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A little NaNoWriMo organizational help: The Nine Box Method of structuring your novel

Oh, it’s that panic time! National Novel Writing Month, the challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, is only four days away!

I know lots of writers are pantsters, and just write as they go. I find if I try it, I fail.

So I’m sharing my favorite quick-and-dirty way of getting some structure in place before I start writing a novel.

It’s called the Nine Box Method. It was first referenced on Verla Kay’s Blue Boards (which are now owned by SCBWI) and has been posted about by Query Tracker and other writer-centric blogs.

I have PDFs for you!

The first one is the nine box with the explanation of what to put in each box. The idea is that you make boxes that touch connect their content in order to write a cohesive story that has tension, pacing, and flow in place.

Download the explanation box PDF

The second one contains three sample Nine Box Grids for three popular movies: The Help, Despicable Me, and Monsters, Inc. They might help you see how the nine box plays out in real stories. (I made these myself, so any bad conclusions are my own.)

Download the sample box PDF

The third one is blank so you can fill it in for YOUR project.

Download the blank box PDF

When I do my novels now, I used the Nine Box, Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet, and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey to work out my story in multiple ways. By the time I’ve filled out all these structures, I have a solid sense of where my story begins, where it’s going, and where it’s going to end, which helps me avoid giving up, slowing down, or writing myself into a hole.

Happy Nano-ing!

Time for serious hard-core thanks

It has been the craziest two weeks ever. I am humbled, grateful, and blessed by the response to my new book Forever Innocent.

A couple screen shots say everything:

Reached #46 on Amazon’s hot new release list, right next to my hero writer Nora Roberts.

46hotnewrelease

 

Apparently hit #4 in iTunes Australia while I was sleeping last night. I’m still #10 this morning.

Top-10-Australia-iTunes

 

Hit #112 on Amazon, top 10/11 in categories.

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Best of all, we’ve made it halfway to our goal for this book in just 10 days. Whether that mean adopting a baby (which is SO expensive) or expanding the house to adopt older children siblings in need of home, we’re getting there.

This is a miracle, and absolutely thanks to you all, my friends and readers.

I am excited to move forward with the next book Forever Loved and to share it with you. Sign up to read excerpts as it goes along.

 

Forever Innocent is launched! And rocketing!

I am shocked and pleased and pinching myself hourly.

web-Forever-Innocent-3DSo, a funny thing happened on my way to releasing my book on October 1. The ebook versions had to go live a few days early so that all the amazing blogs posting reviews this week would have buy links.

But a couple very influential people (I’m looking at you, Mimi Strong!) noticed it was up and the Tweeting began! Before I knew it, my phone battery was dead from notifications and the book was selling like crazy.

So, yes, the book has been a top 500 book on Amazon for three days now. It’s hit the bestseller lists in Romance, New Adult, and Coming of Age. Who could ask for a better launch day! I get a message from a reader about every ten to twenty minutes, which is making work hard, but I’m loving every minute of it.

If you missed the book trailer, it’s in the sidebar on the left. What an amazing thing to get to put the names of almost 200 babies on hand-cut paper butterflies and shoot such an emotional scene from the book! I feel very very lucky to do what I love and to continue the journey that I began in 1998 when my first sweet baby Casey was lost to us.

Thank you!

amazon-buy itunes-buy nook-buy kobo-buy

 

When egg and cheese English muffins make you cry

web-eliza-eating-veggies.jpgSo yesterday at the grocery store I saw the frozen breakfast sandwiches I used to eat on sale. I got burned out of them somewhere around Christmas, and stopped buying them. I figured enough time had passed that I could try them again.

I didn’t anticipate when I bit into it this morning that I’d have a flashback so visceral that it would actually bring me to tears.

Back when I was still eating these, we were trying to get pregnant. Kurt and I were just a couple months out on the wedding, my cycle charts were looking really good, and my doctor was still saying things like, “Don’t call me until there’s a line on the stick!”

We never really know what will take us back in time faster than a DeLorean at 88 miles per hour. Sometimes it’s a season change. Going into a restaurant long avoided. Shrugging on last winter’s coat. The smell of apple pie.

For me, that sandwich was the taste of anticipation and hope, something I lost many months ago, when the sticks never produced a line. I finally gave up last spring and scheduled a long-pushed-off surgery, one that required me to have my tubes tied. No babies for us, not anymore.

