Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Guest Post by Author Ryan Hunter

Today, I have a special treat for everyone. I have my first ever guest post and book review here on my blog!

I am so pleased to have author Ryan Hunter do this very first guest post for me. Ryan Hunter is a wife and mother to five children. She's a blogger, baker, and an avid runner (which I seriously admire...running's one of those things I've always felt I should enjoy but never have). She is also the author of two YA novels. Premeditated is a suspense novel, which is downloaded to my kindle. I can't wait to start reading it! inDIVISIBLE is a dystopian novel that is being hailed as a modern-day 1984.  

I love dystopian novels and was excited to dive into inDIVISIBLE. The book follows Brynn, who lives in a country called One United, where the government controls almost everything in the citizens' lives. Brynn ends up running for her life as she desperately searches for freedom.

The book took quite a few surprising twists and turns, and I really enjoyed it. I loved delving into the world of One United. The characters were extremely likable, and the premise chilling. inDIVISIBLE was very thought provoking and brought a lot of questions to mind. It was a heart-wrenching tale of how as people we can slowly give up our personal freedoms in the name of safety, sometimes without even realizing it.

What surprised me most about this book was the ending. It was unexpected--definitely not the ending I wanted as a reader--and yet very satisfying at the same time. I closed the book feeling melancholy, and yet I knew the ending was perfect somehome. If you love dystopian worlds, definitely give inDIVISIBLE a try. You can buy the book here in paperback, or if you like your ereaders (like me), you can buy it for kindle. I can't wait until the sequel comes out this year!

Seriously, go buy inDIVISIBLE and read it right now.

And now, without further ado, here's Ryan!

Books that Influenced a Love of Reading
by Ryan Hunter

With millions of books on the shelves, it’s difficult to find the few that truly hit home, that make a reader feel a sense of satisfaction upon completion. Each author is inspired by certain books throughout their life: books that make them want to write a story, books that leave them dreaming, books that give them nightmares, and books that simply inspire additional reading. Though I’ve read more influential books than I can list here, here are five that come immediately to mind.

1. “Mrs. Mike” by Benedict Freedman and Nancy Mars – I read this in high school, about four times. It captured so much emotion, passing it on to the reader while prompting a visual display unlike any book I’d read to that point. I got so caught up in the story, in the heartbreak and hope of the main character, that even though I have not read this book in more than fifteen years, I still feel the emotion of the story when I think about it.

2. “These is My Words” by Nancy Turner – I read this when all my children were tiny and felt the pain and hopes of the main character vividly. I read this ten years ago after a recommendation from a friend and still own a copy. It’s written as a journal, but unlike some journal-style books, this flows and is immediately engaging.

3. Number three is actually a compilation of several books, books I discovered when my children were tiny and we were seeking books that all of them could enjoy as their ages varied by a good ten years. As I saw my children’s eyes light up when we read these, I knew they were also being instilled with a love of reading (and humor), so these are great inspirations to me as well. “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown, “I love you Stinky Face” by Lisa McCourt and Kristen Krohn, “I Like Myself” by Karen Beaumont and David Catrow, and “The Last Basselope” by Berkeley Breathed (because it made everyone giggle).

4. “I am Not a Serial Killer” by Dan Wells (and the following two novels in the series) because it brought humor back to reading. I think this was the first book I actually laughed out loud while reading. Disturbing and yet intriguing, this is one of my favorite series of books of all time.

5. “Nightingale” by David Farland – a truly exceptional YA novel that encompasses intrigue, hope, adventure and suspense. I cared about the MC from the very beginning, hoping for his safety and happiness. As the book progresses, so many details unfold that this book is truly a masterpiece for adults and teens to enjoy.

Thanks so much, Ryan! I've actually never read quite a few of those books you mentioned, and I'm excited to add them to my "to read" list.

To purchase Ryan's novels, visit her Amazon author page here. You can also visit Ryan's website, http://propertyofoneunited.com, or her blog, http://authorryanhunter.blogspot.com. "Like" her facebook page here...it's what all the cool kids are doing. If you tweet (come on, you know you do), follower her on twitter @ryanhunter45.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Tuesdays in Twinland: Fighting

I thought this week I'd be wild and crazy. Tuesdays in Twinland is happening on a Monday. That's because tomorrow I will be hosting a guest post by author Ryan Hunter and doing a book review of her YA dystopian inDIVISIBLE. Make sure to stop by tomorrow for that. It's going to be awesome!

So yeah, Tuesdays in Twinland is on Monday this week. I like to live on the edge.

Something I get a lot when people find out I have twins is, "That will be nice when they're older. They'll probably play together and you won't have to entertain them as much."

