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Sapphire Inspiration – making art with an old friend

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For any of you who have read my debut novel, The Family, you know Sapphire. In order to create Sapphire, I went to an equestrian center in Burbank, California, where the trainers were kind enough to let me hang out with them and photograph the beautiful, majestic horses. This is one of the beauties I photographed, and she feels just like Sapphire, Twig’s beloved horse, doesn’t she?

Itching to make art lately, I signed up for some super cool and more technical art classes sponsored by the city of Santa Monica (cheap!!). Last week’s was transfer printing. We were told to bring images from ink jet or toner printers – I grabbed a handful of Kate Moss, Twiggy, etc. But once I got there – it felt much better, more authentic, to use print outs of my own photographs – like this one above. A little Modge Podge later and here she is transferred onto a piece of canvas. I am excited to paint this image – play with it. Get back into art. Stay tuned for my next classes- wood cut transfer and more!

The Family is on sale for this last week of January! Grab it on Amazon for $1.99.

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Help cute doggies like this one and get to know a remarkable LA-based artist. Read on.

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How cute is this guy?
I am honored to introduce you to A. Morkus Dog – writer and canine extraordinaire. He wrote this book with his mom, LA-based artist Deborah Reilly.
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This book made me and my son laugh out loud. He’s a great writer and 20% of the proceeds from his book, The Collected Writings of A. Morkus Dog go to Animal Rescue Groups. So that’s pretty cool! Entertainment and animal rights in one. I like it!
Let’s hear a little more about Deborah. She’s written a lovely piece based on questions I sent her a few weeks back. She’s so cool and so talented, and we are going to have coffee soon. How lucky am I? Can you say inspiration?
Deborah and her sweet little dog man.

Deborah and her sweet little dog man.

Hi Marissa,
I am so happy you and your son love the book! I am so thankful for the feedback and this interview.
I am an artist, writer and teacher. I teach Art at an elementary school in Brentwood and Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market at Virginia Avenue Park in Santa Monica. I was born and raised in Montana and have a BFA in drawing from MSU Bozeman. As a kid I was often at the kitchen counter drawing from comic books that we had around the house.
Deborah has done work for Will Smith and Queen Latifah.

Deborah has done works commissioned by Will Smith and Queen Latifah.

I loved to draw. I wasn’t a ‘natural’ artist though, so I gave up Art and did not pick it up again until I was 25, living in San Francisco. I started where I let off with Crayola watercolors as a way of dealing with insomnia. It was wonderful to understand that the images I saw in my head could be brought on paper I just had to go abstract before I could go real.
Art has been an evolution for me over the past 20 years. The Collected Writings of A Morkus Dog is my fourth children’s book but the first inspired by Mork. Mork came into our life via a local rescue group called Love Leo Rescue. It was love at first sight for me and the love continues to grow. I grew up with dogs but Mork is the first of my own and I am smitten. I hope that comes across on the page. He is such a charismatic guy.
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Other books are:
Starchy & Husk in the Green Boot in Soup Caper
Starchy & Husk in Swoosh, Whoosh, Swish What was That? Starchy & Husk are a potato and corncob who fight crime in rhyme.)
Cock A Doodle Que Pasa? (which has not gone into production)
I paint, draw, collage but usually with no idea in mind as to what it will be. The Abstract Expressionists have been a big influence in my creative journey. I am a process artist and figure it out as I go along. When I began illustrating my books it was a challenge as the words were written so the pictures had to match. My previous books were collage which I love. I cut up my old sketchbooks and make art out of ‘mistakes’.
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With Mork’s book I had to take a different approach, the world I created on paper is much like that I envisioned in my head. It was about those blue lines and Mork’s image on paper, it didn’t need much else. Most of the pictures in the book are drawn from actual photographs. As a teacher it is important to me that young artists and readers see work that is not perfect or computer generated. I like my work to be relatable. All images and text are done by hand.
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I was planning to write the third story for Starchy & Husk but then came Mork and that just turned everything upside down. The inspiration for this book comes from him! He is just such a funny dude. From the eyebrows, those pleading, inquisitive brown eyes and cocking his head from side to side as thought he is really listening to you. One day he put a pen in his mouth and sat by the door and just looked at me…not much more needed to be said. I was encouraged by a few colleagues to write a children’s book about Mork and so I did.
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After adopting Mork I became captivated by the rescue community and wanted to do something more. I’d like my wallet to match my heart in what I can give. Watching videos of animals being rescued always left me in tears. 20% of the net profits will go to animal rescue groups like Hope for Paws, The Sat Project, Love Leo Rescue, The Vieques Humane Socity etc… It is important to me that I become a part of the solution. We travelled to the Domincan Republic last fall and I picked up a travel tip from a good friend of mine. She always has food for the stray animals so as we vacationed on the lovely beaches we fed the animals in need. it felt so good and sad at the same time.
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I  grew up with dogs and had always wanted one of my own. My boyfriend and I decided to take the plunge and adopt. I contacted a local animal rescue group called Love Leo Rescue and told Sasha what we were looking for in a dog. A few weeks later she was at Downey Shelter and found Mork. Sasha tagged me in a photo and that was it, love at first sight. We fostered him for one night and called Sasha the next day and said Mork had found his forever home.
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There are so many things I love about this little dog and I hope that is conveyed on the page. How he amuses me, makes me smile and laugh and how he burst my heart wide open! He makes life better. I remember writing to Sasha a few days after we adopted him, saying that I couldn’t remember life before Mork, and I still can’t. We are kindred spirits and have many of the same personality traits.
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Many of my students have asked “Did your dog really write this book?” to which I reply, “Well, no, not really but if he could write I think this is exactly what he would say.” And I believe that to be true.
Writing children’s books is kind of like coming full circle for me working in a format that was such a part of my childhood. I aim to write books that both parents and children will enjoy. This book is great for toddlers, early readers and for anyone who loves dogs.
What inspires Deborah and A. Morkus…
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As a kid I loved Dr Seuss, Maurice Sendak and Eric Carle and of course the Madeline series. David Shannon and Ian Falconer are contemporary favorites. I love humor and am a fan of David Sedaris and Amy Schumer. Some of my favorite books are: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont and The Little Prince are my Art Bibles. Anne Lamont is so honest about the creative process and The Little Prince encouraged me that you are never too old to create. Favorite painters are Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler and Francis Bacon and Louise . I love how every art movement is a reaction to another.
 
