On the Trail with Author Lisa Ann O’Kane

I’ve been chomping at the bit for this cyber hike ever since my dear friend and critique partner Lisa Ann O’Kane signed on the dotted line with Strange Chemistry to publish her novel ESSENCE, and now it’s finally here! The big day is right around the corner – June third to be exact – and I’m almost excited about her debut as she is. Everyone, meet Lisa!

Lisa Ann O’Kane is a young adult author and former vagabond who once camped out in Yosemite National Park
for an entire summer, an experience that inspired her debut novel ESSENCE. Her background is in zookeeping and environmental education, and she has been kicked, cornered, bitten and chased by nearly every animal she has ever loved. She currently resides in Florida, and she is now a huge fan of shooting stars, indoor plumbing and keeping both her feet planted firmly on the trail.

Beth: Lisa, before we delve into book deets, let’s talk about our hike. By the way, I can’t tell you how badly I wish this hike was happening in person! Tell us about this gorgeous trail and why you’ve chosen it.

photo credit: Frank Kovalchek

photo credit: Frank Kovalchek

Lisa: Thanks so much for having me, Beth! I would loooove to be on a real-life hike with you right now. Since that isn’t a possibility, I’m taking you to Vernal Falls, one of my very favorite hikes in Yosemite National Park. This hike is significant because it was both my first Yosemite hike and the characters in Essence’s first Yosemite hike. We all huffed and puffed our way up the trail, and we both stopped to blame our lack of fitness on the elevation change. Absolutely stunning trail, isn’t it?

photo credit: Frank Kovalchek

photo credit: Frank Kovalchek


Beth: Yes, but if this were a real-life hike, I’d be sucking on an inhaler right about now. That trail is STEEP! Okay, let’s talk creative process. Ever since we first met in our workshop days, I’ve been amazed at what a prolific writer you are. To me, drafting can be such a battle because my characters feel like strangers, and I generally don’t have the foggiest clue of what they’re supposed to be doing. I don’t really start enjoying the process until I’m in the revision stage. You, on the other hand, seem to crank out a draft in the span of a few months, with characters and plot fully formed. What’s your secret?

Lisa: Ah, thanks so much, my friend! I do love drafting, and I have found that I am usually my most prolific and effective when I just sit down and let my story tell itself. (Revisions on the other hand… Oh man! You win that battle, hands down!) I am very organized and meticulous by nature, but I have found that my creativity usually dries up when I spend too much time plotting and planning. Instead, I find visual storyboards very helpful. I save a collection of photographs on Pinterest, and I often reference their ‘feelings’ while I’m writing. (You can check out my ESSENCE Storyboard here.)

Beth: Your Pinterest storyboard really brings to life a lot of the scenes I’ve read from ESSENCE. The slacklining shots take my breath away, as does the visual image of Ryder. *swoon*   I can easily picture you living in those tent villages, too. What are some of the highlights from your summer spent living in a tent in Yosemite? How did your experience working and living there help shape your novel?

Lisa: Simply put, Yosemite National Park is one of the most awe-inspiring and gorgeous places I have ever been in my life. I also like how isolated it is. I rarely left the park the entire summer I lived there, and when I did, I often found the outside world jarring and a little too stressful for my liking.

Yosemite’s landscape certainly inspired my story, but the other park employees who also lived there were even more inspiring to me. Some were there because they loved the place, others were there for the money, and still others were there because they felt like they had to run away from something.

The dynamic of so many people mixed together planted the seeds for many of ESSENCE’s characters’ interactions. I feel like these interpersonal relationships are my very favorite part of the story.

Beth: I know I sound like a broken record, but I can’t get over how gorgeous the cover is. What was cover design process like?

Essence-144dpiLisa: I’m so glad you like it, because I am definitely obsessed with it, too! When I first signed with Strange Chemistry, I had no idea how much creative input they would give me on the cover. I also didn’t really know what I wanted, but my fabulous cover designer Rebecca Lown listened to my ramblings and successfully designed the cover of my dreams.

Here is my original request:  Half Dome is such a gorgeous and iconic Yosemite landmark that I would love to see it on ESSENCE’s cover. I would also enjoy seeing the hint of a slackline on the cover—perhaps reaching off the edge of a cliff—but I am less passionate about this request if it doesn’t neatly fit into a design. Also, in case you choose to include them, Autumn Grace has wavy, shoulder-length, strawberry blonde/red hair, and Ryder Stone is tall and lanky, with messy ash blonde hair.

She totally nailed it, didn’t she??

Beth: That she did – I couldn’t imagine a more fitting cover. As pretty as it is, it gives me vertigo to imagine someone slacklining over that canyon. Have you ever tried it?

Lisa: I actually learned in Yosemite—just like my main character Autumn—and many of my initial struggles are perfectly mirrored in her struggles. Slacklining is WAY harder than it looks, but it’s addictive, too. It’s also a great workout; I wish I could do it every day!

Beth: With ESSENCE debuting June 3, what are you most excited about?

Lisa: Book publishing is such a funny and slow business that I think I will be most excited to just have ESSENCE out in the world. I started my first draft during the winter of 2011-2012, so it’s certainly time to set it free and see it in some readers’ hands!

Beth: Thanks heaps, Lisa, and congratulations on this huge accomplishment. Can’t wait to get my mitts on your book! Folks, be sure to check out Lisa’s excellent blog, Kicked, Cornered, Bitten and Chased. Her honesty about the harrowing process of writing and getting published is such an inspiration to writers at every stage of the journey.

Here’s more about ESSENCE and how to find it:

Autumn escaped a cult, but now she realizes she’s fallen into another.

Growing up in San Francisco’s Centrist Movement, sixteen year-old Autumn Grace has always believed emotions—adrenaline, endorphins, even happiness—drain your Essence and lead to an early death. But her younger brother’s passing and a run-in with a group of Outsiders casts her faith into question.

