May 032018

I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts about writing retreats, conferences and workshops. What can you expect? How do you choose the right one? Here are a few ideas.

Last week I spent five glorious days in California at Sonoma County Writers Camp (SCWC). Run by New York Times bestselling author Ellen Sussman, and writer Elizabeth Stark, SCWC offers workshops and master classes suitable for writers at every level, plus tons of private writing time! This was my second time attending SCWC and I loved every minute!

Elizabeth, center, and Ellen, right, at the opening night wine tasting. Photo by Angie Powers.

Photo by Angie Powers.

Held at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, SCWC truly has a camp feel, with stories told round the fire and frogs croaking all through the night — but with comfy beds and indoor plumbing. Check out the compostable toilets!  😆 The food is all fresh and healthy vegetarian, much of it grown on site, but because it’s Sonoma County, the long weekend kicked off with a local wine tasting, hosted by Eric Kent Winery. Cheers!

One thing I love about SCWC is that the sessions led by Elizabeth and Ellen are generative. The means you write during the classes vs. presenting polished work from home for critique. Generative workshops are perfect for beginners, because you simply dive in and write, with a little support. The generative approach also works well for experienced writers who want to break out of a rut or bust past a block and get that creativity flowing!

Other fantastic conferences I’ve attended that offer generative workshops include Vortext (for women only) on Whidbey Island, Washington. Writing By Writers, founded by writer Pam Houston, puts on conferences all over the world,  and often includes generative workshops in the mix. I’ve attended both these conferences multiple times as well, and I highly recommend them!

But what if you have a piece of writing you’ve been laboring over? You’ve taken it as far as it can go on your own but you know it still needs work? A critique workshop may be what you need. For this type of conference, you submit a writing sample in advance, and receive pages from other writers to review. During the conference, each writer’s work is discussed in depth by the group and you leave with a ton of feedback from everyone. Critique workshops can feel a little bruising if you’re not used to the approach, but a good instructor should ensure that comments stay productive. Writing by Writers offers critique workshops, as does the magnificent Sirenland, offered by Dani Shapiro and Hannah Tinti in Positano, Italy.

At a retreat or a residency, everything revolves around writing time, though guidance may be offered. At Linda Sivertsen’s amazing Carmel Writing Retreats, attendees discuss their projects together, brainstorm, set goals and then spend hours quietly working. Linda also meets one-on-one with each attendee and helps with everything from editing, to pep talks, to advice on finding an agent. For myself, I’ve learned that events with lots of writing time with built in accountability to other writers works really well for me, which is what Linda offers, but you can create the same productive atmosphere with friends at a DIY retreat.

Industry or pitch conferences are a great way to learn about the business of publishing and how to market your work. I’ll be speaking on a panel later this month at the American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference in New York. Rudri Bhatt Patel, Jenn Morson, Jen Simon and I will offer tips on pitching essays and articles to magazines. Our May 19 presentation is part of non-members day at the conference, geared to writers just starting out. If you have a book idea, industry conferences offer a the chance to find out what agents and editors are looking for, and to get feedback from pros on your project if you’re ready.

Sometimes the lines at conferences and workshops get blurred. Craft may mix with industry, and a retreat might include critique workshops. For example, Sonoma County Writers Camp always includes a publishing industry panel, to give attendees a taste of what agents, editors and booksellers do.  The important thing when choosing a conference or event is to figure out what YOUR objective is in participating. Do you need writing time? Instruction? Feedback? Inspiration? Are you looking to network and make publishing industry connections? Read the conference description carefully to be sure you understand what’s on offer, try to get feedback from past attendees, and then go for what you need.

Have you attended a really great writer’s conference or retreat? Have you created a conference? Feel free to share info and tips in the comments.


 Posted by at 1:58 am

Getting Started as a Writer: Helpful Books, Websites, and Podcasts

 Authors, Books, Publishing, resources for writers, Writing  Comments Off on Getting Started as a Writer: Helpful Books, Websites, and Podcasts
Mar 182018

In my last post, I talked about how often I hear from people who feel a calling to write but don’t know where or how to start. I’m sharing some of my favorite resources here on the blog. Let’s take a look!


Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within — Natalie Goldberg’s Zen approach to writing stands as a classic for a reason. All you need to get started is pen, paper, and Natalie’s encouragement to write anywhere, even the laundromat.

The Artist’s Way — Julie Cameron’s iconic guide serves beginning writers,  as well as writers who need to refresh and begin again. Cameron will have you writing three pages every morning before you know it.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life — Anne Lamott will coax you into writing a “shitty first draft.” Another enduring classic.