This sounds great in theory. Thing 1 and Thing 2 do play together a lot (although they also like to play by themselves). As they get older, I'm sure they will play together more and more (at least that's what other twin moms tell me). However, what no one ever thinks about is the fighting.

I'm sure fighting isn't twin specific. Anyone who's ever had siblings or more than one child knows that kids fight, no matter how close or far apart they might be in age. But I feel like with twins--at least my twins--this fighting is heightened a bit.

Okay, a lot. You know how toddlers think everything is theirs? You know how they throw tantrums when they don't get their way? Just imagine two toddlers doing this.

I have two of almost every single toy in my home. When grandparents and such ask me about buying toys for the twins, I always ask that they buy them exactly the same. "Make sure these toys are identical," I tell them.

I don't know why I bother. Because it doesn't matter if the toys are exactly identical. Thing 2 always wants what Thing 1 has.

Thing 1 isn't entirely innocent, but if I'm being honest, it's usually Thing 2 causing trouble. He's the youngest, and definitely acts like it.

Thing 1 goes and gets a toy. There is an identical toy sitting right next to it. Thing 2 goes over to Thing 1, and instead of picking up the identical toy, he grabs the toy Thing 1 has in his hand.

Screaming ensues. Next is the tug-of-war. And suddenly, that toy is coveted above all others. The identical toy will not do. It has to be the one in the other's hands. The fighting lasts either until they are distracted, I feed them, or nap time comes. And they don't distract easily.

Two of every stinkin' toy, and they want the one in their brother's hands.

What I find hilarious is that Thing 2 will steal the toy in Thing 1's hands, then try to give Thing 1 the identical toy. He gets this angelic look on his face, shoves the toy he didn't want at his brother, and says, "This!" But Thing 1 is onto this trick and refuses to fall for it. Thus the tug-of-war.

I guess that's just typical kid behavior. We're working on sharing, with minimal success. If anyone has any great tips on this, they'd be greatly appreciated. We start nursery in a month, and I don't want the twins to become the terrors of nursery.

TWIN MOM TIP: Don't allow yourself to constantly be placed in the role of referee. If bodily injury is occurring, sure, step in. But otherwise, just sit back and observe. Let your twins work it out themselves. Most of the time, if you just let them, they will. These two kids are going to be together for a really long time. They'd better start learning how to work out their differences now.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wishing on Baby Dust: First Draft Complete!

Last night I typed "the end" to the first draft of Wishing on Baby Dust.


This story was really hard to write, and yet very easy at the same time. It dealt with a lot of issues I've personally dealt with, and a lot of issues I have not. On an emotional level, it was hard sometimes to relive those memories. But at the same time, the fact they hit so close to home made these characters' stories easier to write. Because these characters were real to me. Their problems were real to me. It was all just so...real.

The first draft finished just shy of 95,000 words, which is probably one of the shorter novels I've written. I know the ending needs to be fleshed out a lot, but I also know that there are some things I can cut, so I'm hoping the final product will be about 90k. Usually I wait for awhile before starting revisions, but this story is still screaming so loudly, that I think I'll start revising next week.

That's two first drafts I've finished since May. TWO. Considering the twins and my five year hiatus from writing, I'm happy with that number. I want to have Wishing on Baby Dust ready to go on submissions by May, which is a reasonable goal, I think.

I'm seriously so excited!!! I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT!!! Did I mention how excited I am?


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesdays in Twinland: Are Those Twins?

There is just something about multiples that makes people stop and stare. I guess it's the "unique" factor. After all, how many people do you know who have multiples? Twins are becoming more common, but it's still somewhat of a novelty to see them. Higher order multiples are definitely a unique site. (Side note: I saw someone with a quad stroller at the mall right before Christmas. It was two wide and two deep. Seriously. They had triplets and a singleton that was a year or two older. Now THAT was crazy to see.)

I've learned that multiples are much more of a phenomenon outside of Utah. I guess we are just used to seeing lots of kids really close in age here. In the seventeen months since the twins' birth, we have taken them to Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Wyoming, and to Colorado four times. And they are always much more of a sensation when we leave the state. Outside of Utah, people literally flock around us to ooo and awww. In fact, our rental car was upgraded to an SUV in Kansas just because the person helping us thought the twins (who were about six months old at the time) were that cool.

So there are some serious benefits to having twins. Half the time, I feel like a celebrity. (Remember the flocking people congratulating me on my beautiful kids? It just makes me feel good.) The other half of the time, I feel like people think I'm some sort of superwoman (I'm not). ("Oh my goodness, I don't know how you do it.") But there are some seriously stupid questions I get asked, too.