Ryder Stone, the sexy, rebellious leader of the Outsiders, claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic — and he can prove it.

Autumn follows Ryder to his Community of adrenaline junkies and free spirits in Yosemite National Park, and they introduce her to a life of adventure, romance, sex, drugs and freedom. But as she discovers dark secrets beneath the Community’s perfect exterior, she realizes the more she risks in search of the perfect rush, the further she has to fall. 

ESSENCE purchasing links:

Amazon (U.S)

Amazon (Canada)

Barnes & Noble


Lisa’s social media links:

Website: http://lisaannokane.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LisaAnnOKane

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LisaAnnOKane

Instagram: http://instagram.com/lisaannokane

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/lisaannokane/





Bats in my Belfry

The other day, my daughter asked me for Halloween symbols she could use for a poster she was making. I gave her the usual — ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, witches, tooth decay . . . It didn’t dawn on me until later that I’d left out maybe the most common one.



I have a hate/hate relationship with bats. On a rational level, I know they are harmless. They play an important role in preventing the mosquito apocalypse. I’m fine with them as long as they’re flying at least a mile above my head. It’s when those flying mice decide to come inside — that’s when we’ve got a problem, Houston.

It all started when I was a wee lass on the ranch in Montana. My mom and I were out for a walk in broad daylight, when a sick bat started following us. I have no memory of this, but Mom says it circled around us, frothing at the mouth and saying, “I vant to suck your blood.” We ran and hid in the coal shed — a pitch dark, dilapidated shack where small, wild animals went to die. Basically, the perfect place for an impressionable girl and her mother to spend some quality time together. I don’t know how long we waited for the rabid bat to give up, but during those long minutes or possibly hours, my tiny mind began to warp.

We shared our old house with a bat colony that lived in the crawl space. Above my room, by the way. Sometimes I could hear them squeaking and scritching around up there. Every night at dusk, they’d spill out into the sky from the seams in the roof. Even though it made my skin crawl, I knew they didn’t want to eat me, since I didn’t rhyme with bosquito. We shared a peaceful co-existence, the bats and I, until I was in junior high and my parents decided to do a remodeling project. One that involved tinkering with the roof of our house.

One night we were watching TV. Don’t remember what was on, but it must’ve been serious because we were all dead quiet. That’s when I saw it. A grayish, furry piece of intestine clinging to the drapes. I let out a blood-curdling scream that pretty near polished off my heart-attack proned grandfather. With no explanation for my outburst, I ran into the spare bedroom and slammed the door.

Later that summer, there were more encounters. Every time, I’d flee for my life, screaming like my hair was on fire. One night, multiple bats swooped through the house. I locked myself in my room and didn’t surface until morning. My mother informed me she’d discovered a soaking wet bat in the sink, trying to crawl out of a wine glass. I didn’t go near the sink for months.

My adult years passed without one indoor bat encounter, and I chalked up my phobia to immaturity. I’d outgrown all that nonsense. I had children, now! They were way more frightening than a teensy, harmless, woodland creature.

It figures I’d marry someone whose childhood home had bats in its belfry, like mine. My mother-in-love told stories of her husband stalking rogue bats in the middle of the night with a badminton racket, dressed only in his skivvies and a hunting cap with mosquito netting.

My worst fears brought to life.

My worst fears brought to life.

It was an abnormally hot summer during our annual visit to Darrick’s parents. The boards of the old house had shifted in the humidity, and guess what that means? Those furry flying varmints can slip through the veil. I was folding laundry one afternoon, and saw one swooping around the living room. As tradition called for, I ran screaming from the room. Darrick and his father Gene went bat hunting while I cowered in the bathroom. After awhile, they returned with no report whatsoever. Where was their sense of urgency? Both men acted totally chill, like this happened all the time.

Now, Darrick knows about my bat issues. I was a little offended I had to ask if he found the bat. Big house, little bat, and all. Darrick deftly dodged the question and refused to make eye contact.

Geno, however, oozed confidence. “We opened the windows. He’ll fly out. Don’t worry about it.”

Right. Because bats love nothing more than a sunny day. Part of me wanted to pack my bags and head back to Colorado where the bats have the good sense to stay out of my house. Then I reminded myself that I was an adult now, and I was in charge of my emotions. Even if there was a bat in the house, it wasn’t going to attack me, for Pete’s sake. Like any rational, sane person, which I totally am, I carried on about my day.

Fast forward to three a.m. As usual, I had to go to the bathroom. Our bedroom was upstairs, and luckily, so was the bathroom. I’d just have to pass through the sewing room to get there. You should know that the sewing room had such an abnormally low ceiling that my husband couldn’t even stand up straight in it. Anyway, a nightlight illuminated the way, and as I stumbled, half asleep, something darted just above my head. My flesh crawled and suddenly, I was wide awake and hoofing it to the bathroom, where I slammed the door and flipped on the lights. It couldn’t be a bat. My eyes were playing tricks on me.

Once again, I reminded myself that I wasn’t seven years old. I had children sleeping in the rooms next to me. I grew a spine and forced myself to peer around the bathroom door. Nothing. Growing bolder, I flipped on the light of the sewing room.  There was the bat, going completely berserk. Have you ever seen how fast those little suckers can fly in an enclosed space? It took everything I had not to give in to the urge to scream. I wanted to, badly. Instead, I locked myself in the bathroom and considered my options.

  1. Go back to bed. This was clearly NOT going to happen, because I’d have to pass through the room with the bat. And pygmy marmoset-sized ceilings.
  2. Yell for Darrick, who wouldn’t hear me because we sleep with a white noise machine.
  3. Yell for my in-laws. They, on the other hand, would hear me, but how embarrassing.
  4. Spend the rest of the night in the bathroom. This was the best, most logical option. There were only a few more hours until morning. I could make a little bed in the bathtub with the rug, and cover up with the shower curtain. No one would have to know.

