do.


Postcards from the Dead Letter Office by Dawn Manning was published in 2016 by Burlesque Press.  It is available here, or on Amazon.  (What a good thing to read during National Poetry Month!)


Most of the poems in the collection are tanka, a form of Japanese poetry similar to haiku. When writing in English, Manning explains in the introduction, you can think of tanka “as a five-line poem that can be said in about two breaths.” What’s most important about the form, however, is that there is a pivot within the poem in which one image or idea turns into another:Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 10.47.25 AM.png

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Don’t you just love it? A row of gravestones becomes the teeth of a zipper that joins together heaven and earth. There’s so much to love in those five little lines. The image, the surprising metaphor, the feeling — both simple and complex — that this poem evokes. But I gush…

Manning’s tanka are bite-sized, able to be consumed in about two breaths. And yet they pack such an emotional punch. I have been reading a handful of her tankas each morning and feeling satiated all day.

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Dawn Manning in Mexico.  Several years ago, I did this interview with her.


Postcards to the Dead Letter Office is broken up into themed sections:  tankas for each season and tankas for the various places the globe-trotting Manning has visited: Mexico, Venice, Scotland, and China to name a few. Interspersed among the tanka poetry are a few longer poems, though (to my short-attention-spanned-delight) none longer than twelve lines. The organization of Postcards as a whole was neat and beautiful, and when I finished reading the last poem, I felt complete; as if I had traveled the world in a single year and come home satisfied:

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Though the tankas are short (tweet-able, even), they say so much. Some explore beautiful images. Others take on personal topics. Occasionally, Manning mentions high-brow ideas like Ezra Pound or Monet paintings, but she kindly explains the references in her Notes section of the back of the book – she wants us to understand.  But perhaps the most wonderful thing of all is Manning’s cleverness, her quiet humor:

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Before reading Manning’s poetry, I had never heard of tanka. Now, I find myself so enamored with it I even tried writing some tanka of my own. It’s a fun form to dabble with, even for a self-proclaimed non-poet like myself.

Any poetry book that inspires me to write my own poetry must be good. And any poetry book I can read and enjoy from cover to cover… well, let’s just say, that doesn’t happen often.  Postcards from the Dead Letter Office is a collection I know I will come back to. Read and reread, savoring each deliciously dense poem. I can travel the world from the comfort of my living room, as Manning’s careful images bloom and turn in my mind.

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I did a terrible job taking a picture of it, but Dawn made these wonderful postcards with her poems and photographs she took on her travels.

Awkward Pitches & Bad Questions (How to Avoid Both) at the Philly Writing Workshop

Awkward Pitches & Bad Questions (How to Avoid Both) at the Philly Writing Workshop

Over the weekend, I attended the Philadelphia Writing Workshop in downtown Philly. I had signed up (and paid for) for three 10-minute meetings with literary agents, and so, for the first time ever, I pitched my book in person.

My first pitch was at the beginning of the conference, but my other two weren’t until late afternoon, so I had stomach butterflies all day, which certainly weren’t aided by the spicy pulled pork sandwich I chose to eat for lunch. (Thank god I didn’t spill any on myself.)

The agent pitches were awkward. I mean, how could they not be? You are herded into a room with a bunch of other nervous writers. The timer is set for ten minutes. You sit down and try to make quick small talk. (I told one agent that I liked her necklace, which I did, but I’m sure it just came off as sucking up.) You talk about your book, and then you wait to see if the agent says she’s interested. (I’m sure it’s awkward for them, too.)

Talking about my novel took me less than two minutes (I didn’t want to ramble), so then I had to think of ways to fill the remaining time. Mostly the agents asked me questions like, “what inspired you to write the book?” and I asked them questions like, “are you an editorial agent?” even though I already knew from reading interviews with them online that the answer was yes.

Here are a few things I learned about myself in these situations:

  1. I have a really hard time maintaining eye contact. I don’t know if it was the fluorescent overhead lighting or what, but looking into the agents’ eyes made me feel like I was going blind.
  2. Apparently I have a nervous tic: scratching my head. I was scratching my head so often I hope the agents don’t think I have lice.

