Category Archives: inspiration



great-wallOur trip to China was truly fascinating.  As you all know,  the country is huge, both geographically and in terms of its population.  Beijing has 22 million people; Shanghai has 25 million.  We saw so many amazing things—even a week after our return it is difficult to remember them all:

In Beijing, of course, we climbed The Great Wall.  Our guide took us to a part of the wall not visited by many tourists so it was relatively free of the hordes.  And in order to come down, we took individual toboggans—which was really thrilling. Being there was incredibly exciting.

We also visited The Forbidden City which is very beautiful and The Temple of Heaven which is both lovely and interesting. We had lunch in one of the old neighborhoods called Narrow Alley where our guide had grown up, and we rode on a pedicab.  We drove around Tiananmen Square with the huge picture of MAO still overlooking it.  I felt like I had taken a step back in history.

terra-cotta-1Then we flew to Xian—a city of nine million—where the huge number of high rises going up is simply astounding.  It was there that we viewed the army of Terracotta Warriors, a stunning archeological discovery made in 1974.

Among other things, we also had a lesson in Chinese Calligraphy which was great fun. And we saw the Wild Goose Pagodas which overlooks Xian and is simply beautiful.

Then on to Shanghai.  This city, whose modern section is no more than 25 years old epitomizes modern China—rushing headlong towards the future.  There are incredible innovations in fashion, finance, technology and transport which have helped make this a global hub with one of the world’s busiest ports.  We walked The Bund—a  famous waterfront area in central Shanghai—several times and visited both the historical buildings along the way as well as the towering skyscrapers (many over 100 stories high) just across the Huangpu River near the mouth of the Yangtze.  We explored the old British and French quarters, the Yu Garden, which is beautiful, and shopped (or tried to at least) on the famous Nanjing Road.  One of the highlights was seeing a thrilling extravaganza featuring innovative acrobatics, death defying stunts and the latest in high tech special effects.  (It was like the Big Apple Circus on steroids!)

img_2869This is an adventure we will never forget.  It was challenging in that there is a twelve-hour time difference and the language barrier prevented us from doing certain things we would have liked to do.  But we agreed that this was probably the most fantastic trip we have ever taken.

And, of course, I am thinking of some book ideas inspired by China, and hope to be able to move ahead with them in the weeks and months to come.


Required Reading

In high school, I usually finished out the school year by going home with a list of required reading for my English classes the following school year. Most were typical reading assignments—Catcher in the Rye, Ethan Frome (still my least favorite book to this day), Lord of the Flies —but my junior year, my English teacher surprised me with a mix of contemporary and classics for our summer reading list. I remember reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss that summer, as well as Heart of Darkness  by Joseph Conrad.
Eight years later (yes, I’m a baby), some of my teacher friends are puzzling over their assigned reading lists and wondering how they can introduce diverse and more contemporary books into their required reading. Given our discussions, this is a conversation I’ve been hearing a lot about and mulling over myself. Some other friends have said that required reading in high school and college turned them off to reading in general. I understand—to a degree—the importance of reading classics, but I do have to wonder about our staunch adherence to the Western canon—which tends to be primarily full of white male authors. Our society is rapidly diversifying and I wonder what it might do for teenagers and young adults and reading culture in general to also see literature taught in schools that reflects their experience or culture.
Nicholson Baker’s article in the New York Times Magazine was an interesting read that ties into this conversation. He writes that, “All teaching takes a toll on what’s taught, but high school is wondrously efficient at making interesting things dull.” I slogged throughEthan Fromeas a sophomore in high school, but loved the more contemporary Foer that I was assigned junior year—I had never encountered writing quite like that before. There are so many things available that could spark a love of reading past the classroom, which can help raise reading assessment scores, among other things.
One of my friends who works for Teach for America shared that his high school kids were reading at a way lower level than they should be, with no school library, and only the curriculum reading to really foster their reading habits. He gave one girl the first Harry Potter book and she fell in love. Since then, he’s been giving her books from his personal stash at home, and she’s been devouring them. She told him she never knew reading could be fun.
What benefits do you think introducing more contemporary or diverse literature into classrooms could have? What is something you wish you’d read in high school? What books are, in your opinion, integral to the high school reading list?

