Behind the Scenes: Camp Christmas

Happy Holidays, friends!! Welcome to our last blog of 2013. It seems funny to say that 8403262-poinsettia-floweron “Scene 13,” a blog full of authors with debut releases in 2013. When we first heard about this group, we couldn’t wait to be a part of it and share our first YA stories with readers. Now, at the end of 2013, we’ve been fortunate enough to have two novellas and a novel out this year in our new “Camp Boyfriend” series. We’re calling the year a huge success, but even better… it’s been a lot of fun.

Camp Xmas cover 2Our new novella, Camp Christmas, released a week and a half ago. If you haven’t grabbed the FREE download at the Spencer Hill Contemporary website, we hope you’ll go snag a copy now! We had such fun writing a snowy holiday adventure for some of the Camp Juniper Point characters. We thought, just this once, it might be fun to follow the characters away from camp and see what their lives are like back home over Winter Break.

Today, we thought we’d give you some background on the setting for Camp Christmas whiteface02and share our personal ties to the geographic area where it’s set. Karen and I live near the Adirondack region where the story is set on Whiteface Mountain. The characters attend a private boarding school near the mountain and are taking a ski club trip.  It’s been awhile since I’ve skied Whiteface personally, but for several years, I’ve driven one or two of my sons to the mountain on winter weekends to ski or snowboard “the greatest vertical drop east of the Rockies.”

whiteface1There is a lot to do at the mountain. I’m partial to sipping hot chocolate by a fire in the lodge, but most people prefer to hit the slopes, the slides or the terrain park for a day of adventure and fun. My sons like to scare me by texting photos from the top of the mountain, especially when the conditions are iffy. They didn’t nickname the mountain “Iceface” for nothing. The snow can turn icy at the end of the day or when the temperature shifts from warm to cold.

During Camp Christmas, the characters get into some trouble because they don’t follow Telemarker on Cloudspinthe park rules and they ski a section of the mountain that is closed to the public. My sons would never do this—truly, it’s dangerous—but plenty of people have attempted to do so on this mountain and others in the area. Conditions can change fast when snow storms roll in or the temperature takes a bit dip. Even a warming trend can be dangerous because it causes a mist off the snow and makes visibility difficult. See why I prefer the cocoa in the lodge?

Although, if I had a cute guy to ski with, I suppose I could be enticed to step out into the snow. Our characters sure had a good time.

***How do you like to spend a cold, snowy day? Chat with us on the boards today and we’ll send one random poster an I ❤ my Camp Boyfriend tee, Camp Boyfriend mini flashlight and friendship bracelets!

Saying it Out Loud

micpenWhen I was young, I did all kinds of creative things. I loved to draw, to sing, to dance, to act out plays, and of course, to write. As I entered my teen years, I concentrated a lot on singing. I was in the choir at school, made All South Jersey Choir one year, participated in musicals, and even did well in a talent show or two. I still wrote stories, but for a while, singing took precedence. I wanted to be a singer.

As the years went by, and I became an adult who had to actually work for a living, singing kind of fell away a bit. I did partake in the occasional Karaoke contest and sang in the church choir, but I didn’t actively pursue any kind of singing career. But I did continue to write stories. Creating my own worlds and characters, the thrill of holding the fate of imaginary people in my hands, that never left me.

I still do like to sing, and I love it when my daughter does it (she’s awesome, better than I could have ever been), but it’s taken a back seat. But I never really said it out loud. That is, until I was out with friends for a “Hen’s Night”—which is basically a bachelorette party—and I sang some Karaoke for the bride-to-be. One of my friends told me I could have been a professional singer.

My response? “I’d rather be a writer.”

I think that was the first time I said it out loud, and although it felt very final (as if I could only pick one career and that was decision day), it also felt good. Writing is something I don’t see myself growing tired of. Something that still gives me joy.

I’m just glad I get to share that joy with the world.