Discovering the Writer Within: The 40-Day Writers Workshop — This practical guide by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane is used often in classrooms, but you can easily do these writing exercises at home. Ballenger taught at the University of New Hampshire when I was an adjunct instructor there. I stole all my classroom writing exercises from him.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft — Even if you’re not a fan of Stephen King’s fiction, check out his brilliant and inspiring writing guide.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear — Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame, offers advice on creativity that manages to be both lofty and down-to-earth at the same time.

Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life — This jewel of a book arose from Dani Shapiro’s brilliant blog on writing, Moments of Being. If Shapiro’s voice speaks to you, check out her Facebook series on writing, Office Hours, where she answers questions on writing from viewers.

Those are just a few of my favorites. For even more book recommendations, try:

The 28 Best Books on Writing

100 Must-Read, Best Books on Writing and the Writer’s Life

Best Books for Writers



The Write Life — Make this site your first stop, because every year The Write Life publishes a list of the 100 Best Websites for Writers. This is your jumping off point!

Beyond Your Blog — If you’re eager to try publishing, this site will show you how to get started, with tips from editors and an extensive market list, with plenty of outlets that are open to beginners. Site creator Susan Macarelli has stepped away and is no longer updating the info, but there’s still plenty of helpful and relevant material here.

Poets & Writers — If you’re interested in MFA programs, conferences and residencies, you’ll find info about all that and more here.

Writer’s Digest — There’s a reason they’ve been around forever. The Writer’s Digest site connects you to their magazine content, plus conferences and retreats, online classes and more.



#amwriting with Jess and KJ — #amwriting offers practical tips on how to make writing happen. New York Times columnist KJ Dell’Antonia and Jess Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure, share their secrets of success, talk candidly about their struggles, and discuss their favorite books.

The Beautiful Writers Podcast — my friend Linda Siverstsen interviews some of the biggest names in the book work, including Terry McMillan, Glennon Doyle, Mary Karr and Martha Beck. Inspirational and real at the same time.

Also check out:

20 Inspiring Writers Podcasts to Subscribe to Right Now

In my next post, I’ll talk about writers’ conferences, retreats, and groups.

 Posted by at 7:34 pm

Getting Started as a Writer

 Authors, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing  Comments Off on Getting Started as a Writer
Feb 212018

It happens often: a woman, usually a mom, confesses to me that she’d maybe like to write one day. Or she does write a little, and she’d maybe like to publish. Or she published some little thing once, but it was a long time ago so she says it doesn’t count, not really. Hopefulness, tentativeness,  and a dash of fear seem far too common among women yearning to express themselves. You can do it, I say. Work at it, and you can do it.

Now the men I meet are another story.  The guys  tell me that they’re certain they’ve got a book in them. Some fellas will recount the entire plot of a novel or screenplay they’ve been toying with. Work at it, I say. Work at it, and you can do it.

I truly believe that anyone — female, male, non-binary — can write. To get started, you just need mix up the perfect cocktail of confidence + humility, then dive earnestly into the process. But how, exactly? There’s really only three things you need to do.

  1. Read. Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people want to be writers who aren’t readers! Read anything and everything, especially in the genre you’d like to explore. If you want to write a children’s book, you need to read children’s books. If you want to write personal essays, you need to read some personal essays and consider how they’re put together. If you want to write a YA novel, then…you get the idea. Aside: As the mom of children with learning differences, I want to add that a lot of creative, inventive people struggle with reading. Books on tape work just fine for absorbing a feel for good writing. Don’t let something like ADD or dyslexia stop you. You’ll be in good company with writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, WB Yeats, John Irving, Octavia Butler, Fannie Flagg, and George Bernard Shaw.
  2. Write. Again, this seems like a no brainer, but it has to be said: it’s not enough to  think and dream about being a writer. Eventually you’ve got to put words on the page. Don’t worry about whether your words are any good at first. You’re just exercising, building muscle and endurance. Make writing a habit, a practice, before you worry about quality or talent or publishing.
  3. Connect. You need to meet other writers, in person and/or online. Cultivate a big, supportive network that includes folks just starting out, like you are, and others more established. Although as writers we all suffer low moments, try not to hang out with people who consistently go negative. Positivity and success are contagious. Run to the light. And shine the light for others.

In my next post, I’ll share some resources for developing your writing skills and connecting with other writers.


 Posted by at 3:33 am
Jan 012018

2017 wasn’t an easy year for many of us. Professionally, I felt distracted by the national news AND I struggled with health problems. Honestly, I felt  kinda stuck at times — yet last week, a colleague congratulated me on all my “successes” during the year. Her comment made me do a spit take. I might have been feeling unproductive, but actually I did make a lot of progress in 2017. By focusing on the challenges and failures  (including the fact that I’ve been a terrible blogger!) I was just inviting more disappointment. Time for an attitude adjustment and year-in-review post!