Then I realized my daughter’s room was right next to the bathroom. Her door was closed, so that bat didn’t have the chance to zip in while I was in hiding. I took a deep breath, and a death grip on my last shred of sanity as I ran for it, crouching so the bat wouldn’t fly in my hair. I slammed Sophie’s door and crawled in her cozy bed.

The next morning I reported the bat sighting with journalistic integrity, trying not to let the absolute horror of the situation bleed through in my voice. I expected everyone to jump up at once and hunt down the little beastie, but everyone just sat there, drinking their coffee like it was no big whoop. Even the kids weren’t alarmed. In fact, they thought it was cool that a bat was hiding somewhere.

Eventually, Gene armed himself with his “bat”minton racket and he and Darrick searched every room in the house, beating the drapes and peering in corners, but once again, no luck. “He probably crawled back into the attic,” Gene said, trying to assure me. “I’m sure he’s gone.”

I tried to adopt their nonchalant attitude, and went about my business, which is pretty much doing laundry. The basket needed to be unloaded, and our rooms were upstairs, which is of course, the last place I’d seen the bat.  I reminded myself that Darrick and Geno had scoured the place and hadn’t seen the creature, so up the stairs I went, making my children come with me so I could keep an eye on them.

I sat the basket down and lo and behold, there was that FREAKING bat again, swooping and bombing around the sewing room. I finally gave in. I’d held in that primal scream long enough, and I just let it rip. My reptilian brain now in control, I ran like a wild woman through the sewing room into the safety of my bedroom. I slammed the door and shrieked for Darrick.

Then I heard a tiny voice on the other side of the door. “Mommy?”

My beloved children were out there. With the bat.

Ye olde mother instinct informed me that I should protect them. That was the right thing to do. But that would mean I’d have to open the door. And then the bat could get me.

“Go get Daddy!” I screamed.

Sam and Sophie both started yelling for their father. I had all sorts of nasty visuals of a rabid bat attacking my children and me going to jail for letting it happen, but I COULD NOT OPEN the door. No matter what.

“You have to go downstairs!” I yelled. “Run! Daddy can’t hear you up here!”

I heard them thunder down the steps and relaxed somewhat, knowing they were safe.

Later, when they peeled me off the ceiling, Darrick said they’d caught the perp. They even showed me the, um, evidence, and I felt like a schmuck for letting something the size of an apricot cause me to completely take leave of my senses.

Darrick said, “I can’t believe you left Sam and Sophie alone with the bat,” about eighty-seven times.

In my defense, they were six and eight years old. Plenty old enough to deal with bats. I hear you judging me, because I’m waaay older than that, but like I said earlier, I have warps. And in my defense again, I was allowing them to “build character.” They handled the situation and everything turned out just fine. To this day, they’re not afraid of bats at all.

And neither am I, I’ve decided. That little episode is in my past and I firmly commit and solemnly swear to keep my head on from this point forward. Amen.

At least until the next time I’m locked in with one. * shivers* 

Am I the only one with a phobia? What freaks you out beyond all rationalization?

Ode to my Writer’s Group

The article posted below was written by my friend Joe, who also belongs to my writer’s group. His thoughts are spot on, and I can’t express how beneficial it has been to be involved with the Pasties. Yes, that’s what we call ourselves. No, I’m not telling why.

When I first met these folks at the workshop Joe talks about below, I remember thinking it remarkable that we didn’t talk about our personal lives at all. It didn’t matter who had kids, or who worked where doing what — what mattered was the story and if the words were working. We grew to know each other’s protagonists as well as our own. We grew to trust each other enough to call bullshit when something wasn’t working, and to actually believe each other the rare times it was.

Through the months and years, small and large details of our lives slipped through the pages and now, these folks know enough about me to make a run for public office impossible. Because they’re also warped individuals writers, they understand me in a way others don’t. My life, and certainly my writing, is richer for it, and I am grateful.

6 Reasons You (Yes, You!) Must Belong to a Writer’s Group

Since the summer of 2009, I have actively participated in a writers’ group that started in a novel writer’s workshop through the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, Colorado. The workshop lasted eight weeks during which time a strong chemistry developed among the participants. Writers who examine and critique a piece of writing can become a rowdy, engaged bunch, and the strong dynamic and sharp intuition that developed made for some thought-provoking conversations.

After the formal workshop ended in late summer 2009, we began meeting at locations around Denver. The meetings were helpful, challenging and friendly–as useful as the actual workshop in which we had participated–and now represent one of my best memories from living three years in Colorado. About a year later, a former employer from the Washington, DC region asked if I might want to return to that job. A lot of consideration went into that decision but, in the end, it turned out to be the right move to make.

After I broke the news to my writers group, I feared it was good-bye. I was leaving the Rockies for the East Coast; I would no longer be able to meet with everyone. That was it. C’est la vie.

Incredibly though, now in 2013, I remain involved. It’s amazing what can be done in the age of the Internet and social networking. I had a good thing going with the group and didn’t want to give it up, geographical constraints be damned. If you’re lucky enough to find a solid group of writers to meet with on a regular basis–whether in person or virtually–you must keep that relationship going.

If you’re a writer off on your own, you should reach out, network and do what you need to do to find such a group. Here are six reasons why:

1. Professional feedback –By professional, I don’t mean the others in your writers’ group need to be ridiculously successful published authors. In fact, the greater similarity that exists between you and they, the better, since it means they’re likely going through experiences similar to yours. Anyone who writes with aspirations of publication is likely a pretty shrewd reader; they need to be and that’s all the professionalism you’ll need from the writers in your group.

