Welcome to Selene Castrovilla's blog!

I'm an author spreading the words. Read about my books at www.SeleneCastrovilla.com

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Revolutionary Saturday: A Toast to Our Allies and Accomplishments

Bonjour mes amis!

At the end of the year we reflect on our friendships and wish each other good tidings. I thought this would be a great time to remember our French allies in the American Revolution: we couldn't have won without them!

Ben Franklin in France, seeking support and recruits

It is also a time to celebrate our accomplishments. I've recently received the rough sketches for my book on the unlikely and touching friendship between George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette.

It's called Alliance! Zut alors, I can't wait to share it with you!!!

Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge

So let's toast our successes, and our friends. Particularly the unlikely ones, who we'd never thought we'd have. Let's drink to serendipity and the power of faith and love.

If an impulsive, bubbling teen Frenchman could bond with a middle-aged American general who had little tolerance for anyone - but most especially foreigners - there's hope for anyone to get along.

Mais, oui!

Their friendship was solid!

A toast to you, and to me. May our friendship be long and prosper.

Happy New Year!!! Cheers!!!!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Contest Winner!!!!

My apologies for posting my contest winner a day late!!! There has been a bit of madness in my life this week, between writing, college applications and school vacation.

The winner of my surprise box of ARCs is Lisa Reiss, who posted such a great story about a gift from her daughter. Tooooo sweet!!!

Today is supposed to be Guest Blog Friday, but my intended guest blogger had surgery recently, and she is not feeling well enough to contribute today. I put in a request to another friend, and we'll see how that goes. It's a tough week to contribute, I know ;)

So, we may have to content ourselves with the knowledge that many guest bloggers will come our way next year. Let it be fruitful and literary and bright.

Thanks for sticking with me and my ravings :) On Monday, there will be a consideration of the importance of dialogue. Just the thing for the new year!


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On Resolutions

            Aren’t resolutions funny?

            We spend so much time making our lists this time of year. What will we do differently? What will we improve about ourselves? What habits will we break for good?
            I don’t like resolutions, especially in list form. When I decide to do something, I do it. I don’t call it a “resolution.” To label it something that dramatic seems like a prelude to failure.
            And when I set out toward a goal, I do it without announcement. If I tell people, in every subsequent encounter they inevitably inquire: “Have you done it yet?”
           Who needs all that questioning?
            I attend a writing retreat twice a year. AT the end of the week, my editor asks us to list our goals for the next six months. I rarely do it. If I do, my single is “to be.” Once I made a full-blown list – which I didn’t accomplish.Then I was sad when she shared it the next time.
            I’ve seen people agonize over their resolutions. If they put that much effort into getting things done day to day, they probably wouldn’t need resolutions. Imagine living your life so well that you had not one resolution to make?
            I’ve made a decision to delete all my e-mails as of New Year’s Day. I have over 3500. I don’t know how that happened - except that when I'm writing I don't spend much time checking e-mails, especially when so much of it is junk. If you haven’t heard back from me in months/years – this is why. Please re-send after January first ;) But I won’t call this decision a resolution. I will call it a step toward my mental well-being!
            Seriously, what is it about the word “resolution” that freaks me out? Maybe it’s because year after year I hear people make them, them break them. Maybe the word means nothing anymore, due to careless handling.
            However, I do love deadlines. I use them often. Maybe I like the inherent threat of death. The stakes are high! I meet my deadlines, which are largely self-imposed. I don’t think I would if I called them “resolutions.” They wouldn’t have the same impact. Why? It’s the feeling of the words, that’s all.

            I am, after all, a writer.
            What’s the number one resolution people make? I’m sure it’s to lose weight.
I took a look around the gym the other day. Not too full, but that’ll all change in January. Gyms bank on people resolving to lose weight in the new year to sell memberships. Right now, folks are stuffing themselves to excess because they’re making that resolution starting New Year’s Day. And then, by February, something thins out. It’s not the people losing weight – it’s the crowd at the gym. The new members stop coming.

Resolutions, phooey. They’re ready for their Valentine’s chocolates.
            Hey, there’s always next year to resolve anew.
            Aren’t we all silly, worrying about things we never change? Kind of a waste of energy. When we’re ready to do it, we can do it without a declaration – can’t we?
            Why must everything we set out to accomplish have such pomp and circumstance? Somehow, we Americans insist on flourish. But if it starts with a bang, it may end with a whimper.
            What matters is the part we as a culture don’t focus on: carrying out the goal.
            It’s like weddings, come to think of it. So much poured into that big day. Then, after the honeymoon, the happy couple is stuck with each other and no drama to occupy them. The goal is to stay happily married, but all the effort was put into the initial moments. Doesn’t make much sense.
            With all that said, I wish you all the best in the New Year. Here’s to accomplishing all you set out to do, whether it’s with sound and fury, or in absolute quiet. Whatever works for you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tightrope Tuesday: College Applications and Hard Core Pawn

It is a trying time for me as I feel pressure to get my novel done, do that mothering stuff, and help my son Michael wrap up his college applications. My problem is that I take everything so seriously, and I worry a lot. I don't want to, but I tend to assume the role of Atlas, holding up the world. Meanwhile, the world could probably hold itself up if I let go. But how can I take the chance?

So, to get some relief, I watched three episodes of Hard Core Pawn with Michael.

 Wow, it's as if these people opened a business just to get cursed out by would-be customers. I guess it's editing, but it seems like pretty much every person who walks in takes issue with the owners. Security is always escorting someone out.