Bestselling poetry in motion

It’s not often that you hear about a poetry collection becoming a commercial bestseller, but in the case of Rupi Kaur’s MILK AND HONEY, that’s exactly what’s happened.

To me, as much as it’s categorized as poetry, I see it more as a lifestyle book, skewing  inspirational self-help, definitely has spirituality and mind/body/spirt overtones. It’s like a collection of poetic mantras for a healthy, positive way of living coming from a place of women overcoming adversity and female empowerment. She addresses dark issues like sexual abuse and survival. Here’s a Buzzfeed piece which lists a sampling of her work like:

“we all move forward when

we recognize how resilient

and striking the women

around us are”

As evidenced in this article from Publisher’s Weekly, she self-published her first book and Andrews McMeel, an independent publisher based in Kansas City primarily known for humor and gift books, took notice and signed up the author to give the book a wider distribution through its networks.

I think it illustrates that if you are able to tap into a receptive audience, no matter what category you are writing in, you can be successful. Social media really helped Rupi Kaur build a name for herself and her work, as well as visiting college campuses to share her spoken-word poetry. Her work was resonating, and the book is an extension of a platform she has worked hard to build and develop. May many others follow in her brave footsteps!


My impending trip to China and what I am hoping to learn from it

great-wall-of-china-814143_1920Over the last several years, my husband and I have become more adventurous in the places we travel to on vacation. We have been to Greece, Turkey, Israel and Jordan (five years ago), Australia, Kenya, through Peru and Machu Picchu, and on a cruise on the Amazon. This year, we are going to China (Beijing, Xian and Shanghai). Every time I travel, I hope to learn something that I can bring back with me to my regular life. When I returned from Kenya, I came back with a book idea and as a result we have a publishing contract which I am very excited about.terracotta-1028109_1920

In Beijing, we will go to The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and we will of course journey to The Great Wall (and climb a bit of it). I am so excited to visit these historic places that I have only read about in the past. In Xian, we will see the Terracotta Warriors (both those which have been restored and the actual “dig” which is ongoing), the Great Mosque of Xian, and the Wild Goose Pagoda. In Shanghai we will have a full city tour including the Old Quarter, Yu Garden and the modern city. One night we are going to an “extravaganza” including acrobatics, death-defying stunts and the latest in high tech special effects!pexels-photo

Throughout all of this, I am hoping to learn about the people of China and their culture and maybe, just maybe, I might return with another book idea or two.
I wonder what you come back from your vacations with? I would love to hear.


The 2016 Democratic National Convention

Karla Ortiz and her mother, Francisca Ortiz

Karla Ortiz and her mother, Francisca Ortiz

Last week I found myself riveted to the TV during the Democratic National Convention—for a number of reasons.  One of them, though, was the number of potential book projects.  For example:

Karla Ortiz: Karla is an eleven-year-old American citizen living in Las Vegas, but her parents are undocumented and, as a result, live in fear of deportation.

Lauren Manning, a former partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, is one of the most catastrophically wounded survivors of 9/11.  She battled enormous odds of survival, spending more than six months in the hospital, and fought through the next decade to recover from burns over 82.5% of her body.

Anastasia Somoza

Anastasia Somoza

Anastasia Somoza from New York City was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia when she was born and is an advocate for Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Kate Burdick: a staff attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.

Jelani Freeman, who grew up in foster care in Washington D.C. Since receiving his law degree, he has worked to bring opportunity to kids at risk.