Joining a writer’s group means you have an opportunity to help other members by critiquing their work; in turn you get the benefit of having your work reviewed. That feedback, if given consistently and respectfully, can do wonders for your skills as a writer. The trick to getting feedback, of course, is not taking constructive criticism personally. Accept feedback to learn and make better choices; this doesn’t mean you need to respond to every comment. You’ll never finish anything if you do! But if you start hearing the same feedback from two, three or four people, you’ll likely realize it’s time to make a change.

2. Validation and Accountability– As any life coach or leadership consultant will tell you, how you feel about yourself informs what you do. If you think of yourself as a writer–and being a writer is why you would choose to belong to a writers’ group–then you’re going to be motivated to do what writers do: write.

People tend to feel compelled to perform when they belong to a group dedicated to the same interests. When I was 30 years old, I took up martial arts. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life and for five years, I was a tae kwon do junkie. I was even going to class Friday nights! But  it was also physically challenging beyond anything I had tried before. I remember taking special Sunday classes in preparation for my black belt exam. There were five of us in that second-floor studio, sweat-drenched t-shirts plastered to our frames, arms and legs shooting out in every which direction, punching and kicking, Mr. Surage’s thunderous commands in Korean, all of us working as a single unit to ensure we did not let each other or ourselves down. And I didn’t let anyone down; I just could not do that.

The same attitude and discipline are required for your participation in a writer’s group. It won’t always be easy; you’ll have other obligations or pure ennui that make you not want to sit down and write. But when you know you have a meeting coming up with your group in five days, well, then….

3. Gather new ideas for your writing — It’s important to participate in a writer’s group for the same reason it is so important to read. No one can say where your next great idea will come from for your stories but it could quite possibly come from something one of the other writers is working on. The manuscripts of others in your writers’ group can provide just as much sustenance as the hardcover novel you purchased for $22 from an established, published author.

Beyond just story ideas too, you’ll get a chance to see what narrative choices and connections other writers make. This won’t necessarily come up in professional feedback, in terms of what the group members choose to discuss. This is something more personal, something you simply identify through the process of reading. You may really like a choice one author has made in a piece of writing that is under review and use it yourself.

It’s astonishing to think about the fact that the longer you participate in a group, the less likely you are to make distinctions between the writing of established writers and those of your group members. If they (and you) have committed to the group long enough, it likely means you’re a committed and professional group of writers and the quality of your work will ultimately reflect that.

4. Networking — If you participate in a novel writer’s workshop for long enough, eventually one of your members will finish his/her book and start looking for a literary agent. If you stay even longer, more members will start looking for agents and they will eventually get one. One member may enter and WIN a writer’s contest or attend a writer’s conference.

The fact is, you can learn not just from your own experience during the writer’s journey, but from those of the others AFTER your books have been completed. It’s been said that finishing your book is only the first step and that it’s what comes afterward–the marketing and literary agent research–that represents the real work.

Getting to this phase in your relationship with a writer’s group also reflects writers who have demonstrated keen commitment to their craft. While finishing a book may be the start of the journey to publication in the publishing world, in the world of writers, finishing a book or the persistence in finishing one is a huge achievement. It essentially says: I mean what I am doing. This is important to me.

5. If you can’t make the meeting, you can still commit to your job. We all get busy with work and family. I’m a lucky man on both fronts.

Sometimes you’ll miss meetings with your writer’s group because of a hectic schedule. In fact, with my Denver group (including one member who has since moved from Colorado to Florida), I haven’t attended any meetings since 2010 except for a virtual one via Skype!

Missing a meeting doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It doesn’t mean you can’t do your job and critique another writer’s work. I have successfully participated for more than three years with my group in this manner. Manuscript selections scheduled to be reviewed at the next meeting are sent out by the author via email, everyone congregates at the meeting location and then the work is reviewed. Since I’ve been a remote participant, I need to read the work on my own, use MS Word to make my comments and line edits (using the Track Changes feature) and email the edited manuscript not just back to the author but to everyone in the group so they know that, even if I’m not physically there, I still am a member in good standing.

Hopefully, you’ll never be in my position of being consistently apart from your group due to a geographic move. Some might argue that I should find another local writer’s group. However, I’m satisfied with the dynamic I have with the members in the Rocky Mountains. Online social networks can go a long way toward helping you keep a fundamental connection with the other writers. And by the time you’ve been in a group this long, remote our not, you’re likely to call the other members of your group not just writers, but friends as well.

As a final comment, I will say you DO miss something by not attending a writer’s meeting, which is socializing. That leads me to the sixth reason you must belong to a writer’s group…

6. It’s the perfect excuse to drink beer. Writers can be a bit odd. We spend lots of time by ourselves; we often make great excuses, as Paul Theroux once wrote, so that we may dash away from the company of our friends, head home and start writing. We imagine things that aren’t there and somehow believe this is as important if not more so than paying bills, catching the latest episode of Breaking Bad or, well, yes, socializing.

The fact is, however, that writers are like everyone else, which means we enjoy: food, friends and frangelico. (I used “frangelico” by the way as an alliterative stand-in for alcohol in this case, not because I’m the greatest fan). People gather in bars, restaurants and a million other locations for the sheer fun of enjoying the company of others.

Even if writers do spend a great deal of time in our heads, we do, typically, like other people, as well. The heady rush of jousting conversations in a dark bar & grill, the hasty moves to the restroom, the server personalities and the laughter that comes from recognizing some hilarious aspect of fiction or in our lives makes for one meaningful reason to connect with other writers.

So, there you have it. The final message regarding writer’s groups: Write, meet and drink!

Colorado’s Thousand Year Flood

When the torrential rains began last week, I didn’t complain. People who live here never complain about rain. Half the time our state is either on fire or in a drought. Besides, every Colorado rainstorm blows over after a few hours. That’s just how it is.