Here's how it basically goes anytime I leave the house with the twins: I walk into the store. I have two children with me, who look exactly alike. They are the same height, roughly the same weight, and have all the same physical features. About 75% of the time they are dressed in the exact same outfit. Inevitably, someone walks up to me and says, "Oh my gosh, they are so cute! Are they twins?"

I want to just stare at these people. I want to say, "No, I just have two children who were born on the same day and look exactly alike." But I'm nice, so I smile and say, "Yup."

The curious fellow shopper stares at the twins for a moment. Thing 1 and Thing 2 make cute faces and babble in a most adorable fashion. The next question is almost always, "Are they identical?"

This is not such a stupid question. After all, lots of fraternal twins look identical, and lots of identical twins look fraternal. Mine are in fact identical, and most days they look it. "Yes," I tell them.

And then the next question comes. This most definitely IS a stupid question. "So are they boys, girls, or one of each?" 

Um...really? First of all, they're dressed in obviously boy clothes. Second, do you know what identical means?

In case you don't, let me give you a quick run-down.

Fraternal twins: two eggs fertilize. As such, each child can be either sex. Boy/girl twins are ALWAYS fraternal. But you can also have boy/boy or girl/girl twins that are fraternal.

Identical twins: one egg splits into two. These twins are genetically identical, which is why they look so much alike. That means they are either both male or both female. It is impossible for identical twins to be boy/girl.

I am always tempted at this point to say, "Well I dunno, are your boys and girls identical? Next time you change a diaper let me know."

In defense of these seriously uninformed individuals, I got this question most frequently when the twins were much younger. It is hard to tell sometimes whether babies are boys or girls, especially if dressed in gender neutral clothing (as babies Thing 1 was dressed in green and Thing 2 in blue a lot so we could tell them apart). It was always the "one of each" after they knew they were identical that threw me. But now I do raise my eyebrows (because I am incapable of raising just one) when people assume one of my children is a girl. I dress them the same. They have short hair. Their shirts generally have cars or robots or tools on them. C'mon, people.

Again, I'm not usually a rude person (especially to complete strangers), so I just smile and say, "They're identical. Two boys."

We chat for a few minutes. How much did they weigh when they were born? How early were they? How long did they have to stay in the hospital? Did you have a c-section? Do they have similar personalities? Can you tell them apart? People are curious, and I am more than willing to answer their questions. My sons are my favorite subject to discuss, after all. But after having this conversation, people always say something that never ceases to confuse me: "I don't know how you do it. I could never handle twins."

I never know quite how to respond. Because the truth is, I do it because I don't have a choice. I have two little boys that require love and care, and I'm the only one around most days to provide that. And since the twins are my first children, I really don't know anything different. I'm sure when I have a singleton, I'll look back and say, "Wow, twins were hard." I'm in the thick of things and I say, "Twins are hard," at least a thousand times a day. But I don't know anything different. And twins are such a blessing, and that far outweighs the hardships. They are my kids and I love them and I wouldn't have it any different.

So to answer your questions, yes, they are twins. Yes, they are identical. Yes, they are two boys. And I love them more than anything in the world.

This video explains things pretty well. Every time I watch it, I almost pee my pants laughing. Enjoy!

TWIN MOM TIP: The questions can get frustrating and exasperating, to be sure. It's tempting to give snippy replies. Just try to realize people are curious and don't mean to be annoying. Smile, answer the questions as quickly and politely as possible, and move on with your day.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Consistency: the Most Important Tool

As writers, we are constantly looking for that magic tool to help us attain success. For aspiring writers like myself, "success" means "getting published." For published writers, it probably means selling more copies or being on the New York Times Bestseller list or whatever the personal goal is.

No matter what advice you've been given, it seems to me like it boils down to five basics. Four of them I hear about a lot. The fifth, not so much.

1) Social media. We all have heard about the importance of having a presence on the web to be successful in our careers. So we blog. We tweet. We facebook. We pin. We create websites and work hard to establish and maintain a presence on the web.

2) Networking. It's all about who you know, right?

3) Writers conferences. You gain invaluable knowledge and contacts.

4) Read books on the craft of writing. This includes things like blogs, podcasts, etc. We're all told to read read read these books to help us hone our craft.

But I think the fifth area is the most important of all.

5) Consistency. Set a writing goal and stick with it. Because no matter how many conferences you attend, books you read, people you meet, tweets you send, none of it means a thing if you aren't writing. The only way you will ever get published is if you write.