It's good for a laugh.

The old me wouldn't have wasted ninety minutes watching the show. But I've learned from my son that you can take some down time and still be productive. In fact, you can be more productive if you let loose and laugh a little.

I find that I learn something from everything. There's a lot about human nature in Hard Core Pawn. When people are desperate, their true selves are exposed.  I would hope not to act like these people in their situation, but then again - I would not be in their situation. It shows you that limited means lead you up against a brick wall.

This show should be screened at college fairs, to show kids what waits for them if they don't pursue an education.

So while I'm thinking about it, let me acknowledge my gratitude to the universe that we can sit back and watch the madness of Hard Core Pawn without being party to it.

I'm doing a pretty good job. Maybe one day I'll let go of the world and see what happens - or at least try holding it up with only one hand.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Method to my Madness Monday: Basking in Your Glory

Here's a quick tip to jump start your writing when you just don't feel like it: Read over something great  you've written. A morsel you're soooo proud of. Even if it's a sentence. Anything that makes your chest puff up a bit as you say to yourself, "Hey, this is good stuff!"

If you've got a work in progress, find a line or two in that. If you hate everything you've produced of late, dig deeper. If need be, find a school newspaper article you penned in the eighth grade. Or a term paper. Anything.

A funny thing will happen when you read your polished work. You'll want to get moving on something else. Those juices will get flowing. You'll crave setting out once again on the path that ends with a sentence, paragraph, page or chapter you want to share with the world.

Maybe it's the law of attraction, maybe it's the law of prosperity (Is there a law of prosperity? It sounds good!), maybe it's the power of a good mood - or maybe all of these are the same thing. Who cares what label you throw on it? You're writing, and that's what counts.

Basking in your glory begets more glory to bask in. At least, it works for me.

And that's my last "method to my madness" tip for 2011. Hope you've enjoyed them, and used them.

Go forth and write - make this last week of the year count!

"What would I do if I had only six months left to live? I'd type faster. "
-Issac Asimov

Write like you're dying.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Revolutionary Saturday: How George Washington Spent His Christmas, 1776

Think you’ve got a lot going on for Christmas?

Around this time on Christmas Eve, 1776, George Washington was probably busy planning his deadly attack against the Hessians. You know it as when Washington crossed the Delaware. But what happened after that – when he marched his troops to Trenton, NJ -  made it one of goriest Christmas nights ever.

He had to do it, I know. War is indeed hell. And after all, those Hessians had it coming. Heartless mercenaries. They preferred to kill American soldiers rather than go to the trouble of taking prisoners. They really had to go.

The problem I have with the whole thing is the fact that so many people glorify this moment in Washington’s military career – often citing it was his greatest. Slaughtering a bunch of drunk and sleeping men on Christmas night is not glorious.

Much more valiant were his actions following the Battle of Long Island, when he managed to cross his 10,000 men across the East River to safety. Perhaps no one brings this feat up because he lost the battle. Or maybe it’s because no one captured the moment in a painting.

It was a noble thing to not give up even after losing at the Battle of Long Island, and saving all his men. There would not have been a crossing of the Delaware if not for the crossing of the East River first.

That said, it was a necessary, sad, grim thing which Washington set out to do on Christmas night, 1776. Remember him for both feats, and remember the men who left their families and spent Christmas fighting for our freedom.

Enjoy that freedom, and enjoy your holidays.

May peace and love be with you.

 PS: If you'd like to see illustrator Bill Farnsworth's depiction of the retreat from the Battle of Long Island, check out my book, By the Sword. They are stunning paintings - and the writing's not bad, either ;)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Welcome to Guest Blogger Shannon Delany!

Today I welcome my friend and fellow author Shannon Delany,

who is one of the most dedicated authors I know (and I know many!) Shannon has both an incredible work ethic, and a deep devotion to her fans.

Thank you for posting, Shannon!

Readers: Don't forget to enter my contest to win a box of ARCs! Deadline is tomorrow night - read yesterday's post for details!

Putting Werewolves to Bed:
On Ending a Debut Series

I guess writing this means it’s true. My debut series, including five YA paranormal novels (the first of which began as a cell phone novel) starring hot teenage Russian-American werewolves in small-town America has finally come to an end.

When I started writing 13 to Life for a contest in 2008 I never expected for it to take on the life it has. In 2009 I learned I’d won the first-ever cell phone novel contest in the western world, landed my first agent (as fresh in the biz as I was) and, in freakishly short order, I had a movie producer contact me and two publishers. As a result of all that, I made some choices and contracted for three books with St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of “Big 6” publisher Macmillan.

Three books. St. Martin’s Press put me on the 6-month plan: a new novel came out approximately every six months. I loved it (especially since I have an addiction for fierce cliffhangers). That 6-month plan probably saved me from being throttled by anxious readers. Then, while I was in Orlando as a speaker at the RWA national convention I got a call. St. Martin’s Press was interested in bringing me on for two more books. Equally flabbergasted and thrilled I said: YES!!! I reworked a bit of my story arc and my character development and was able to dive into a subplot I wanted to explore more fully.
I wrote and promoted and revised and promoted and did copyedits while writing, revising and promoting and... You get the idea. Somehow I maintained my last shreds of sanity (I did mention I wrote Russian-American werewolves, right?)