There are so many great influences it is hard to cap it to a few. 
 
Thank you Deborah and A. Morkus! The two will be travelling this summer and writing and arting about their adventures! Please follow them! A. Morkus Dog.
Also July 8-10 Hale Arts on Main Street in Santa Monica is having a $100. art sale. Deborah will have 3 paintings available and yes, all work will be $100.
xo!
Marissa
 

My Chat with Mary McCoy – author of y/a noir novel – DEAD TO ME – If you love Los Angeles history – you’ll want to read this.

My son and I love the Los Angeles Public Library. Recently, we were chatting with the librarian at our local branch, when she told me about Mary McCoy‘s debut novel, DEAD TO ME. Mary is the head librarian for LAPL’s downtown Teen’Scape (the young adult department at the Los Angeles Public Library). (And she was kind enough to put The Family into LAPL back in October.)

Swoonworth cover, no?

Swoonworth cover, no?

DEAD TO ME is a film noir-inspired YA mystery set in the glamorous, treacherous world of 1940s Hollywood. If you are a noir fan, a fan of LA’s architecture and wild/sordid history – you cannot miss this read.  I read it in two days and found myself inspired. I haven’t read any teen noir before – brilliant idea.

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1947 public transit map from the Los Angeles Public Library map collection

Let’s talk to Mary. This is one of my favorite interviews! Her answers are so provocative and fascinating! The interview is dotted with the cool imagery Mary was kind enough to share. Without further ado – I introduce you to the lovely Mary McCoy.

I believe you grew up in Western Pennsylvania – how did you become interested in L.A. stories? (Those of the Black Dahlia persuasion, etc.)

I happened to get really into film noir and true crime right around the time I moved to Los Angeles, which was a happy coincidence… or an unhappy coincidence given the subject matter. I started writing for a blog called the 1947project. Every day we’d write about a different crime that had happened on that day in history in Los Angeles, and I learned about many of the tragic, scandalous, and hair-raising stories in the city’s history. Sometimes it was something well-known like the Black Dahlia, while others it was something more obscure or minor – such as this one where a pair of bored tween girls terrorized a Glendale neighborhood by leaving notes in mailboxes that said things like, “You are to be killed tonight at 10pm sharp” and “Beware of the goat.”

Tell us about your job! How did you land at LAPL’s Teen’Scape or did you help create it? (For those of you who don’t know – Teen’Scape is the young adult department at the Central Library, providing teens with a place of their own to work on computers, study, read, and relax.)

I’ve worked at the Los Angeles Central Library for my entire career in librarianship. I took over Teen’Scape in 2011, but before that, I was a history and genealogy librarian, which was also a job I loved. (Among the many reference questions I answered, I once helped someone working on the show Mad Men figure out what a phone in a Roman hotel room, circa 1963 might have looked like.)

But now I work with teens, which is much more amazing! Every day I am impressed by their dreams and ambitions, and I love doing my little bit to help them achieve those things. It takes a village, and your local librarian is just one small part of the village.

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Mary and a book loving teen at the DEAD TO ME launch party

Have you always wanted to write a y/a novel? What was the inspiration for Dead To Me?

I didn’t set out to be a YA writer, but every book-length idea I’ve ever had has been YA. I like YA because it respects the reader’s time. YA fiction can be very literary, but it also tends to be resourceful and lean and gripping in a way I appreciate as a reader.

My film noir and true crime habit played a part in me writing Dead To Me, but I was also inspired by the movie, Brick, which is a contemporary noir set in a high school. I thought that the heightened emotions and drama of noir fit in to a high school setting so well that I was determined to write one myself!

This picture from a 1944 issue of Life Magazine was the inspiration for Mary's heroine Alice

This picture from a 1944 issue of Life Magazine was the inspiration for Mary’s heroine Alice

The Dead To Me cover is so gorgeous and art deco and just swoonsville. Did you have any input? Who was the artist and what was the process like? It’s such a great fit with the book and aesthetically beautiful.

Love, love, love that cover. My editor came to me with a mock-up of the design. It was nothing like I expected. I was SURE I was going to get something black and white, so when I saw all that color, those palm trees, that blood stain, I was totally blown away. The final design was almost identical to the mock-up, only they doubled the size of the blood stain, which I thought was a classy touch.

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1951 menu from the Musso & Frank Grill from the Los Angeles Public Library menu collection

Annie and Alice’s codes are so fun and imaginative! Are you a code person? How did this part of the story come about?

People say write what you know, but I prefer to write what I’m obsessed with, and I find codes and ciphers endlessly fascinating. Once I found out that something called a nihilist cipher even existed, I knew I had to find a spot for it in the book.

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Spoiler alert: Alice’s relationship with Annie remains complicated right up to the end. Without saying too much – the love story is non-traditional as well. How did you decide to make these decisions? I found these dynamics refreshing and unusual. Very real.

There are no sequels in noir and no happy endings. I wanted to write an ending that was satisfying to the reader, but not entirely happy. It’s just what felt right given the tone of the book and what all the characters have been through. I didn’t give the characters everything they wanted, but I hope I gave them just enough.

As for the love interest, when a book is set over three days and packed with kidnappings, chase scenes, and near-death experiences, how does the main character have time to fall for someone? Trying to answer that question was totally challenging, but those scenes ended up being some of my favorite ones in the book.

Do you have any advice to new or aspiring y/a writers?

Finish something. I did National Novel Writing Month in 2010, and it was a life-changing experience. Before that, I’d always started projects and abandoned them, but NaNoWriMo forced me to see something through to the end, and I learned so much in the process. I also wrote a book blog for awhile, and reading and writing with a critical eye was also useful to me as a writer. It made me think about what made a story work for me and helped me learn to write the kinds of books I loved to read.

Is there a new book in the works?

Yes, I’m working on another YA novel right now, but it’s a secret. The one thing it has in common with Dead To Me is that it’s also set in LA.

How do you manage being a mom, work and make time for inspiration and writing?

