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Posted by on in Author Series

**** This blog post originally appeared on Author Viv Drewa's site, The Owl Lady Blog, on Dec. 28th, 2015**** 


"Planting a Tree of Inspiration"

I think I have to blame the whole “me-wanting-to-be-an-author” on my father.  It’s all his fault.  He corrupted me something awful.  Not that I don’t think he minds being blamed for something like that, in fact, I would presume that he much rather enjoys it.  I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was way before I was able to read.  Dad wouldn’t read stories to me, he told them to me.  It was oral tradition at its finest!  I soaked up every character he created, every line of dialog he spoke in his deep voice (sometimes slightly raised to portray a female), every plot twist and turn. 

It was when he told me his version of “The Three Little Bears” that I had a profound epiphany related to story-telling.  His version was about the Three Little Bears’ cousins who lived in a different section of the forest.  Now, all his stories were twisted and fractured fairy tales, amalgamations of stories with which I was already familiar (but can’t recall for the life of me now); however, there was something about this one – Licorice, a black fluffy bear getting into some scuffle with the Big Bad Wolf – that stirred something in my brain: He’s making up his own story that’s connected to one that’s already known.  You can do that? You can do that!  And that was when I kind of knew that I wanted to do that, too!



When letters came together to form words that I could recognize, something very visceral happened to me.  It was like an awakening, or being born.  All the doors to different worlds seemed to open at once, and the rest fell into place – first the reading, then the writing; I was discovering new avenues and outlets for all my young and innocent creativity. So, as soon as I could, I wrote.  Constantly.  One of my earliest aspirations of “what do you want to be when you grow up” was to walk into a bookstore, look at a shelf, point and say, “See that? I wrote that!”

As I got older writing became somewhat of a necessity for me. I attribute my writing to being the one thing that saved my life in my early teenage years. See, I was always the outcast. The outsider. The goth kid. The weirdo. The girl who would rather wear black nail polish and spend hours reading a book filled with poems about witches (a gift from my father, of course) than listen to the newest New Kids on the Block song with the girls in my class. I was bullied. Ostracized. Different. Writing became my outlet, and my coping mechanism. Writing got all the junk out of my head and brought me to crazy worlds of vampires and witches and all things dark and gloomy, all things that I felt in my heart and soul. It was an escape for me, and a way that I could be the weirdo me without judgment or criticism. Many a night I pondered suicide, but writing about it was enough for me to deal with those thoughts and feelings. In essence, writing was a means to pull myself from my own mind and depression. 

Teenage years were hard, and adult-ing isn’t much easier. Life sometimes takes over and spins you into an uncontrollable whirlwind of events… for me it was marriage, house, surgery, the weddings of practically my entire circle of friends, nephew born, etc. etc. - life knocking at my door with a child of my own. My writing habits and desires took a backseat for many years.   When my daughter turned a year old, I did some serious soul searching.  I had gotten to a point in my life where things were going very well.  I was happy in my roles of teacher, wife, and mother, but there was one hat that I still wanted to wear, so I sat my husband down and told him how I felt -  how there was this nagging void within me that so desperately needed to be fulfilled.  It was a no-brainer for him; he was supportive and encouraged me to go after my lifelong dream.  He coached me to stop making excuses and to stop letting me get in the way of me.  The rest is history.  In the summer of 2010, I finally wrote the first draft of The Coal Elf, and the Coal Elf Chronicles kind of snowballed from there.


The influence from my father has manifested, grown, and come to fruition because now I can walk into a book store and point to my books on a shelf. He passed his torch of creativity on to me in the most profound way. He and I have a very special psychic bond. Just the other day, he called me up and said he had an idea that he thought might work in the third Coal Elf book. I nearly died laughing because I had just been thinking the very same thing! 


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Posted by on in Author Series

As the electricity of the last weekend seems to die down, I’m finally able to breathe and collect my thoughts. This was the 2nd year that I attended Tampa Bay Comic Con, and the second go around not only met, but exceeded my expectations.





 The Con started on Friday, July 31st, but I was only able to attend on Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 1st and 2nd). Once again, Twilight Times Books authors Scott Eder and Dora Machado were by my side. This year, we were positioned at two adjoining tables and had a much larger display, which I felt was really beneficial as we collectively doubled our sales from last year, and The Coal ElfSOLD OUT!




The overall reception and response to having authors at the Con has certainly grown. Last year, we were barely a “blip” on the general populous’ radar, but this year was something else… it was different. There was a different vibe in the air, like people were almost looking for something new and fresh and exciting – something that took them out of the typical Con fare, but still immersed them in the realm of the fantastical.




