Nov 22, 2014

Making Peace: A Photography Experiment

Many of you will remember me taking selfie classes from Vivienne McMaster a few years ago.  I posted selfies on Twitter and shared the spirit of playfulness with others.

Vivienne is offering a special photography experiment *at no cost* during Thanksgiving week. I'm so excited about this!

She's invited other bloggers to play along during the week, sharing thoughts and self-portraits, and I'm taking the leap.  You can play along as Vivienne describes below or just play along through this blog, posting your photos in the comments.

Here is Vivienne's description of the experiment:

Here’s how it is going to work:
  • Next Monday through Friday I’ll be sharing a post about ‘Making Peace with My Smile’ on the Be Your Own Beloved blog.  I will (of course) include a selfie activity for you to try. As well, I’ll be including a question that might spark a blog prompt for you to combine with your selfie!
  • You can blog along with the prompts on your own site. Or you could share your smile selfie of the day with us on Instagram in the #beyourownbeloved community.  Or you could keep your photo to yourself and honour it as a personal journey of making peace with your smile.
  • It’s kind of like a free mini class! But with no expectations.  I’ll be sharing it over 5 days but you could take it slower if you’d like and try one per week for the next 5 weeks or start with the first one and know that there are other activities awaiting you when you feel ready for them.
  • I’m also consciously calling this an experiment because I hope that for all of us it will be something we can approach with curiosity. We aren’t expecting ourselves to love our smile in only 5 days, but I have a feeling if we open heartedly experiment with making peace with it, shifts will happen (I’m always amazed at how much things start to shift for people in Be Your Own Beloved within the first few days).

Nov 20, 2014

Spillworthy Sale Starts Today!

The SPILLWORTHY sale starts today!  The ebook is just 99 cents through November 26th.  At the stroke of midnight, we start celebrating Thanksgiving and the sale is done.

Read the book and love it?  This is a great opportunity to release the book to someone else.

Sending the ebook to 20 people with a short note of Thanksgiving? That's a fairly inexpensive gift of love.  You can gift the book right from your Amazon account.

Also? The audiobook version is coming soon! I'm so excited with the way Mark Blowers performs this book. I know you'll love it. I'm hoping it will be ready to buy on December 1st.  :)

Oct 8, 2014

Spillworthy Featured in National Press Release!

Contact: Jim Barnes, Awards Director

Lifelong Reading, from the Womb Onward

(Traverse City, MI - Oct. 7, 2014)  The Moonbeam Awards program is dedicated to reading at all levels and to children of all nationalities, races and faiths. Now in its eighth year, the contest is known for its diversity and inclusiveness, and this year's medalists range from a book for pregnant mothers to read to their unborn babies, to a young adult novel dealing with homelessness and human trafficking.

The Moonbeam Awards are designed to bring increased recognition to the year's best children's books. The winners are chosen for their commitment to children, literacy and lifelong reading. Judging panels of book reviewers, librarians, teachers, and students chose 166 medalists from over 1,300 entries, and medals will go to books representing 37 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, five Canadian provinces, and Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Japan, Singapore, Scotland and Spain.

See the complete 2014 Moonbeam Awards results here:

This year's gold medalist in the Board Book category is Can't Wait to Show You (Preliteracy Partners), and this charming book is not only meant to be read to babies in utero, it's shaped to fit the curve of a mother's pregnant belly! Alas, not everyone receives the gift of reading: My Dad Couldn't Read (See a Book Take a Look) explains how a reading disorder turned into adult illiteracy -- but through tutoring and perseverance father and daughter learned together and earned their high school diplomas together.

Probably the ultimate example of courage and perseverance in this new millennium is the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who in 2012 survived an attempted assassination by the Taliban for speaking out about girls' rights to education. Out in Front (Morgan Reynolds) is author David Aretha's stirring biography of Yousafzai, the "girl who wouldn't be silenced," whose dream is for "every child to go to school," and who someday wants to become the prime minister of Pakistan.