And then it was time to write the final novel in the 13 to Life series. I was miserable writing it. I knew that after the revisions, the copyedits and the first pass pages the only time I’d revisit my characters and the world of Junction was if I reopened one of my books and read. I realized there would be no more hot and frustrating moments between Max and Amy, no more struggles with Jess and Pietr and no more adventures with Alexi hustling pool. Since 2008 I’ve held the lives (and loves) of these characters in my hands. Living in a world where I realize I have tremendously little control still I had complete control over their world.

A few days ago I sent my copy-edits back to my editor.

I’ve been a bit of a wreck ever since. See, I never expected to write a debut series of five novels. I never expected I’d be writing Russian-American werewolves. After living with teen werewolves for three years (because, in a way you do live with them if you write them) ending the series feels like a really fierce goodbye.

As a matter of fact, the only thing that’s keeping me going is that although one series is over I have other things in the works. Two other things at the moment. I’m not at liberty to talk too much about either yet... The one project I can mention—and something I’m tremendously excited about is a short story for a charity anthology through YALitChat.

Georgia McBride has organized a group of authors to create a set of truly unique tales based on an old literary staple. We get to reinterpret something that has become nearly completely integrated in our culture. And I get to do mine with a co-writer. Yes. A co-writer. This is the part that’s just as exciting as creating a new world or being part of a new project—working with someone whose talents I greatly respect.

The fact he’s not an author of novels but a writer of songs is even more awesome in a way. He even says he’s “excited to bring my songwriting into a different light.” For this upcoming project I’ll be working with lyricist and singer Max Scialdone. Max has been making music and performing live as a solo act and with a variety of bands (right now a lot of his time’s devoted to Autumn Fire
who just released their second CD) for more than a decade.

We both have an appreciation for the same types of stories and a fierce desire to make this project sing. Interpret that as you will. I can’t say much more right now, but if you’re as familiar with Selene’s novels as you should be, after reading this upcoming short story of ours you’ll understand why I love her title Saved by the Music even more.

So although the 13 to Life werewolves have been put to bed (at least for now) I have things that are on the horizon. Things I hope readers will find as inventive, passionate and exciting as I’m finding the creation of them to be.

Shannon Delany is the author of the 13 to Life series through St. Martin’s Press including: 13 to Life (8/10), Secrets and Shadows (2/11), Bargains and Betrayals (8/11), Destiny and Deception (1/31/12), Rivals and Retributions (8/7/12); and the sci-fi short story “To Hel and Back” in Spirited: 13 Haunting Tales (Leap Books, 10/11 ebook; 3/12 pb).
Max Scialdone is the singer and songwriter for Autumn Fire. His albums include Endless (2010) and Amends (12/11).
Find them both online on Facebook and Twitter and at ShannonDelany.com and AutumnFireMusic.com.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New Contest!!!

Enter to win a surprise selection of  novel ARCs, collected from American Library Assocation conferences & Book Expo Americas!

(ARCs = Advance Reader Copies)

They are limited editions & collector's items!

To enter, please comment about a gift you once received that touched you (or if you are shy - e-mail me at Ldymcbeth@aol.com.)

You get another chance to win if you share this post on any social media.

Deadline is midnight Saturday (I believe that is also Christmas!)

Here's some gifts that meant a lot to me:

My son Michael shelled out the big bucks and bought me a bracelet with diamond hearts. When a teenager parts with that kind of dough, it's pretty touching.

My son Casey bought me two bunches of lovely wooden tulips last Mother's Day. I especiallytreasure them because I get so sad when real flowers die. I asked him why he bought two bouquets. He answered, "Because one wasn't enough for you."

My boyfriend bought me a purple Dell computer two Christmases ago.  If you know me, you know why this was so appropriate. I am the purple queen. lol.

Anna Pett - who runs the Facebook group "Peace, Love, Teen Fiction," made me a pair of earrings with the cover of The Girl Next Door on them. She used Scrabble tiles with "S" & "C" - my initials!!!

Your turn!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hokey Pokey Wednesday: Doing the Holiday Gift Dance

             I’ve made a decision to stop buying silly, useless holiday gifts in the name of love.
            The retail industry is adept at tugging on our heart strings. They embed the message: Show your love through gifts.
            The more you give, the more you love them.
            This is so not true. If love could be measured in money, rich kids would all be happy. Check out the celebrity reality shows past and present (IE: Hilton, Kardashian) and you’ll see that some rich kids grow up miserable and broken.
            Shopping not only eats at my wallet, but also my time. I absolutely refuse to go the mall. But I even resent shopping locally. I just cannot stand the commercialism – and worse – the misleading promise of it all.
            Of course we should give our kids something – but not everything!
             I notice that I’m getting all sorts of e-mails about stocking stuffers now. That’s become the next big marketing push. Heaven forbid those stockings aren't bulging with goodies - even if you've spent hundreds of dollars on a gift already!
            I show my love to my kids every day by guiding them through life, giving them food and shelter, and nurturing them with love. Material gifts are a bonus.
            I’m not saying anything new here, I know. And I’m not going to wage a full-scale war against holiday shopping. Let people whip themselves into a frenzy at the mall. I’m not giving into all that nonsense anymore.
            Buddha said, “Simplicity brings more happiness than complexity.”
             I think that fits this situation well. Too many gifts clutter Christmas.
            Think of babies and animals, happy to play with boxes and wrap.
            I’m heading to my writing group now. This is my gift to myself.
            The greatest gifts are, in fact, things that cannot be wrapped – like helping my son through the maze of colleges and applications. It is the gift of his future.
            And like hugging my son Casey, and telling him how much I love him.
            Spending time with our kids is a gift.
            Shakespeare wrote, “Things won are done. Joy’s soul is in the doing.”
            I don’t think “shopping” was the “doing” he was referring to. Just a wild guess.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tightrope Tuesday: Walking the Holiday High Wire, While Parenting

