Book review: Sophie Murphy Does Not Exist, by T Blanchard

If you’re looking for your next clean middle grade read may I introduce you to this gem by T Blanchard and @chickenscratchbooks?

Here’s the blurb:
An important life is measured by one thing: Netopedia. When Sophie Murphy discovers that her father’s life wasn’t remarkable enough to warrant a listing, she makes a decision.

Her life would be remarkable.

But if you’re not an Olympian, a singer, or a football star, becoming important is hard. It’s even more difficult when you also have to heal your family and remind the world of your amazing Netopedia-less father. But a quest for fame may lead to another discovery: being admired by millions isn’t as precious as being loved by one.

There’s so much to enjoy about this story, but I’ll tell you my three favorite things:
1) Losing a parent can be an emotional minefield, and Blanchard handles the ups and downs beautifully without giving the reader whiplash.
2) Sophie’s Price-is-Right loving grandma.
3) It’s a clever examination of priorities without being preachy – are we living to leave our mark on the world, or are we living for something better?

Overall – loved Sophie’s character, the authenticity in her struggle, and the hopefulness of this sweet story!

Buckle up, friends :)

Happy New Year! If I’m over-excited about 2022, it’s only because I’ve been looking forward to this year MY ENTIRE LIFE.

Bear with me, y’all. I still get stunned and teary-eyed when I think that this is the year my little book launches head first into the world!

I wanted to share a couple of updates since my last post. Since August, I’ve:

  • Submitted my first round of revisions!
  • Added to my publisher’s author page
  • Started working on the second round of revisions!
  • Committed to doing more social media and improving my video editing skillz

But the biggest thing – and I’m so stoked about this – is I now know the publishing date! (insert happy dancing .gif here)

Mark your calendars, tell your friends – OCTOBER 1, 2022 is the day!

I’ll be back out here soon with updates, but I wanted to hop on and share and- of course – wish you a happy, healthy, restful, peaceful, productive 2022.

I did a thing.

To some, it may seem small.

But to me, it’s the end result of decades of patience, learning, trying, failing, work, rework, nearly giving up, not giving up. So it’s enormous.

I signed my first publishing contract last night, for my middle grade contemporary novel. It’s the second novel I’ve written but the first to have made it through the gauntlet (thus far) of querying.

Lots of people have helped me get to today. My husband didn’t flinch when I told him ten years ago that I wanted to freelance so I could stay home for our kid and write a book. Our kid, who began writing a book of his own when he was nine, because he thought mom was cool (and he loves Rick Riordan books). My friends have listened to my alternating sagas of woe, confusion, and happiness as this journey continues to unfold.

I know there’s a long way to go yet before this book is in my hands. I also know I have more stories in me. But today I’m so very grateful and happy.

Shiny new author 🙂

How to be a rock star critique partner

Critique groups are lifelines for writers. Joining a new writing group can be kind of intimidating, especially when you’re new to an area or if you’re new to writing. But- when you find that right group? It’s game changing.

For me, the right group is made up of consistent, candid, encouraging people.

People who show up consistently create a group that builds momentum and accountability. Partners who are candid about what works and what doesn’t are super-helpful. I can’t improve as a writer if my group tells me everything’s great all the time (I know it’s not). Having said that, a positive, encouraging group is much more pleasant to be around than a bunch of Debbie Downers and motivates me to keep learning.

As I went out in search of my people, I learned a few things – first and foremost, I want to be the kind of partner that I would like to have in my group. Here’s a short list of what I learned to do:

Check expectations before showing up. Don’t go in unprepared – ask the group leader how many pages the writing sample should be. Should you share it before or during the meeting? What file format does everyone prefer?

Ask each member what they need. Some are interested in general reactions to their work; others may be trying to solve a specific problem. Tailor feedback to help each writer achieve his or her objectives.

Give as specific feedback as possible, and comment from my perspective. For example, “I wondered if this character might have a stronger response when his little sister fell,” is more constructive input than “Needs better characterization.”

Be considerate and helpful. No matter what type of feedback, consider how it would feel if you were the one receiving it. Deliver every comment, whether critical or complimentary, thoughtfully and with care for the receiver.

When you receive feedback, don’t freak out. Criticism of your work is not the same as criticism of you as a human being, so do not treat it as such. They’re notes from a fellow writer about how they reacted to your work product, not a judgment of your value or worth as a human being.

Don’t obsess but do notice trends. If you get certain types of feedback consistently, there’s a reason.

Try not to brush off the good things. If you’re like me, you are your own harshest critic. Learn to graciously accept compliments.

Remember to be respectful of the group’s time. Make an effort to be on time and prepared. Everyone understands that life happens, but if you’re going to miss a meeting or be late, let your group leader know.

The most productive groups are the ones who set clear expectations about group behavior early. It’s easier for everyone when they know what to expect.

Have anything to add to this list? Drop me a note and let me know. I’d love to learn!

** a version of this post first appeared on AlmostAnAuthor.com in October of 2020**

Mum’s the Word

HoCo Learning Curve
How cute is this little singing bear?

I’m not a native Texan.

This was stunningly obvious to a fellow Hobby Lobby shopper who spotted me as I blinked at the homecoming decoration display. She touched my shoulder, smiled empathetically, and said, “Aw. Honey. You’re not from here, are you?”

This sweet stranger spent fifteen minutes talking me through how to make a mum, who gets how many flowers and what color ribbon, and the importance of personalization.

When she was done, I thanked her kindly for her help. Then I returned my empty basket to the front of the store and saw myself out. I may or may not have purchased a consolation chocolate bar first. For homecoming.