The Religion category gold medalist is another example of girl-power, inspired when author David R. Weiss's daughter asked him to tell her a story about When God Was a Little Girl  (Beaver's Pond Press). He explained how Creation was like one of her art projects, done with joy and love, and even with all the different colors, shapes, and sizes, it looked "just right."

Spillworthy, the self-published gold medalist in the Mature Issues fiction category, not only deals with homelessness and human trafficking, but gives voice to the young victims who rise above their trials through the powerful magic of words. Idaho-based author Johanna Harness proves that reading, writing and communication truly does heal and can save souls -- and books like hers, along with the rest of this year's Moonbeam winners -- can change the world.

* * * * *

The Moonbeam Awards were created in 2007 by northern Michigan-based book marketing firm Jenkins Group, and the winners represent the best books published for children and young adults during the previous year. Jenkins Group has been involved in book packaging, marketing and distribution since 1988, and the growing influence of their children's and grandchildren's love of books inspired them to launch the Moonbeam Awards and the Traverse City Children’s Book Festival.

Learn more about the Moonbeam Awards at
Learn more about the book festival at
For more information about the Moonbeam Awards and the winning books, or to interview their creators, contact Awards Director Jim Barnes at 1-800-644-0133 x 1011 or

Oct 4, 2014

Moonbeam Awards!

Spillworthy won a Moonbeam Children's Book Award! And it's a gold!

I'm so excited and honored. I still don't quite know how to process this. It's amazing.

I look at the Moonbeam books and realize that this is exactly the kind of list that made me want to start writing, and it's exactly the kind of list that made me fall in love with independent publishing.

Pre-Internet, these were the books I would search for in catalogs and on pilgrimages to huge, urban booksellers. Today these books can be just as difficult to find because they get lost in the noise of publishing.

It's difficult to describe the feeling I get from these books. 

Have you ever savored a magazine with images selected because they did NOT look like stock photography? An old Mothering magazine? Or an old New Moon Girls?  I'm not talking about sloppy or unprofessional. I'm talking about real.

That's the feeling I look for in independently-published books. I'm looking for ideas that aren't changed to fit a preconceived idea of what an audience wants--the literary version of photoshopping.  I'm looking for stories and ideas that certainly could have been changed to make them more marketable, but they were tumbled into something organic and real instead.  They include a variety of characters, like those who actually exist in the world, without slimming or whitewashing or idealizing of dominant culture.  And the covers reflect the guts of the novels! They are beautiful not in spite of being real, but because they are real.

I already have a huge reading list shaped from Moonbeam lists from multiple years.  Now I must talk to librarians about getting more of these books on the shelves because my budget is too small and my list is too big.

Thank you, Moonbeam, not just for this award, but also for your dedication in bringing independent books to the attention of serious readers. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Sep 3, 2014

Writer Questions Answered

Ev Maroon tagged me to answer a few questions about my writing.  I seldom participate in these tagged-blogger things because I think about them too much. I read other writers' answers and start feeling self-conscious about anything I could possibly say. Someone else tagged me to respond to this some time ago and I dodged it.  Inelegantly.  As usual.

I promised Ev that this time would be different.  And so here goes.

1)  What are you working on?

I have three completed novels I should be editing for publication.  I'm not working on those.

I have a story planned for a short story contest.  I'm not working on that either.

I have a calendar I created for myself, planning out all the publishing deadlines I should meet. I'm not working on meeting any of them.

I am working on a prequel to one of the novels I am not editing.  And when I'm done with this prequel, I know it will change the trajectory of my Claire Morgane series.  Completely.  And the two books in that series, already written, will be mostly scrapped and the prequel will not be a prequel, but Book One.

I am also working with a really talented actor to record and release a Spillworthy audiobook.

And I'm doing writing workshops for kids, something I love doing with all my heart.

2) How do you think your work differs from others in its genre?

When I write books for middle graders, I'm thinking about how to tell the stories in a way that won't exclude kids.  If I were writing for adults, I'd be telling the same stories from different points of view, including different language and scenes.