            I never learned how to ride a bicycle.
            My mom bought me one, but never taught me how to ride it. I mentioned this to her once, when I was grown. She looked at me with contempt and told me, “You should’ve taught yourself.”
            If there is a child who taught him or herself how to ride a bike, I applaud them. I did not have to gumption to try such a thing. I was alone all the time and it was sad enough. I didn’t want to be alone on the ground with a scraped knee, or worse, crying with no one to hug me.
            My ex-husband tried to teach me once, but I couldn’t get past the terror of letting go of my gravity.
            My son Casey tried also, when he was about nine. I had to beg him to give up. It was like I was the child.
            Some things are meant to happen in childhood. When you’re an adult, they’re so much harder.
            Faith is like that for me. I wasn’t exposed to much in the way of it when I was little. Certainly not organized religion. We did celebrate Christmas, but to me it was a time when Santa brought gifts. I thought everyone had a Christmas tree – until I moved to the Five Towns. There, in second grade, I was questioned unmercifully by the other kids. They wanted to know if I was Catholic or Jewish. I had never heard of either of these things, but I desperately wanted to belong. I asked my mom about it that night. She said, “Tell them you’re agnostic.” She didn’t bother explaining, but even if she did it wouldn’t have mattered. Agnostic was not a choice!
            I went back and said I was half-Jewish and half-Catholic. I wanted to be liked be everyone. Instead, no one embraced me.
            There is probably more to this that I’ve blocked out. Our minds try to shield us from the little horrors of our youth. Suffice to say that faith was hard to come by, because I wasn’t quite sure what it even was.
            My aunt was a late-blooming Buddhist. She tried to teach me. I loved my aunt very much, but her zealous, in-your-face method of meditation instruction was not kid-friendly. I really wanted to like it, but I didn't. I couldn't even understand it. All I knew was that you were supposed to say, “Mu.”
            That I have been brought to any faith at all shows us that miracles happen. I do believe in God, but not in the traditional sense. I know there is a power watching over me, guiding me, taking care of me – if I let it. I call it "God" because everyone else does. I could just as easily call it "Harry."
            All of this makes the holiday season a challenge. So many people have their religious rituals and traditions. Then there’s me – with a deep spirituality, but not belonging to any of the groups that bind people together. I tried being a Uniterian. I still call myself one. But after a few months of services I couldn’t handle it anyone. It felt confining. And redundant. The initial comfort I felt in the church was gone.
            My children have no religion. They seem okay with it, perhaps because I explained the concept of religion to them and why they don't have one. I just couldn’t impose something on them that I couldn’t embrace myself. Casey went to the Uniterian Sunday School for a while. But he grew weary of it around the same time that I decided to stop attending services. It was good timing.
            This is not meant to be a condemnation of organized religion. I’m simply saying that it’s not for me.
            So what is Christmas without Christ? Well, it’s a time to show the people you love just how much you appreciate them. It’s a time for gratitude.
            Even though I've come to this conclusion, I get very sad around the holidays. It’s like I'm walking a highwire above all my ghosts of Christmases past, and they're poised to engulf me - smother me - if I fall. And yet, I have to be a parent. Someone who provides guidance, without having known any - and solace, without having experienced any. I have no idea what I'm doing. 
            But the hardest thing is the very thing that redeems me.
            Parenting is my saving grace. My children love me unconditionally, as I love them.
            How can I be a good mother during the holidays? By doing what I do best: Loving my kids.
            And taking that leap of faith: That everything else will follow.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Close To You: For a Great Story, Get In The Groove With Your Characters

      Some time back, I had the opportunity to hear YA author Han Nolan speak at a conference. One thing she touched on struck me deep: Her personal relationships with her characters.
              Han said she was out shopping once, and she spotted a butterfly trinket. My friend would like that, she thought. Then she remembered: Her friend wasn’t real. She was a character in one of Han’s novels.
            This is how close we should be to our characters. We should think of what gifts they would like. What clothes they wear. Whether they prefer Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts – or, heaven forbid, we must consider that they may not consume caffeine at all.
            Think of it as living in an alternate universe. Because you are. You have created it, so only you can flesh it out fully. You must give your characters the attention they need so they can reciprocate, giving you the story you desire.
            It’s like gardening, but it’s better. Because you don’t really have to dig through dirt.
            The dirt's in your mind. (The only dirt I like is the metaphorical kind.)
            Another sign that you’re “in the groove” (as my Aunt Olga said) is when your character speaks to you. “My name is Darwin,” a voice said out of the blue in my head one day, as I turned a corner not far from my house (there’s a certain spot where I connect with my peeps.)
            I wasn’t perturbed. I guess a part of me had been expecting him.
            “Well,” I said. “Then I guess the name of the book is Evolution.”
            I told Darwin’s painful story¸ and I did it fast. It was like I was taking dictation from him.
            Evolution is the truest story I’ve written, even though it’s fiction. It’s so real and disturbing that some people can’t handle it. The point is: It all sprung from a close relationship with the character.
                        You are not your characters, and they are not you. You won't agree with all of their decisions and actions – but you must follow them along and document them anyway. Like the people who film animals in the wild. Watching those clips, I always think, Why won’t the guy filming help the antelope being stalked by lions? 
                         The guy isn’t there to fight nature.
                          And, in fact, you can't.
                          Even (and especially) in fiction, we are documenting the human condition. That is why the reader cares. We can and must have empathy for our characters, without playing God. The Girl Next Door was like that for me. How hard to watch a relationship playing out when one of the pair has cancer. Devastating.
            Dreaming your story is a good start. That’s what happened with The Girl Next Door.