There were many familiar faces from last year. A lot of my kiddos and friends showed up and brought with them an enormous amount of love and support. I also recognized people from the Con last year and had numerous people comment to me that they bought The Coal Elf last year and were eagerly awaiting the sequel. As an author, hearing those words is indescribable! My work is forever out there in the world, people are reading it and enjoying it, and they want more? That concept is so wild to me. And while I’m no newbie in this rodeo of writing, feedback like that gets me all giggly every time!








 One of the most important aspects of the Con was speaking on the Author Panels. This year, we really amped up the content, and all of our sessions were well received, and well attended (with a lot of people coming to more than one). Scott, Dora and I were joined again by author Tracy Akers.




Saturday’s topics were “So You Want to Be a Writer?” and “Take Me Away: A look at Setting in Fantasy Writing”. Scott and I were later invited to sit in on a third panel that day with author Rod Martinez (an entirely impromptu thing), and this session was very audience-driven and super informative. On Sunday morning we were back again with one of my favorite topics “Villains: What Makes the Bad Guy Tick?” which again, was a lively and audience-led discussion.




This was such a thrilling part of the entire weekend, because there were many aspiring authors in the audience (whose shoes I not too long ago wore myself) that were there looking for tips, tricks, pointers, experiences, any kind of help. Our panels became a lesson not only in craft, but in the writing business in general. Every session ended with a “come see me at our table so we can talk more about this”, or a side-bar conversation in the hallway, and even beyond that to emails and Facebook communication with people I have now happily welcomed into my writing circle. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about – supporting each other to realize our dreams.


As we look ahead to next year, we’re already concocting bigger and more elaborate plans. We are working on a possible writing group to carry on through the year leading up to the next Con, and we already have possible topics for the panels next year! The Rise of Sturd will be out by then, and who knows just how large the authors’ presence will be in year three?   

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Posted by on in Author Series

Memorial Day Weekend.  The official un-official start of Summer.  This is my 2nd annual Summer Book List recommendations. So, while you’re lounging around – whether it be poolside or at the beach – or maybe you’re on a cruise ship somewhere in the Atlantic, or on an 8 hour flight to some wild European adventure, you’re going to have to ask yourself at some point, “WHAT’S IN MY BEACH BAG?”

In honor of summer’s start, I’ve compiled my annual list of my summer reading recommendations.  Click the link of each book to take you a description and spot where you can purchase.  There’s a little bit of something here for everyone, so dive into what you love, OR be adventurous and step outside of your usual “reading comfort zone.”  I promise you won’t be disappointed!




**And, as always, anyone leaving an AMAZON review will get extra credit!**


Now, of course I'm going to recommend my own book, The Coal Elf, only because the sequel, The Rise of Sturd, is due out early next year, so now's your chance to get familiar with the dark side of the North Pole!  


YA Dark Fantasy

The Coal ElfMaria DeVivo



Middle Grade

Blackbird Fly, Erin Entrada Kelly

~the long awaited debut from Kelly is finally here. Check out the tale of Apple Yenko in this coming of age story about culture, finding yourself, and being YOU!





 Destiny Revealed, Cris Pasqueralle

~coming of age fantasy



A Ranger’s Tale: Tallenmere, Book 1, Mysti Parker

~fantasy romance. With elves. I have a soft spot for elves. ;)  First in a series.



The Wilco Project, Daniel Springer

~techno murder mystery!



Murder Caribbean-Style, Diane Rapp

~a murder mystery and a cruise!



Young Adult

Finding My Escape, Fran Veal

~romance, suspense, and a touch of the paranormal in this first book in a series.


Dr. Rayther’s Game, John Thayer

~16 years old and on a mission to save the world!




The Legend of the Pumpkin Thief, Charles Day

~enter Day’s world of Halloween screams! A great suspense story to get you in the Halloween-y mood, or just give a good scare!




The Hellbound Heart, Clive Barker

~an oldie, but a goody




The Tilian Virus, Tom Calen

~a fun, horrifying zombie story. 1st in a series.



True Crime

Fatal Vision, Joe McGinnis

~the account of Jeffery MacDonald and the murder of his family



New Adult

Dream Student, J.J. DiBenedetto

~paranormal, mystery, suspense, romance. This one is free on Kindle, and if you like it, there are many more in the series!