Here are a few things I wish I had come prepared with:

  1. Middle grade authors and books I most admire. (I was able to come up with a few on the spot, but I would have liked more time to think about it.)
  2. A better-working pen to use when writing down the book titles one agent suggested I read.


Despite how I’m making it sound, the meetings went well. All three agents said they were interested and asked that I send them the first 50 pages of my manuscript. I know better than to get too excited at this point. I know they might read the pages and decide my book isn’t right for them. But, hey, three for three means I’m doing something right with my pitching. And no matter what happens next, it was good practice to sit in front of agents and tell them about my book.


Here I am in Philly a few years ago, with my friend, Dawn.


When I wasn’t pitching agents, I attended the sessions about how to get published and market yourself as a writer. These talks were given by Chuck Sambuchino, the editor of Guide to Literary Agents, who spoke like the Micro Machines guy and doled out plenty of quips, stories, and tough-love advice. Even though most of the information was stuff I already knew from books and the Internet, he was definitely entertaining, and I’m sure he was super helpful for those just starting to investigate the writing world.

One of the best things about Chuck, in my opinion, was that he knew how to shut down bad questions and move on.

“I have a question. I’ve written a memoir that’s about twenty percent fictional, and–” a man began.

“I’m going to stop you right there,” Chuck said. “Memoir isn’t fictional.  At all.”

“Okay then, a novel inspired by real invents, and—“

“All novels are inspired by real events. This is a boring question. Moving on. Next question.”

A little harsh, yes, but as a person who has suffered through a lot of annoying questions at a lot of literary events, I appreciated it.

And I know, I know, there’s supposedly no such thing as a stupid question, but when you’re sitting in a room with two hundred other people and a speaker who has a limited time to get through a pile of information, there is.

Here are a few ways, in my humble opinion, to avoid being the person who asks a stupid question:  


  1. If your question can be easily answered by google, don’t ask it.
  2. If your question is super specific to you or your project, don’t ask it.
  3. If you are somewhat new to the writing world, maybe it’s better to listen and soak up as much info as you can. Chances are, your question will be answered eventually, or you might realize that the question you were going to ask is sort of silly.
  4. You can always ask questions later, in a smaller setting, instead of in a room with 200 other people.



Sometimes it’s best to keep quiet!


And that’s it. That’s my take-away from Philly Writing Workshop. I met some super nice people, practiced pitching to agents, and made it home to DC despite the SNOW. On Monday morning, I sent the first fifty pages of my manuscript to all three agents. We’ll see what happens. I’ll keep you guys posted.

Acting Auditions & Pitching to Literary Agents

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Acting Auditions & Pitching to Literary Agents

When I was younger, I desperately wanted to be an actress. I remember going to auditions and being totally bummed out when I didn’t get a part.

In the eighth grade I tried out for the role of Scout in our community theater’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird. They were looking for a middle school kid who could play a believable six-year-old. I was already five-foot-five at the time, and yet somehow I thought I could win the part based on my acting abilities alone. I didn’t even get a call-back.

I tended to take rejections very personally. Freshman year of high school I assumed the theater teacher didn’t like me when he didn’t cast me in the spring play. I ruminated about it in my diary: I think I’m good. I AM good at acting, aren’t I? Rejections did a number on my self-esteem.

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My acting headshot from when I was 19.


After high school, I decided to go for total self-esteem suicide and move to Los Angeles, where I got rejected even more.

The thing I didn’t realize back then was that it often wasn’t about whether I was “good” or not. It was about whether I was what the casting directors were looking for or not. If casting directors were looking for a blond bimbo, or a gorgeous waif… well then, I just didn’t fit the bill, no matter how good my acting was (although, in hindsight, maybe I wasn’t quite as amazing as I thought I was.)

In any case, it wasn’t that I was bad at acting. It was that I wasn’t in the right place at the right time.


Acting in a community theater play, age 24.


A similar thing happens in the world of publishing. You query agents and get rejections, and it’s hard not to take it personally. It’s hard not to start questioning your writing abilities. (I think I’m a good writer. I AM a good writer, aren’t I?) It can really do a number on your self-esteem.

What you have to realize is that a rejection doesn’t always have to do with whether or not you’re a good writer (although obviously that’s important, too). It’s not enough for your book to be good.  Your manuscript has to make an agent super-duper excited… excited enough to hawk it all over town.