Mothers of the Movement (L-R: Maria Hamilton, Annette Nance-Holt, Gwen Carr, Geneva Reed-Veal, Lucia McBath, Sybrina Fulton, Cleopatra Pendleton-Cowley, Wanda Johnson, Lezley McSpadden)

Mothers of the Movement (L-R: Maria Hamilton, Annette Nance-Holt, Gwen Carr, Geneva Reed-Veal, Lucia McBath, Sybrina Fulton, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, Wanda Johnson, Lezley McSpadden)

Mothers of the Movement: Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton; Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis; Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown; Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of Hadiya Pendleton; Annette Nance-Holt, mother of Blair Holt; and Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant. Each of these women could have a meaningful book (one of them has already published) but I think a book by or about all of them could be very compelling.

Khizr & Ghazala Khan

Khizr & Ghazala Khan

Erica Smegielski, whose mother Dawn was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary and was killed while trying to protect her students.  Erica is an advocate for common sense gun violence prevention.

And finally Khizr Khan whose son Humayun S. M. Khan was a University of Virginia graduate and who enlisted in the army.  Khan was one of 14 American Muslims who died serving the US in the ten years after 9/11.

Did you see any others who might be great subjects, or authors of potential books?  Let me know.


What Book Made You Feel Proud to be a Woman?

In response to this question on BuzzFeed, my answer would be The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pisan, for the simple reason that Christine was a feminist in a time when the term was unheard of.  Her writing, which praises women and their talents, and argues for their status as equal members of society, paved a way for female writers some six hundred years later.

Widowed by age 25 in 1390 France, Christine found herself responsible for the welfare of her mother, niece, and two young children. Pisan took it upon herself to earn a living and chose writing as the best course. It was not a very popular route for a woman at the time, obviously, but she persevered and proved to be very good at it. Her most famous work, The Book of the City of Ladies, came in response to Jean de Meun’s (another famous writer of the time) criticism of women for their lack of contribution to society. In her book, Pisan built an allegorical city, where every aspect of the foundation was reflective of a famous woman in history who had contributed to the development of society, thus proving Meun wrong.

I studied Pisan my junior year in college and I remember I wasn’t exactly fascinated with all the authors we studied in my Medieval Lit class, but Pisan remained ingrained in my mind. Her spirit and character were inspiring and for the first time, a book made me proud to be a woman. Since then, I have come to really appreciate the significance of women penning the most amazing pieces of literature in the world, from Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, to the stunning story telling of J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter, and the humor and brilliance of Caitlin Moran in How to be a Woman.

What about you? What book made you feel proud to be a woman?


The bookshelf project: part 2

After posting about the recent arrival of my long awaited built-in bookshelves, and getting some great feedback from our readers, family, and friends, I finally embarked upon the multi-hour project and wanted to share the end result (still a work-in-progress) here:

To give you some more information about the strategy (and it was discussed extensively before the project began as well as throughout the endeavor!), I’ll share how it all played out. We started by unpacking books from boxes as well as taking off of shelves from my office one copy of each of the books I’ve sold during my almost eighteen years at DGLM.

We then labeled the shelves with post-its indicating which category of books would go into which shelves. The broad sections include adult fiction, cookbooks, illustrated/craft, practical nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, and children’s. For categories where we had more books, we used more shelves. For the cookbooks, we divided them into sections: general, vegetarian/vegan, and baking and then alphabetized them within the section. Then we filled in the two top shelves with foreign editions of my titles.

We mixed the style of display with horizontal and vertical and left a few books standing up and facing out, and then filled in some blank spaces with decorative touches and picture frames. At that point, we’d filled ten of the fourteen sections, and the other four sections we used for additional cookbooks, miscellaneous awesome books (Hamilton!), and my beloved large and growing collection of books signed by the author, which includes mostly children’s books (I’m that person who will go to an author event with or without my children to get a signed book!) and a few celebrity titles.

I have a lot more books that I’ve read and collected over the years, but I didn’t want to pack the shelves too tight so I could leave room for more of my own titles to fill in. At some point I’ll get another large bookcase which I’ll put  in a different room to house  the others, but for now I’m happy my living room bookshelf project is finally complete.

Please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions for changes or improvements!