2013 In Review

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It’s been quite a wild year, to say the least. It’s hard to believe that so many things could happen in such a short time, yet here I am, at the threshold of a new year with so many changes and lessons under my belt. I’ve learned so much about the person I am, the person I want to be, and the kind of world I want to live in. I’ve taken on many new titles this year, as an employee, as an aunt, and of course, as a published author. I am not sure where the road will take me next, or what the future holds for me or my work. Wherever it’ll take me, I’m ready for the challenge. And so, to wrap up 2013, I’d like to share a few things I learned about the kind of person I’d like to be based on the experiences I’ve had as an author (adapted from an article I wrote about the Shidduch system):

1) Be courteous: The first thing most people ask me when I tell them that I’m in the ‘writing world’ is: ‘Wow, it’s such a cut throat business, how do you manage?’ It doesn’t have to be a cut throat business. Yes, writing and publishing is a very, very competitive and sometimes nasty field. One should approach this the same way they’d approach any business venture: With respect for other people and for themselves. There’s no reason to get nasty folks. Publishing can be enjoyable…

2) Respect other people’s time: There are many, many people involved in the publishing process, from editors to agents to the writer themselves. Respect other people’s time! If you are working with a team, make sure that you use the time you have with them wisely. When someone emails you a request, do your best to get the job done in as little time possible. Don’t ignore them. It’s like biting the hand that feeds you. If you want respect, learn to respect those around you. The includes learning when you can and cannot to commit to something. If you can’t commit to someone else’s timing, let them know. They’ll be much more thankful than if you simply ignore them and hope that they forget.

3) Be kind: Shattered Illusions has received some pretty nasty reviews. Even worse than that is when people, be it other authors or reviewers on Amazon, shame me as a person. When I was gathering reviews and blurbs for the book prior to the release, I emailed an author to request a review. That person was very kind during the first encounter, and was very honest, which I appreciated. However, six weeks later, I received an absolutely horrific email from them in which, using capital letters, they shamed and humiliated me, telling me that I should find something else to do with my life because I was an absolutely awful excuse for a writer. They begged me not to publish Shattered Illusions and told me to find a job at a fast food chain. Ouch. I cried for about a month. If you don’t like or appreciate something, that’s fine, but being nasty doesn’t help, it only hurts. Be kind. The same goes in regards to your work relationships. Be kind to your team, it’ll only help you in the long run.

4) Trust your own judgement: If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Be it signing with an agent or even with an independent publicist. It’s okay to say no to something that doesn’t work for you. Don’t agree to something simply because you’re worried about what they’ll think about you. I’ve done that, and I’ve regretted it. Do what feels right to you.

5) Learn to laugh at the madness: I’ve had so many wild experiences since I began the publishing process, and I have a feeling that I’m yet to see the wildest of them all. There have been some awkward and uncomfortable bends in the road, and more than a few disappointments as well. But, things have also been wonderful, and I’ve learned to see the best and enjoy every part of the process. That’s how life should be. You can scowl and cry when the road gets rough or you can dance in between the cracks.

Cheers friends!

Wrapping up 2013

At the beginning of 2013, I wrote down my resolutions (some vague, some specific, but mostly a to-do list of ambitions for the year), and then I tacked the list to a bulletin board near my desk. But then I did some rearranging in the Fall and the list got put into a box to be sorted at a future time…where it was soon lost and forgotten. Well, I recently got around to finding the list (mainly to cross things off and see if I still had time to cross off more—because I’m a bit competitive in that way).

It’s no surprised that I did not exercise regularly (perhaps being more specific could have helped that one). I did not shop for Christmas throughout the year so I could be done before December (oh well, maybe next year), and I did not take care of all the blackberry vines choking out the yard (a chore that has been on the list for 10 years now). I might still have time to get up on the roof to take care of that moss…if the weather holds, but it looks like many things will have to be carried over to next year’s list.