I dreamed a little dream...

I had the whole thing in my head when I woke up one morning, even though I was struggling to write Saved by the Music.
Only when I let the characters take the lead could I write this story, and it was based on me!

            Your characters will have their way with you, whether you like it or not. Fighting them just makes it harder. They will get that message out. So shut up and listen.  
            Get in the groove with your characters and your story will soar. Every time.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Abraham Woodhull: Stammering Farmer & Spy

Last week I introduced you to Caleb Brewster, the valiant captain/spy who could’ve easily been portrayed in an action movie.

This week I give you Abraham Woodhull: the stammering, terrified farmer who handled day to day operations of the ring.

Why did Benjamin Tallmadge recruit such a pathetic excuse for a spy? That’s probably why. Abraham was scared of just about everything. No one would ever believe he was capable of intrigue and espionage.

Benjamin and Abraham grew up together in Setauket, Long Island. Benjamin knew he could trust Abraham. Poor Abraham must’ve held his friendship and the American fight for freedom close to his heart, because being a spy nearly gave him a heart attack.

It is believed Abraham recruited Robert Townsend – the pivotal member of The Culper Spy Ring. Abraham was a customer of Robert’s dry good business. It had to have freaked Abraham out to speak with Robert and convince him to betray his Quaker faith, for in Manhattan, especially, it was never safe to talk. Redcoats were everywhere.

Abraham’s hypocondria reached new heights when he took on the role of Culper Senior. After executing a letter for Washington, it was not uncommon for Abraham to retreat to bed complaining of fever, and stay there for days.

Abraham shook so much that he spilled the only vial of invisible ink on hand once. He made frequent mistakes – more understandable because he was not trained in his endeavor but learned as he went along – but Washington did not understand at all. He was quick to criticize when things went wrong, and even disbanded the Culpers in one angry moment.

But Washington ultimately did have faith in Abraham and the Culpers. When he needed vital information fast, he rallied the Culpers back into action. Of all his spies, he relied on and trusted the Culpers most.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Carol Larese Millward: My Guest Author Shares Her Truths!

Greetings, everyone!
Today I'm pleased to bring you a guest post by my friend and co-WestSide Books author Carol Larese Millward. Carol's book STAR IN THE MIDDLE was a 2010 Galley Cat Best Teen Book!

Be sure to catch Carol's book trailer at the end of this post!

I enjoyed reading this post and hope you will, too. There are also some lovely quotes (which I love, as you know.)

Welcome, Carol!

Many thanks to my friend and fellow WestSide Books author Selene Castrovilla for inviting me to write a guest blog. I admire writers, like Selene, who consistently find interesting topics and issues to tackle and manage to present them in a thoughtful, insightful manner. I was inspired to write this piece after reading Selene’s quote on her blog site --
“Sharing my truths with the world, and helping others find theirs.”
As a writer, my goal is to create characters that share their truths with the world. In my YA novel, Star in the Middle, I found it difficult at times to be true to Star’s character.

I felt so protective of this teen mother, who was not only dealing with a new baby, but also with a painful secret from her past.  Wilson, the young father’s character, was even more of a challenge.

Wil wanted his voice heard, and although this novel at its inception was to be about a teen mother and her baby, how could I deny the father his say?

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.” –Henry Ford

I found truth in the preparation. I wrote page after page of information about my characters and their needs in an attempt to understand and empathize with them. I had worked with teen parents as a Family Advocate and Parent Educator through Family Support Centers, and with the help of my fictional characters, I wanted to explore the many real consequences an unplanned pregnancy can have on young lives.

Writing extensive profiles gave my characters voice. As they told their stories, they revealed their truths. 
What does truth look like, and how can we as writers stay true to our characters and our readers?

Sometimes the truth—the issues--we explore while writing realistic young adult fiction is dark. Writers don’t create that darkness, but we do attempt to shine a light on it and expose it for what it is.

I have been very pleased with the dialogue Star in the Middle inspires among teens at schools and book clubs that I visit. I believe young adults feel less threatened talking about the issues they face, while discussing fictional characters facing the same concerns.
“The worst thing about being lied to, is knowing that you're not worth the truth.” --Unknown

Parents who object to the exploration of topics they find inappropriate or offensive sometimes challenge books and want them removed from their child’s school or library. But we can’t protect children from the truth that bad things happen.  We have all been bombarded with the Jerry Sandusky scandal. How many children witnessed him being led away in handcuffs on national television--with a Penn State jacket hung over his shoulders? Sandusky said that he has never harmed children and is innocent of the Grand Jury allegations that he molested young boys. What is this man’s truth, and what truth can we find in those around him who failed to come forward? Is it better to shield children from this story, or take the opportunity to talk to them about sexual abuse and predators? 
My truth is that I have always been a writer. As a child, writing was my way of processing what happened to me and to those around me. I believe this process helped me to understand myself, and others. I think the most important thing I learned was that mine was not the only truth. I firmly believe that empathy is the most valuable tool a writer can have.
I write for children and young adults because I respect them and the issues they face. I hope that by being true to my characters and letting them tell their stories, I can help young readers feel empowered to tell their stories in their own unique voices.