Someone once told me, “Want something to get done? Ask a busy person to do it.” Maybe it’s that?

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Any words of wisdom for teen readers?

Find creative ways to deal with boredom.

Ms. McCoy

Ms. McCoy

Learn more at http://mary-mccoy.com/ or follow Mary on Twitter at @MaryElMcCoy.

SPYlicious! A sneak peak at a can’t put down debut novel!

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Are you looking for your next read? The search stops here.

Today I have a very special surprise –  (A sneak preview! The book debuts 5/20!) – the prologue of T.A. Maclagan’s slammin’ debut novel, They Call Me Alexandra Gastone.

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It’s SALT meets Gossip Girl in the best way. I read it in a day. Couldn’t put it down.

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When you’re done reading – go pre-order it on Amazon and visit T.A. Macglagan and become a member. She always has amazing interviews and book recc’s.

Without further ado…meet Alexandra!

Prologue

Seven Years Ago

I stared at the video screen. At the girl with my eyes—one blue and one gray-green. I’d seen this video hundreds of times, so I knew it by heart. It was of Alexandra Gastone walking home from school with a friend. I knew every laugh, smile, and eye roll. I knew when she would play with the locket around her neck and when she would swipe a piece of hair behind her ear, twisting it at the end of the motion. I swiped my own newly shorn hair behind my ear, once, twice, three times, always taking care to twist at the end. The action felt natural now. After months of watching the video, it was ingrained. I smiled into the mirror at my side. Alexandra’s smile was crooked, and mine now echoed hers, the left side dipping down. I had to strain to keep the smile in place. Seeing a face in the mirror that was not my own jarred me every time. I let the smile fade and brought a hand up to trace my new jaw, studying the stronger angle. I ran a finger down my new nose. It was smaller now, and more refined. The changes might have made me prettier, but I missed my old face. A part of me had been stolen.

I jerked as a cold hand rested on my shoulder.

“What is your name?” asked Mistress.

“Alexandra Gastone,” I replied, dropping my voice to match Alexandra’s deeper alto.

“What is your age? Who were your parents? Where are you from?”

Unlike many kids who liked to mumble, Alexandra spoke with great elocution, the movements of her mouth a lip reader’s dream. “I’m eleven years old,” I said, molding my mouth to each word. At Compound Perun, Oline—my native language—had been forbidden within months of my arrival. I now spoke with a perfect American accent. “My parents were Gregory and Tabitha Gastone. I lived in Topeka, Kansas.”

“Who is your guardian?”

The video screen went black for a second, and then a different face appeared. It was a new video I hadn’t seen, although I recognized the silver hair, weathered face, and intelligent blue eyes. I glanced over at my friend Varos, who controlled the feed. He offered a smile, his chubby face pinched. I could tell Varos was equally as nervous. I wasn’t the only one about to embark on a new assignment.

“My grandfather, Albert Gastone,” I said, turning back to the video. Back to the man whose life I was about to infiltrate.

“Where does Gastone work? What are his hobbies?”

“He works for the CIA. He’s one of the their public liaisons and an analyst specializing in the Southern Caucasus. Albert likes to read, travel, and play strategic games like chess. He has a gun collection.”

“When was the last time you saw your grandfather?”

“I was five years old. He was at my birthday party and gave me a chess set.”

Mistress squeezed my shoulder. I stifled a shiver as she kissed the top of my head. “Very good, my little silver fox,” she said, her icy hands coming to my cheeks. She turned me to the mirror, her face dipping to within millimeters of my own. I could feel the wetness of her breath, smell the stench of vodka. My skin crawled, but I remained still. We gazed at the mirror’s reflection. “You must think strategically at all times. Gastone has lived alone for years. It may be hard for him to accept you. Show an interest in his hobbies, and do not disturb his quiet lifestyle. Position yourself as a protégé. Outside of your life with Gastone, you are to assess the strategic value of those you meet. Befriend those of worth, and discard the rest.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Milena Rokva is dead. You are now Alexandra Gastone. Remember that, every second of every day. Albert Gastone may not have seen Alexandra in years, but he will inherit all the photos and videos that have ever been taken of her.”

I studied Mistress’s cold blue eyes. They were daring me to prove myself. I smiled Alexandra’s crooked smile. From deep within, I pulled out a laugh, letting my breath catch almost immediately on it as Alexandra always did, as if shocked by her own amusement. “I’m Alexandra Gastone, the girl next door. I like to play soccer, swim, and read. I like school, and my favorite subject is math.” I brushed my hair behind my ear, twisting it at the end of the motion. “I have a crush on a boy named Peter.”

Mistress nodded and flicked a hand toward Varos. In response, new images flooded the screen. They were a visual torrent, a deluge to which I’d become well accustomed. The American flag, mansions, fancy cars, fat people living fat lives, money, money, money…the inundation continued driving deep into my psyche…American soldiers in Olissa, their tanks on our streets, their army base on our land. The images flew by…a reel of horrors…and then…without warning, they stopped. The image that remained would echo in my bones, forever and always. My mother—dead, a shot to the head.

In the photo, she lies on the ground, muddy with blood, and I’m next to her, streaked in crimson, hugging a body that life left long ago. My eyes are hollow. Haunted.

I can feel it rush back to me, the crack of the gun, the sound of my mother’s body dropping, the warmth of her life seeping away as night fell. One bullet, less than a second, and everything changed. I was broken, and she was gone. A week later, I was at Perun.

The image was a knife carving my insides, but I couldn’t look away. It slowly dissolved into the next slide, and I wished the memory of that day would fade as easily. A map of Olissa replaced the shattering photo of my mother.

A small country of ten million, Olissa had suffered centuries of oppression because it was nestled between world titans. On the animated screen, the great country of Olissa began to shrink as it was devoured by powerful neighbors. The video said it all. I served so Olissa would not disappear. So it would not be forgotten. Entranced, I actually flinched when the image vanished, replaced again by the picture of Albert Gastone.

I glanced at Mistress.

“A reminder,” said Mistress, “of why you serve. What you are about to do won’t be without its trials. Every day you must remember why you do this. Why you fight. It is for Olissa and her people.”

“I will remember. For Olissa. Always.”