I kicked off 2017 with a post for Daily Worth about charities that support education for girls, a subject dear to my heart. I also spent a January week in one of my favorite spots on the planet, Carmel-by-the-Sea. I treated myself to one of Linda Sivertsen’s incredible writing retreats, where I made wonderful new friends and moved the needle on my memoir. A perfect start to the year.

Fellow Carmel retreater Norma Rubio snapped this photo during our beach walk. She’s now teaching folks about mindfulness!


In February, I jetted off to Mardi Gras for my first-ever press trip, courtesy of the nice people at Zatarains. I hadn’t been to New Orleans since my twenties, and it was an emotional reunion that I wrote about for The Kitchn, in my first-ever travel essay.

In March, I took off for a long writing weekend in Seabright, Washington, with my friends Kira Jane Buxton and Jennifer Fliss. Write those names down, ya’ll, because you’ll be hearing a lot more about these talented women in the future. Kira sold her first novel, Hollow Kingdom, last summer to Grand Central, and Jennifer was just nominated for not one but TWO Pushcart Prizes.

I wasn’t feeling great during the weekend — I was sick and didn’t know it —  and yet I still had a breakthrough on my memoir proposal that was badly needed. I realized I needed to take my chapter summaries apart and start over, which ended up being an excruciating, eight-month process. That’s where most of my creative energy went this year. I ended up essentially writing an abridged version of my book, which is making completion of the final draft go much more smoothly. Proof that getting away even for a few days can yield big dividends.

Jennifer, me and Kira outside our writing cottage. Whoever had the longest arm snapped the selfie.


The entire month of April was spent getting medical tests and feeling crappy. Moving on…

I feared I wasn’t going to be well enough to make it to the ASJA Conference in New York City in May, but in the end I rallied, and I’m so glad I did! People actually turned up at 8 am Saturday morning to hear the panel on Tackling Tough Topics that Dorri Olds, Rudri Bhatt Patel, Candy Arrington and I presented. I loved connecting live and in person with writer friends made through online networking. Julie Vick and I even snuck off to see Kinky Boots on Broadway!   Outside the conference, I grabbed a reunion lunch with fellow Lemon Treehouse alum Christine Kandic Torres (also nominated for a Pushcart this year – wow!) and caught up with Sirenlander Kathryn Maughan, and heard all about her time at the Iceland Writers Retreat. I returned to Seattle full of writing inspiration and re-energized by friendship.

The labyrinth.

Summer rolled around, and I made getting my chapter summaries reconfigured by fall a goal. My family and I took a little weekend getaway to Arizona, and then I stayed behind to write for almost a week at the Franciscan Renewal Center, a Catholic retreat center located about a mile from my childhood home in Scottsdale. June in Arizona is too hot for tourists, so I got a great deal on a room with a desk and 3 meals a day.  (They were grandma-style meat and potatoes meals, a little short on the fruit and veggies, but at least I didn’t go hungry…)

Note: you don’t need to be Catholic to take advantage of a private retreat here! Church services are available but optional; I didn’t attend. Every morning and evening I walked the labyrinth and wandered in the gardens soaking up the desert landscape, absorbing the sound of quail cooing and the smell of creosote. Just writing this makes me long for that desert solitude.

In July, we took a family vacation in Jamaica. I snuck in some writing every morning while my teenagers slept and my husband hit the gym. By this point, I was starting to feel more like myself again physically, lamenting the fact that the year was half over and I hadn’t published much. I dug out an old essay draft, gave it another polish while on vacation, and sold it to The Washington Post. I also wrote one more piece for the Post before the month was over, about new public attitudes toward foster care…As a matter of fact, I wrote the final draft in my Volvo while my daughter was at soccer practice. I just love how sports clubs arrange for kids to practice in the middle of the day during the summer — not like parents have to work or anything, right?

By August, I was starting to feel like the end was in sight with my chapter summaries, and I was desperate to finish. I took another getaway (boy, it sounds like I’m never home! But I gotta get away from the mom duties sometimes to think.) At Sonoma County Writers Camp, I finally met my agent, Bonnie Solow, in person! Bonnie encouraged me to take my time and get the summaries right, which was reassuring. Camp might have been the best thing I did for my writing all year. The generative workshops, led by Ellen Sussman and Elizabeth Stark, were inspiring and so productive, the setting was gorgeous, the veggie meals tasty and healthy, and I met some lovely people. I’m adding this Camp to my 2018 list.

September the kids went back in school — yay! I just kept plugging away on my chapter summaries for the memoir. I honestly can’t remember exactly when I wrapped those up, but I know I felt thrilled when my agent gave them her seal of approval. We’ve both been dying to get my book out on submission… but  at this point, we started debating which sample chapters to show editors. I decided that a chapter I hadn’t yet written really needed to be in the submission package, and so I got cracking on that.