But last Monday, it rained the entire day. And the day after that. But still, no complaints. Just a few jokes about misdirected Seattle weather.

It continued to pour all day Wednesday. Not quite so funny anymore. On Thursday, the phone rang just before six in the morning, startling us awake. Boulder Valley School district had cancelled school for fear of flash flooding. Darrick and I were incredulous. Snow days are common around here, but canceling school for rain? It seemed ridiculous.

Minutes later, this happened a mile from our house.

Broomfield Flooding









Rain of biblical proportions continued to fall. More than seventeen inches in Boulder this past week. Boulder’s average precipitation is only twenty inches in an entire year. I read the statistics, unable to wrap my head around the fact that we remain untouched (knock on forty-seven pieces of wood), when just thirteen miles away, Boulder has been brought to its knees. More evacuations have taken place from what some are calling the “Thousand Year Flood” than any other disaster in this country since Hurricane Katrina. Hundreds unaccounted for. Eight deaths. 1,500 homes destroyed and over 18,000 damaged.

Flood marker in Boulder

Flood marker in Boulder

Car lot in Greeley

Car lot in Greeley

Estes Park

Estes Park

Lyons, Highway 34.

Lyons, Highway 34.































There’s a disconnect for me because so far, I’ve only seen pictures of the devastation just miles away, in places I love like Boulder and Estes Park. We’ve only been served a wee, little tapas plate of minor inconvenience. Soccer was cancelled, along with four days of school. My beloved trail is a washed out mess, but easily fixed. It’s hard to fathom all the destruction, when this morning the sun is shining in a cloudless, wide open blue sky. It’s a normal, sunny Colorado day. But for thousands of Coloradans, normal is a thing of the past.

If you can help, here are some great organizations:

  • Foothills United Way All of the money donated is going directly to people affected by the floods, according to Heather Spencer, the communications manager of Foothills United Way. The fund is focusing on Boulder and Broomfield counties, where the organization is located. It will work with local and state officials to determine what people’s needs are and partner with the appropriate organizations. The Boulder Community Foundation is matching up to $50,000 of donations.
  • Help Colorado Now:  HelpColoradoNow.org is a collaboration between the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Colorado Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster that pairs donations with survivor’s needs. They have compiled a list of reputable organizations for people to donate money, which it says is the most effective way to help. The site also has several lists to organize volunteers and materials needed — like food, water and clothing.
  • Colorado chapters of the American Red Cross: Since the floods started last week, the Red Cross and its partners have provided shelter to more than 1,600 people, served more than 7,000 meals and helped affected residents find the proper health and mental health professionals, according to its website. There are currently eight operating shelters across the state to help those that have been displaced. The Red Cross is accepting financial donations for relief and recovery, but is directing any small donations to Help Colorado Now.
  • Salvation Army: The Salvation Army is providing food and shelter to five of the hardest-hit counties in Colorado. Across the state, it has distributed thousands of meals to displaced people, emergency responders and law enforcement in affected areas. The Fort Collins shelter will remain open for 30 to 90 days.

On the Trail with Author Mindy McGinnis

Amazon Head Shot

Today’s cyber hike is with Mindy McGinnis, author of NOT A DROP TO DRINK, coming out in September from Katherine Tegan/Harper Collins. I’m a big fan of her fantastic blog “Writer, Writer Pants on Fire,” and am beyond excited to chat! Here’s more on her debut novel:


Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water. 
Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different than our own.

BC:  Hi Mindy! Before we jump into yipping about your shiny new book with the stunningly beautiful cover, can you give us the skinny on where we’d be hiking if I actually had the cashola to fly out and conduct this interview in person?

MM: We’d be going for a walk in my parents’ woods in Ohio. I pretty much grew up under the canopy there. The second I was off the school bus I headed for the woods and stayed until Mom called me for supper. I built a little shelter, played “survival games” and everything. My little makeshift home is completely gone now, but I returned to the spot to film some of the footage for the trailer of NOT A DROP TO DRINK (coming soon), so there was a nice full circle thing going on there.


BC: I love the premise of your book. Talk about high stakes! Just reading the bio makes my throat feel all dry and parchy. Did you get thirsty writing it?

MM: No, because my dirty secret is that I have a backyard pond. I’ve got no worries. 🙂

BC: Let’s talk marketing and promotion – something I haven’t covered before in my author interviews. So much goes into launching a new title, both from the publisher’s perspective and the author’s. The paradigm is shifting, and now so much of the responsibility rests on the author’s shoulders. Can you help us understand what your publisher provides, and what is expected of you, the author?

MM: That’s a tough one because it’s different for everyone. What the publisher provides is different from house to house, sometimes even imprint to imprint. And through talking to my fellow debut authors it’s clear that everyone handles their relationship differently.

In my own case, I’m a go-getter. I started my blog (thanks for the shout-out!) as soon as I was agented by Adriann Ranta, then followed up with a Facebook page and a Twitter account when NOT A DROP TO DRINK was sold. Recently I jumped into Tumblr (although I’m still a noob there). I have a G+ account as well, and participate in Circles there. I actually like G+ a lot and wish more people were active there.

Beyond social media, I printed up my own swag – bookmarks, water bottle stickers – and promotional postcards to send to libraries and bookstores. I also printed up little tent cards with a brief bio of myself on one side and the book on the other, for shelf displays in bookstores and libraries. As a librarian, I know sometimes you want to showcase certain books and you’re like… but what do I DO?!??! Answer: Tent cards. (If any librarians or bookstores would like a tent card, email me at bigblackcat97@gmail.com and I’ll send you some!)

So that’s my end. On the publisher’s end I’ve been fantastically blessed with an imprint that is backing me tremendously. They’ve implemented a Goodreads giveaway (20 copies of NOT A DROP TO DRINK available) ARC mailings and e-ARC availability for reviewers and librarians, plus I’ll be on the Fall leg of the Dark Days tour (dates and locations to come).