“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”
–Albert Einstein

Star in the Middle Book Trailer - A Shelf-Awareness Book Trailer of the Day Selection --

STAR IN THE MIDDLE by Carol Larese Millward
WestSide Books/2009
A GalleyCat Best Teen Book 2010

Order from Amazon:


Thursday, December 15, 2011

WINNER of my Kindle Miracle Contest Announced!!!

Good day!!!

I'm pleased to let you know that I studiously made entry slips for everyone (some, multiple slips), put them in a special purple basket that says "BELIEVE" on it, shuffled and shook and tossed, and drew a winner.

And it is a winner that the universe wants. Because at first this person's name came flying out while I was shuffling. I put it back in and shuffled some more. Then, I drew it!

The winner is: NA S!

Congratulations, Na! You've won a Kindle!!!!!

As for miracles, I'm focusing hard on them. I found a little figurine on the field today (where I lost & found my keys) which looks like the doll from the Island of Misfit Toys. (Not exactly, but along those lines.)

Her hair is missing and she's a little disheveled. I took her home, but I'm not sure what to do with her. Maybe that's beside the point. Or maybe I'm going mad.

Is she a gift from God?

Maybe she's like me, a former "displaced" girl. I have always felt like a misfit. Maybe the universe is telling me I'm not one. (Or that I'm not the only one.)

Maybe the miracle of a miracle is how you perceive it.

Thank you, everyone who entered. I'm sorry you didn't win, Joyce - but thank you for being so supportive!!!

I loved reading everyone's miracles, and their quotes.

Season's greetings to all - and happy miracle spotting!!!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Last Chance to Win a Kindle/Hokey Pokey Wednesday: Hoarder Nation

I'm trying to clean up my life. Really.
Not that it's dirty. But it's packed.
I'm not a hoarder like the ones you see on television. But I save things. It's hard to let go.
I know I'm not alone.
We are a nation of hoarders. It's just that everyone has their own degree.
Why do we attach ourselves to certain things?
Fear of loss, comfort, desperation, laziness, compulsion...I think these all have a hand.
We are a nation that affixes our happiness to our possessions.
For me, the number one reason is sentimentality. For example, I find it so hard to get rid of anything remotely connected to my children. Today I went through a basket of stuffed animals and asked my son Casey which ones he wanted to keep. Whenever he said to toss one, I'd say something like, "But I bought this giraffe for you when you were sick. See its big, sad eyes?"
And Casey would say, "I don't remember, Mom. Just ditch it."
It's like I don't want to lose the memory.
My older son is fantastic at letting go of things. He is a neat freak, and he knows the trick is to not let anything lay around.
I want to be like that. As a matter of fact, I'm not letting anything new accumulate. But the old stuff is hard to get rid of.
I read a great tip in a magazine: Take a picture of the things you love before you get rid of them. I'll probably snap a shot of the giraffe before he goes bye-bye.
Another huge problem I have is papers. First of all, there are manuscripts. I certainly don't need them - I have them on the computer! But you try dumping your manuscript in the trash. It's like thowing your baby away.

Great minds think alike: Albert Einstein also had a cluttered workspace!

Then, I have critiques. I already went over them, but I like to keep the comments "just in case." I also like reading the compliments.
I have notebooks filled with notes from writing conferences, but never look at again.
I have piles of research for my American Revolution books. (This I hope to box up and put in the attic.)
I have receipts and statements...I have Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons up the wazoo...all these things I know I need to file, but God help me, I don't want to take the time to!!!
I have mugs from everywhere I've ever been. I don't use them - I display them.
I have soooo many pictures...It would probably take a solid year to but them in albums (I went through a scrapbooking phase, and have two completed pages, and all the materials.)
I have THINGS...little things that have captured my interest, or mean something to me.
I have my kids' art work from all the years gone by...Including things far from original or creative. Like a foam plaque with a leprechaun, rainbow and pot of gold that one of my kids glued together.

Oh, and I have boxes...lots of decorative boxes and bins to organize things in...and they are EMPTY!!!

I also have many books - far more than I've ever read!!!

All this, even though I've been cleaning out. I just don't know how I'll ever get done with it all, because I can't devote my life to cleaning up my prior messes.

I'm trying to do a little each day.

And I am proud to have halted the madness.

It feels so cruel to get rid of things, but now I view it as survival of the fittest. It's me, or them.

A cluttered life is an imprisoned one.

I deserve to be free.


Don't forget to enter my "Win a Kindle" contest!!!!! Today is your last chance!!!!!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Last Days for Kindle Contest/Tightrope Tuesday: The Horror of "The Science Fair"

Tomorrow is my twelve year old son's science fair.

"Science Fair" seems too inadequate a term. They ought to call it "An attempt to make parents' heads explode."

Something to that effect.

Maybe your twelve year old son or daughter is able to nagivate through the "official" science fair instruction packet, conduct an experiment over a period of something like twelve weeks and then write a complicated research paper as well as make up a presentation board all by him or herself.
My twelve year old cannot.
I could barely figure it all out.

Let's get real: We parents are the ones who must supervise, and do all the grudge work - like buy the dumb board.
Yes, I said dumb.
I am personifying a piece of cardboard. I can do that because I'm a writer, not a scientist.
Thank God.

I hate science. It's so precise. So formal. So cold.
I like room for error. I like uncertainty. I like inconclusive evidence.
This is what we writers thrive on.

