Jessica Leake
I've recently returned to my work as a therapist on the psych unit of a hospital, and I've really been missing reading/writing/blogging. I had way too much fun on maternity leave with all my time (my son's an angel and would take long naps, allowing me to write all I wanted). So I was dragging my feet a little at going back. Much to my surprise, one of my coworkers had a writing assignment for me! She's putting together a meditation book for the patients--daily readings for a whole month written by the therapists. I thought I'd share what I came up with, based on a Dr. Seuss quote someone tweeted recently.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”
–Dr. Seuss

            Sometimes when depression strikes, we have a hard time caring. About loved ones. About ourselves. About life. It’s a struggle just to get out of bed in the morning. We have to force ourselves to do everything, even the basics, like eating and showering. It seems like a black hole is constantly waiting to swallow us up. Worse, not caring about anything saps our motivation. So how do we beat it? We make changes. Small ones at first. We get up in the morning and make our beds. Maybe the next day we shower. Little by little, we fight back. We get involved—maybe through volunteer work. We start to care about others. We start to realize we’re part of a bigger picture, and we’re not alone. We talk to people—maybe a counselor. We begin to work on the things that contribute to our depression. We start to remember that we are good people. Depression doesn’t define us. But most of all, we begin to care again. About ourselves. About our life.

Thought for the day
Today I will remember that the best way to get better is to start caring about myself again.
Jessica Leake

I love Twitter. It’s THE best place to find out about awesome new blogs, contests, get pub tips, stalk follow lit agents, and most of all, to connect with other writers. That’s where I found out about this massive giveaway by new blog, YA Confidential. Here are the amazing prizes:
      A query critique by lit agent Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown LTD
·         A five-page critique by lit agent VICKIE MOTTER of Andrea Hurst & Assoc.

           ARC of SHATTER ME by Tahera Mafi
·         Arc of THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater (really excited about this one)
·         Arc of LEGEND by Marie Lu
·         Arc of CROSSED (MATCHED #2) by Ally Condie
·         THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin
·         FATEFUL by Claudia Gray

It’s super easy to enter, too. They’ve got a form link, and all you have to do it fill it out. You can rack up additional entries just by spreading the word (i.e. on Twitter or your own blog). Then you can check off which prizes you’d most like to win.

Be sure and check out the new blog’s weekly posting schedule. Basically, it’s all about the teens. Critiques, interviews, discussions. Yay for YA!
Jessica Leake

How is it Friday already?? I know why the time is going by so fast for me. My maternity leave ends next Thursday. Booo. (Actually, “booo” is a little flippant. It’s more like horrible mental screaming and anguish. Not because of my job, but because of leaving my baby. Also the serious lack of writing time I’m going to have from now on.)
So luckily I’m reading a great book right now to help distract me. ASCENDANT by Diana Peterfreund. I love unicorns—even killer ones, who knew?—and I’ve been looking forward to the sequel. I’m also lucky in that the book I’m currently reading has an awesome first line (*too lazy to paw through my bookshelves*). Technically, it has two first lines. Because *gasp* it has a prologue. Sort of. More like a little blurb in the very beginning to set the mood of the story. It’s appropriately done, though, and I don’t really mind prologues all that much.

Prologue’s First Line:
In ancient times, royalty hunted unicorns for sport.

This makes me think of old medieval tapestries. When I was little, I used to read through this set of Time Life books my parents had just for all the cool pictures of the mythological creatures. Especially the unicorns. It had the famous tapestry in it: The Lady and the Unicorn. And of course, it’s the perfect set up for a book about unicorn hunters.
The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry

Second First Line: 

The unicorn drew its last breath.

It goes along beautifully with the prologue, right? Both sentences are very short, but they get their point across in a powerful way. It would draw me in right away, even if I wasn’t already all set to read the sequel.

So what are the first lines from the books you're currently reading and/or your WIP?
Kelsey Sandy
Again, I love writing contests! So, here are a few more I found on Writer's Digest. These are particularly interesting because they are genre specific. Now these are not free contests. I think the entry fee for most is $20, but the first place prizes include $1,000, a feature in Writer's Digest, $100 worth of books, and the newest Writer's Guide to your genre! Talk about incentive!

The following contests are now accepting entries. Beside the genre, I have posted the entry deadline:

Science Fiction: Sept. 15, 2011
Thriller: Sept. 15, 2011
Young Adult: Oct. 1, 2011 (I know we have many YA writers listening out there!)
Romance: Oct. 15, 2011
Crime: Oct. 22, 2011
Horror: Oct. 21, 2011 (All Hallows' Eve, of course!)

