Suck it up and get over yourself!

With the release of my first book, I have met a major goal in my life. I have more books to write, including a sequel to Tears, and there are many other writing accomplishments I must face. However, I put my life on hold to get published, and now is the time to meld writing and living. I’m in this for the long haul, and I still have children to raise, a husband to tend to, and my own self to take care of.

Time to start exercising again. Time to dust off my hobbies. Time to get the homeschooling in order. Time to rejuvenate my soul.

So I jumped into something wild and crazy: I’m taking tap and ballet classes.

Last year, my kids took ballet, and I was so proud of them when it came time for recital. They worked hard all year, and they performed beautifully. But a part of me wanted to be dancing on stage too.

I swore to myself that next year, I would be.

When there is something I want to learn or achieve, I absorb myself in it. Pouring over the schedule, I settled on three classes: Adult Ballet, Intermediate/Advanced Tap for ages 8+ (Makani and I take this one together), and Lyrical Ballet for ages 8+ (Rowena and I take this one together). Then I added some Zumba from the YMCA to my schedule to help get me in shape. I need to build my strength and endurance if I want to be good at this.

Yeah, I don’t do anything half-heartedly.

Did I mention that I have no tap or ballet experience? Three years ago, I did some belly dancing, and twelve years ago, I learned some swing dancing. Other than that, I am clueless.

Walking into my first tap dance and lyrical ballet classes was awkward. I’m twice the height of any of the other students. I thought ages 8+ meant there’d be a wide variety of students, maybe some teenagers, but no, they are all 8-year-olds.

10 eight year olds and ME. I felt like an awkward giant among Lilliputians.

But once we got to learning, my focus changed. I have a challenge to face, and so the awkwardness faded. I caught on pretty easily to both Tap and Lyrical Ballet. Tap dancing is rhythmical, and since I am mathematically and musically inclined and analytical, my brain caught on with two lessons. I’m loving doing this with Makani. She is also inclined to patterns, and I’m impressed with how easily she’s following the instructions.

Rowena does Lyrical Ballet with me. She’s such a little sweetheart, and I like the way she smiles at me as we stand side by side at the barre. She’s one of the most tender-hearted children I’ve ever known, and one word of correction sends her into fits of depression. This is my chance to build her up and encourage her.

My Lyrical Ballet teacher is a beautiful black man. (Strangely, he is embarrassed that his knees are so dark. I don't quite understand that.) I love the mop of braids he has for hair and his goatee. Excitable, a little effeminate, and pleased as apple pie to have me and Rowena in the class. Did I mention excitable? He’d make a vivid character in a book.

I am so thankful that he takes the class so slowly. He stops everything to correct a student who has a toe in the wrong direction. I am good at copying and I’m learning quickly, but Rowena struggled with form at first. My mommy’s heart thrilled to watch him take the time to gently help her out. She’s improving, and I’m so proud of her. I can hear him now as he helps her adjust her feet, “Yes. Yes. Yes!” Did I mention excitable?

Now here’s where my challenge really begins: Adult Ballet Class.

Our teacher is a white man with curly hair and a quirky sense of humor, but there’s nothing effeminate about this one. Not very excitable either. Where the black teacher takes things slow, this one moves us quickly from one set of exercises to the next. And believe me, the difficulty of this class is tenfold compared to the Lyrical Ballet.

I am the only student who has no prior ballet experience. In fact, one of my fellow students is a teacher at the dance studio. When he calls out those French words, I struggle to figure out what they mean. He says fifth position with arms in first. Huh? I look around at my classmates and try to follow along.

He gave us this exercise that goes something like this: First position, tendu left foot in out in, step out plié down and up. Then you repeat it backwards to return to your original position. Then repeat to the right, then to the left. Then to the back and the front. Then you do it all again in the exact opposite rotation. Pivot toward the bar so that you are facing the opposite direction and do it all on the right foot. Pivot again, this time away from the bar. Start from the beginning—only this time in fifth position.

And don’t forget the appropriate arm movements! Not that I had any clue what those arm positions should be. Oh, and when you tendu to the side, switch between returning your foot to the front and to the back.

That’s only one out of 10 patterns he had for us. The other exercises are just as complicated.