Several amazing opportunities came my way in October. I wrote a piece for ParentMap about Together Live, an inspirational storytelling show featuring some big names like Glennon Doyle and Luvvie Ajayi. That led to an interview with soccer legend Abby Wambach for The Washington Post on how to be a great sports parent. (I even found myself confessing to the GOAT how sad I felt when my oldest daughter quit the sport — yikes!) I’d never interviewed a celebrity before, I was nervous, and my tape recording app failed.  I had to rely on my notes to put the final draft together, but I made it work. I also had the chance to talk with a behind-the-scenes powerhouse of the literary world, agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, for Ruby Magazine, and how she created Together Live. Our conversation left me with inspirational tears.

Three wonderful things happened in November: 1. I completed the chapter I needed for my submission package! 2. I wrote a travel piece for Your Teen that will be out in February. 3. I got the first royalty check of my career, when a piece I wrote for The New York Times in 2016 got reprinted in  Japan. (Did my essay land in newspaper/magazine/ book? I’m not really sure, because some of the info  on the royalty statement was written in Japanese!)

One kinda sad thing happened in November: my agent and I decided to wait until 2018 to send my book proposal package out on submission to editors. We didn’t want to compete with the holidays for their attention. Even though it was right call, I felt depressed about it for a good 72 hours. I worked hard this year in spite of health issues without a lot to show for it in terms of money or publications, and I was really hoping to crown the year with that submission. Like I said, it’s so easy to get caught up in what we haven’t accomplished and ignore our achievements…Eventually I snapped out of my funk and went Christmas shopping.

I was delighted to end the year in December with my first byline at The Week, an odd little holiday travel essay I’d been tinkering with off and on for a couple of years. I’m so glad the piece is finally out in the world!

Now that I’ve written it all down, I see that 2017 was in fact a productive, if not lucrative, year. What I haven’t included so far in this blog post: details about the major assignment I fumbled when I got sick. That’s too embarrassing, but failure happens, and then you regroup. I also collected quite a few rejections, from editors at The New Yorker, O, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, and Real Simple. Those magazines remain targets for 2018.

RIP 2017. I’m more than ready to start fresh.





 Posted by at 11:04 pm

A new essay from me up at The Washington Post

 Adoption, Memoir, News about me, Parenting, Publishing, Writing  Comments Off on A new essay from me up at The Washington Post
Jul 192017

I don’t usually write a blog post when I publish something online, but thus far 2017 has been a rough one career-wise, so I’m pretty excited to get some work that I’m proud of out into the world.

This essay, Unpacking the Adoption That Wasn’t, took awhile. I wrote the first draft in an online workshop with writer Emily Rapp Black. If I remember correctly, our assignment was to write about a photograph:

She stands on the threshold of St. Theresa’s Tender Loving Care Home, a 3-year-old dressed in a donated red turtleneck and matching red-and-white skirt, with the purple sneakers I bought for her at Shoppers Stop in Hyderabad strapped on her feet. It’s a hot day, and she’s clutching a bottle of water. The morning sun is bright, giving the photo an overexposed quality. Some ayah, one of the orphanage caregivers, has rolled her sleeves up above the elbow. Haseena’s dark hair, cut pixie style, appears damp and freshly combed, hinting that I must have just arrived for my daily visit. She looks straight into the camera, her brown eyes wide, a swath of bushes and a line of coconut palms in the background. She’s not smiling. I probably didn’t give her time to pose.

Later, I got stuck in revision, and hired Dawn Raffel to edit the piece. It took me another year to get around to implementing Dawn’s suggestions.

In the midst of my dry spell, I gave the essay a fresh edit a couple of months ago, then submitted to quite a few outlets, including The New York Times and O, where the piece garnered encouraging “try us again” rejections. I didn’t have On Parenting at the top of my submission list initially, because in 2015  editor Amy Joyce ran another essay of mine that looked at my failed adoption from a completely different angle, and I feared she might view this one as a repeat. Thankfully, Amy liked the piece and gave it a home!

Click here to visit On Parenting and read the essay…


 Posted by at 1:18 am
Jun 262017

Professionally, 2016 was a great year for me. I got an agent. I got invited on my first press trip. espnW hired me to make fun of the Olympic mascots! I published a piece about racism in women’s soccer that I’d been trying to work up the courage to write for more than two years. The New York Times picked up an essay. I got invited to speak at the ASJA Conference. I went on a writing residency in Italy. I was on a roll.

And then I stopped rolling.

True confessions: We’re halfway through 2017, and I’ve published only two pieces so far this year. My agent and I had planned to take my memoir out on submission at the end of January, but when she asked me for a few tweaks to the proposal,  we pushed that to February. Then I got sick and fell behind.  Worst of all, I realized that what I really needed to do was rewrite the chapter summaries for the proposal,  which has turned out to be a colossal amount of work.