That said, I’m celebrating the fact that more than half of the listed items were achieved!! Some were rather straightforward and simple, accomplished with minimal dedication and a shift in perspective, and some were major events that have taken years to get wrapped up—like the release of my debut novel, Descendant, which has already exceeded my expectations on the open market!

2013 has been a thrilling year and I’m looking forward to 2014, even more so because I can finally get back to work on book 2! And guess what!? I can cross off another item on this year’s list because I’ve now thought about my 2014 resolutions BEFORE January 1st. 🙂 Go me!

When compiling your New Year’s Resolutions, do you pick things that can be crossed off once accomplished, or are they more general ideas that can only be measured by personal reflection?

Wishing you all safe and spectacular holidays,

Toni Kerr

A Tale of Bright and Dark—some wisdom for the solstice

Since my post falls just one day before the solstice, I thought I’d take inspiration from that and share one of my favorite modern fables:  A man was being transferred to a new town, smaller than the one he came from.  As he drove in to check out the housing possibilities, he saw an old man in a chair on his porch—clearly a long-time native, who’d know a lot about the town.  So he parked and went up to the old man.

“I’m about to move here,” he said, “And I was wondering if you could tell me what kind of town this is, what the people are like.”

“What was the town you came from like?” the old man asked.

“Actually, that’s why I stopped to ask you,” the man said.  “Because the town I came from was horrible.  The people were unfriendly and rude and selfish—they’d as soon cheat you as look at you!  And forget about anyone helping you out.  I was hoping this town would be better.”

The old man shook his head sadly.  “Sorry, son.  Sounds like this town is pretty much like the one you came from.”

“I was afraid of that,” the man said gloomily, and he drove away.

A few days later, another man who was about to move there drove into to the town.  He saw the old man, and stopped to ask him the same question.

Once again the old man asked, “What was the town you came from like?”

“That’s why I asked,” the man said.  “It was wonderful.  The nicest people you could ever meet—helpful, honest, kind.  If I hadn’t been transferred I’ve have lived there forever, because it was such a great place.”

“Well, you’re in luck son,” the old man replied.  “The people in this town are just like the one you came from.”

 ***

 Karma, in it’s official philosophical definition, is probably a much more sophisticated concept than the “what goes around comes around” idea it’s often reduced to.  But I’ve evolved a personal definition to Karma—that the way you deal with people, and the people you choose to deal with, are what primarily creates your fate.  Sure, you can have genuine good luck, or bad…but most of life is about the people you interact with, and that’s something you control, consciously or not.

Mostly you see this in terms of “bad luck.”  I think of a hairdresser I once knew, whose ex-husband and all her ex-boyfriends (roughly half a dozen) were all genuinely crappy guys…and it never occurred to her that maybe her guy-selection criteria was at fault.  Or a talk radio host, who refused to date any woman who wouldn’t sleep with him if he took her to a nice restaurant…and then bitterly complained that all women were whores.  Or one of my father’s co-workers, who bragged about “getting the better of” everyone around him—including someone from whom he borrowed a pickup truck, put several hundred miles on it, and returned it with an empty gas tank.  And then boasted to several people about how he’d “scored.”  But he was genuinely surprised and indignant when my father refused to loan him the truck again.  The flip side of this is demonstrated by most of the other people I know.  Wonderful people, who have their share of simple bad luck—but when the bad times come, they have loving and supportive friends and family to help them through it.  Everyone, without even realizing it, is constantly creating their own karma—bright and dark.

So in honor of the darkest day of the year, cherish your loved ones and treat the rest of the world as you’d like to be treated.  It’s the best way I know to kindle light against the darkness.

Hilari Bell writes fantasy–mostly bright–for kids and teens.

Christmas Magic – Yes, I Believe!

Wow! I can’t believe Christmas is so close. And the end of 2013. Where did the year go? 
Since this month is a free-for-all, and I am feeling pretty nostalgic, I thought I’d share one of my favorite Holiday memories.
When I was very young – maybe 4 or 5 – my mother (then a single parent) made these amazing shadow boxes to sell at a local craft festival during the holidays. The festival was very well-known, themed around the Renaissance period during Christmas.