Week one, he took it slow, and he stood at the front of the class, going through the steps with us. I can copy anything, and I stuck pretty well to the moves, following along as he did them. Week two, he demonstrated, but when it came time for us to do it, he only called the moves. I was utterly lost.

Lost and embarrassed, especially when even the new people kept up with him without a problem.

Maybe I bit off more than I could chew. Maybe I should focus on the beginner classes. Maybe I could try again next year after a year with the Lilliputians.

But when have I ever given up before? It’s not that I think I can’t handle the challenge. For Pete's sake, I have written 4 novels, one of which is published, and have several short stories in anthologies. I'm sure that a few more weeks, and I’ll be fine. Well, maybe not fine, but passable. By the end of the year, I’ll be fine. My real problem was everyone watching me flounder as I work to get my bearings.

Suck it up and get over yourself, I scolded.

Week three. I was almost passable, and Lyrical Ballet is now too easy. Furthermore, I can do the buffalo and the Irish step in Tap Dance.

Maybe next week, I’ll actually hold the fifth position relevé for 32 counts without wobbling.

A visit to a donkey farm in Peru

I landed at the airport in Lima, Peru, and wandered through the busy streets to the bus station. The people rushed about like New Yorkers. They wore jeans and T-shirts or business suits; they carried backpacks or suit cases. It almost felt like any city in the United States until I turned a corner and found a dancing group parading down the street.



I loved the ocean--the smell of the salt water, the breeze ruffling my hair, the sounds of the waves. No wonder CJ visited here. It is a beautiful place.



A happy contentedness settled over me, and by the time I made my way to the bus station, I had meandered all over town, soaking it all up. I stopped for tasty treats at various restaurants, wandered in and out of shops, and even bought myself a poncho and hat. I snapped lots of pictures. Hey, you never know when a picture will give you a clue. And I was trying to blend in like any tourist.

The bus took me out of the city and up into the mountains. From there, I walked to the donkey farm. I had a map with the route marked carefully, but I still got lost three times and finally had to ask for directions. I'm female so I had no problems asking for help, even with my hesitant Spanish.

I finally found the place where the infamous CJ had rented a donkey. The farmer wasn't anything like I expected. She wore jeans and a T-shirt, but she covered her shirt with a poncho. And her dark hair was clipped short and dyed red. Other than the poncho, she didn't look like a traditional Peruvian.

She gave me a tour of the barn. The donkeys stared at me with big eyes; their tails flicked angrily as if to say, "Don't interrupt our dinner."
"So um, what do your donkeys eat for breakfast?" I asked. Not a very useful question for finding CJ, but maybe it will break the ice.

"My donkeys eat mostly grass. In the morning, they like to eat some pink polenta." She scratched the neck of the closest donkey who thumped his foot happily.

Pink polenta? For donkeys? "I used to eat polenta with taco meat and cheese, but it was never pink. What kind of donuts do you eat?"

"We are too poor for donuts. We just chew sugar cane." She handed me a piece as she popped one into her own mouth. I looked at it and then gingerly placed it in my mouth and chewed. It tasted sweet, but not like I was used to. The hardest thing about it was that it felt like stringy wood in my mouth--crunchy and leathery. It would take a long time to get used to this.

"I wanted to ask you about your guest CJ. Did he leave anything behind?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I think he dropped his hat. Does this look like his hat?"

Inside, I find a piece of paper with his symbol and the word Rosita. Hmm, a woman. "Yes, I think it is his. Did CJ have his harem with him? How many hearts has he broken here?"

"No, there were no girls, though you should probably visit La Casa de la Noche. The chiquitas there could tell you more."

"Did he say anything to give a clue to where he was going next?"

"No, he just yelled 'Wheeeeeeee' as he ran away. I thought he was just some gringo gone loco in the mountains. They do that, the mountains. They make people loco. Especially gringos."

I leaned against the barn post in between stalls. It shifted under my weight, and a secret door opened in the floor. "Wow, where does this go to?"

"No one knows. People who go in never come out." Her eyes grow big, and she chews on her lip. I'm certain she's frightened. But what could be down there to frighten her?

"So he rented one of your donkeys and went up into the mountains. What did he search for up in the mountains?"

"Well, there is a local legend that one of the temples has a golden statue inside of which there is a key. But that is loco. All the gold was stolen many years ago."