Additionally, there is a "Short Short Story" contest ending Nov. 15, 2011 with a first place prize of $3000 and a trip to the Writer's Digest Conference! And a "Poetry" contest ending on Dec. 1, 2011 with a top prize of $500 and a trip to the conference.

All contests can be found at Writer's Digest.

If you know of any other genre-specific writing contests going on, feel free to post a comment!

Write on, fellow writers!
Jessica Leake

The first sentence of a book. I think some would argue it's the single most important sentence, save for maybe the last. It has to pull some serious weight by drawing in a reader. That's a lot of pressure! So I thought it might be fun to share our favorite first lines, or the first lines from one of our WIPs. 

Here's the first line of my all-time favorite novel, Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice :

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

It's a little bit facetious, isn't it? Especially since it leads into her hilariously one-track minded mother. Not only does it set up the premise of the whole book, but it's also a commentary on the social norms of the time. It draws the reader in by being an intriguing statement in an of itself. 

Side note: this totally makes me want to watch A&E's Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth. Um, yeah. All 6 hours of it. I don't even care. 

So let's see your fav first lines, or better yet, the first lines of your WIPs!
Kelsey Sandy
“Where words fail, music speaks.” –Hans Christian Andersen

So, I’ve been editing my novel, and my first drafts tend to be a little “bare bones.” I write too fast, trying to get all of my ideas out, to get the entire plot written. Now, some of my really crucial scenes lack atmosphere.

My novel is set in Texas is 1964, and one of my scenes takes place in a Blues Juke-Joint. I’ve never been to a Juke Joint, wasn’t even alive in the sixties, haven’t even really listened to very much blues music…how am I ever going to accurately create the atmosphere for this scene?

First, I thought maybe it would help if I drank moonshine out of a mason jar…but I didn’t get much writing done that way.

Then, I decided to listen to some blues. P.S. I loved it! But that’s not the point, the point is that listening to the music helped me to imagine my setting (first the sounds, then the rhythm, then the mannerisms of the characters, then the sights, the smells, even the tastes). I listened to the blues while I rode the bus and people-watched. I listened to the blues in my off time between classes. Then, finally, I listened to the blues while I wrote. And, I’m happy to say that I turned a bland 1.5 page scene into a 7 page scene with atmosphere!

I’ve been asked before whether or not I listen to music while I write. I always said no. I always thought it would be too distracting. And it probably would be if I were singing along to Adele or Britney Spears or Lady Gaga or Katy Perry (I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point: I have terrible taste in music).

I’m not suggesting that you turn the radio on while you work. We, as writers, don’t need any more distractions. I am suggesting that you seek out music that accompanies the atmosphere you are attempting to create. I am suggesting that you create a soundtrack for your novel (or short story, or poem).

Jessica, when you write the scenes in your novel that are set on the rolling green hills of Ireland, why not play some traditional Celtic music? If your novel is set in 18th century Europe, why not play some Beethoven? Have a scene in a Catholic Church? Rock some Ave Maria.

There are many ways you can do this, but I like to use Pandora, a free online radio. You can create your own personal station beginning with a particular song or artist of your choice, or you can create a new station by choosing one of the genres (I chose 50s and 60s Blues):

Pandora Radio

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind? How has it helped or hindered you?
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Jessica Leake
I was randomly selected on twitter by Laura Bradford as the winner of books her agency represents. Now, behold, the contents of that box:

DARK ENCHANTMENT, Anya Blast; HOTTER AFTER MIDNIGHT, Cynthia Eden; DEADLY LIES Cynthia Eden; GOING COWBOY CRAZY, Katie Lane; BLOOD OF THE WICKED, Karina Cooper; TEMPTED, Elisabeth Naughton; THE DARKEST SALVATION, Juliana Stone; SCANDAL OF THE SEASON, Christie Kelley; MESMERIZED, Lauren Dane; PRECIOUS AND FRAGILE THINGS, Megan Hart; IMPROPER GENTLEMEN, Diane Whiteside, Maggie Robinson, Mia Marlowe; THE GHOST AND THE GOTH, Stacey Kade; LOVE STORY, Jennifer Echols

Yay! Thirteen books, mostly romance novels. My TBR list is now ridiculously large. It looks something like this now: 

I would say that I'm good on books for awhile, but I know that's not even true. There are a lot more I still want to read!