For my mother. Always.

Mistress kissed my cheek and stepped away. “Very good. Now it’s time to prepare you for the accident.”

Despite my anxiety, I wanted to laugh at Mistress’s words. They sounded so casual, like I was simply going to take a bath or pack a bag. I wanted, with all my heart, to serve and honor my mother, but I was still frozen with fear. I’d only just healed from the plastic surgery, and now there would be far more pain. I had to look like a girl who barely survived a car crash. Two men waited outside the door for Mistress’s orders. Trying to see past the pain looming, I glanced at the video screen and the man named Albert who would soon believe he was my grandfather. He looked like a good man. His face was gentle and his smile warm. I wondered briefly if he would come to love me but then pushed the idea from my thoughts. His love didn’t matter, only his name. It was a name that would get me into a good college and then into the CIA, the very agency where he worked. One day, I would be positioned to pass strategic intel back to Perun.

Varos stood and cleared his throat, drawing our attention. “May I have a word in private with—” Varos looked to me. “With Alexandra. As her handler, I have a few final things to discuss.”

“Of course,” said Mistress, her words of agreement not matching her heavy scowl. Mistress liked Varos as much as she liked me, which was to say not at all. Seven years my senior, Varos was a chubby asthmatic. Despising physical weakness, Mistress would have loved to crush Varos into shape or watch him perish in the attempt. Fortunately for Varos, he was exceedingly smart with high-ranking parents in the movement. Because of this, he was groomed for an advisory role at Perun instead of an operative position and was kept out of Mistress’s clutches. Only eighteen years old, he was about to be the youngest handler and operations leader in the field.

Mistress turned to me before leaving, “For the blood of the fallen. For the blood of the living. For Olissa we fight.”

I stood, bringing my hand up in a salute. “For Olissa we fight.”

Mistress left without another word, her hard-soled boots tapping out a steady rhythm on the floor.

I turned to Varos as he walked over and our eyes locked. I could feel myself shaking and was trying to regain control. All I wanted to do was race across the room and throw myself into his arms for one last moment of comfort, but I made myself stay rooted in place. To Varos, I was the little sister he never had, someone to watch over and protect, and I…well…I thought of him as more than a brother. I would have shared my fears with him as I’d done so many times over the years, but as my handler, our relationship had to change, become strictly professional. Varos told me so himself. Not friends, not brother and sister, not anything but handler and agent. He would keep his distance in order to remain objective about my performance.

Varos reached me after what seemed like an eternity, time moving slowly but also coming too quickly. Behind the door, a beating awaited. I ran my fingers over the bell-shaped burn on my wrist—one of Mistress’s punishments. At Perun, I was no stranger to pain, but I knew those instances were nothing compared to what was only moments away.

Varos put a hand on my shoulder. Unlike Mistress’s, his hand was warm. Inviting. He pulled me close and wrapped me in a big bear hug, a hug reserved for me and no one else. I surged with relief he could be my friend for just a few more seconds. “Albert Gastone is a kind man, Little O,” said Varos, using my father’s nickname for me. “And I’ll be there to guide you. You were made for this. You have all the skills you’ll need.”

The door hinges whined as two of Perun’s enforcers entered the room—Negar and Raykom. Raykom was my Sambo instructor, Negar weaponry. I’d never dreamed I would one day face them alone in a room. I’d never dreamed I would be expected to take their hits, offering none of my own in return. They carried several props to aid in their work: straps, a glass window, a two-by-four. My injuries needed to mirror those of a car accident. A bribe to a well-placed doctor would make sure no mention was made of my plastic surgery, but that was as far as a bribe could take me. For the rest of the hospital staff, and for Gastone, my injuries needed to be authentic. There were no shortcuts.

Varos pulled away after kissing my forehead. “For Olissa we fight. For your mother,” he said, offering his own salute.

Unable to speak or coordinate my actions, I only nodded in response. The pain was for a greater cause, and because of that, I would bear it with pride and dignity. I would do anything for the cause and for my country. It was an honor. Varos smiled weakly. “See you on the other side, Little O.”

I watched each step Varos took in leaving the room. Fifteen in all.

It took Raykom ten steps to reach me. Negar only eight.

My Talk with Author James Frey

Happy Friday! Here’s a little TGIF treat! James is my publisher (FFF Digital), and I have known him for over ten years. Today he’s been kind enough to give us a little peek into his writing process, tell us about books he loved as a teen, share some thoughts on his latest best seller, Endgame and more. Hope you enjoy! I found this interview very inspiring. It made me want to get up and write! Hope you feel the same.

James, you genre hop. I once had a conversation with an agent where he adamantly told me to pick a genre and stick with it. To do other wise was to kill your commercial career. You have obviously chosen to not follow this advice and have achieved great success. Can you speak to this (possibly outdated) adage?

I’ve heard that as well. And in many cases it works, and is good advice. But I would get bored writing in one genre. Writing a book is a challenge to me. Something I always challenge myself to do. If I was writing in one genre, it would be less challenging for me.  It would become something I do for a job instead of something I do because I love it. I always admired Stanley Kubrick, the film director. Nobody genre-jumped more than him. And nobody was better than him. When I was young and getting started I wanted to do what he did, but with books. Tell the story I love, regardless of genre. Tell the story that gets you excited, and you’ve never seen anyone tell before. Stay fresh, stay hungry.

How is your process different when you write for adults and when you write for children/teens?

It’s not at all. I have a story I want to tell. I figure out the best way to tell it. I sit down and work until I believe I’ve gotten it right. I don’t write with demographics and markets in mind. I write because I want to do something and have a story I think is worth telling. The only real difference in the writing is that Endgame has fas less profanity in it than my other books.

Why did you choose to engage with the young adult space? What intrigued you about it?

It wasn’t a choice about specifically engaging YA. I dig YA, and I read it, but it was about the book. And after discussions with my agent and publisher, we decided the best market for it was a younger market. I want everyone to read my books, from teenagers to people in their 90’s. The best books find wide wide audiences, reach readers of all ages, and that is always what I want to do.

You love art. What is it about art that gets your juices flowing?  Do you imagine the creative process for a painter is similar to yours as a writer?  What artists are on your radar currently?