I didn’t finish the muffin.

Adoption is in our future, and we’re hopeful there too. It’s a daunting process, and one we’re doing our best to rearrange our lives for. We still have many months to wait, as unlike with your own babies, when you can get started any time you like, most adoption agencies require us to be married two years.

I hope this next year finds us in a better place on the family front, and maybe by the next time fall rolls around, I’ll be able to eat egg and cheese sandwiches again.

Hundreds of paper butterflies for Forever Innocent!

Project Butterfly image

 

So many projects have sprung up based on my new book, that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Right now, I’m working on a joint effort of the book trailer and Project Butterfly, a social media movement to place butterflies on the pages of families who have lost babies to show you haven’t forgotten their little ones.

Hundreds of families have given their babies’ names to put on the butterflies that will be featured in the book trailer. We’ll be shooting this weekend, sweb-butterfly-pileo it’s your last chance to get a name in!

I had a half-dozen friends help me hand-cut the paper butterflies. Then I sprayed them, added the names, and we have begun the process of stringing them to prepare for the scene where Corabelle, the main character, walks through them as she did in the novel.

We’ll be shooting in three locations for the trailer. I’m super excited web-henry-cutto see how it all turns out!

The book won’t be out until Oct. 1, but here is a hint of the scene we will be portraying in the video. Corabelle has told Gavin, who left her four years ago during their baby’s funeral, that she can’t see him again. This is one of the ways he tries to get her back.

_________________________

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The blinds to my living room window were closed, so I carefully pushed a couple of the slats aside.

Unbelievable. I stepped back a minute to blink, then looked again.

In the trees outside my door, hundreds of colored paper butterflies hung from the branches. Their wings glittered in the sunlight, winking, the wires so thin as to almost be invisible, as though an entire flock of them had chosen this moment to breeze by my window.

I ran to the front door and wrenched it open so I could see it better. That’s when I noticed the neighbors walking through the butterflies and touching their sparkling bodies.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” An older woman I’d seen a few times cupped a bright blue one in her palm.

A younger girl in a red beret saw me and smiled. “They lead to your door.” She pointed behind her. “See, there’s just a few up there, and then they get thicker as we get closer to you.”

She held one close to her face. “These are all hand cut.” She glanced over at me. “Whoever did this for you spent a lot of time on it.”

I moved up the path again. White butterflies with iridescent sparkle gave way to pale blues, then pinks and gentle yellows, moving to minty greens and lavenders that shifted to plum and fuchsia and deep red and sapphire. I caught a movement at the corner of the building and we all turned to it. Gavin stepped out, as beautiful as I’d ever seen him, fresh and combed and wearing a crisp button-down shirt loose over khaki shorts.

My breath caught and the women murmured their appreciation as he came toward me, holding out his hands with another butterfly, a lovely, opulent eggshell blue. “One more,” he said and handed it to me by the slender wire. “For Finn.”

He held my hand as we both lifted it to the branch closest to the door and tied it around the slender limb. The other women moved away as I brought my palms to my hot cheeks. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say you’ll spend the day with me.” He backed away, giving me space.

The setting was like a fairy tale, Gavin, looking so much like he had in high school, the trees and morning sun striking the glittering butterflies. A breeze wafted through, shifting the strings and making the bits of color dance among the falling leaves. I nodded; what else could I do? Each of these moments were new wonders, memories I could hold on to. Even if it all fell apart later, we would have this.

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Casey Shay would have been 15 today

Now that Emily is in high school, I think I have a better idea of what life would be like with Casey. He’d be getting his learner’s permit, and the shrieks heard ’round the world would be me, hands on the dashboard, eyes squeezed shut or open wide, as we careened along side streets. (I always picture him as a dare devil.)

14weeksaltered2.JPGBut I have to admit that as time passes, I feel less connected to the kid Casey might have been. We can imagine babies in all their temperaments — cranky or calm, excitable or chill. But a mostly grown boy can be so many things. Athlete. Gamer geek. Gregarious. Shy. Friendly. Quiet. So many shades between. He is unknowable, forever a collection of white blips on a black background, a shape in the dark.

It’s not often that I think of him with sorrow anymore. Casey is the name of my mission, my life’s work, the purpose handed to me from my first-born. He becomes ever-abstract, a dividing line in my history.