We focus a lot on honing the craft, meeting the right people, gaining the skills needed. But we don't spend a lot of time talking about the importance of just sitting down and writing. Even if the words suck. Even if you don't want to. Practice at least improves, if not makes perfect. All the knowledge we gain needs to be put to the test. Writing is something you have to do to truly become a master at.

It's easy for me to forget this. Sometimes I get caught up in all the other aspects of writing. Let's face it: all that other stuff is easy. I can hop on twitter and call it "work." But actually writing every day? That's hard. It's hard to sit your butt in that chair and make the words come. At least it is for me.

I've not been as consistent as I'd like to be lately, but I'm going to get back to it. I only have nine chapters left of Wishing on Baby Dust, so I definitely can finish that first draft this month if I just sit down and work.

Things get in the way. I've been so tired lately, and all I want to do when the twins nap is watch TV and relax. But I'm not going to get published that way. I vow to be more consistent this year, and treat writing more like a job and less like a hobby.

Which of these five things do you find the hardest to do? Is it just me that struggles with consistency?


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesdays in Twinland: The Double Shopping Cart Conundrum

Every day, all across America, bajillions of Americans go shopping. They go to the grocery store and buy bread. They go to Walmart and buy toilet paper. They go to the mall and browse through clearance racks. They do it without thinking. Without planning the trip out days in advance. Without giving themselves nervous breakdowns.

These people clearly don't have twins.

When the twins were first born, I had no idea how to go about the logistics of shopping alone. Where do you put two car seats AND groceries in one shopping cart? You just can't. I guess I could have gotten two carts and tried to push them both around the store myself, but that just seemed impractical.

My solution? I never went shopping alone. Seriously. I always went with either my mom or my husband. Two adults. Two babies. No problem.  

When the twins were finally old enough to sit in a shopping cart, I got excited. "I can just get a double cart, and everything will be great!" I thought.

Wrong. No one has double carts. Seriously, you can never find one. And when you do, all the straps are broken. My brief hope of finally being independent and able to shop alone were dashed. 

Sometimes I would think about going alone anyway. Then I would start to feel all clammy and my mind would start whirling and I would feel like I was going to puke.

My twins were a year old before I was finally brave enough to attempt a shopping trip solo. It's almost embarrassing to admit this fact. I had taken the twins other places alone, but there was always someone to help out on the other end. Not so with shopping.

That first trip alone, I started out nervous but optimistic. "This will be no big deal," I thought. "I can handle it."

I got the twins, myself, and the diaper bag ready to go--a 30 minute process in and of itself. I struggled to open the door while holding two kids and a diaper bag, then I wrangled them into their car seats and we were off.

The whole way to Walmart, I repeated the same prayer over and over in my mind: "Please let there be a double cart, please let there be a double cart." I knew it was unlikely, but a girl can dream.

There was no double cart.

I circled the parking lot for nearly twenty minutes hoping one would magically appear.

It didn't.

I parked in the closest stall I could find, took a deep breath, and told the twins in my most cheerful voice, "We're going to be good boys and sit nicely in the cart, aren't we?" I was already trying to decide who would be better to put in the back of the cart, who would be the most obedient and least squirmy. Probably Thing 1.

Unbuckle two car seats. Heft two little boys. Walk quickly into the store, all the while sternly telling the twins to hold still so I won't drop them. Once inside Walmart, I nudged a cart out of the line with my foot. I buckled one kid in, and sat the other in the basket. "Won't this be fun?" I asked Thing 1. "Sit down and we're going to go for a ride."

He sat for all of five seconds. Thing 2, buckled in front, started crying in protest. Thing 1 was clearly having more fun, and Thing 2 was put out. I rushed to where Thing 1 was standing and sat him down. He promptly stood back up. We repeated this action about ten times between the front door and the toothpaste isle.

I ended up spending the entire shopping trip alternating between carrying Thing 1 and holding onto his hands while he stood in the cart and I dragged it along beside me. By the time I finished shopping, both boys were screaming. I had to stop every few feet to feed them Cheerios and beg Thing 1 to sit.

There were no short shopping lines. The screaming escalated while we waited, and I was fighting back tears by the time I paid and headed to the parking lot.

A whole new dilemma awaited me when I got there. I put my purchases in the car, then pushed the cart all the way up to the car door so I could keep an eye on the baby in the cart while I strapped the other one in his car seat.

I cried the whole way home. So did the twins. I called up husband and angrily told him I would never, ever, ever be independent again. That I would always have to wait for someone else to go out to complete the simplest of tasks. Sometimes I'm irrational like that.

