Monday, January 28, 2013

The Ever Elusive Theme

 Why do we read? I ask this question to my 8th graders at the beginning of every year. The answers always vary from person to person, and from year to year. But essentially, the following are always the reasons given:

·         Because I like living through another person’s eyes

·         Because it’s fun

·         It helps you learn vocabulary

·         It teaches you about the world

·         It lets you see other cultures

·         It’s like a movie in your head

·         Because it takes me out of my life for as long as I need it

·         It makes me a better writer

·         It teaches you about life

I want to take a moment to talk about that last one. Life. There certainly many things to learn about it. Every day I am learning about how to deal with the twists and turns it deals. And even at this point, when I feel like I should pretty much have a handle on things, something happens and I find myself saying, “What the heck?” “What am I supposed to DO with this?”

Life. The commercials stated we could be a winner at the game of Life. I’m still waiting. And my car is getting emptier, not fuller. Those who’ve played the game, totally know what I’m talking about. But why are you talking board games, Carey? What in the world does this have to do with why we read?

Because for me, and really for most people, I think why we read is because at the deepest level, we want to know that we’re not alone. And that there is hope. Because if some klutzy, normal, boring looking girl can snag a hot, sparkly vampire, then there is hope for us. If some boy who lives in a closet under the stairs can become a wizard that saves all of us muggles from the perils of the dark forces, then we, too, can overcome our obstacles, however brooding they may seem. At the heart of all books, all narratives really, be they memoirs or fiction, is the story of us. The human experience.

And we want, no we NEED to know that we are not alone in this. And that others have been there or have it far worse. Not to mention that these themes span across not only continents, but centuries. It is refreshing to know that while we pine and weep over love lost or the one that got away, or the one we hope is THE ONE, Jane Austen was feeling that same way. As was Fitzgerald. As was Shakespeare.

So, when writing it is important to keep your story, your characters, your scenes in check. But don’t forget the theme. It’s why your writing matters. It’s the whole point. If yours has no point, then why would we want to read it? How am I, as a reader, going to connect to it if there is nothing worth connecting to?

At the end of reading your novel, readers should be able to sit down and analyze character choices, and how what they decided led to the final outcome. But to really dig in, past the skin into the meat, the sinewy goodness that makes your novel satisfying to bite on, we need to know why those choices matter. And how those choices relate to our decisions.

So when teaching my students theme (which is HARD to do by the way), I ask them this:

What does the reader learn about life?

What does the reader learn about the world?

What does the reader learn about themselves or others?

These are the themes. If your novel does not answer one of these, you may be missing something.

Another good checkpoint. Ask yourself the following of your novel:

Who? (main character)

Wants What? (motivation)

But? (what gets in the way?)

So? (what do they have to do to solve the problem?)

Then? (what is the falling action, consequence, resolution?)

This teaches that? (THEME)

This should ensure that a) you have a solid plot and b)your novel has a theme.

I have compiled my own list of the most universal themes I have seen in my years of teaching and reading. Some are trite. Some are cliché. But you gotta start somewhere. See if any of these would work for yours.

·         Love conquers all.

·         Friendship means truly being there for another.

·         There is more to people than appearances.

·         Ugliness comes from actions, not looks.

·         Love makes us do crazy things.

·         Love is worth sacrifice.

·         Through adversity, we learn who we are.

·         Death is a part of life.

·         You can’t have friends if you don’t act like a friend.

·         You should always stand up for yourself.

·         Nothing worth having is ever easy.

·         All actions have consequences.

·         You have to find your own happiness.

·         Don’t be afraid to try new things.

·         Believe in yourself.

·         Be happy with what you have.

·         Courage is doing what’s right, even when it’s hard.

·         Love can be shown in many different ways.

·         Jealousy will destroy.

·         Appreciate what you already have.

·         Don’t give up on your dreams.

·         Sometimes what you’re searching for is in your own backyard.

·         The only one you can rely on is yourself.

·         Growing up means giving up on fantasy.

·         Your identity lies within yourself, not anyone else.

·         Sometimes everyone feels out of place.

·         Freedom is gained by imagination.

·         With determination, one could accomplish anything.

·         Sometimes we are the strongest when we remain quiet.

·         Accept that things change.

·         Most people have an inner strength, only not all use it.

·         Don’t let anyone hold you back from what you want.

·         Love can be shown in many different ways.

·         No one is stronger than nature.

·         Identity is determined by society.

·         Enjoy life now, because we all die soon.

·         By the time we understand life, there is too little left to live.

·         Live in the present.

·         Family comes first.

·         Family is who you love, not who you are related to.

·         In life, there must be balance.

·         To be mature, you must be responsible.

·         The choices you make determine the person you are.

·         Finish what you started.

·         Not everything is what it seems

·         Reliance on technology makes us lazy.

·         With age comes wisdom.

·         Having “things” won’t make you happy.