For instance, in Spillworthy, I tell the story as an assortment of kids who leave their journals for each other to find.  If I were writing this for an exclusively adult audience, I might tell the story from the point of view of Gem's dad.  This man spent his entire adult life worrying he would lose his daughter, so his narrative would have a much darker tone and the resulting story would detail many of his fears. It would be the same story, but not at all appropriate for kids.

Because the central stories interest people of different ages, my books end up getting categorized differently by different readers. When young adults read Spillworthy, they often give it a YA label, because they liked it.  When adults read the book, they'll give it a label that includes adults.  I'm okay with that.

3) Why do you write what you do?

I guess this question is asking, "why those stories?"  If I'm compelled to write a specific story, regardless of audience, what is it about that story that interests me?

I'm always drawn to narratives about parents and children.  I went through many years of infertility and pregnancy loss before finally having kids, so I'd already spent an unusual number of sleepless nights considering how my identity might be shaped by absent children.  It was only after my dad died that I started thinking about how my identity might be shaped by absent parents. Many of my stories right now revolve around the way we build lives around those who are absent.

4) How does your writing process work?

I don't think I've ever used the same process twice. When I first started writing, I thought I would come up with the perfect methodology.  Now I realize that I change my writing process to match the story.  My goal then is to keep learning new skills and methods, adding to my writer toolbox, so I always have new combinations to try.

My only consistency is that I write in the mornings, before the sun comes up.  When I was younger, I was a night owl, but I didn't find the real peace and stillness of the night until 2 or 3 in the morning.  Now I realize I can get up early and enjoy that same calm right up until sunrise. It's a glorious time to be awake.

And now--who to tag?  I know these questions have been circulating a while, so it's likely many have already answered.  I'm tagging J.C. Rosen, Jenn Spiller, John Ross Barnes, and Kristina Martin. If you've already done this or you're crazy busy, just disregard. It's not a chain thing. Answering or not answering will not appease or anger the gods of our cumulative superstitions. They're still in shock that I answered, so they're not paying attention.

Aug 31, 2014

Spillworthy Writing Workshops

In Spillworthy, Ulysses takes his best writing and transfers it to pizza boxes to display in his neighborhood.  For this Hermit Festival workshop, I chose a smaller form--playing cards repurposed as trading cards.  Spillworthy says a medium pizza box is about the right size for a short essay.  For our group, the trading card turned out to be a great size for micro-poetry.

Kids created all their cards around Hermit Fest observations. If their cards referenced anyone in attendance at the festival, they could go get signatures on the cards.  The performers and vendors responded to the kids with such joy.  It was a gorgeous thing to see.

We're heading back to Indian Creek Winery for a second workshop day today, starting at 12:40 by the stump stage.  Any kids who can't make it to the stage on time, can find me and I'll set them up with a notebook and blank trading cards.  

Aug 3, 2014

Five Years of #Amwriting

Today the #amwriting hashtag is five years old.  In some ways, I can't believe the last five years have flown by so quickly.  And yet, when I think of where I was in my life five years ago, so very much has changed.

I began writing six months after my dad died, suddenly feeling the incredible urgency of my own mortality.  If I didn't begin writing in earnest right then, I might never do it.  In truth, writing was also an escape from the pain of losing him, a way to begin healing a past that lingered incomplete.

I didn't know how to develop plot lines then and every new technique seemed like the one I would stick with forever.  It took me a couple years to discover that I plotted each story using techniques particular to that story.  My favorite technique was always the one I was currently using.

I talked about blocking action with toys--especially my vintage Little People.

I put sticky notes up on an entire wall.

I used a tri-fold board, writing scene after scene on sticky notes I could then move around.  And the whole thing folded away when I no longer was using it!

I fell in love with arcs for a while.  I had plot arcs and character arcs and risk arcs.

I did phase drafting--where the whole story was quickly written out in short scene notes, to be fleshed out later.

I made flow charts for writing and revising.