If I know anything about CJ, it wasn't gold he wanted. I bet that temple held some secret device he could use to take over the world.
"Do you put your socks on the right foot first, or left foot first?" Hey, it might sound like a silly question, but it's important to establish if the person I am talking to is a pathological liar.

"I don't wear socks. I don't wear shoes. See? The donkeys ate all the shoes." She raised one dirty, naked foot.

"What is your favorite song to sing to your donkeys?"

"El Patito Chiquito. It's a song about a little duck."

"Well, gracias. I need to go now. A lot of clues to follow, you know."

"Bueno. I have to go feed the donkey's now."

I heard her muttering Gringos locos! as she shuffled away.
"Oh, I forgot. Have you seen the infamous Rico Suave hanging around here?" I called back.

"The who? I don't think so. Though a man in a red velvet suit met him at the local airstrip."

I mentally ticked off the clues in my head: a secret passage, a temple in the mountains, a woman named Rosita, a man in a red velvet suit. Which one do I check out first? I only have three days before I'm due back in the U.S.

________________________________________________
This is a fictional story, brought to you by Webb Press. The part of the Donkey Farm was played by S. M. Carrière, writer, blogger, and friend. Thanks, Sonia, for your sense of humor and for being willing to play along.

If you are interested in taking on a role, I'm looking for someone to play the role of Rosita or the role of the mountain guide. Contact me by email:  rita [at] ritajwebb [dot] com

Red Glove by Holly Black

Red Glove (Curse Workers, #2)Red Glove by Holly Black


My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Two government agents visit Cassel's boarding school and drag him away. After interrogating him about the crime family that his family served for generations, they pull out photos of Phillip, his brother, shot dead in his apartment. The agents tell him that his brother had made a deal to squeal about some assassinations for immunity, and that had gotten him killed.




If Cassel doesn't help in the investigation, the agents will go after his family or try to pin the murder on Lila, but if Cassel helps out the agents, he'll be targeted by the crime family. What makes things worse is that Zacharov, head of the crime family, wants Cassel to join the family ranks. Who wouldn't want the most powerful curse worker under his control?




With incredible detail, Holly Black paints her world: the strange magic of the curse workers, the dark world of crime, mobs, and scams, betrayals and heartache. Imagine a touch of a finger could curse you. Bare hands are obscene and dangerous.




Bare hands can kill you, bring you bad luck, control your dreams, change your memories, break the bones in your body, manipulate your emotions: all depending on who wields those hands. Most powerful and most rare are transformation workers.




If you're a curse worker, keep your secret because you don't know what the world will do to you.




View all my reviews

Going BovineGoing Bovine by Libba Bray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Where do I begin? Following Cameron on his crazy adventure to save the world from a wormhole created by dark energies was one of the most amazing, most beautiful journeys I have ever taken.



Cameron's life was empty: sneaking out of class to smoke pot in the high school bathrooms, hiding from his father's disapproval, annoying his sister, smoking pot at home on a Friday night because his parents worked late and had no time for the family, pretending to study Don Quixote for school.



And then the unbelievable happens. Cameron finds a large feather, white tinged with pink, in his bedroom. Printed in bold letters on one side was the word "Hello."



Shortly after, Cameron loses his job, gets kicked out of school, and is seeing therapists for drug problems. All because of strange muscle spasms in his body.



But Cameron's problems aren't due to drugs. When his problems get worse, he finds himself in the hospital for mad cow disease, and an angel (a pink haired girl wearing torn fishnet stockings and combat boots) informs him that he must find Dr. X to save the world and to cure his disease. But if he wants to succeed, he must take the dwarf in the hospital bed beside him on the journey.



Following the signs, Gonzo and Cameron sneak out of the hospital and set out to find Dr. X. The road takes them to New Orleans during the Mardi Gras where Cameron meets a drag queen, a jazz musician who teaches him about music, and a wizard who wants to kill him. From there, the clues lead them to Florida, and they catch a bus and head out--with the police on their tail searching for two runaways.



This is where Libba Bray's story telling ability begins to shine. With almost painstaking detail, she takes Cameron through trials and struggles, introduces him to interesting characters, and teaches him about love and life and friendship.