·         Whatever has been done, cannot be undone.

This list is not by any means all there is. This is just my list I have used. If you have any others to share, please post in comments! J thanks! And carpe diem.


Saturday, January 19, 2013


So the sweet and wonderful Jake Bonsignore nominated me for the Liebster Award. Thanks, Jake. You are awesome. It's nice to be thought about. So, I followed the directions and here I am. 
11 facts. 
11 questions with 11 answers. 
11 more nominations. 
11 new questions.

So, here is how this award works:
-       I list 11 random facts about myself
-       I will answer the 11 questions asked of me by the person who nominated me.
-       I will then nominate 11 others for the award and pose them 11 questions to answer when they respond.
-       If you are nominated, your name and blog link will appear at the bottom of this post, along with your questions. Follow the same format; paste the award badge to your blog, give us 11 random facts about yourself, answer my 11 questions, and choose your 11 nominees. However, you cannot nominate the blog who nominated you.

II random Facts:
1. I'm a Cali girl, born and raised. Orange County. Laguna. I miss the beach.
2. I've gone through the windshield of my car in an accident. Spent 4 hours in the ER as the nurse used tweezers to pick out tiny shards of glass.
3. I like chocolate. I like peanut butter. I do not like them together. I know…this is weird. Peanut butter is a STAND ALONE people. It needs nothing else. 
4. I also don’t like peanut butter and jelly. Blech.
5. I get bored with my hair, so I am always changing it. Coloring it, cutting it, bangs, no bangs, long, short. I keep my hairdresser busy.
6. I think about things. A lot. Deeply. To the point where sometimes it can get overwhelming.
7. I am a bit of a rebel. If someone says I can't do something, I need to do it.
8. I love backgammon.And air hockey. And video games. I am kinda nerdy like that.
9. I named my guitar Phoebe. I can also play Smelly Cat.
10. I snort when I laugh hard. I snorted three times yesterday. It's quite embarrassing.
11. I would love to go to a Comic Con someday. I wouldn't dress up or anything cray cray like that, but I'd totally go. 

The Questions to Answer
1. What is your favorite literary genre and novel? 

This is tough because I really don't have just one. It depends on my mood. I love a good science fiction book, both YA and adult. But chick lit is my go to for a fun, take me out of my own head, kind of read. I also love pretty much all YA, but especially the ones with swoonworthy guys. 

2. What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I think the feeling you get when you start something and you're really excited about it is my favorite. It's like meeting a new person, you can't wait to find out everything about them. You want to experience life from their eyes. And building their background is fun too. 

3. Do you prefer books in print or e-book? Why?
Books. Always real books. There is something about the feel of the pages, the smell of ink, the sound of the turn of a page…it cannot be replaced. Ever. 

4. What are your two most favored hobbies, aside from writing?
I love to cook, especially new recipes. I also love music. I listen to everything. I'm pretty sure my life has a soundtrack. Music is a big part of my life, I couldn’t live without it. I also love playing my guitar, but I am still not that great at it. 

5. Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?
Honestly, it is not a person. Life. That's my greatest inspiration. I see stories everywhere. Everyone's life is a story with moments of greatness and moments of sadness, first kisses, death, birth, everything. This big, beautiful world inspires me every day. I am blessed to be a part of it all. 

6. Have you ever gone to a Writer’s Convention?
No, but I plan to this summer. Hopefully with a couple of my writer friends. 

7. Do you like it when books are made into other forms of media (e.g., movies, games, etc.)?
I like movies from books, just to see what they can do with them. But most movies let me down. They are rarely as good as the books. But I guess that is to be expected. Books are about the experience, not just the world and characters created.

8. What is the quote or mantra you favor the most or try to live by?
There are two.

When life hands you lemons, look at life and say, "Yeah, I like lemons. What else ya got?"

Don't tell me what I can't do.

9. Cats or Dogs?
Both. I have always been a dog person. Until I got cats. Now I could not see myself without them.

10. What is your favorite sport to watch and/or play?
I love basketball and hockey. I don't play sports. I am completely uncoordinated. I'd make a fool of myself. 

11. What would you like to study more or write about (given no time or expense restrictions)?
I would love to write a science fiction, but I would need to delve into a lot to write about something that hasn’t been written yet. Also, I think a historical fiction taking place in the Roaring 20's would be awesome. 

My Eleven for the Next Eleven
1. What is your favorite book ever?
2. If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be? (mine is totally Ray Bradbury)
3. If you could have a writing retreat, a place to go where you could just write in solitude, where would it be? (anywhere in the world)
4. If/When you are best seller, what would be the first thing you'd do the day you found out you were number one?
5. What is your quote or mantra in life?
6. Who is your hero?
7. What book that hasn’t been written would you love to write?
8. What is your biggest inspiration?
9. What is your biggest fear?
10. What is your biggest hope?
11. If your life was a book, what would the title be?