Despite my poor health, I really wanted meet that spring deadline. I attempted to polish my proposal while:

coughing and sneezing/running a fever/writhing with abdominal pain/squinting from blurred vision/fighting brain fog like nothing I’ve ever experienced before

Finally, I gave up. I was staring at the computer, miserable, accomplishing nothing. I needed to rest.

Other than identifying what was making me so sick (a bad reaction to a medication!) 2017 hasn’t brought much tangible success. I’m feeling much, much better, but I’m still tired a lot of the time, mentally and physically. I’m still spending more time with doctors than I’d like. Even on “good” days, writing or just caring about writing is a struggle (and reading the dismal national news doesn’t help.)  And yet I want to write. I want to care. I want my proposal to go out in the fall.

What has helped me persevere through a difficult time is remembering the wisdom of writer Anne Lamott. She says that when you think you’re blocked, really you’re empty and need to fill up. I worked so hard last year that I ignored a lot of things, especially my body. You can only defer maintenance for so long before stuff starts breaking. I’m paying more attention to my physical self now, and taking time to be more present with my family. I’m getting stronger and starting to work again.

Retreats and conferences have been my professional bright spots this year, because they’ve brought a sense of community, and honestly, more time to rest that I get at home as a mom. In January, I visited one of my favorite spots on the planet and joined one of Linda Sivertsen’s magical Carmel Writing Retreats. I wasn’t feeling great that weekend but didn’t recognize I was ill at this point. Somehow I managed to do an amazing amount of work on my memoir. I also made some lovely friends, like Norma Rubio, who took this gorgeous picture as we walked the beach together and I mused aloud about how nice it would be to own a house on that hillside….Still dreaming.

In March, I enjoyed a writing weekend on the Washington coast with two friends who are  professionally on fire right now: Jennifer Fliss and Kira Jane Buxton. I was starting to feel crappy at this point but didn’t know what was wrong, yet being with friends felt so bolstering that I had a creative breakthrough with my proposal. Thank you, friends! Also, Kira converted me to Irish butter that weekend; my palate will never be the same.

I lost the entire month of April feeling crappy, but once I stopped taking the problem medication, I instantly improved. In May I dragged myself to the ASJA Conference in New York because a) I couldn’t get my money back and b) I would have been so sad to miss participating in the panel, Tackling Tough Topics. I didn’t have energy to pitch any editors at the event, but I had a terrific time connecting with other writers. I scheduled a couple of lunches with New Yorker friends I’d met at other conferences, and got to acquainted in person with colleagues I’d “met” online. The trip wiped me out, but visiting NYC as a “real” writer was an experience I’d always dreamed of, and it finally came true.

This month, I took a solo DIY writing retreat at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, a Catholic retreat center about a mile from where I grew up. I’ve been so frustrated this year, and found myself literally craving a trip to the desert to get my head on straight. I’m going to write up another post about the center and how to create a DIY retreat like that, and try to bring THIS missive back around to the point I raised in the headline:

What do you do as a writer when things aren’t going well?

  1. If you’re running on empty, fill ‘er up.  Unfortunately replenishing your creative mojo isn’t as simple as filling the car with gas. It takes time. Once you get to this point, there really aren’t any shortcuts. You’ve got to take care of your physical body and try to reign in any negative self talk. Taking care of problems in your living space that you’ve been ignoring can also help. I’ve recently re-discovered the therapeutic value of pulling weeds.
  2. Reach out to your writing community. If you don’t have a community yet, take steps to find your people. I realize this post may sound very privilege-y. You may not be in a position to run off a writer’s retreat in Carmel or take a writing weekend with friends…but there are online groups for writers where you can find support, and meet up opportunities in many towns. Your local library, bookstore, or rec department probably offers affordable programming of interest to writers where you can meet people. You need places to go for encouragement and people to tell you not to quit. They’re out there.
  3. Consider a freelance editor, a coach, or an accountability partner. If your budget allows, try hiring a freelance editor if you’re stalled with a piece, or maybe contact a creativity coach to help you create action steps to get back on track. A couple of my writing friends are now offering project management services, which I plan to post about soon. If your finances are tight, finding a friend you can exchange with work with or use as a sounding board can help too. We writers tend to be solitary, glum creatures on our best days; totally isolating ourselves when we’re at our worst can be a really bad idea. Bouncing ideas off someone else brings fresh energy into the process.
  4. Find inspiration in books, blogs, and podcasts about the creative process. I’m going to do another post strictly about these resources. They exist; many are FREE.
  5. If constructive solitude is what you crave, find a way to get it. When you’re down, you have to guard against isolating yourself out of discouragement and/or depression. That’s why I’ve been stressing community and connection. Sometimes, though, you need alone time to restore that creative energy. Maybe you can’t run off to the desert, but perhaps you can spend the afternoon in the park with your notebook, or allow yourself an hour to soak in the bath. Maybe you can wake up 20 minutes earlier to sip your coffee in peace before diving into the day.
  6. Don’t fixate on a timetable for success and recovery. Yes, time matters when it comes to getting creative work done. None of us will live forever. As a late bloomer, I’m really conscious of the ticking clock. However, no one is productive and successful all the time; we all have fallow periods. You can’t compare your season of rest/reflection with somebody else’s harvest time.
  7. Finally, take strategic breaks from social media. I love reading about other people’s successes, but when you’re stalled, the carefully curated timelines of others can sometimes stoke anxiety. It’s ok to step away from the Facebook when you’re feeling discouraged or jealous. Success isn’t a finite commodity. You’ll get yours eventually if you don’t give up! Put time into yourself now and rejoin the fray when you’re ready.