And not only that.  Your book also has to be what the agent is looking for. Maybe you wrote a really great book about time travel, but the agent doesn’t think she can sell a time travel book right now. Or, maybe she already represents an author who writes about time travel and doesn’t want two competing clients. Or, maybe she just doesn’t like time travel for whatever personal reason. Her rejection might have nothing at all to do with the caliber of your writing.

So many agent rejection letters say something along the lines of, It wasn’t right for me, but another agent may feel differently. That’s what you have to remember. It’s not (necessarily) that your book is bad. It’s that you’re not querying the right people at the right time.


Rejection can be hard to take.


I’m about to go on a big audition in the literary world. This Saturday (April 9) I’m attending the Philadelphia Writing Workshop, a one-day conference on getting your writing published.  And I’ve signed up for three ten-minute pitch sessions with agents.

These are meetings I had to pay for ($29 a pop), but I am guaranteed ten minutes in which I can talk about my book(s) and see if the agent is interested.

I’m pretty nervous. I’ve read all sorts of things online about how to do these pitch sessions. “Have your logline memorized,” some people advise. “This is a chance to give your query out loud.”

“I mean, should I just sit down and start reciting my query letter?” I asked a friend of mine who’s done one of these before, “or should I talk about my book like a normal person?”

“Talk like a normal person,” she said.

“Oh good. That’s what I’d rather do.”

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Acting in a community theater play.  Age 26 or 27.


Anyway, I do plan on taking advice from several websites that say to give the genre, title, and word count up front so the agent knows what she’s in for.

And I certainly plan on practicing what I’m going to say – in fact I already have. But I’m also going to try to have a somewhat-normal conversation with each agent.  I’ll tell them about my book, see if they’re interested, no big deal.  It might be what they’re looking for, it might not be. Nothing to freak out about… right??

I’m also going to keep in mind that these pitch meetings are not just about me showcasing my book to an agent. They’re also for both of us to decide if we’d like to work together for the next few decades of our careers. (In which case, talking like a normal person and not a query-spouting robot is probably a helpful thing to do.)

In a way, it’s not just the agent auditioning me. I’m auditioning the agent, too. I’ll ask questions: are you a hands-on or hands-off agent? How many other clients do you have? How and how often do you communicate with your clients? I should make sure we’re right for each other.

All it takes is for one agent to say yes. Then I’ll have the role I’ve always wanted: the role of an agented author (again).

Not everybody has to like my book, but I do need to find the right person at the right time. So, fingers crossed that this person is going to be at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop this weekend!

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The Awkwardness, the Agony, the Awesomeness: Writing YA and What It’s Like to Be 14

The Awkwardness, the Agony, the Awesomeness:  Writing YA and What It’s Like to Be 14

Recently I have been plodding through the self-imposed task of typing up all of my old diary entries (from age 10 to 27) so that I have an electronic copy.

I decided to start with 9th grade, in part because I felt like reading about my high school years would help me write Young Adult novels, and in part because I just felt like it. I figure I’ll go back and do 5th through 8th grade later. (I guess it’s painful to revisit middle school, even in diary form.)

So far it’s been a very time-consuming task. I used to write in my diary a lot. There’s one entry in which I listed every single outfit I owned. Not just every article of clothing, mind you, but every single combination, including what earrings and shoes I wore with each. I also listed my friends’ outfits, although I wasn’t quite as thorough with that, thank god.

Although it’s time-consuming, I don’t feel like it’s a waste of time. It’s really amazing to see the world through my 14-year-old eyes. It’s amazing how much I’d forgotten about being that age and how much the feelings come flooding back when I read my own angsty words. I feel lucky that I have this resource, and I feel like anybody trying to write for younger audiences should read their own diary entries (or someone else’s, I suppose) in order to get back into the teenage mindset.

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Christmas 1995, when I was 14.  (With my brother, Deven.)


So far I’ve only typed up August through December of my 9th grade year, but some of this stuff is, in my opinion, solid YA gold, and I can’t help but share.  Here are a few tidbits from my diary and a few things I’ve learned/remembered about being fourteen. (Note: I changed all names except my own for privacy and whatnot.)