Jessica’s Obsession, Taabia Dupree

~Amazon bestselling NA book


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Posted by on in Author Series

I was tagged by my author friend, the prolific and masterful wordsmith, Aaron Paul Lazar, to participate in a sort of blog-hop activity.  I am to list seven things about my writing that people might not know.  Well, I’m a super sucker for the number seven, and felt extremely compelled to plat along.  Besides, Aaron is one hell of a guy and I support all of his endeavors. When Mr. Lazar asks you to do something, how can you not?  J Please go give his page a look, especially if you’re into mystery novels.  You won’t be disappointed! 


Okay.  Here I go. Seven things about my writing you may not know…



1.   I am a creature of habit.  I am bound by my obsessive compulsive tendencies.  I can’t help it.  It’s a sickness.  In all of my stories, woven between the pages, one is bound to find: a reference to Santa Claus, a reference to The Wizard of Oz, a dream sequence, references to being underwater or drowning.  Don’t ask. 





2.    I mentally cannot stop putting two spaces after a period.  It’s an automatic action.  <<smacks hands>> “bad author, bad author.”



3.    I am passionate about folklore and mythology and incorporated a lot of the old lore into my Coal Elf series.  You have to be “on the folklore ball” to pick up the little breadcrumbs I’ve left behind!


4.    I was born and raised Catholic, and while I am not practicing, I still have deep ties to religion and spirituality.  (Maybe my days as a Catholic school girl have scarred me for life?)  :) These tendencies have influenced my writing, especially in my Urban Fantasy stories.





(rocking that school girl uniform. 3rd grade, I believe)


5.    The very first REAL poem I wrote was on 10/26/1986.  I had just turned nine.  It was titled “A Halloween Poem.”  To this day, I usually incorporate some form or essence of poetry within my books.




6.    I’m a great embellisher, although, I’ve had so many incredible life experiences that I often find I don’t have to do much ‘bellishing! Like, I seriously can’t make half the stuff that I lived through up! But, of course, when I’m in the fantasy worlds of the elves, or zombies, or angels, I have to tweak some of my own memories to bend and fit the context of the particular universe.  Much of the narrative (for any of my books) is the fragments of me – slivers of secrets, puzzle pieces of the past. 


7.    Poetry saved my life. Period. The End.


Hits: 1530

Today I officially signed my second contract with Twilight Times Books.  I am excited to announce that the sequel to The Coal Elf will be tentatively released on April 15, 2016. 

I cannot wait to unleash The Rise of Sturd unto the universe!


It’s about time!  J


This is my first official sequel, and I have to say, writing a sequel is much more difficult than you would think.  There’s a lot more preparation that goes into it.  All your ducks have to be in a row, every detail has to be spot on, characters have to act within their scope and sequence, and if something is off by a smidge it can throw everything off kilter.  With any book, there is an amount of research to be done, but with a sequel, there’s research, re-reading, more research, and more re-reading.  It’s practically double-time to write another installment in a series.  But I loved every grueling minute of it!


Without giving away too much, here’s what I can say about the book…


~It picks up a little bit after the first novel.  The Coal-less Night has been all sussed out and everything seems to be going well, but nothing can stay too good for too long, as a new threat rears its ugly head.


~New characters are introduced.  Old characters get more “life”. 


~The Coal Elf was YA Dark Fantasy.  The Rise of Sturd most likely will be considered Dark Fantasy.  The second go-around is grittier and darker.  It kinda has to be.  I mean, this is STURD’S story, after all…



~Expect the same level of familiarity to the beloved Christmas mythology.  Expect the same level of DeVivo warping that same mythology.


Get prepared for the next installment of The Coal Elf universe...  Get prepared for Sturd!  Click the pic to watch the Sturd teaser!



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Posted by on in Author Series

I’m baaaaaaaack….


I know, I know, it’s been quite some time since I’ve been at this blogging thing.  To be quite honest, I’m still not the “champ” I would like to be in this department.  Something about “blogging” in general feels strange to me.  I probably just need more practice at it.

This winter has been quite a doozy to say the least.  Thanksgiving to about yesterday has been nothing short of a non-stop whirlwind.  My life in Florida pretty much mirrored the weather up north – a constant swirling storm of the physical “go-go-go” and the mental tsunamis that accompany.  Sometimes, life just gets in the way.  Sometimes, life screams at you to pay attention to it. Sometimes, life has to take the front seat.   And now, as I breathe in some pre-spring air, I can sort out my mind with an eye on the next few months ahead. 