The apathetic drug addict learns to care about others and discovers that now is the most precious moment he has. By the end of the book, I was cheering and crying and laughing and feeling as in love with life as Cameron did.



View all my reviews

Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull

Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary (Fablehaven, #4)Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For three books now, my family and I have grown to love these characters and this world. Each book has been more intense and faster paced than the one before. The stakes are higher, the problems tougher.

Now here is the fourth book, and it blew me away. From opening scene to the twists revealed in the climax, the book gripped me.

I loved the growth in Seth. He's learned to question his motives before charging into trouble, and he's learned wisdom to caution his courage. He and his sister Kendra truly make a remarkable team.

I hated and yet admired the twist at the end. Brandon Mull truly pulled the wool over my eyes, and at first, I hated him for it. Then I sat in awe. I'd love to be that kind of writer...

A great family read. A great book for all ages.

One book left in the series. How on earth is he going to wrap this all up? Problem is that I don't really want the story to be wrapped up. I want it keep going.

View all my reviews

Kate Quinn chats about her publisher Berkely Books

I love Kate Quinn's books. One of the sweetest and most humble people I have met online, she is also a great writer. Her book Mistress of Rome gripped me for months after reading; I couldn't forget the vivid details and the compelling characters. And when Daughters of Rome came out the following year, I was first in line. And I can hardly wait for Empress of the Seven Hills to come out next year.

One of the things I love about her books is how I can share them with my husband. He and I love chatting about books, but some books I read he has no interest in. But Kate writes stories and characters that can grip both male and female.

It is important for new writers to find wisdom from those who have gone before us, and Kate has offered to share her experience with us.

Thanks, Kate, for your time and for sharing what you have learned with us.
____________________________________________________________

Rita: How did you hear about your publisher Berkely Books?
Kate: My agent found them for me. I found my agent on my own, by doing a lot of research and sending a lot of query letters and sample chapters. Once I had an agent, she took over the process of trying to get me published. She submitted my first novel to four or five different major publishing houses where she had connections – before being an agent she had worked as an editor at Ballantine for over 30 years, so she knew a lot of people in the business. About eight months later her hard work paid off and she found an editor at Berkley who loved my first book.


Rita: Why did you decide to publish through them?
Kate: Berkley offered a standard advance for a debut author like me, and standard royalty percentages. My agent told me I could hold out if I liked for a publishing house that offered a bigger advance, but there was of course no guarantee we would find one. Ultimately I decided to go with Berkley because their rates were fair, because they were a big, long-established house with a good reputation – and because they had an editor there who was crazy about my book and talking it up in-house to everyone she could find. I had a feeling I'd be in good hands with someone who loved my work, rather than just one more fish in the stream with a different house and editor.


Rita: Were you happy with the terms of your contract? How did they honor their side of the contract?
Kate: They have been scrupulous about fulfilling their side of the contract. My payments arrive on time, and so do answers to any questions I've had about the contract.


Rita: Did you have to pay to be published? If so, how much?
Kate: I've never had to pay a dime to be published, since Berkley is not a vanity press. You should not have to pay anything to a non-vanity press: editing is free, so don't believe it if you're told you have to pay for an editor's services.


Rita: How did the editing process go? Were you happy with the comments and responses from your editor?
Kate: My editor at Berkley is wonderful! She puts a huge amount of thought into how to make my books better – I get editorial letters with copious notes, and then we spend hours on the phone hashing out plot solutions. No matter how much work she wants me to do to revise a book, I never hang up the phone with her feeling overworked or discouraged. She has a gift for filling me with optimism and enthusiasm for my work.


Rita: How was the customer service and support once you were published?
Kate: Professional and prompt. Editorial questions go to my editor; I do sometimes have to wait a while for answers on those, but that's only because she's approximately as busy as a trauma surgeon in an ER ward after an eight-car highway pileup; she'd never brush me off or make me wait deliberately. Publicity questions go to the in-house publicist I was assigned once I was published – I'm not her only client by any means, so she's delighted the more publicity stuff I take care of myself (writers can't rely on a publicist to do everything) but any questions I have are always answered fast.


Rita: How do you feel about your experience with your publisher?
Kate: Couldn't be better. I love Berkley. They are taking the long view with my career, allowing me to build an audience and a reputation as a writer, and I couldn't be more grateful for that approach – which, I'm starting to realize, can be rare in the publishing world.