Some Things I’m Looking for:

While developing my list, I keep having these desires for books I’m not seeing. Although my interests aren’t limited to this list, I wanted to give a few examples of the things I’d like to see:

  • YA/MG where the character is growing up in a foreign country, whether he or she just moved or lived there all his or her life. I’m particular interested in settings where the character lives in a rural village or town. I’d love to know how difficult it is to milk cows or use an outhouse every day of your life while simultaneously trying to understand the ins and outs of a new country.
  • YA/MG fantasy with human characters set in rich worlds not anything like Earth. I’m very fascinated when an author can create an understandable world with its own physical rules and composition. Think Dune and some of the worlds described in His Dark Materials. I grew up reading these books and would love to see more of them on my bookshelf!
  • Mystery novels with atypical detectives. I want characters that by all means should not be a detective, but against all odds they’re actually really great at the job. When I was younger, I loved The Cat Who… series. I thought it was hilarious that the cats did all the work. Whether it’s adult, YA, or MG, I’m all in.
  • Women’s fiction where the conflict lies outside of marriage or kids. I’d love the family unit to be the crutch the wife/mother relies on. Perhaps this is because I’m newly married and want to believe in all the good of it!

If you have a book like any of the above, please query me. You’ll have my full attention.


Getting the spark back

I recently picked up Leslie Jamison’s stunning collection of essays, THE EMPATHY EXAMS, which I haven’t been able to put down. It’s one of those books that changes how you see the world, how you approach the motions of everyday living, and how you treat others. It is also a book that makes me want to think about writing and the craft of writing more.



I know it can be tough to find inspiration—and time and energy—to write when you have a full-time job, are in a committed relationship or taking care of a family, when you want to find the time to also create and maintain sustainable and meaningful relationships with other human beings. It can be tough even if your full time job is to write. There are so many other things to be thinking about, to be concentrating on. Yet, Jamison’s essays remind me that it is exactly in these moments—full of activity and ordinary—that are so ripe with writing material. It’s little, intimate, ordinary details that can make a character truly stand out on the page and make us go, “Oh yes! I know exactly what he/she is feeling/thinking” or “I’ve been in that situation before too!” Her essays remind me that writing is essentially about people and the stories they carry with them—and so going out and observing, spending time with friends and family, people-watching in a restaurant or bar; these are the beginnings of characters and plotlines and settings.

Is there a book or collection of essays/poetry that you always turn to when you’re feeling uninspired? Is there an activity you like to do for inspiration or to get the writing juices flowing again? Who are your writing muses?


Write What You Want


I was at Yallwest a couple of weeks ago, and something I heard at one of the panels won’t leave me. “Write what you want.” Of course, this seems very self-explanatory, and I’d heard it about 100 times before while working toward my MFA, but something about hearing it now, knowing more about publishing, made that statement more powerful.


While trying to get published, it’s easy to get lost in the idea of what will sell and what won’t. I see a lot of queries with, “My book will appeal to ages X through Y and people interested in…” Well that sentence alone tells me that the writer was thinking about the marketing of his or her book. Which, in a way can be good, but at what point does thinking about marketing diminish your ideas?


I then thought about how knowing about market trends has influenced my writing. I’ve seen a certain pattern in my idea brainstorming. I’ll have a new book idea only to get excited about it, and then immediately shy away from it because I know it doesn’t follow the current trends. I also know as a writer, that an idea can shape into something wholly different once it becomes a story. What I thought was a poor idea could have shaped into something incredible given my passion for the subject. I could have made something unlike the publishing world has ever seen, and my fear that this would be unaccepted, has squandered that potential.


So, that’s why I believe writers should focus more on writing what they want, rather than what they think others want, because if you’re trying to follow a trend, you will never be unique. Originality dies that way. My advice now will always be to write what you want, don’t follow another writer or what you think you should be writing. It may get you published, but that brilliant idea you squashed in order to follow the trend could have been the next break out novel.


What do you think about this topic? Do you follow the trends or write what you want?