 Posted by at 1:18 am

Announcing the winner of the YOU MADE ME A MOTHER GIVEAWAY — Plus an interview with the author, Laurenne Sala

 Authors, Books, Children's Books, Finding a literary agent, Giveaways, Memoir, Parenting, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Announcing the winner of the YOU MADE ME A MOTHER GIVEAWAY — Plus an interview with the author, Laurenne Sala
May 102017

I’m SUPER excited to announce the winner of the YOU MADE ME A MOTHER giveaway:


Congratulations, Ruth! Please shoot me an email via the online contact form here on the site and include your address. If you reply today, I’ll do my best to get an autographed copy to you in time for Mother’s Day!

Full disclosure: Ruth is a friend, but her entry was chosen using the random number service If you didn’t win this time, I’m sorry! Still, I’ve got a treat for you all in the form of an interview with the author of YOU MADE ME A MOTHER, Laurenne Sala, that aspiring writers in particular may find interesting…


How an Unpublished Memoirist Became a Big Time Children’s Book Author

Laurenne Sala, 35, founded an LA stage show where people reveal their most taboo secrets, wrote scripts for Funny or Die, and conquered the advertising world, but her dreams of publishing a book went unfulfilled, until an unexpected break made her an author.

“I don’t do things half-assed. Ever,” my friend Laurenne Sala says. “I always tried to write with my heart and give it my all, and then I was finally noticed. I see success happen to everyone who does not give up! ”

A little background: Laurenne grew up a child of divorce outside Chicago. At 10, she discovered her funny, caring dad was gay, but at 15, she lost him to suicide, a pain that stayed buried for years.

She left home to study communications at the University of Southern California. Next, she pursued a Masters in Advertising Copywriting at Miami Ad School. Then she had to move back in with her mom for awhile.

“I worked on my portfolio day in and day out,” she remembers. “I told myself that I wouldn’t shave my legs or armpits until I got a job. It took three months!”

Her first gig was writing commercials for Jack in the Box at a small ad agency. “The agency was great. They taught me the ropes. But my very first day at the office, I remember thinking that I had to write a book. I didn’t think I could swing a cubicle job for that long.”

With her ad career launched, Laurenne enrolled in an adult writing class at night, where she finally opened up about her father’s death. The relief she felt in sharing her story with her classmates led to the creation of Taboo Tales, a Los Angeles-based storytelling show with the motto THE MORE WE ALL TALK ABOUT HOW FUCKED UP WE ARE, THE MORE NORMAL WE ALL FEEL. She found more success writing for Funny or Die, but a memoir about her father’s death felt closest to her heart.

I should tell you that Laurenne and I became friends because of that memoir. We met a few years ago at the SDSU Writers Conference at the memoir table at the networking lunch.

“One thing I loved about the memoir was that the first half was told from my father’s point of view. I wrote the other half as if I was my mom,” she says.

Although I remember Laurenne getting positive comments about the book from publishing professionals at the SDSU Conference, her manuscript garnered more than 60 rejections from literary agents. She opted to put the memoir aside for awhile and carried on with her ad career and Taboo Tales. She also kept trying to publish short pieces, and landed an essay about her dad’s death in the anthology DANCING AT THE SHAME PROM, published by Seal Press in 2012.

Despite her intense literary aspirations, Laurenne never dreamed of writing a children’s book. Here’s how it happened.

She first created the text of YOU MADE ME A MOTHER as promotional copy for Boba, makers of baby wraps and carriers. At the time, Laurenne was single and childless, yet she clearly captured some new mom emotions, because when Boba made a tear-jerker of a video from her writing, it went viral.