The Next Eleven

So, that's it. Answer and tag others. It's fun. Do it. All the cool kids are. If you don't bad things will happen. Okay, not really. Do it if you want. If not, I won't hold it against you. This time.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


So, I was tagged by the wonderful Darci Cole (who makes awesome carved wands by the way) in a blog hop. Since I have already discussed my WIP, I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about my current manuscript I have been hocking. It is my heart and soul in 85k words.


What is the working title of your book?

The Princess Paradox

Where did the idea come from for the book?

About three or four years ago, I watched my daughter go through an "everything princesses" phase. She was so enamored by these stories and the romance of it all, I began to wonder if society wasn't somehow doing the future women of the world some kind of atrocious wrong. After all, how would any man, or any romance even, ever live up to the fairy tale? I thought about every book that I have loved, and how they all seemed to have one thing in common. That every story should end with the happy ever after, and most of the time, that meant love.

Also, I read and loved Emily Giffen's Something Borrowed and I realized that I loved the idea that as a reader, I was totally rooting for this girl who was totally after her best friend's fiancé. I thought that this was a challenge…to create a strong heroine who didn't necessarily make good choices. One who was always letting the wants of others supersede her own. And that ultimately, this would lead her to her own demise. Thing is…at the end of my book, I wanted the reader, the future women of America like my daughter, to understand that the reason we to fall in love with these princesses is not because of the romance…not because getting the guy is important, but because the journey to finding themselves is the real treasure. Being honest with yourself, and going against the grain…that was the real story of the princess.

So with that, I followed the exact story-line of the traditional princess fairy tale, then gave it a bit of a twist, making sure to highlight each fairy tale trope and cliché, and drop in the unexpected.

What genre does your book fall under?

Commercial Women's Fiction a.k.a. Chick lit.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I had this down before I ever began writing, although it would be the younger versions.
My apparent doppelganger (or so I've been told on more than one occasion)

America Ferrera as Nora Roseberry

Jason Lewis as Aidan O'Neill

Jared Leto as Finn O'Neill
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Jaded by fairy tales, twenty-five-year-old Nora Roseberry's surprised to find herself caught between Prince Charming and Prince-Damn-He's-Charming, and when she does, she's unsure if she should stick to the story or change her fairy tale ending.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I really want an agent for this. I have been querying for about 5 months total.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This took me about 3 and a half years to complete. There were times I wanted to give up. Times I wasn't sure where the story was going next. But ultimately, I couldn’t not finish it. So after about a year of totally abandoning it, I went back and wrote furiously. It has changed a lot since then, and been through a dozen CPs and betas, but it is finally where I think it has to be.

If I have to self pub, then I will. I just want it out there, for others to read.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I see it as a mix between Something Borrowed by Emily Giffen and Can You Keep A Secret by Sophie Kinsella. My very first reader actually said it has the humor of Sophie Kinsella with the writing style more reminiscent of Emily Giffen. I could have kissed her.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

My daughter for one. Also, a fellow colleague who happened to be a reading specialist for my school. She taught me to trust my instincts as a teacher and validated me. She inspired me to use my background in sociology to teach reading. Most teachers teach the specifics of teaching. That is what we are taught to do. And I struggled with it. When I started teaching the WHY of reading, the importance not because of the literary devices or plot or symbolism, but the WHY IT MATTERS of reading, that is when I began to love what I do. By doing this first, then analyzing how the author managed to get us there, that is when I really started to understand books. It's when I started thinking, I can do this. By taking a real critical lens at text, I was able to understand style, structure, purpose, and the beauty of books. I credit Alisa for that. If I ever get pubbed, she will be the first on my acknowledgment page.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It's funny, follows the traditional fairy tale arc, but begins with commentaries on all things princess. It is the critical piece…and the one that sets it apart from any book I have seen. Plus…there's a love triangle. Which apparently has my betas fighting over Team Aidan or Team Finn. Or as one reader put it, Team WTF? ;)

And just because I thought it would be cool…I have listed my Princess Paradox playlist:

Payphone         Maroon Five
I Run To You Lady Antebellum
I Need You Now Lady Antebellum
Say Hey (I Love You) Spearhead
Broken Lifehouse
Whatever It Takes Lifehouse
I Don't Wanna Be Gavin DeGraw
Beautiful Disaster Jon McLaughlin
Fallin For You Colbie Caillait
Shattered         O.A.R.
Somewhere Only We Know  Keane
Apologize         One Republic
Stop and Stare One Republic
Rhythm of Love Plain White T's
Secrets One Republic
Breakeven         The Script
If You Ever Come Back The Script
Marry Me          Train
I Won't Give Up Jason Mraz

And now I need to tag 5 more authors. So here goes...

Beau Barnett
Megan Paasch
Trisha Schmidt
Jason Cantrell
Kai Kiriyama