Art makes me think and feel. Makes me smile. Awes me. Art, books, music, film, they can all do it. Art is just another form of expression. I think I approach writing in the way many artists do in that I have little or no respect for rules or convention. I do what I want to do, I do it how I want to do it. I don’t believe I have to follow all of the supposed rules of grammar and punctuation, or fiction and non-fiction, genre, or formatting on the page. The goal is to express myself in a way that feels right to me. How someone else thinks I should do it is irrelevant. And that spirit is much stronger in art than it is in writing.

Does the business of selling books inhibit your creative process at this point in your career or have you overcome that? If you have overcome – share share!

I’ve been very very lucky. I’ve always written whatever I wanted to write, and somehow it’s worked out. So I still do it. I create things I wish existed in the world, things I wish I had gotten to read or see, things I wish someone else had done. Nobody has, so I do them. Selling books and having commercial success is a weird combination of hard work, luck, doing the right thing at the right time. If I knew the secret formula I would share it with you, but I don’t. Just keep working and have faith in yourself and what you do.

Taco Bell. Please comment.

The greatest fast-food restaurant in the history of existence. No further comment required.  

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Your latest young adult novel, Endgame, calls for engagement from readers. How is this going?  Is it sparking the sort of response you had hoped for? Is this something you would have gone mad for as a teen? Were you a big reader as a teen? Favorites of yore that stick out?

It’s been great. We hit bestsellers lists in 12 countries and readers seem to be digging it. I always want to do better and sell more, so I’m hoping it continues to grow and find readers. Yes, like I said earlier, I write books I wish existed in the world. I def would have gone berserk for Endgame, and it’s amazing when I hear from readers who love it. I did read a ton when I was a teen. I loved Tolkien, Stephen King and Alexandre Dumas as a young teen, and got into Kerouac and Bukowski and Herman Hesse and Baudelaire when I was a little older. I’ve always loved books and reading, and always will.

What is the role of reading and writing in your house? Does everyone – kids and parents – love to read? Do you read together? What’s knocking the socks off the Frey’s right now?

We’re all readers, me, my wife, our kids. Reading is def a big part of our home and family life. I read every night for about an hour before I go to sleep. We have the kids read before bed as well. My wife reads all the time, and probably more than all of us combined. We all have a love for it. For books, for stories, for finding writers and burning through their work.

How do you carve out creative space with your busy life as publisher, dad, etc. 

I have mad ADD. So I jump from one thing to another throughout the day. I always go back to work. Make a call, work. Write an email, work. Watch some dumb video on the internet, work. Run around with the kids for a little while, work. Work is always in the back of my mind, and I always go back to it.

Meditation. Yes or no?

I have at times in my life. I did zen, which is hard and painful and rewarding, and Taoist walking/living meditation, which is simple and beautiful and incredibly serene. Currently no. I probably should, though, would mellow me the fuck out.

My Chat with Jessica Almon Galland, Razorbill Editor

Jessica Almon Galland

Jessica Almon Galland

Sometimes life gives you a big, fat present. Meeting Jessica Almon Galland, young adult and middle grade editor at Penguin’s imprint Razorbill and having her influence in my life and writing was one of those gifts. Working with Jessica made me a better writer. Period. I am sure everyone that has had the pleasure of working with her feels the same way. Today we have the honor of hearing her thoughts on editing, the publishing industry, love and a handful of other goodies. This interview just brims with her warmth and smarts. I am also touched by her honesty as she describes her journey to where she is now.

Jessica, what do you think makes a good editor? Do you think it is an innate gift or something that can be learned? Has your style changed over the years? Do you find the better the writer, the better the editing experience? Or do you like the challenge of a complete overhaul?

This may sound like I’m downplaying an editor’s role but I really do think the ability to put ego and intellectual opinions aside and tap into the experience of the average reader is the most important piece of being a good editor. Without it, the other things that make a good editor — a strong sense of rhythm, communication skills, empathy — are directionless.

So I don’t think my style has changed over the years. When I’m editing, I’m flagging things that would distract me or disrupt my reading experience if I had picked the book up at the library, or at my favorite bookstore. I actually think editing can be more difficult when I absolutely love a manuscript the very first time I read it. Because that in itself is a bias, and I have to figure out how to shed it. (It’s always a bit of a bummer to shed the love bias!)

When a writer isn’t – how shall I say this – up to par…how do you get them to give you what you need? It must be tempting to just write it yourself sometimes. I would imagine it takes heaps of patience. Do you consider yourself a patient person?

I do consider myself patient — until I’m not. Ha! Everybody has a limit I guess. I’ve been pretty fortunate to work with talented writers all around. But there are certainly styles of writing that aren’t exactly my taste, which doesn’t make them bad or wrong. In those cases, I have to train my eye and my gut to respect that style and hunt for things that ACTUALLY aren’t working — things like redundancies and gaps in logic — as opposed to things that I maybe don’t relate to or love, but that are by no means problematic.

It didn’t take long for me to learn not to fall into the trap of rewriting. It’s like pulling a thread on a sweater. And the truth is, you’re not making it better. You’re just making it different. It’s not worth the effort, and the author’s bruised ego!

When did you know you wanted to be a part of publishing? How did you get your start? Did you imagine yourself working as an editor when you began?

Oh my God, I had NO idea. I never thought of myself as an editor. But a lot of my day is spent examining characters, their childhoods giving way to (something like) adulthood, and if I look at the story of my life, my path to becoming a Young Adult editor started, probably, when I was just a kid.

I didn’t like to read. I had attention issues, and found it impossible engage with a written story. I was kind of bullied about it — I went to the same school from kindergarten through high school and am pretty sure some of the people I grew up with are STILL surprised I’m not a total dumb-dumb! It’s a difficult thing to explain, the feeling of knowing things, of understanding them, but of not being able to express or  communicate that because I’m not hitting the milestones of everyone else around me. So, I had something to prove.

My escape was always films, and as a teen I became a big cinephile cliche, smoking cigarettes with a VHS tape of LA DOLCE VITA under my arm. I studied Modern Culture and Media with an emphasis in film at Brown, and when I graduated, I wanted to be in that industry. But after a year working in motion picture marketing, I was a bit less certain. The movie industry was all in LA, and I wasn’t ready to move.