I’m okay with a glue gun. I can paint a flat surface one color. I stenciled a flower once.

But I’m not homecoming-mum-level crafty. And I’m good with that.

I found a neighbor on the Facebook who is homecoming-mum-level crafty. She owns a floral shop and she’s amazing. And patient. Which is a great thing because when I called her I spent a solid thirty minutes racing through questions:

  1. My son is going with a friend, do we still get her a mum?
  2. Why is this a thing?
  3. How does she wear it?
  4. When does she wear it?
  5. When does he give her the mum?
  6. Does he have to wear one?
  7. Why is it on a garter?
  8. Do they keep them afterward?
  9. Are the flowers real?
  10. No really, why is this a thing?

I still don’t have solid answers for #2 or #10. But we embraced the tradition, horrified our kid, and thoroughly exasperated friends and family in the process with near-daily mum texts.

I can’t wait until next year.

Unpopular Opinion: Pumpkin Spice Isn’t That Great.

This time of year, people like me lurk in the shadows, stealth-sipping our cinnamon teas or our chai lattes. No more hiding. I’m speaking up.

I love autumn as much as the next gal. Honest. I do. I love decorating the house for Thanksgiving. A good harvest theme never gets old. What does get old, though, is pumpkin spice.

Before you start hurling gourds at me, hear me out. Please?

Have you ever tasted pumpkin? It’s a squash. Squash ain’t sexy. Squash doesn’t make you want to curl up by the fireplace and daydream. It makes you want something else to eat that’s not squash.

Notice that the flavor is pumpkin spice. Not pumpkin. The “spice”- that’s where it’s at. Because pumpkin is gross. What is this spice, anyway? It’s not pumpkin pie. It’s not gingerbread. It’s… something else. If I want spice, I’ll get it from my buffalo wings, not a squash, thankyouverymuch.

The good news for people like me is that PSL season arrives earlier and earlier each year. It’s still eighty-hundred-thousand degrees outside. That means that before the weather cools off enough for people to enjoy it, they’ll have burned themselves out on the stuff.

So for now, I’m sporting a tank top, watching people drink their pumpkin spice coffees and sweating through their cozy scarves and ugg boots. Yay fall.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Three Things I Learned at a Writing Workshop

Writer friends, I know you. Some of you are on the fence about investing anything other than your time and imagination in your writing future.

I know this because that’s where I was. Full of doubt. Overflowing with insecurity.

As long as I didn’t take this “writing thing” too seriously, I hadn’t risked embarrassment or failure.

Then, four years ago, me and all my doubt and insecurity went to the SCBWI annual conference in Anaheim. You know what happened?

1) I met other writers.  When you meet other writers, you learn that you’re not the only one with fears and doubts. You’re not the only one who’s figuring things out as you go. You’re at a table with an ecclectic, diverse group of people who share a common dream: to write stories people want to read. I don’t know about you, but I find that very comforting.  

2) I learned from experienced authors, editors, agents, and publishers. Publishing is a great big messy world with a head-spinning number of moving parts and pieces. I won’t even pretend I understand it all. But there are experts out there who know their business exceptionally well, and they’re generous enough to share what they know at conferences. I’m convinced that if I work hard and stay teachable, someday I will see my books on shelves. You can too.

3) I gained some confidence. There’s nothing quite like sharing your work with a critique group for the first time. There’s also nothing quite like getting through the critique session and thinking, “I’ve got plenty to work on, but that wasn’t so bad.” Think about it – you shared a piece of yourself with others and the world didn’t explode. Not too shabby! I’ll share a secret with you: Writers want to help writers. We know how hard this is. We want to help.

Lastly – If you’ve read along and thought “This is all well and good, but I could never go to anything like this. I’m ______,” allow me to gently and kindly take you by the shoulder and say “Yes you can.”  Not only can you, if you’re serious about writing, you should invest time and energy in learning new things about your craft.

For every writer in the room, there’s a unique path that led them there. Don’t worry whether or not your path is like theirs. It won’t be. The good news is: There’s room at the table for all of us.

Adjectivery

I recently participated in my first-ever Instagram author’s challenge. You’d think that someone who’d been a marketing manager – as in, paid real money to develop and activate marketing strategies for a living – would be aaalll over the marketing for her own writing work. You’d think that, and you’d be right to snicker a little behind your hand right now because I have been slow to do the things I know I should do. It’s okay. I agree with you.

Anyway so I started doing this thing. I was excited. Day one I’m logged in, ready to social media and right out of the gate there was this great prompt: What one adjective would you use to describe yourself?

I didn’t go into this on Instagram, because it’s Instagram, but here’s the story behind my adjective:  I cheated. I asked my husband and my kid what one word they would use. I totally copped out. Because describing myself is like trying to apply liquid eyeliner without a mirror. I can do it, but it’s going to be slightly off. hello, i'm delightful

I like the word they chose, so I don’t mind stealing it one bit. Especially since it can be accurate when used both sincerely and sarcastically. Although I’d prefer to think that a solid 85% of the time I manage to pull off the positive, without a good night’s sleep and a cup of coffee I’m like that eyeliner – a little off.

 

Onomatopoeia a.k.a. Sounds Like

True story: I had to look up how to spell this word three times before I got it right.

How often should we use this useful device in writing? Overdo it and you come off like you’re trying too hard. Don’t use it at all and you might be missing a spicy opportunity.

Some of my favorites (new and historical):

Mlem

Splat

Cluck

Tweet

sploshy splosh
onomatopoeia

What are some of your best onomatopoeias?