But today is not one of those days. Once again he becomes a baby, and today is the day that we might have celebrated his arrival. And the future I would have had with him is as unknowable as he is to us.

Enter the Forever Innocent give away — $50 gift card to ANY store

web-Forever-Innocent-3DI’m super excited about the launch of my new novel Forever Innocent, a blend of baby loss story and contemporary new adult romance! As we get the countdown to Oct. 1 started, I’m giving away a very fun prize pack:

A $50 gift card to any store of your choosing
A crystal butterfly USB flash drive necklace preloaded with the ebook to Forever Innocent

If you get a chance to read the book, you’ll discover the importance of butterflies in the story — it’s a symbol many families associate with their angel babies.

So enter and win — you can come back and Tweet the giveaway as many times as you want!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

On Meeting Your Heroes

I first learned about October 15 in 2007. I posted a hurried message about it, encouraging proud angel mamas to spread the word and light their candles at 7 p.m. their time. I didn’t know a lot about the day or the founder, but I knew it was a good thing, the sort of big event I was looking for.

My own web site was already nine years old, the time when you start to try and shake up what has become routine. I wanted to keep growing and moving us forward. I remember feeling frustration (and I still do) that mothers felt they had to “hide” their losses and that talking about their babies was still such a taboo. We’d gotten nowhere.

And along came Robyn Bear and her site for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. She and a team of volunteers took the measure to the legislatures of all fifty states and got it passed federally as well. I was amazed at their effort and the years they spent making this happen.

Naturally I reached out to Robyn pretty quickly. Someone with that much staying power, already seven years post-loss and still going strong, was going to be a big part of the baby loss community. Turns out, she was also very generous and friendly.

webRobyn-Deanna-2013midThis year I decided ENOUGH, and packed my family in the car and drove four hours to where Robyn lives to deliver a box of books she had ordered from me personally. We had lunch in a little restaurant in her home town, and she was amazingly just as wonderful as I thought she would be!

Our miracles babies (okay, tweens and teens) sat at one end, and the husbands chatted about work and weather, while we reviewed our two journeys through loss and the determination to actually get involved in the lives of other grieving mothers, and to carve businesses from this so that we could continue working with the community full-time.

I think our partnership in making sure the needs of baby loss moms are met has only grown stronger by meeting face to face. We may have our separate web sites and support groups, and she may focus on Oct. 15 candle lightings as well as remembrance items and jewelry (and man, does she find some beautiful stuff), while I focus on books and information and support groups, but we are definitely united in one thing — making sure women facing these impossible losses have a place to go, a community to talk to, and ways to memorialize and remember their babies.

I see a day twenty years from now when we’re little old ladies, and still holding the virtual hands of the young women who need us. We’re here for the long haul. We’re here for all of you. I can’t imagine a more perfectly suited partner or a more beautiful person, inside and out.

 

My girls at our first Oct. 15 candle lighting in 2007.
My girls at our first Oct. 15 candle lighting in 2007.

On Cory Monteith and being a Gleek

I’m not a television watcher whatsoever. I’m often clueless about major TV events. I never saw a single episode of Survivor or The Office or even Friends.

But Glee had such an intense online push that even a small-screen luddite like me had to notice. It showed up in my Facebook sidebar, on banner ads, invading my web space. Finally, I clicked.

And I was hooked. The concept was amazing and the pilot spot-on perfect. I was reminded of my own days teaching high school and admiring the amazing talent that sometimes came through my doors.

Cory Monteith played a character that fit him. He did not come to the show with mega-singing chops. He was everyman, and watching him perform with a talent like Lea Michele made us all feel as though any of us could hold our own on stage.

Learning that someone like Cory died so young breaks my heart. I’ve enjoyed reliving some of my favorite Gleek days, in particularly this one below. I remember how hard I cried my head off during this episode when Cory’s character Finn has been told he will be a father, and he sings to this sonogram.

Today, watching it again, I realize how full-circle my Glee fandom has come. Fans of my upcoming book Forever Innocent voted Finn as the name of the baby in the story, which features a young high school father much like Cory’s character, trying to do the right thing by his girlfriend and his son, but messes up spectacularly. This song and this moment was just perfect, so I share it with you all one more time.

Farewell, Cory.