Someone suggested I apply to positions at full-service agencies, and by some miracle I landed a job as the assistant to the head of the book department. I knew nothing and was terrible, so God bless her for sticking with me and giving me my start in publishing. I learned to truly love books during that year and a half, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I never had that chance.

How has the landscape of publishing changed since you’ve been in the business?

Well, the obvious answer is that e-readers have become ubiquitous, and digital sales are now a significant piece of the pie. I also remember when Oprah’s Book Club picks would make a publisher’s year. They’re still a big deal, but without the show, it has slightly less of an impact.

 What attracts you to young adult literature?  Do you see yourself staying in that space long-term or are you open to moving into different genres?

There’s a lot of freedom in Young Adult lit, I guess because you’re dealing with characters experiencing a range of things for the first time, and so there’s this tremendous sense of possibility. I like living vicariously through that. I think I am open to staying in Young Adult long-term, but also open to other areas. I read a ton of adult nonfiction, for instance, and sometimes I think about working on those types of books.

Do you ever just get tired of reading and just want to cuddle up on the couch with Netflix? How do you overcome?

Um, YES. Overcome? Not so much! Especially ever since “Gilmore Girls” has been streaming on Netflix.

I just do the best I can. I never want to leave my authors hanging, and generally do a lot of editing in what is technically my free time. But I justify certain days and nights off to binge-watch something because I need to be relaxed, rested and happy to stay sharp at work. Anyway, it’s not like I’m paid extra to edit manuscripts on weekends!

What excites you about 2015? What are you looking forward to? Professionally? Personally? Do you believe in resolutions?  I know you are a newlywed (congrats!), married to filmmaker and musician  Jordan Galland. Do you two plan on a co-creative endeavor? How is it having two creative types in the house?

Professionally, I have so many books coming out in 2015 that I have been waiting to unleash on the world, ranging from epic fantasy to bittersweet contemporary to hip nonfiction titles you’d find at Urban Outfitters. It’s always tough to predict how any given title will take to the market, but whether it’s good or not so good there is ALWAYS a takeaway — and I’ll be hunting for it.

Some of my dearest friends are getting married this year — all fabulous destination weddings — so I’m also looking forward to some fun trips to Isla Morada, FL, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and Gstaad, Switzerland, to name a few! I may go broke as a result of all this jet-setting, but travel is the one thing worth going broke for, IMO.

As for married life so far, I highly recommend marrying a creative if you, too, are creative. Jordan is like my secret weapon! We are constantly going to each other to talk through problems and flaws in a particular project, or when we’ve hit a wall and need a little inspiration, or when we’re doubting our instincts and need support. I’m not sure we’d ever officially work on something together, but we’re always working together, if that makes sense.

The lovely newlyweds at their New York wedding this summer. Sigh.

The lovely newlyweds at their New York wedding this summer. Sigh.

 Before we say goodbye, any must reads you can recommend? What was the last thing that kept you up into the wee hours?

Lately, I’ve been pretty obsessed with memoirs by women artists and thinkers. Recently I’ve read and loved: COUNTRY GIRL by Edna O’Brien, MINOR CHARACTERS by Joyce Johnson, NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL by Lena Dunham and REDEFINING REALNESS by Janet Mock. I’m currently reading GRACE: A MEMOIR by Grace Coddington and finding it absolutely delightful. 

Meditation is Key. My chat with meditation teacher Jessica Snow.

MEDITATION-IS-KEY-COLOR-SQ

I love meditation, and up to now I have been really inconsistent about it. But in all honesty, I think it is right up there with money in its ability to cure most problems. More powerful than money when it comes to stress/anxiety/depression.

I have had the pleasure of taking classes with meditation teacher Jessica Snow, and it is a treat! She is so creative, gentle, soothing and whip smart. Whether you’re hardcore into meditation or have always wanted to try – Jessica will meet you where you are. Personally I am always better when I meditate. Even 5 minutes…

Jessica! Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you come to meditation? Is it something you grew up with? Was it love at first site or did you struggle with it?

I’ve always been a dreamy kind of person, but also kind of anxious. So I’ve always been a “seeker”, very quick to investigate or try all kinds of spiritual practices. In 2002 I began a devoted mindfulness meditation practice and really stuck with it wholeheartedly because it improved my experience of life so much. For a long time I stayed in my little meditation bubble, meditating everyday, reading, studying, journaling. Then in 2011 I went on a retreat and had an epiphany – that I could use the meditation that I love in such a way that I could help others as well as myself. Since then I have become very open in terms of writing my own meditations, adding in techniques from many different disciplines and sharing these more modern meditation experiences with others.

How and why did you start teaching meditation classes? What is your professional background? Did things take off right away? Were there any struggles? If so, how did you overcome them?

My professional growth has been very organic, which is another word for slow. I literally started teaching in my backyard. Every two weeks I would invite over a group of friends and treat them to an elaborate evening of meditation and ritual. Everyone loved it and magical things started happening in all of our lives. We became champion co-creators. Then, when my friends started bringing their friends and we needed more space we started meditating at my husband’s work after hours. Pretty soon, I was doing guided meditations in nature (the beach, Griffith Park), and then I was asked to present at a yoga conference and things kind of sped up (a little bit) from there. Looking back, everything did happen in perfect timing, and the pivotal moment two years ago when I met Mark and Martin from Spellbound Sky came at the perfect time.

completeset

You are obviously passionate about meditation. What is it that lights you up about the process? I love how you incorporate crystals, guided imagery, animal imagery.  Who were your teachers and inspirations? How did you come to incorporate all of these wonderful tools into your practice and teachings?

I love meditating, I see the journey into the interior as the greatest and most rewarding adventure. I think what “lights me up” the most is that meditation is such easy magic and it is available to everyone at any time.

This might sound crazy, but everything I do when I create and guide meditations comes from some energy, some intelligence beyond me. When I sit down to create a meditation, I meditate first and receive inspiration about how to guide that specific experience. Nothing really comes from me, and even I am consistently amazed that the inspiration just keeps flowing.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?