After that came the big shock: HarperCollins called! The publishing giant offered to pair her up with popular illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser, of bestselling FANCY NANCY fame, to ensure the book’s success. YOU MADE ME A MOTHER won rave reviews and sold out on Amazon within 24 hours of its debut last year.

“The cool thing about YOU MADE ME A MOTHER is that it’s truly a mixture of everything I’ve done in my career,” says Sala. “It began as an ad! And it makes people cry! I’ve always wanted to write something that makes people feel.”

Today Laurenne is having all the fun reading her book to kids and encouraging them to share their feelings too. A sequel, YOU MADE ME A FATHER, will publish in time for Father’s Day 2018 (though you can get a sneak peek here in the video Boba has already made.)

“I struck while the iron was still hot with Harper,” she recalls.  “As soon as we had the mom book contract in the works, I sent the dad book manuscript! I figured I’d do that while they were still into me! It worked, and they bought it within 2 weeks.”
In other joyful news, Laurenne got married last year, not long after her book was published, and she’s expecting a baby girl this fall!! Her memoir remains on hold for now, but she’s got a new project in the works called The Grief Collective, a collection of data, experiences, and stories that all involve losing a parent.

“Anyone who has grieved the loss of a parent can join here:,” Laurenne explains. “You can sign up to answer one question a month, which helps me compare experiences and see what we all have in common when it comes to grieving.”

I can’t wait to see where this project goes!


 Posted by at 3:22 pm
May 062017

I’ve got a fun giveaway for you all, just in time for Mother’s Day!

YOU MADE ME A MOTHER is a heartwarming picture book written by my friend Laurenne Sala, with illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser, whose work you might recognize from the popular FANCY NANCY series.


This book would be a sweet Mother’s Day present for a new mom and makes a great baby shower gift. (But keep in mind that since the book deals with pregnancy, it’s not really a fit for adoptive parents.)

To enter, please answer the following question in the comments:

What’s your favorite children’s picture book of all time and why?
To earn additional contest entries, you can:

1. Sign up for updates from my website by clicking “Get updates” button on the menu bar, or let me know if you signed up previously. This delivers my blog posts to your inbox. I won’t share your email address with anyone else. Please comment to let me know you signed up!

2. Follow me on Twitter @sharonvanepps and tweet about this giveaway: Win a copy of YOU MADE ME A MOTHER by @laurenne published by @HarperCollins Enter at #Giveaway #ChildrensBooks

3. Like my Facebook page at Sharon Van Epps, Writer (or let me know if we’re already connected there)

4. Blog about the giveaway or post on your Facebook page, and link back here. Be sure to post your blog entry before you comment.

Please leave a separate comment for each of the above shares, to be sure I correctly record and credit all your entries!

We’ve got a quick turnaround, so don’t wait! Entries close Tuesday, May 9, at midnight PST. The winner will be announced Wednesday May 10, by 9 am PST, and Laurenne will hustle to get the book shipped to you by Mother’s Day!

Next week I’ll also share the inside scoop on Laurenne’s path to publication, so if you’re an aspiring or working writer, check back on May 10 to hear the inspiring story of how she became a Harper Collins author.




 Posted by at 7:33 pm

Mardi Gras Food and Fun in New Orleans

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on Mardi Gras Food and Fun in New Orleans
Apr 062017

I’m still trying to figure out Instagram, but I do know what a LaterGram is — and this is the blog version!

2017 has been busy so far. I’ve been on the go, go, go, and every time I stop, I drop. Honestly, I’ve been sick off and on since the end of January. Thankfully, I rallied long enough to take a quick trip to New Orleans in February sponsored by Zatarain’s, the New Orleans company famous for its rice mixes, Creole spices, and other delectables.

This was my first press trip ever and I felt super lucky to be included among a lovely bunch of food writers and editors who learned how to “Celebrate Mardi Gras Like a Local.”  The organizers did such a good job that by day 2, I was fantasizing about moving my family down to The Big Easy. My husband has yet to get on board with the plan, so if I have to go alone, I might just move into The Ponchartrain Hotel. I love old hotels with charm, and this place has it.

Supposedly Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire while staying at the Ponchartrain. I kept meaning to ask the folks at the front desk which room Williams’ stayed in, but I never did, which allowed me to pretend that I was staying in THE room, which might feel creepy to some, but as a writer, the fantasy worked for me.


Day 1 in NOLA

We got a look at the Zatarian’s test kitchen.  Poppy Tooker, effervescent host of the NPR affiliate program Louisiana Eats! showed us how to fix jambalaya from scratch, and the folks from Delish Magazine actually filmed it all for Facebook Live. You can check out the video for yourself here. Meanwhile, Zatarain’s Director of Food Service, Dudley Passman, cooked up a second batch of jambalaya using the company’s boxed mix. Both versions of the rice dish were yummy (I’d make Poppy’s for a party and Dudley’s for a quick weeknight meal.) The  Zatarain’s folks also stuffed us full of Dirty Rice Boudin Balls and an incredible bread pudding with root beer sauce that turned out to be my favorite food of the entire trip. I got a picture of the boudin ball display but not the pudding; the pudding I simply inhaled.