There’s also a lot of what’s called “invisible marketing” at work – title placement in bookstores, word of mouth among the industry and buzz that’s created by people in your publishing house talking up your book. Yes, we as authors are definitely expected to promote ourselves, but my arena of influence is only so big. They still do all the heavy lifting!

BC: Like many writers, you have a blog. I have to say, your blog is one of the best out there. I’m amazed at how you crank out content five days a week, and it’s always entertaining and informative. How do you manage this, plus all of the other responsibilities of life? Not to mention writing your next book! Maybe you’re secretly a mad scientist and have created a Mindy clone in your basement?

MM: Thank you! I’m always so pleased when people compliment Writer, Writer. It truly is a work of the heart. Blogging isn’t something you get an immediate return on. Is every reader of Writer, Writer going to buy a copy of DRINK? Probably not. But, I’m OK with that. I use the blog to promote writing, fellow authors, and literacy in general. I work full time as a YA librarian, so the blog is an outlet for my other passions as well – not just a promotional tool.

I also contribute to the group blogs From the Write Angle, Book Pregnant, Friday the Thirteeners, The Lucky 13s, The Class of 2k13 and The League of Extraordinary Writers. Yes, I’m insane. A lot of these blogs are writing blogs geared towards helping the un-pubbed, or newly pubbed on their path by sharing our own experiences. I’ve had some amazing help from people more than a few rungs ahead of me on the publication ladder, and I believe in paying it forward.

Also, this is where networking comes into play, and how I’ve met some amazing people. For example, The Class of 2k13 has a panel at ALA 2013 moderated by Veronica Roth. Yeah. I would’ve missed out on one hell of a promotional opportunity (plus meeting new author friends in real life and working out with Debra Driza at 6 AM in a hotel) if I weren’t involved with the group blog. Is that payoff worth blogging once a month? Um, yeah.

BC: In addition to the blog, you have an author presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Does a certain medium work better than others for reaching readers, in your opinion? What advice would you give to aspiring writers regarding the plethora of options out there?

MM: Only do what you like and want to do, and do it often. If you set up a Twitter and never use it, or only hop on sporadically it looks like you’re not very interested in connecting with your readers. I think no presence is better than an absent-minded one when it comes to social media. The same is true of blogging and your site. If you’re not going to be updating (and often) don’t do it.

The other thing is that different avenues attract different crowds. My blog is very writer-centric. I use G+ to promote literacy in general with giveaways and what I call Librarian Book Talks of books that I’ve enjoyed. Twitter is more personal for me – I use that to say something silly about what I’m doing, or eating, or something my pets did. It’s a way to show people that you’re a real person too, not some mysterious writer with a persona that encourages them to keep their distance. Tumblr I use for bite size digestibles – quotes, pictures, random funny crap. I also have an AMA button (Ask Me Anything) on my Tumblr, which I hope will be utilized by fans once DRINK has dropped.

BC: You’ve waited two years for your book to come out. That’s not counting the time it took to write the blasted thing, procure an agent, get a book deal, etc. What will you do in September to celebrate? Can you share what you’re working on now, or is it top sekrit?

MM: I have been waiting a long time- but I was writing and failing for ten years before that, so I’m not complaining. Right now I don’t have any concrete plans for release day. Knowing me, I’ll forget that it’s my release day and be out mowing the yard while my Twitter stream explodes and I’ll come in at 11PM and slap myself in the head.

I’m not actually working on anything right now. I had eye surgery recently (voluntary) and it’s made reading and writing both pretty difficult. So I’m mowing. And mulching. And going to the gym.

BC: Mindy, thanks for the inside scoop. Folks, you can learn more about Mindy and where to buy the book here. Can’t wait for your novel to come out!


The Book of Broken Hearts is Out… And It Needs Your Help!

Sarah Ockler is the uber-talented author of four books — Twenty Boy Summer, Fixing Delilah, Bittersweet, and the newly released The Book of Broken Hearts. She’s also a mentor and friend. I’m halfway through the Book of Broken Hearts, and despite my attempts to read and study it as a writer, (Sarah is a master at characterization and emotion) I get sucked into the story and disappear in her world of forbidden motorcycle boys and family drama. Though The Book of Broken Hearts was released last week, it hasn’t hit Barnes and Noble shelves yet, due to negotiation snafus between the store and publisher (which Sarah details in the link). Fans of Sarah Ockler undoubtedly know about the book’s release, but I hate to think of a potential new reader not discovering this dreamy book at the bookstore. Click on the link for deets on how to get your hot little hands on this great read.

Sarah Ockler

The Book of Broken Hearts officially hit the shelves on May 21st, which is, like, YAY! But it hasn’t hit all the shelves. Which is, you know, BOO! I’ve been debating whether to blog about this situation, hoping against all odds that it would resolve itself. But it hasn’t, and now that I’ve officially heard from readers who’ve had trouble finding the book at Barnes & Noble, I wanted to let you know what’s going on.

The Situation (super short version of a boring tale of corporate woe)

Just because a book is published doesn’t guarantee it a spot on the store shelves (even if the stores have successfully sold an author’s previous books). B&N, like all brick and mortar book stores, decides which books to shelve in its physical locations–sometimes nationally, sometimes on a store by store basis–and they order those titles directly from publishers. Additionally, publishers pay for…

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Two Very Special Book Launches

It’s an exciting time when an author’s book launches – full of expectation, joy, nerves, and heaps of hard work doing interviews, promotions, and readings. I read Peggy Edelman’s blog this morning, and learned about two authors who deserve an extra helping hand.