Being with people and getting to breathe and feel the energy of all the hearts in the space we create. The giving and receiving of that heart energy is really what it’s all about. The stories I tell with my words are just to keep your brain busy while we do the real energetic work with the heart and the breath. I also love feeling that moment about twenty or thirty minutes into the practice where I can feel that everyone has suddenly been able to really let go and relax.

Can teaching at times drain you? Is there a lot of different energy coming your way and does that at times weigh you down?

Interestingly, teaching energizes me. I haven’t found out the exact mechanism that makes this possible, but I suspect it has something to do with it being my life’s work and that I’ve done it so much that even when I am leading I am meditating too.

I find your style very forgiving psychically. Like, “You’re good. It’s cool. It’s now. Whatever came before – it’s done. Whatever is – is exactly how it should be.” I am paraphrasing!  Were you raised with this sort of gentle attitude? Does it carry into your life, way of mothering, etc? I was raised to always BE BETTER. So I find this especially inspiring, cleansing, energizing – and hope I am raising my son with this new, more gentle messaging.

LOL. I grew up with a very strong internal voice imploring me to always BE BETTER. That’s a big reason this work has been so transformative for me and also why I really encourage that radical friendliness towards ourselves in meditation. I think (and hope) this great gentleness flows into the way I mother my son and find it very inspiring to apply that gentleness over and over again to myself as well as everything and everyone in my life.

CREATEYOUROWNKEYWICE

Tells us about the art on your site! Do you do the graphics? Where did the idea for the images come from? The way you package your meditations is so appealing! “Create your own key” (omg – gorgeous!!) Tell us more!  Your inspiration, how you do it. Also, can you tell us about the necklaces you are selling on your site? I want one! 

Yes, I do all my own art and graphics, I created my own website, I write and record my own meditations. I am a polymath, happiest when I allow myself to indulge all my creative influences regardless of medium. And again, the images and other creative elements all come from the deep wells of inspiration meditation gives me access to.

As for the keys, a while ago I started selling meditation MP3s as digital downloads and then on these really beautiful silver key-shaped flash drives. Recently I got to thinking about how I really believe each of us has our own path, our own secret code, our own brand of treasure to express. You know what’s best for you, I am just here to show you a few things, open you up to some possibilities. You are the one who is going to choose the way that speaks to you and make it your own. To that end I’ve just started offering a new way to pick and choose the meditation MP3s from my site that speak the most to you. For $25 you can now Create Your Own Key, self-curating four guided meditations which I then load onto the key flash drive along with an unguided drum meditation track. These keys obviously also make a really sweet gift for a close friend or loved one.

The necklace sets were born from my collaboration with Melinda Lee Holm who is an extraordinary individual. We refer to them as Adornments for Personal Evolution. Each set comes with a beautiful Melinda Lee Holm crystal necklace (so far we have featured four stones – Citrine, Fluorite, Rose Quartz & Rainbow Moonstone), two matching meditation touchstones, and an 8-page meditation booklet from yours truly. Melinda and I have both experienced the crystal and meditation magical combo so we created a collection of objects that would keep that magic working for you 24/7. In the morning, you meditate using the booklet & touchstones, put your necklace on so you are keeping that mojo going all day (and looking rad doing it), then at night you can meditate again and put those touchstones under your pillow so they work while you dream.

What’s coming up for you in 2015? What are you jazzed about? Or am I getting out of the present moment?

2015 is going to be a year of profound creativity. Now that I’ve found this groove, I am overflowing with ideas. I will definitely be releasing more things to read, listen to and experience. I’ve been recording our live crystal meditations week by week, so I hope to offer a bigger library of new MP3s. Also I’d love to find bigger spaces for live events and hopeful to offer some day-long retreats.

I am so grateful for the vibrant community of people (including you Marissa!) that has formed around this work. It is such a joy to meet and mingle with people under these circumstances.

P.S. I think it’s perfectly ok to get out of the present moment every once in a while as long as you are aware you are doing it. J

NEW-WALL-W-FLARE

The oh so lovely and talented Jessica Snow pictured above.

Jessica’s website http://jessicasnowmeditation.com/, is chalk full of downloadable meditations, and she hosts wonderful events around the Los Angeles area.

A little bonus for us – Jessica’s thoughts on holiday stress and new year resolutions…

The holidays are an intense time of year and this year especially I sense a lot of magnified energy which can feel exciting or stressful. Also, remember this time of year for our ancestors represented a time when the harvest was done, it was cold and dark a lot of the time and we hoped we had enough to last until Spring. I think the best antidote for this time of year is radical self-care. Taking a little time for the simple things: drinking plenty of water, getting plenty of rest, going outside, enjoying small moments and practicing gratitude. I’m sure we’ve all heard all of that before, but it really is the way to cruise through the season instead of fighting it. And breathe! Don’t forget to breathe.

I do New Year’s Resolutions, but they are unusual in that they are all about pleasure. I already am pretty clear regarding what I need to work on, my inner critic has that on lock-down. So I use the New Year’s Resolution process as an excuse to go ahead and give myself the things that make me feel really good. Because when I feel really good, and treat myself the way I would treat a good friend, that’s also when I’m bringing my A-game and showing up for myself and the rest of the world.

I also have a cool New Year’s Eve ritual. We do a meditation on the morning of Dec. 31st on the beach. We meditate and let the ocean wash away the old year and make space for the new. It’s fantastic, there is nothing like connecting with nature and something as big and grand as the sea and sky on the day before the new year begins.

If you want more information on the Keys, Necklaces, New Year’s Eve Ocean Meditation or to read my little 30-page treatise on this modern style of meditating, you can find it all at Jessicasnowmeditation.com/.

Rebecca Heller’s latest children’s book: FALLING ROCK

Falling Rock - Rebecca Heller's latest children's book

Falling Rock – Rebecca Heller’s latest children’s book

I am VERY excited to tell you about a new children’s book by author Rebecca Heller! You might know Rebecca from her other titles Surf Like A Girl or Gilbert and Louis Rule the Universe: First Impressions. Her books always have tons of heart. You are in for a real treat with her newest venture – a children’s book called Falling Rock. My son, who is six, was nothing short of mesmerized when I brought it home and surprised him with it during story time.