On December 23 of that year, my mom let me come with her to the festival. Actually, I think I came by default – no babysitter is my guess. Regardless, I distinctly remember the different craft booths, the smells of hot chocolate and roasting chestnuts, and the beautiful costumes everyone seemed to wear. My mom and I walked around for a bit before she left me at a child-care center located within the fair.
Later that night, a quartet from the Robert Shaw Chorale was singing at the festival. They walked throughout the fair dressed in historical garb; minstrels singing the most beautiful songs.

One of their first stops was the child-care center. I remember hearing them sing and knowing that a group of angels couldn’t possible sound any better. One particular singer – the soprano – stood out from the group. Her voice was more beautiful than anything I had ever heard in my young life.
The minstrels finished their songs and moved on to the next booth. I couldn’t bear to have them leave, so I walked out of the center and followed them. Kate, the soprano, talked with me, held my hand and made sure I didn’t get lost. I really don’t remember them singing, but I do remember Kate trying to help me find my mother’s booth.

After some time past – in my 5-year old mind it seemed like it was the whole night – we made our way back to the child-center, unable to find my mother’s booth. Mom was waiting for me. And after she finished chastising me for leaving, she thanked Kate.
Before Kate left, I pulled off the bracelet I was wearing – a special charm bracelet given to me by my grandmother. The stone of the charms spelled out the word “dear”. Kate tried to refuse the present, but I told her that Christmas was about giving and since she had given me the gift of her voice, I simply had to give her the bracelet. Reluctantly, she took my gift and left.

The next day was Christmas Eve. I remember listening to a recording of the Robert Shaw Chorale over and over again. I just knew I could hear Kate’s voice in the chorus, sounding every bit as angelic as she did at the festival. The next morning, Christmas morning, I raced out of bed to see if Santa had come. Mom joined me and I opened my stocking. Tucked at the bottom of the stocking was a little package completely different from the rest. Carefully, I unwrapped the little gift until it lay in my hand – a mosaic pin with a little note.

Thank you for your kindness at the festival. You reminded me just how special Christmas and music are. Love, Kate

I couldn’t believe it. How did she manage to get a present into my stocking? Surely she was an angel. There was no other explanation in my young mind.

To this day, I listen carefully anytime Joy to the World by the Robert Shaw Chorale comes on Pandora, straining to see if I can hear the voice of my angelic Kate.

What special memories do you have about this season?

Stuff your Stocking…

December…a freebie month. Ugh, believe it or not, I actually like it better when I have a topic to work with. Sounds weird from an author, I know. I should love the fact I can let myself write about whatever my mind wanders to…but my mind often wanders to places I shouldn’t write about so topics are a good thing.  (That sounds bad…don’t judge me! Ha!)

Since it’s the month of giving, I thought I’d share five books you should ask Santa to leave in your stocking this year. I’m focusing on self or indie published books that don’t often get the attention they deserve.

So, here we go. The five books that should be in your Christmas stocking—in no particular order—are:

13030422“The Sary Series” by Meradeth Houston.  “Colors Like Memories” and “The Chemistry of Fate.” Okay, okay, that’s two books, but it’s one series so it counts as one. Meradeth is a fan-freakin’-tasic author. She has a way of weaving words

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together that just makes them sing. I love to read her writing. Oh, and my favorite thing about Meradeth’s writing, and the thing I get most excited about when I sit down to read something she’s written, is her first sentence of her novels. She has a flair for writing the best ever first sentences. I mean, who doesn’t want to keep reading when a book starts out with a sentence like this:

“I greeted his tombstone the way I always did— with a swift

kick.”  (Colors Like Memories)

That makes me want to know what the heck is going on! Meradeth is one author you need to watch…she’s going places. Plus, she’s just an all-around great person

“At Any Price” by Brenna Aubrey.  This book really surprised me. Honestly when IPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00071] received the ARC I wasn’t looking forward to reading it. But, WOW, I’m so glad I did. Itwas such a great story. Brenna blew me away with the story and her writing. The story was original. The plot was well thought out.  One thing I loved the most is that the male lead was a good guy. He wasn’t the “typical” bad boy who has a miraculous turnaround at the end of the story (not that I don’t like those stories too). Adam was just a great guy and I loved that.