I had a clothes line with index cards pinned up for every scene.

I used mind-mapping and clustering techniques, using a method I called cluster plotting.

Today I am mapping out my current book using a large, artist clipboard with a light-weight, manilla poster board attached.  For some reason it's very important to me to do all this work in pencil and I'm using a kid's jumbo pencil to create bold lines. I also have vintage yardsticks and rulers which are somehow integral to creating the lines for my chart.

I'm no longer drawing arcs, but I'm aware of them in the background. I'm no longer using Little People, but I still see them on the page. I no longer phase draft in a disciplined way, but I run through scenes in my head and I know I learned that technique through phase drafting.

Patterns exist within patterns.

I started writing six months after my dad died.  I started publishing six months after my mom died. I'm still burning the candle at both ends, still learning, still working on the way the words fold together and the way the plot takes shape.

Just as I learned from various approaches to plotting, so did I learn from various approaches to publishing.  I signed with an agent and I fired an agent. I evaluated contracts and actually signed a couple. I experienced professional editing, both by a publisher and by an editor I hired myself.

Today I hear all those voices in my head, evaluating the writing and the market, evaluating the ideas. Today I'm committed to independent publishing, but I'm forever influenced by a traditional path that alternately nourished and suffocated my spirit.

It's strange to me to realize just how indebted I am to traditional publishing.  Without years of rejection forcing me to improve my craft, I would have published work not ready for print.  Without the extraordinary limitations of traditional publishing, coupled with ridiculously low advance offers, I would never have been brave enough to turn toward an independent path.

When I think of those who started using the #amwriting tag years ago, I see people learning from the paths they've chosen, adapting as the industry changes, deciding how to move forward, but all the while telling stories.  Industry changes and will continue to change, but writers are people with stories. We'll find the right way to plot each story we need to tell.  We'll find the right way to reach people with that story. I can't wait to see what the next five years will bring.


Next on the #amwriting birthday blog hop:

Aug 1, 2014

#Amwriting Birthday Party!

Wow.  I turned the calendar page this morning and realized #amwriting turns 5 years old on Sunday.

This seems like reason to have a party, doesn't it?

Anyone up for a blog hop party?

The rules are simple. You must be a participant in the #amwriting community on Twitter. This is a party. Please don't be that guy who thinks we've never seen a rant about people tweeting rather than writing. This is not the place for it. This is also not the place for a page-long advertisement for your work. It is fine to include links to your work after an insightful article. Do not simply put up a page of buy-Buy-BUY.

Prepare a post for your own blog about one of the following topics: 1) what the twitter group has meant to you as a writer ~or~ if you've been posting here for years, 2) tell us about your own development as a writer since you started using the hashtag.  This can include tasteful links to buy your work or a compendium of the most useful writing sites you've discovered over the years. (Please make sure the links are still active.)

In the comments below, tell us that you plan to participate and include 1) The topic for your post and 2) your blog address.

On Sunday, include a link to the next post in the comments. Make sure your link goes to a live post that adheres to the above rules.  If it does not, then link to the next post in the comments. (If it's the last post, link to the first.)

The last time we had an #amwriting blog hop party, participants had some of their highest traffic ever.  I know this doesn't give you much prep time, but short and spontaneous posts are perfect. We want time to catch up with old friends and meet new friends in the process, so we don't have a lot of time to spend on each post.  Raise a glass, open a present, release some balloons, provide a link or two, and then give us the next link.

*This blog uses G+ comments. If this doesn't work for you, you can email me your topic and web site address and I'll post it here for you.

Jun 6, 2014

Congratulations to Mariam Kobras!

I'm so happy to be celebrating with Mariam Kobras today!  Her new book is out she's stopped by today to tell us more about it.  Welcome, Mariam!

* * *

Naomi Carlsson and Jon Stone, the heroes of the Stone Trilogy, have been a part of my life for so long that I find it hard to not just break into a wide smile and start telling anecdotes about them when I’m asked to write a blog post about the new book, Waiting for a Song, Naomi's Story.