“What is this book?” He asked with excitement. “Where did it come from?” He LOVED it. I think you will too. The story is gripping and moving – and the images – painted by the author’s talented mother Joyce Robertson – are  devastatingly beautiful (as is all her work!) We will read this again and again and I will definitely be buying it for holiday gifts! Here I speak to the author about her process and the story behind Falling Rock. Enjoy! The author also treated us to some of the book’s images!

1. Tell me about how you came to know the legend of Falling Rock and why it touched you. What was it about the story that made you want to write a children’s story about it.

Falling Rock is not a new idea; it has been told around the campfire for decades. I was introduced to the idea of Falling Rock by a counselor at camp when I was around 8 years old. I can’t remember any of the details of the story except that he told me whenever a Native American named Falling Rock was spotted they put up a sign with his name on it. Even at eight, I was skeptical about the truth of the story, but I still loved the notion of something so ordinary containing a little magic.

The idea stayed with me. Whenever I passed a sign that read Falling Rock, I would think to myself, “Falling Rock was here.”  I had never seen a written version, particularly not a children’s picture book, so I created a story around the idea. I liked the idea of having Falling Rock go out into the world to search for his best friend, and his best friend just happens to be a horse.

 2. The artwork in your book is just beautiful – haunting, inspiring. I know they were done by your very talented mother and artist Joyce Robertson. How did you approach her about the project? Did she just run with it? What was your process of collaboration like? What medium did she use to create these exquisite paintings? (I am assuming they are paintings.)

One of Robertson's exquisite illustrations

One of Robertson’s exquisite illustrations

My mom was a super star. I actually wrote my first version of Falling Rock about fifteen years ago.  That is when most of the paintings were created. I gave her a draft of the story and she went to work. I think she probably did all the paintings in less than a month. She used hand cut stencils and spray paint for the images and an oil paint glaze for color. It’s all done on a canvas coated with a smooth sanded stucco-like finish.

At that time, we shopped a version of the book to publishers but didn’t see much interest (in all fairness, the draft I wrote back then wasn’t very good). So I put it all away for years. With the recent birth of my daughter, I was re-inspired to create the book for her. When I pulled out the paintings from storage I was further encouraged, I had forgotten how beautiful they are.
3. What age group do you imagine enjoying Falling Rock? Do you imagine different age groups will take different meanings from your book? What about different genders? Is there a message you want children to carry away from the book?

The book is designed to be read to children of all ages. I think the sweet spot is probably between 5-8. I will be doing a reading for a third grade class who is studying Native Americans in the spring and I am looking forward to their insights.

I hope children take from it that it is a story of hope, determination, independence, and love. My wish is that it brings a little magic to a place where you would least expect it.

4. Any words of wisdom for people who would like to write fiction for children? What is your process like?  Why did you choose to self-publish? I know you have both self-published and had an outside publisher before – are there pros and cons to both? Any next projects on the horizon?

My advice to anyone who has an idea brewing is to go for it. Write it down, work on it until you enjoy it, and then put it out into the world. I think people are sometimes fearful to share their creative work, which is totally understandable, but you can’t hide it or no one will ever be able to enjoy it. No one is going to come knocking, so you need to fling yourself out into the world and share what you have done.

Self-publishing has become so easy, and you have so much control over the process. There is certainly a learning curve, but that is kind of what makes it fun. I loved every part of working on Falling Rock from writing (and rewriting), to photographing the paintings, to working on them in Photoshop, to formatting the text, picking the fonts, and colors. I love the ownership of self-publishing. Being published is great too, don’t get me wrong, but there is something so satisfying about doing it yourself!

I never know what is coming next, I have some ideas floating around, but it will certainly be a surprise to me as much as everyone else!

Available for purchase on Amazon: FALLING ROCK

The author

Author Rebecca Heller

Cowboy Take Me Away

Set free and enjoying a favorite indulgence

Set free and enjoying a favorite indulgence

Some of you may know that my wonderful husband got me singing lessons for my fortieth birthday. He knows it is my dream to sit by a campfire while someone strums on a guitar and belt out a song or two. (…and to sing happy birthday without giving it a second thought.) Modest dreams but they are all mine. (…and now I want to learn to play guitar too…but I’m like that with my ambitions and dreams…they keep ‘a comin’!)

Today was my third lesson with the amazingly talented, warm and funny (and beautiful!) Vanessa Bryan at Music Lessons LA. (She’s singing at Perch tonight if you are free.) Today was a breakthrough. In three lessons I have learned SO much. I can move my epiglottis up and down to go from high to low – I know what my “mask” is and how to use it and why.

But today – I really sang! The song was Cowboy Take Me Away – which has always been a favorite. It seems really obvious – but I just didn’t know it before – in order to sing well – you need to feel the words and emotions of the song. (Okay – some of you out there could make anything sound good – whether you are feeling it or not…) But I have experienced this with both painting and writing. There are times when I am writing a sad scene and there are tears running down my face – and those are some powerful scenes. In painting, when I am transfixed – that comes through in the piece. Apparently its the same thing with music. Duh – I mean I know, but I have never made music – so makes heaps of sense.

Cowboy take me away. Yes, I too want to grow something wild and unruly. Yes, please. It felt amazing.

Elsie Escobar Elsie’s Yoga – one of my favorite yoga teachers, used to say, “You have everything you need. Your poses and power are there – you just need to unwrap the layers.” (Okay- I am paraphrasing, Elsie.)  But that is how I have always felt about my physical strength and my singing voice. I KNOW IT IS THERE – just wrapped beneath layers of shyness and weak from lack of use.

So, I got there today – for a moment. And I lost it too. My assignment this week is to lock myself in a room and kind of go nuts. Let it go. Let it all out. Summon the passion. SHOUT. SCREAM. Go a little kukoo bananas. “Can I have a drink before I do this?” I asked Vanessa half-jokingly. She wants to believe me when I am singing “SET ME FREE.”

Watch out world. This is akin to orgasms. Just saying. Pictured above – what the girl who is truly set free wants to order when she goes to the cafe next to singing lessons to write for an hour before picking up her little one.

So I did! I am set free today – sorry small bowl of vegetable soup. I hope you find your voice today too.

Love, M.

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