Zatarain’s brand ambassador, Claude Davis, also passed around some biscuit samples from the company’s new line of mixes, and we got a taste of their new hot sauce as well. I was really glad I wore a loose tunic and stretchy leggings that day.

Here’s the box of goodies Zatarain’s sent me after I got home, so I wouldn’t have to load down my suitcase. Yum!

I followed that ginormous lunch with a detour into the French Quarter for Pat O’Brien’s hurricane. I wrote all about that in a travel essay for The Kitchn, if you want to check it out.

I had to hustle back tipsy from Pat O’s to catch my ride to the Zatarain’s crawfish boil that evening, held at what might be New Orleans’ most beautiful home. I snapped a picture of the sunset as we were heading into the party, still dreaming about moving there.

Claude from Zatarain’s boiled up a crazy amount of shrimp and crawfish for us. Poppy hilariously explained that she didn’t think sucking the tails was ladylike, and demonstrated how to dig one dainty finger into the shell. Not being an enthusiastic seafood eater, I concentrated on the spicy sausage and potatoes that came out of the pot and left the sucking and digging to my new friends.

Another bright spot of this lovely evening: live New Orleans music. The string band brought back memories of listening to my great grandfather playing the fiddle back in Arkansas when I was just a tiny thing. I heard that after the writers left, the musicians finished up the rest of the crawfish, and nary a tail was wasted.

NOLA Day 2

I woke up early to sneak in a breakfast with my friend, fellow writer and adoptive mom Sarah Netter, a New Yorker turned New Orleans local. She very kindly swung by the hotel and picked me up for a visit to District Donuts on Magazine Street, where the pastries are calorie-laden works of art. This beauty was pink on the outside, chocolate on the inside, and big as a baby’s head.

Sarah and I snapped a quick selfie, then she was off to work and I was off with the group on a walking tour of the Oretha Castle Haley neighborhood, a hot new food corridor. First we visited Roux Carre’, an outdoor food court and business incubator for future restaurateurs, where the tasty samples came at us fast and furious, but the Jerk chicken with a Nola twist from Johnny’s Jamaican Grill might have been my favorite, though the pupusas from The Pupusa Lady were a close second.  I made a mental note that when I come back to New Orleans with my family, we need to eat here, where each family member can choose their food counter, just like at the mall, but tastier.

Cafe Reconcile was our next stop, where Chef Joe treated us to decadent deep-fried turkey necks with maple glaze. That might sound disgusting, and it might not look great in the picture, but this thing tasted like a rich meat doughnut — pretty much my second doughnut of the day, if you’re keeping track.

Chef Joe also spoke passionately about Cafe Reconcile’s mission to change the lives of young adults in the community. The restaurant offers life skills and job training to at-risk youth who intern at the cafe. Knowing that money spent here goes to a good cause almost makes eating a deep fried meat doughnut a guilt-free experience.

Our walking tour continued with stops at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and Culinary Library and finally, lunch at Toups South, owned by James Beard award winner Isaac Toups. I don’t know how I squeezed in any more food, except it was MY JOB.

I spent the afternoon in a food coma.


Throw me something, mister!

That night, my last in New Orleans, it was parade time! The fun was happening right outside the hotel on St. Charles Avenue. The Zatarain’s folks did not want us to go hungry (!!!) so they served up fried chicken, fried pickles, potato salad, king cake and libations right there on the “neutral ground side” AKA the avenue’s median. We had the perfect view of the celebration!

We watched the Krewe of Druids parade, which was pretty good if you don’t mind men in creepy masks, but the real fun for me was watching the Mystic Krewe of Nyx parade roll by.  “Krewes” are social organizations, and Nyx, dedicated to the Greek goddess of the night, is an all-female group that embraces women from all backgrounds.

The Nix floats were fantastic, and the goodies rained down with violence. Claude from Zatarain’s stood next to me and kept me from getting knocked out by Mardi Gras beads. He caught almost everything and handed the treasure off to me…but at the Nyx parade, special hand-decorated purses are the coveted throws. I got incredibly lucky at the end of the night when a purse pretty much landed at my feet. Claude’s wife looked a little wistful, so I tried to give it to her, but it a show of Southern grace, she encouraged me to keep it. Having won the parade lottery, I said my  good nights and started back to the hotel.

“Put the purse away while you’re walking,” Claude’s wife advised. “Someone WILL take it from you.”

I made it safely to my room with all the swag. I want to go back next year — if I haven’t already moved there!