“So what’s the new book about?” you might ask, and I’ll just lean back and go.

“Oh, you know. It’s about that time in their lives when they meet for the first time. Naomi has just sent Jon some lyrics she wrote. Now she's waiting, and hoping, and going completely around the bend because she has no idea what will happen, if anything. And there, on the other side of the ocean, on the other side of the world, is Jon, and he reads what she’s written, and he goes totally crazy, too. He feels as if she’s talking to him, as if he can hear her voice in the rustle of the jasmine bushes in his garden.

And Naomi, in Geneva, can’t sleep or eat or even think clearly, listening to Jon on the radio and on his albums. It’s as if the universe has conspired to create them for just this one purpose, to have them meet and fall in love.
When they meet in that hotel lobby, they know each other right away: it’s a meeting of fates, an inevitable force that pulls them toward that great and all-consuming love.

But there are also the little things, the entirely human and funny things, that happen around this cosmic moment.

Naomi, barely more than a teenager, gets caught by her mother as she desperately tries to decide
what to wear to meet Jon. There she is, standing in her underwear amid mountains of clothes, uncertain, and this uncertainty mirrors her fears about what she’s going to do a short time later when she walks out of her parents’ home and meets this stranger, this young man who has been following her into her dreams with his voice and his music.

All she knows about him, she has gleaned from an article in a fashion magazine, and all she’s seen of him are the photos in this article. She doesn’t know if the image she has created is in any way close to the real person.

Fearful, doubtful, she decides to wear flat sandals, just in case Jon isn’t the tall man she wants him to be, and she dresses in jeans and a white top to appear unassuming, just another girl, an accidental poet who sent those lyrics to a stranger on a whim, and nothing more.

So that’s how they meet.

Two young people, in awe of each other, yet impatient, almost hungry to know about the other, to lift the veil of their instant connection through the music and the rhymes.”

Yes. That’s what Waiting for a Song is about.

It’s about the headiness of first love, about dreams, music, and sunrises on a faraway beach. It’s about enchanted gardens, soft songs in the first light of dawn, ball gowns in dusty rose, and a love that’s deeper than the sea itself.

It’s about the moment when Naomi discovers her talent for writing, and about a young Jon who isn’t yet the self-assured rock idol he will become.

So–that’s about it. Waiting for a Song is a love story, a story about dreams and hopes, and about how sometimes, if you close your eyes and wish upon a star, your wish might just come true.

* * *

This was the third stop in Mariam’s Book Launch Blog Hop & Giveaway to celebrate the release of Waiting for a Song, Naomi’s Story. Don't miss the next stop on June 9th on Lauri Rottmayer's blog where she will be interviewing Mariam.

GIVEAWAY: ONE LUCKY WINNER will receive a red leather journal with cream pages and a ribbon marker—like the one Naomi used when she wrote the lyrics that won Jon's heart. To en-ter, just leave a comment below (US and Canada residents only please). Prize courtesy of Bud-dhapuss Ink LLC.

For more chances to win, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Mariam's author page on Face-book and click on the Giveaway Tab!

Thank you so much for hosting me, Johanna!

 a Rafflecopter givea-way

Jun 1, 2014

May 16, 2014

Thank you!

Thanks so much to all of you who made the release of Spillworthy a success!

Everything during release week was so much MORE than I imagined it would be. The reviews were better than I let myself dream they'd be. Sales were better than I expected. Social media coverage was amazing. Local support continues to blow me away. Along with this, the amount of work involved in a book release has been much more than I pictured it would be.

It's time now to take a couple weeks to help the kids catch up with homeschool--and to get new animals settled in at our house--and to get ready for National History Day.

I'm reading some fresh work from a friend, re-reading some Flannery O'Connor, and working on a new story.

I'll be doing a book signing and reading on June 12th at 7pm at Caldwell Public Library. I hope some of you will be in town that evening and will come see me. I'd love to see you.

Life is good.