Rita: Will you publish through them again?
Kate: I hope I'm still working with my Berkley editor when I'm old and gray.


Rita: How has your experience changed your perspective of writing and the publishing industry?
Kate: Before I was published, I had the usual dreams about a six-figure advance. Now, I'm almost glad I didn't get one. Sure, some first-time authors do get that half-million dollar advance for their first book – but then they have to live up to all that hype! If their book doesn't succeed right away on a huge level, then in the eyes of their publisher they haven't earned back that huge advance. The publishing house might decide to drop you; roll the dice with another new author. Nowadays a lot of publishing houses are doing just that: looking for the next big hit author, the next Suzanne Collins or JK Rowling. And sure, I'd love to be Suzanne Collins with all three of my books on the New York Times list and a four-movie deal.

But these days I fantasize less about having Suzanne Collins's career, and more about having Bernard Cornwell's. He started small with his Sharpe series, and was lucky enough to have a publisher who believed in letting him grow the series and the audience over several books. By Book 4 or so, he was getting more attention, more readers, more good reviews. He grew his reputation slowly over years, until now the man hits the NY Times list with each new release. That's the career I want: a smaller advance to start out, maybe, but it gives me a chance to exceed expectations rather than fall short, and time to grow as a writer. I'm incredibly lucky to have an editor who has the same long view in mind for my career, rather than wanting to drop me for the next possible Suzanne Collins. (I'm hanging on to her for dear life, and you should too if you can find an editor like that.) Now here's hoping I someday get to be as successful as Cornwell, and meet Sean Bean when he stars in the miniseries made out of my books . . .


Rita: What would you say to a new author looking to get their books published?
Kate: Be aware that publishing takes a long time. It took me about seven years of on-and-off querying to find an agent – and that isn't particularly unusual. My agent started shopping my book around the publishing houses in March, and it wasn't until November that I had an offer – and that's regarded as pretty fast. Once I had a publisher, my book wasn't out in stores for another 16 months – also quite usual in the publishing world. Publishing is a slow process; anyone who says otherwise is lying. And while your editor should believe in you and like your work, they should NOT tell you it's perfect. You start hearing that your work needs no corrections, that it will be out in stores in two months, that it's going to make you a million dollars the first year – run for the hills, because you are walking into a scam!


*I'm starting a new series to interview authors about their experiences with their publishers. If you are a published author and would like to share your publishing experience, please contact me at my rita[at]ritajwebb[dot]com email address. I'm looking for both negative and positive experiences.*

Becoming a Writer

The road to becoming a published author was long and treacherous--writing, studying writing books, reading good books to study style, writing, more writing, publishing a non-for-profit anthologies (Unlocked & Menage a 20) with friends, more writing, studying, reading, more writing. Months marched into years of sleepless nights and dreary days.

Many times I wanted to give up, but to give up meant losing all hope. I would have to admit there was nothing more to life than rushing to a pointless job. I would remember Lelea's words in my book Tears: Always choose the path that brings hope.

That became my mantra, day after day. Ha, somewhere hidden inside me is an insane person full of wisdom, and she talks to me, telling me to keep going and never give up.



Here's the excerpt:

Closing my eyes, I pull the song closer and let it fill every cell in my being. I imagine it twirling and bouncing inside me. So loud, it drowns out everything else.

Then I draw on the device’s screen, using the attached pen.

“What is it?” he asks.

A man, a woman, two children. A dark-haired girl with freckles, a blond boy with sparkly blue eyes. I paint a picture of his future.

His fingers tap in time with the music in my head. Does he hear it too?

I stop when I see the red scar on the inside of his arm. “Your army tattoo. You burned it off. Did it feel like you tore your family out of your soul?”

Muscles in his jaw stand out. “Don’t remind me.”

“Once upon a time, a man and a woman bound themselves together for life, and they would raise their children together. Your heart remembers, and that is why you left the army.”

“What would you know about why I left the army? You had the easy life, the General’s daughter, spoiled.”

“Is that what you think?” I glance down at my own arm. I never got a tattoo, and he can’t see the thousands of cuts from surgery. My flawless skin doesn’t have a scar. He can’t see the pain inside me.