That's why I shouldn't be anywhere near a science project.

But Casey had no partner, so I vowed to help him conduct his testing. His subject was: "Can People Spot Fake Smiles?" My opinion is that we should try not to. Feelings get hurt enough. Ignorance is bliss.

It was a fun experiment. Casey tested his friends with a BBC internet quiz consisting of twenty people smiling.

The horror came when we set out to present the findings.

The research paper guidelines infuriated me. They wanted a table of contents. How pompous can you get? This is a paper done by a twelve year old!

They wanted acknowledgments.
Is this a submission for the Nobel Prize? No, it's a twelve year old's science project.

You get the picture...

I just can't stand people taking themselves so seriously. It's everything that's wrong with this world.

Lighten up, Francis.

I must repeat: These are twelve year olds doing the work!!!
So, after many angry moments (mine, not his), we got the research paper all together.

Then there was the presentation board.
We went to get it in Michael's. I had a 50% off coupon! Of course, it was out of stock. "They better have it somewhere, or someone's going down," I told my son.
That person would probably be me - because of a stress attack.

Fortunately, we found one in Staple's. Full price, but at least it was in our possession. Phew!
The came the realization of how large it was. "How will we fill this up?" I asked my older son. After all, it was a simple experiment, summed up with one graph (Thank the lord for createagraph.com, or wherever Casey used on the web - a graph was magically created when we entered our data!)
Michael advised, "Make everything really big."

We made the words 72 font (that's the max) and I was ready to print out.
Guess what?
I couldn't get it out. I freaked out on the printer. "Why? Why have you done this to me?" I wailed. (More personification.)
It didn't answer.
Must be a scientific printer
Then I hit it.
That didn't help.

I went to Staples. Looking back, it wasn't the most tragic thing in the world, but at ten to nine last night it sure felt catastrophic.
It's like that straw that broke the camel's back saying...

The work is done now. But the memory will always remain.
The horror of "The Science Fair" will live forever in infamy in my mind.
There'd better not be a math olympics, or someone's going down...
Definitely, me.

Don't forget to enter my contest to win a Kindle!!! Tomorrow is your LAST CHANCE!!!!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Method to my Madness Monday: Write No Matter What!

I am sooo exhausted right now. The last thing I wanted to do was write this blog. I can't wait to crawl into bed with Netflix.

But I am committed to this blog, so here I am. The post will be short, but damn it - it will be here!!!

This is the same attitude I have toward writing every day. Even if I don't have time to write much, I will write SOMETHING!!! Because:
1. "Somethings" add up.
2. Even if a "something" is junk and will be chucked, it kept my juices flowing.
3. One day away from writing leads to two, leads to three...

Stephen King said to write a novel in a season. You know he takes no days off! The reason is because you have a whole world swirling around in your head. It's hard enough to keep it all straight if you look at it every day and plow through. But if you start taking breaks...it's almost impossible to keep a lucid, entertaining train of thought. For you, and your readers.

So I sit down and work on my novel first thing every morning. Before life gets in the way (and it almost always does.) Just to make sure something got written today.

Some writers say they can produce good writing any time of day, no matter how tired they are. I think my best writing - and thought process - comes first thing in the morning. That's when life is bursting with possibility - and consequently, so is writing.

Perhaps you're a night owl. Great. Whatever works.

I'm going to bed, folks. Happy - and continuous - writing to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Revolutionary Saturday/Don't forget to enter my Kindle contest!!!

            Today on Revolutionary Saturday I’d like to introduce you to Caleb Brewster, who was the kind of guy Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis would’ve played in their prime.
            A real die hard.
            Caleb was a whaleboat captain who conducted successful raids on British forts on Long Island.
            He was also a member of George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring.
            Caleb and his men hid along the Setauket, Long Island shore­ waiting for a signal that the message for Washington had arrived, courtesy of courier Austin Roe. It is believed that Anna Strong hung a petticoat in her clothesline to alert Caleb. But however he found out that his message was waiting for him, Caleb was always ready to act.
            He and his men rowed across the Long Island Sound to American-held Connecticut.

There, it was carried to Washington. Especially because of the long, round-about route from New York, time was of the essence. But Caleb often found a moment to raid larger British ships on the way to Connecticut. He was that kind of guy.
            Towards the end of the war, Benjamin Tallmadge was on board a whaleboat with Caleb when they came under British fire. Caleb went down with a musket ball through the chest. Tallmadge recalled in his memoir that he thought it was the end of Caleb. He was wrong.
            Caleb rose and fought on.
            He recovered and lived into his 80’s.
A letter from Caleb Brewster to Benjamin Tallmadge
            If you’d like to read more about Caleb Brewster and the Culper Spy Ring, check out my book, Upon Secrecy.

Don't forget to enter my Kindle contest! Read yesterday's blog for details!!!!!


Friday, December 9, 2011

Kindle Contest & SIRENZ Series Authors Guest Blog!

This is your last week to enter for a chance to win a Kindle!!! Details are at the bottom of this post.

Today I welcome Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman, the lovely co-authors of the SIRENZ Series (Flux.)
As I writer, I'm fascinated by anything co-created, because I'm quite the control freak with my work and could never co-author anything. I tried once. We argued over the main character's name, and I was done.
Char and Nat's first book, SIRENZ, was released last June:

"Bickering frenemies Meg and Shar are doing some serious damage at a midnight sample sale when the fashionistas find themselves arguing over a pair of shoes-with fatal consequences. One innocent bystander later, the girls are suddenly at the mercy of Hades, Lord of the Underworld himself. To make them atone for what they've done, Hades forces the teens to become special-assignment Sirens, luring to the Underworld an individual whose unholy contract is up.
Finding that delicate balance between their fashion addiction and their new part-time job in the eternal hellfire biz turns out to be harder than Meg and Shar expected, especially when an entire pantheon of Greek deities decides to get involved. Then there's the matter of the fine print in their own contracts..."