The first is Chad Morris, author of CRAGBRIDGE HALL: THE INVENTOR’S SECRET. Chad is in the hospital with his nine-year old daughter, who is having a golf-ball sized brain tumor removed. His book releases today, and obviously, his priority is with his family. Writers all over the place are trying to help promote his book while he is with his daughter. There’s a great post on Chad’s blog where he talks about his daughter.



Cragbridge Hall

Imagine a school in the year 2074 where students don’t read history, but watch it happen around them; where running in gym class isn’t around a track, but up a virtual mountain; and where learning about animals means becoming one through an avatar.

Welcome to Cragbridge Hall, the most advanced and prestigious school in the world. Twin siblings Abby and Derick Cragbridge are excited as new students to use their famed grandfather’s inventions that make Cragbridge Hall so incredible. But when their grandfather and parents go missing, the twins begin following a trail of clues left by their grandfather. They must find out where their family is, learn who they can trust, and discover what secrets are hidden within Cragbridge Hall.

Abby and Derick soon realize they are caught in a race with a fierce adversary to discover their grandfather’s greatest secret–a dangerous discovery that could alter both history and reality.

About Chad:


Chad Morris grew up wanting to become a professional basketball player or a rock star. (Inspired by Animal from the Muppets, he’s been banging on drums since he was eight years old.) After high school, he wrote and performed sketch comedy while going to college, and eventually he became a teacher and a curriculum writer. He lives in Utah with his wife and five kids. Chad would love to teach at Cragbridge Hall.

For more information on Chad and ordering his novel: http://chadmorrisauthor.com/

Next on the list of special releases is author Bridget Zinn. Being published was her life’s dream, and her YA novel POISON comes out next week, by Disney Hyperion. Unfortunately, Bridget died of cancer in May 2011 at age 33. Nearly four years from her diagnosis, her novel is at last hitting the shelves. Her husband, family, and friends want to celebrate her accomplishment and help get her book into the hands of readers.



Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart…misses.
Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.

About Bridget Zinn


Bridget grew up in Wisconsin. She went to the county fair where she met the love of her life, Barrett Dowell. They got married right before she went in for exploratory surgery, which revealed she had colon cancer. They christened that summer the “summer of love” and the two celebrated with several more weddings. Bridget continued to read and write until the day she died. Her last tweet was “Sunshine and a brand new book. Perfect.”

For more information on Bridget and her novel: http://www.bridgetzinn.com/

Please consider helping support Chad’s release and honoring Bridget’s memory by sharing these books and spreading the word!

On the Trail with Author Jenny Torres Sanchez

Jenny Torres Sanchez

BC: Meet Jenny Torres Sanchez, crazy-talented author of THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE, and the soon-to-be-released DEATH, DICKINSON, AND THE DEMENTED LIFE OF FRENCHIE GARCIA. We’re going to chat about book covers and other good stuff, but first, Jenny will tell us about our cyber hike.

JTS: This is a picture I took of some trees while in North Carolina this October. We always go somewhere north of Florida during fall because we don’t get much fall weather down here. I love the change of colors and big tall trees and I especially love the view when they’re towering over me like this. I like their grandness and beauty. It makes me feel small in a good way.

leavesBC: The cover of DEATH, DICKINSON, AND THE DEMENTED LIFE OF FRENCHIE GARCIA is so unique. A huge amount of YA covers have photographs of beautiful, angsty girls in ball gowns. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I love the originality (and the font!) of your cover. And all the clues…especially the keeled over Emily Dickinson in the corner. Can you tell us about the book, and how the cover design process works? Do you, as the author, have any input in the design?


JTS: I was really excited when my editor asked me to come up with a list of icons or spot art that could be incorporated into the cover and would be meaningful to the Frenchie’s story. Authors don’t get much say, if any, in their cover art and I felt really lucky to have some participation in the process. But I was amazed when I saw the cover and how perfectly the design team translated Frenchie’s story in it. I’m totally and completely in love with everything about it. It’s just incredibly cool to see someone create something in another media that so perfectly captures the mood and tone and vibe of something you wrote. And come on, a keeled over Emily Dickinson? How cool is that!

BC: Let’s not leave Charlie out of this conversation. The cover of your first novel, THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE, has a totally different vibe, as it uses a real person. The boy in the photo really captures Charlie’s sweetness and his vulnerability. I love that only his eyes show, so the reader can still imagine “their” own Charlie. Was it like an out of body experience to see the cover design on your very first book? And how did it work with finding the right “Charlie?”


JTS: Oh, man, it really is like an out of body experience.  I think one of the coolest parts of the publishing process is seeing that cover for the first time because it makes it all so real. You can imagine your book sitting on the shelves—this (or some version of this) is what it will look like.  It’s pretty amazing. I really like that a real photo was used for Charlie’s cover because photography is his escape from his real life, so it’s very fitting. Interestingly, though, the first cover they sent me for The Downside of Being Charlie actually had a different boy on the cover, he was tougher looking, very fierce, with a hard look in his eyes. It was a great cover, but my agent and editor and I agreed it wasn’t really Charlie.  Charlie is much more vulnerable, shy, trying to hide from the world, so they found a different boy and I think he’s a better reflection of the character.


BC: Can you give us a hint about what you’re working on now, or is it top sekrit?

JTS: Hmmm, I’m not sure if I can talk about it much . . . I don’t think anyone will jump me if I do so I’ll give you an appropriately vague unsatisfying answer. 😉 I’m working on something totally different than either of my books so far.  I’ve focused on contemporary up to this point, but I’m having a little fun with a story set in the 1920s. It’s cool and pretty different, but there’s still a good dose of dysfunction and characters trying to figure out who they are and their place in the world, which is a common thread in my stories.

BC: Ooh, I love that era, and now I’m so intrigued. Thanks heaps for sharing your experience, Jenny! I can’t wait to get my mitts on Frenchie. When is it available?