What it was like to be 14:

I thought everything was awesome.

Friday was awesome! We went for a walk in gym. In World G we did a map. After school, I went to v-ball, which was great, then I met Dana. She was talking to this guy who was standing outside the library smoking. His name was Jeremy, and he had graduated. He thought I looked older than 14!!!

Then, me and Dana walked to the Grandin and saw The Baby-Sitter’s Club movie, which was good. Then we walked home. On the way I saw Ray and Tony Granada. They actually said hi to me, after Ray screamed, “It’s Eva!” out the car window. Then I saw Lia, Shay, and Liza outside Lia’s house and talked to Liza for a long time. I felt at one with the world.  So far, high school is just about awesome.


I was very concerned about boys and getting a boyfriend.

We are trying to get this shy golfer guy to ask Nina to Homecoming and hopefully he will. He’s just shy. I know he wants to. What guy wouldn’t? She is, hands down, the prettiest girl in the 9th grade, and I’m not just saying that because she’s a sweetie and my friend. It’s true…

I think I’m fairly pretty; I don’t see why nobody’s asked me to Homecoming. I know why nobody’s asked Nina. It’s ‘cause she’s so gorgeous and sophisticated, all the guys are like, “she’d never go out with me.” So no one ever asks her out, and she gets low self-confidence. I’m pretty much positive that’s not the case with me because I’m not drop-dead gorgeous like Nina is. So somebody should ask me out.


I was very aware of other people and what they thought of me.

Me and Dana tutored after school. My mom was supposed to come pick me up but she forgot, so I ended up outside the library with Ella, this girl Jami, and Sharon. Sharon had cigarettes, so Ella and Jami bummed off her, and Sharon offered me one.

If I told anybody (except Dana, ’cause she knows) that I have never tried a cigarette in my life, they would never believe me. Not that it’s something every kid tries, although it kinda is, but I guess people see me as the type of person who would smoke, or at least have tried it.

P.S. I hope Dana isn’t the only reason people like me. I don’t think it is, though. Sometimes Dana can be too much. I think I’m nice and funny. I hope other people think so, too.


Ninth grade is awkward! So much awkwardness!

There was a lot of drama about who would ask me to the Homecoming Dance.  My friends forced the boy I liked –- we’ll call him Matt — to ask me, and then he did, but then he backed out a few days later and asked someone else and I was devastated. I ended up going without a date, in a big group of friends. Despite being date-less, I ended up dancing my first-ever slow dance, which is described in painful detail below:

I was having a lot of fun ‘cause I love to dance. Then, Trip Kensington asked me to dance, so I did. I danced a couple songs with him, but then I didn’t want to dance with him anymore. I just wanted to dance in a circle with my friends. He kept cornering me, though, and holding out his hand. I didn’t want to be mean, but I didn’t want to string him along either ‘cause I don’t like him in that way, and after a while he was really starting to freak me out.

He’s not bad looking, but he’s really not my type. He’s got long, curly, light brown hair, and he’s really tall. After a while I was getting tired of dancing with him. I did dance my first two slow dances ever with him, though. I put my arm around his neck and he put his arms around my waist. He kept sweating and having these spazzes, and I could feel him breathing on my head.

During the second song he kept trying to pull me closer and closer until my head was on his chest. Then the song was over and I ran away. He kept following me, and I kept telling everybody, “if you see me dancing with Trip, come rescue me. I want a Trip-free environment.”

I spent the second half of the dance avoiding him like the plague. He’d ask me to dance (or hold out his hand or say “let’s go, Eva.”) and I’d ignore him. He’d tap me on the shoulder and I’d walk away. I’d start dancing with him, and after a few seconds I’d say, “I’ll be right back,” and run away. It was getting really old, and he was scaring the shit out of me.

I really wanted to dance with Matt. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to dance with Trip. I didn’t want anybody, especially Matt, to think I was going with him. I fast-danced for a few seconds with Matt. It was a thousand times better than any of my dances with Trip.

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Two years later I went to Homecoming with a date, as seen here.  But it was probably no less awkward.