You can order SIRENZ at www.FluxNow.com!

Welcome Char & Nat!

Personally Yours
One question we’re often asked (and we’re sure other authors are asked this too) is “Are you like your character(s)?” From the way they dress, talk, think, whine, eat, argue, and go about their lives, Sirenz Meg and Shar are itsy bitsy pieces of yours—us—truly. 
Goethe said, “Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.” (www.quotegarden.com/writing.html) Who would argue with a master (especially a dead one!)? Now while it’s unlikely that Suzanne Collins is exactly like her character Katniss in The Hunger Games, it’s probably safe to say that some aspects of her personality are not only in that character, but in others you’ll meet throughout the story. We each bring our preferences, dislikes, viewpoints and predilections to the table when creating our characters; we can’t help it. That’s not to say that people who write about serial killers are killers (well, we hope not), but if that author has a penchant for spicy Thai food and the character does too, it’s not a far stretch to see why.
In Sirenz, a bit of our personalities’ DNA is generously sprinkled throughout the book. Meg Wiley—named by Nat for Meg White of the now sadly-defunct White Stripes, and Wile E. Coyote, a favorite cartoon character—is like Natalie in that she has an esoteric streak, a thing for black clothes—particularly vintage—and a well stuffed iTunes account. Oh, and she won’t touch a diet soda. Never. But in many ways, Meg’s also like Charlotte: both are committed to being as green as possible (Charlotte recycles as much as she can to the annoyance of her family and lectures others who don’t) and not having all that many shoes (really!). Meg is a vegetarian by herself—her creators are unapologetic carnivores (though we <3 organic!).
Charlotte chose Shar’s name because she liked the sound of “Sharisse,” super girly without being a clichéd “Tiffany,” and Johnson because that’s her maiden name. You can see Natalie in Shar’s fashion addiction, disturbing knowledge of designers (hey—everyone has their faves, right?), and regular manicures (but no fake nails!). Just like Shar, Charlotte is a church goer (not just on Christmas Eve, Easter, funerals, weddings… you get the idea), is irreverent (can make a joke, even if in bad taste, about anything), and definitely believes in romance (sappy sigh…). If you want to see further resemblance, look at the cover for the sequel, Sirenz Back In Fashion. The artist who drew our characters might well have been looking at us (through heavily tinted rose glasses); Shar is tall, blonde and slim, Meg is petite, curvaceous and dark haired.
Even Hades has our ‘stamp’ on him. We both agreed that Ian Somerhalder would be the perfect Hades if Sirenz ever makes it to the big and/or small screen. He is a product of our collective tastes—what we would want to see in a villain—or anti hero (let us know what you think after you read Sirenz Back In Fashion!). You’ll find pieces of us in the other gods as well: Demeter has Char’s sharp tongue (which can/does lead to trouble), and Nat’s love of the little critters (Nat keeps chickens, bunnies, cats, a guinea pig, and birdlettes.). And her daughter Persephone? We can both be a weeeeeeeeeeee-bit defiant, though in different ways. If only we could just snap our fingers to get what we want!
Even the locales of Sirenz are products of us. We both have a special relationship with New York; Nat knows Manhattan quite well (she’s always popping in to shop or visit—and she REALLY needs to get out to Brooklyn more often!), and Char was born in NY (but Long Island, which is not the city). The tropical island? A place where Char hopes to retire to (or at least run away to now and then). The Tarot shop? Based on Earth Spirit in Red Bank, NJ, a new–age store owned by friends of Nat’s.
 Like the cliché about taking the boy out of the city but not the city out of the boy, writers can’t help leaking a little bit of themselves into their characters- good and bad.

Thanks again, Char & Nat. I agree about the leakage, and I love that quote from Goethe!!!

Here's a synopsis of the next SIRENZ installment: SIRENZ: BACK IN FASHION (Summer 2012):

It’s Hell on heels—again!
When Shar tries on a ring from Hades, it activates an obscure contractual clause that puts Shar and former-frenemy-now-friend Meg in Hades’ service once more. Shar is whisked away to the Underworld to prepare a ball for Persephone, while Meg is sent to retrieve the errant soul of spoiled rich girl Paulina Swanson and send her to the abyss. Just when it appears the girls will be doomed to serve Hades for eternity, Shar meets two possibly helpful demi-gods who also happen to be gorgeous. Can the girls finally ditch the Lord of the Dead once and for all?
Be careful what you wish for...

 The contest details:
Got a story about a miracle? Share it with me, and you could win yourself or someone you love a Kindle.

There are other ways to win:

1. Follow this blog. (There is a space at the bottom of the post to enter your e-mail. I know it's hard to figure out - but I can't figure out how to make it clearer. Sorry!!!)
2. Post this contest in your status on any social media.
3. E-mail your favorite quote on "miracles" to Ldymcbeth@aol.com.
4. Review one of my books (there are four) on your blog, Goodreads or Amazon.
5. I'm open to other creative ideas for entries. Try me!
You will receive one entry for each thing you do. I will select ONE winner out of all the entries on Thursday, December 15.