Then I got home and realized I'd forgotten to purchase about half the items we needed because I hadn't written a good shopping list. The day was a complete bust. I raised the white flag of surrender and vowed to never try something so stupid again.

The twins will be 17 months soon, and we still don't go very many places alone. They're just too rambunctious, and too hard to corral. But I know I can do it solo if necessary, and that gives me a lot of peace of mind and comfort. I know to be better organized when going out now, and I don't stress about it nearly as much.

Maybe one day I won't stress about it at all.

When you think about it, giving up shopping alone or shopping stress-free to have two amazing sons isn't really a sacrifice at all. The moral of the story is this: if I see you with a double shopping cart and only one child, I will take you down.

TWIN MOM TIP: Make your shopping list before you go, then put all the items in order of where they'll be in the store so you don't have to backtrack. That way, when your twins have a meltdown (which they eventually will), you can quickly get in and out without fear of forgetting something. It's one less thing to stress about.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Coming Soon: Tuesdays in Twinland

Ever wondered what life is like for a mother of multiples? Maybe you are a mother of multiples and just enjoy hearing others' stories (like me).

I used to wonder what life would be like with twins. I don't wonder anymore. So I've decided to start something new on this blog. I'm calling it Tuesdays in Twinland.

I've never been the mom to just one baby, but I am fairly confident when I say that having two babies doesn't just double the work, it triples or quadruples it. I also am pretty confident in saying that having twins triples or quadruples the entertainment factor.

So on Tuesdays, I'll be sharing stories from Twinland. I've got plenty of them, since I've been living here for a year and a half. Some stories will be recent. Some will be from times gone by. Some will be about the logistics of being one person caring for two babies.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into life with twins. I'm excited to share it with you!


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Slow Goings

It's so easy to make New Year's resolutions on New Year's Eve, when you've eaten a pound of chocolate and are so tired from trying to make it to midnight that you're practically drunk. It's so hard to keep those resolutions come January 1st.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't struggling with starting back up again. I've basically taken a break from any serious writing since NaNo, and getting back in the habit of typing those words daily is hard. I've also found my productivity has gone down in terms of how many words I can write in an hour. Apparently there is something to be said for consistency. Who knew?

But I've still made some progress. On paper, it doesn't look like much--2,814 words and one rewritten first chapter. But it actually is a lot of progress.

Last week I rewrote the first chapter of Wishing on Baby Dust. It took probably 10 hours or more to do, but I think it was worth it. I feel much more confident about the beginning now, and I'm excited to see what my critique group has to say about it next week. Now that I've got that out of the way, I've been focusing on finishing the first draft of Wishing on Baby Dust. Only 15.5 chapters left until completion! Totally doable. If I try to do a chapter a day, I should still make my goal.

How is everyone else doing with their New Year's resolutions? Are any of you struggling, like me, to keep them?


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Resolutions...Let's Just Call Them Goals

Well, it's January 2nd. I guess I'm supposed to set some New Year's resolutions.

I don't really like the word "resolutions." It sounds...intimidating. Hard. Like something I'll have forgotten about and given up on by February. I much prefer the term goals. It's more comfortable, more attainable, and let's face it, just sounds easier.

First, what did I accomplished last year? I wrote 178,890 words. I spent roughly 50 hours writing those words. Which, when you consider that there are 8,760 hours in a year, isn't much. But I didn't start any of this until nearly June, and I was just coming off a 5-year writing break, so not bad. I completed one first draft (The Hostage Heart) and about 75% of a second draft (Wishing on Baby Dust).  

So here are some of my goals for 2013.
  • Finish the first draft of Wishing on Baby Dust by the end of the month.
  • Have Wishing on Baby Dust submission-ready by May. This will be time-consuming, but doable.
  • Have Hostage Heart query-ready by the end of the year. This will be a HUGE task. I don't even know how much of the first draft (which is like a seventh first draft) is salvageable.
  • Write a 1st draft of at least one other novel.
  • Engage in writing, critiquing, or editing 5 days a week for at least an hour.  
  • If it's a writing words day, write 2500 words.
  • Update my blog once a week.
Quite honestly, this feels like A LOT to do. My time is fairly limited these days. But it feels good to set goals that are still attainable, but will also push me.

As for personal goals, I have those too. Lose weight, be a better wife and mom, read some books, have another baby or two, the usual. But most of my goals are for my writing.

I'm excited for 2013. I feel in a better place, writing-wise. The twins are sort-of on a schedule (definitely better than last year). We sort-of have a routine (again, much better than last year at this time). I sort-of know when I can plan on having writing time. All in all, it's going to be a good year. I can feel it.

Here's to many words to come! What are your goals for 2013?