JTS:  Thanks so much to you, Beth. I’m really excited for Frenchie to make her way out there in the world and for readers to share in her story. Release date is May 28, 2013, but you can preorder now and/or add it on Goodreads.

Preorder: http://jennytorressanchez.com/Books.html

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15775055-death-dickinson-and-the-demented-life-of-frenchie-garcia

Here’s more scoop on Jenny and her books:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jetchez

Website: http://jennytorressanchez.com/Home.html

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jenny-Torres-Sanchez/230802230264187

20 Great Writers on the Art of Revision – Flavorwire

As I dive into revising Luna Park, the novel I horked out in the month of November during Nanowrimo, this post from Flavorwire inspires me. Especially this gem from Roald Dahl. “By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” 

20 Great Writers on the Art of Revision – Flavorwire.

On Christmas Adventures and Getting Chicagoed

It’s a frigid New Year’s Day. I’m sitting in my in-law’s home in New York, watching the waves crash on Lake Ontario. Soon, we fly back home to Colorado. Going home is good. But if we have a layover in Chicago like the one we had getting here? I don’t know if this mama will make it.

On Christmas afternoon, my wild children and I headed to the airport to spend a week with my in-laws. Darrick was already in New York, having left a week early to be with his mom who had a nasty battle with pneumonia. (She’s doing much better – woot!)

We had a tight connection in Chicago – only forty minutes to change planes. When we touched down in Chi-town, our plane proceeded to lap the airport. We waited on the tarmac. And waited and waited, with me visualizing a herculean sprint through the airport to catch our next flight. Then the pilot said we were one of forty planes waiting for a gate, thanks for your patience, yadda yadda. More than an hour went by. In the words of our friends, we’d been “Chicagoed.

The good news was that I’d been in touch with Darrick via cell phone, and he got us on the next flight out. The bad news was that it was the next morning. The kids and I were going to spend Christmas night at the airport Hilton. I was determined to make it a Christmas adventure and not a Christmas catastrophe, so I said we’d have a room service pizza party and play games. Fun!

Our kids packed all their most important toys in their carry-ons, so while we had no pajamas, no toiletries or change of clothes, thank Heaven we had the new Lego Hobbit game and enough stuffed animals to last several lifetimes. Sam set up the game while I tried to order room service. After spending ten minutes on hold, I called the front desk. Maybe the restaurant was closed — it was Christmas after all. The attendant said that room service was slammed. We’d get better service if we just came down to the sports bar.

A Christmas adventure in a sports bar! This would be a Christmas Sam and Sophie would never forget. And the thought of a Christmas beer sounded more appealing by the minute. We walked the half-mile down the hall to the elevator and rode it five flights down to the lobby. But our Christmas sports bar adventure was not to be. There was no room in the inn for us weary travelers. The restaurant was closed and the sports bar was more packed than a Tokyo subway train at rush hour.

Plan C. The mini-bar. We went back to our room, and I, in my most Christmas-y voice possible, told the children of the treasures that awaited them in the mini-bar. They could have cereal or granola bars for dinner! They could even have their pick of candy for dessert. Yes, they’d have to forego a year of college tuition to pay for the sustenance, but at that moment on our late Christmas night, it was my last shot at providing dinner for my family. And by this point, Mama wanted to curl her lips around one of those cute little mini bottles of Baileys.

The mini-bar had a plastic chain twisted around the handle. I broke that sucker off, with my kids watching in anticipation. But the door was locked. The thought of dragging everyone another half-marathon to the front desk to get a key was just too daunting. I called the front desk, hoping they’d run one up, but all I heard was a continuous loop of Musak while holding.

I’d almost reached my breaking point. It was nine o’clock at night, and we had to catch an early flight that morning. I had one final shot at dinner. Santa had brought the kids a big box of gummy Angry Birds, and Sam had it in his carry-on. Pair that with the leftover Oreos from our in-flight snack box, and you’ve got yourself a white trash Christmas dinner, sir!

When I told the kids they were having Angry Birds gummies and Oreos for dinner, you’d think they’d won the lottery. Sam tried to open his package of gummy Angry Birds, but couldn’t. I tried to open his package of gummy Angry Birds and couldn’t. Seriously, it was made out of some kind of stupid rip proof material and no matter how I tried, even with my teeth, I couldn’t open the blasted thing. The whole universe was conspiring against me – preventing even this measly, pitiful excuse for dinner.

I finally snapped. Letting out a scream of frustration, I chucked that stupid bag of gummy Angry Birds across the hotel room. It smashed into the mirror and fell on the floor. Sam looked at me in shock, and then proceeded to howl with laughter. I started laughing too – the out of control hysterical kind that is half-laughing, half-crying. We rolled on the bed, cackling like lunatics. Sophie, the bastion of responsibility, picked up the battered package of gummy Angry Birds and stabbed it with a pen until it opened.

Then she said, “This is a weird Christmas.”

Requires machete to open

Requires machete to open

We laughed all the more, and I didn’t give a rip about how much candy my children ate. While enjoying our Christmas feast, Sophie used a bed for a stage, entertaining us with a her own rendition of “Gangnam Style.”

Psy's got nothing on Sophie

Psy’s got nothing on Sophie

One thing about not having any luggage is that it’s really easy to get out the door in the morning. I set my alarm for 6:30 and we were gone by 6:45. I didn’t even have so much as a comb in my purse, so we didn’t bother with our hair. No need to get dressed, since we’d gone to sleep in our clothes. We looked like a pack of crazies wandering the airport with our hair sticking up and Oreos in our teeth. I’m pretty sure my kids will never look at a package of gummy Angry Birds again without thinking of our Christmas adventure.

Let’s just hope we don’t get Chicagoed for New Year’s.

Wishing you a very happy 2013, full of wonder and joy and love. And new adventures.  And hysterical laughter.

Whoop ‘em Gangnam Style.