So do you guys remember now? Didn’t this help you remember what it’s like to be fourteen?  The awkwardness, the agony, the awesomeness.

Now I shall harness these memories and emotions and go write some YA!

The Sound of Your Own Words, or, A Mystery Day Trip

The Sound of Your Own Words, or, A Mystery Day Trip

Over the weekend, my husband took me on a mystery day trip. He had come up with the idea on Friday evening, and by Saturday morning and he still hadn’t told me where we were going,  which is a pretty amazing feat for him – he’s terrible at keeping secrets.

“Should I just tell you?” he asked as we got in the car.

“No. Surprise me!”

In order to distract him from the temptation of spilling the beans, I read to him from one of my novels. I’d been revising and editing it for the past few months, and just recently I had spent a full day giving the entire manuscript a final read-through. I had pronounced it completely finished and ready to send out to agents. Paul had read an early draft two years ago, but he’d expressed interest in reading it again, now, in it’s final form. This was the perfect opportunity.  He drove, and I read.

And as I read, I noticed little things that needed to be changed. I was amazed, and slightly annoyed. I had literally just read the entire book and thought it was Finished with a capital “F,” but now I noticed missing periods, sentences that didn’t sound quite right, and even a few darlings that still needed to be killed.

We had been driving for nearly an hour, and we’d just driven over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge onto the eastern shore of Maryland. “Do you want me to keep reading?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Paul said.  So I did.

*  *  *

I know that I’m supposed to read my manuscripts out loud before I submit them anywhere. I know that. And yet, I never do it. It’s time consuming to read an entire novel out loud, and it makes my mouth dry. Besides, I feel silly reading out loud to myself. I always figure a close, silent read is good enough.

But apparently it’s not.

When we read silently, especially our own words, we are likely to see what we expect to be there. Reading out loud forces us to slow down and see what is actually on the page. Not to mention, it helps us realize if dialogue is stilted or if sentences don’t quite sound right. Really, there’s nothing quite like reading your manuscript out loud when it comes to fine-tune editing.  It’s time I stopped taking the short cut and started reading my work out loud.

As I was reading, I got distracted by a large hawk soaring alongside the highway. “Ooh, look at that raptor,” I said.

“You like that bird, babe?” Paul asked. “Well, guess where we’re going!” And then he could hold in the secret no longer.


Paul and I like birds.  Here we are a few years ago with some parakeets.


Turns out, we were going to the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on the Delaware Bay. Talk about birds. Not only is Prime Hook home to cool birds like blue herons, snowy egrets, eagles, and hawks, it is also the premier rest stop for pretty much all of the migratory birds in the western hemisphere. In fact, according to a poster I read in the Visitor Center, on any given day in the month of April, eighty percent of the migratory birds in the Americas can be found hanging out at Prime Hook.

Even though we weren’t there in prime season, and even though it was close to freezing temperatures outside, there were still a dang lot of birds. Paul and I hiked the trails and gawked at the enormous numbers of darting swallows and chattering blackbirds and flocks of water fowl. After a while we turned away from the beach and onto a trail through the forest. Suddenly, we heard a faint pattering sound.

“What’s that noise?” I asked. We stopped to listen.

“I think it’s the sound of the trees growing,” Paul said.

“No,” I scoffed. “Maybe it’s the sound of inchworm poop.”  (See my post about that here.)

The noise grew louder. It sounded like something was hitting the trees. Just then something bounced off of Pauls’ jacket. It was a pellet of ice.  Then one hit me in the face. “Oh, it’s hailing,” I said. “I guess that’s what we were hearing.” We felt a little silly.

The hail turned to icy snow, and we hurried back to the car and started our drive home. “I can’t believe you thought the hail was the sound of trees growing,” I teased Paul.

“I can’t believe you thought it was inchworm poop.”

“Should I read more of my novel?” I asked. “It’s actually really helpful – I’m finding all sorts of little things I want to change.”

“Yeah, keep reading,” he said. “I’m enjoying it.”

So I did. I’m realizing how important it is to listen to the sound of my own words. And reading out loud to Paul is much more fun then reading out loud to myself. It really helped to have a willing pair of ears to listen. And it helped to have a three-hour drive back home, with nothing else better to do.


A blue heron at the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.


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