Brenna wrote strong, likable characters that I fell in love with. It’s an incredible story about giving up control to grab on to love. It’s definitely worth the time to read, but be warned: once you pick it up you won’t want to put it down until you reach the last page. So clear your schedule! I’ve also been lucky enough to “meet” Brenna through email and she is a sweet and kind person. Definitely give this book, the first in a planned trilogy, a try.

15787222“Quest of the Hart” Mary Waibel’s debut young adult reverse fairy tale retelling. I love fairy tale retellings, but I especially loved this one since it was done in reverse which was just outstanding!  The story Mary weaved was not only entertaining, interesting and engaging, but also empowering for girls. Instead of the prince saving the helpless princess, the princess was the one who saved the prince. This type of message is so important for today’s generation of young women, and Mary delivered it flawlessly. It was truly empowerment on paper!

“The Prophecy” by Erin Albert. Okay, I have to admit—I haven’t actually read this book theprophecy333x500yet. It’s one I want in my stocking and since someone in my family usually buys me a Kindle gift card of some sort for Christmas, I plan to get it. But I know Erin. She’s my Beta and CP so I know how she writes and because of that I have absolutely no doubt that this book is going to be awesome. It’s a young adult high fantasy and the first installment in the “The Fulfillment Series.”

18369048“Addicted Series” by Becca and Krista Ritchie. Okay, this is another series so technically it’s more than one book, but since it’s my blog post I say it counts as one. 🙂  I won’t list all the books, because not only are therebooks in the series, but there are companion books, too. So I’ll stick to the three I’ve read: “Addicted To You,” “Ricochet,and “Addicted For Now.” These books are hard to explain in just a couple paragraphs because they are 1) so, so good and 2) deal with so many emotions and complex situations. Here’s what I wrote on ricochetmy blog for the first book: Raw. Gritty. The nasty side of the upper echelon of society. “Addicted To You.” It’s surely going to be one of those books that people either love or hate. In my case, I loved it. Bottom line: Definitely worth the time. Characters are well written. Plot is well thought out. But continue with caution, this is not a book that glosses over the world of addiction. You’re gonna get it like it is. And that’s what makes the book so great!

17969317The quick synopsis of the books is: She’s addicted to sex and he’s addicted to booze and it’s the story about how they hide their addictions from everyone around them, then how they work to overcome their addictions. Finally, just when they are adjusting to their new life and learning to live and manage their addictions, it’s a story about how one person pulls the rug out from under them and everything comes crashing down–and how they deal with the situation. In short, it’s one of the best series I’ve read. It’s definitely for 18 and above because of the subject matter, but everything in the book is written tastefully and there are no gratuitous sexual situations—everything fits the storyline. It’s definitely a series that should be in your stocking.

Honorable Mention:

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The writing thesauruses by Marsha Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. These books never leave my desk—ever. They include: “The Emotion Thesaurus,” “The Negative Trait Thesaurus,” and “The Positive Trait Thesaurus.” If you haven’t checked these out, give them a try. They are great resources. I love them.

Those are the five (plus the honorable mentions) indie press or self-published books I think Santa should leave in everyone’s stockings this year. I hope you check them out, if you haven’t already. And in a shameless plug, you can always stick a copy of “PODs in your stocking too.

So, what books are you hoping to find in your stocking this year? Whatever you find, I hope it includes love, joy and wonderful moments with your family and friends.

Merry Christmas everyone,

Michelle 🙂