“You don’t know what it was like living in the dorms.” His shoulders slump. A dark cloud presses against him, pushing him down to the table.

“I see more than you think I do, and I know what the future holds. Please believe me.”

“Girl, you’re insane.”

“How many people believe you’re insane to leave the army and the protection of the General? You ran away. You burned your tattoo off. You decided to be free.”

He opens his mouth and then snaps it shut again.

“You chose to protect the weak,” I add.

“How did you—?”

“Maybe I’m not as insane as you think I am.” Or maybe I’m even crazier. I would like to be normal, but then I wouldn’t be here.

“So you say this is my future.”

“Yes, but Jaak, she needs your love. She holds our fates in her hands, and if she doesn’t know you will protect her and your children, she will decide to defend herself at whatever cost. I can’t help her find healing, but you can.” I grip his hand. Please. Please listen to what I tell you.

He studies the picture. The black weight on his shoulders quivers and lightens before it forms claws and digs them into his flesh. Before I can stop him, Jaak snatches the device and throws it across the room.

Red smears drip from where the black claws dig into his heart. Oh my dear friend, the abuse you endured warps your understanding.

I wrap my hands around the black blob and drag it off him. It snarls and hisses at me. Its taint snatches at my soul, but the Dragon’s fire fills my lungs. With her light, I push it back.

“He’s my friend. You can’t have him.” I squeeze it tight. With a pop, it bursts and then disappears. I shiver, suddenly cold; exhaustion makes my head spin.

Jaak staggers to the floor and passes out. Retrieving the picture, I place it in his hand.

“What happened?” He wakes and heaves himself up.

“The ship rocked. You fell over and hit your head.” Maybe I’m learning how to lie.

He glances down at the device. A smile spreads across his face. “Do you really think…?”

“It’s called hope.”

“What?”

“What you feel. It’s hope.”

“Hope?”

I nod. “Always choose the option that makes you feel like this.”

My advice to you is to always follow the path that leads to your own personal hope.

The Search for CJ Continues

Years passed without a siting of the infamous terrorist known as CJ. Until today.

"Mom, someone's here!"

Oh good, the homeschool curriculum I was waiting for had arrived.

A courier van parked outside my house, and a man wearing a brown jumpsuit got out. His face was ghastly white, and he marched to my door with a funny sort of gait, as if his legs were made of metal.

But rather than the box I expected, he handed me an unmarked envelope. Without a word, he swiveled on his heel, military style, and marched back to the van. As it pulled away, I noticed that there wasn't even a license plate.

I inspected the envelope before opening it. That's what they do in the movies after all. Shining a light through it, I couldn't spot anything unusual.

So, *shrug*, I opened it.

Inside was a note cut from newsprint: CJ spotted in the mountains of Peru.

There were some snapshots too: A cute donkey. Maybe he had ridden it?

A steep footpath up a mountain face. I shuddered, imagining myself slipping and falling to my death.

The back of a man, running. Could it be him? Hard to tell. The snapshot only showed him from the shoulders down. But there on the boot was the tiny symbol that I had come to know as the Mark of CJ's Cult.

And the man was certainly short enough.

Peering inside, I rattled the envelope. Something was left, tucked into the bottom. I upended it, and a slip of paper fell into my hand.

A plane ticket to Lima, Peru.

Did I dare? I had homeschooling to attend to and three children plus a husband who needed my care.

It could be a trap. Rico Suave could be sending me false clues.

Or this could be the chance to stop an evil terrorist that I've waited years for.

What would you do?

The Winners: 8 Kindle Freebies of my new book!


Shadows swallow me. I am the perfect assassin. Lelea: fourteen-year-old freak of nature. Hidden in the corner, I wait for the right moment to strike.


Kindle eBook Tears is now available on Amazon, and I've given away 8 Free copies of Tears, the Kindle version.


All right, it was supposed to be 5 freebies, but call me a softie. I hated leaving anybody out when there were only 3 more.



Winners:

Devane Tolbert
Kyle Borland
Vero Sicoe
Mike Keyton
S.M. Carrière
Pam Asberry
Robert Beveridge
linaramz


If for some reason, you didn't get your copy in your email inbox, contact me at rita[at]ritajwebb[dot]com. I'll try to figure out what went wrong.

Enjoy!