So… what’s been doing….?

It’s no secret that I parted ways with The Carolyn Jenks Agency.  It was an amicable parting, and I have nothing but much love and respect for every person over there as they are team of fabulous and talented people.  But, as we all know, my brand of “normal” is a very hard pill to swallow: I’m quirky and unconventional. I’m strange and twisted. I’m unapologetically me. And I’m a tough sell.  When I started my writing journey, I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy road.  I knew that whatever was going to come out of my brain was going to be 100% me – craziness and all. That might not jive with market trends and audience preference, but I refuse to give up.  I’ve accomplished many goals and milestones in my writing career, and I will continue to move forward. Patience is a virtue, right?  Trying to find representation is a quest in and of itself.  It’s going to take the right person who’s willing and confident to take me and my bag of macabre characters on…. Fingers crossed…..

Spring break is quickly descending upon us (I seriously can’t believe that!), and soon I will be back to researching, editing, and ultimately writing.  My writing schedule is pretty much set, and I am looking forward to immersing myself in a world of angels and demons.  This will be manuscript  #6 under my belt. 

Spring time is usually the “lull” time for The Coal Elf.  Which is understandable, given the nature of the novel.  Not sure many people are interested in reading about elves and the North Pole when the spring birds are chirping!  J I’ll start getting into promo-mode around June when I’ll be doing an interview for Cheryl Carpinello’s Blog.

Lots of unknowns ahead, but I’ve come this far and I know there’s so much more to tackle and accomplish.    Thank you all so much for all your time, energy, and support. 


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Posted by on in Author Series



       What’s the old saying?  “Home is where the heart is.”   It must be true because one of the prevalent themes in story-telling is the concept of Home - Having one, being a part of one, rejecting one, leaving one, desperately trying to find your way back to one.  Humans have an innate honing device that draws us to a nostalgic place of comfort and love. Some of the most influential stories of our time use HOME as a central theme.  After having experienced the wonder and glory of Oz, Dorothy said there was no place like it.  Her journey brought her to the realization that her black and white world of farm animals and twisters was really where she belonged.  Thrust onto an island while the war-torn world around them has no idea of their whereabouts, the children in The Lord of the Flies are in constant pursuit of returning home while in the process, create a home. And more recently, Katniss Everdeen initially strives to win The Hunger Games to go where?  Back Home.

In The Coal Elf, Ember Skye deals with this notion of Home from the moment she is called to her Life Job.  When she is sent to the Mines, her memories of her life Aboveground grip her so tightly that she is almost blinded by nostalgia.  The entire novel follows her path of dealing with those memories, confronting certain realities, and altering her own perceptions as to where she belongs, where she fits in, where she’s meant to be. 

So what is HOME?  What defines it?  For me, it’s an unseen structure made up of memories.    Spring birds singing in the morning as I waited for the school bus.  Running outside on a cool summer night to flag down the ice cream truck.  Standing on tree stumps in my backyard as dead leaves fell from the autumn trees.  The smell of my father’s work boots in the hallway.  Cuddling with my sister on Christmas Eve.  Coming home from school and being so angry with my mother for cleaning up my room.  My uncle’s voice booming as he and my mother sang Kenny Rogers’s songs.  My concept of Home expands far beyond the actual dwelling itself, and now I’m making a Home for my daughter, hopefully helping to build those memories of love and comfort she will seek refuge in her future.        





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Posted by on in Author Series

Last summer, I had a Facebook series called “Author Problems” and it highlighted all the ‘issues’ we authors have as we go on our literary journeys.  Well, this summer I thought I would give my two cents of positivity and do a series called “Author Perks.”  It outlines all the great things/benefits that come with being a writer.  Here’s the complete list that was posted over the last few months.


Author Perks:

1.    Telling people you’re an author sounds super cool when people ask you what you do.  ;)


2.     The writing process: It truly is a love/hate relationship, but once you’ve mastered yours, the rewards are very satisfying.


3.    Book signings, appearances, interviews! There is such a thrill when it comes to getting your name out there.


                                               (cheap plug)



4.    Meeting fans of your work.  It’s fun to have discussions about something that came out of my brain.  And the “I actually have fans” part is a jumbo plus.





5.    Positive feedback is always exhilarating to receive.  Especially those 4 and 5 star reviews. Negative feedback can also be a blessing; it drives you to work harder and do better.




6.    Writing is like your own literary garden.  Seeds planted at the start grow and flourish into beautiful flowers at the end.


7.    Let’s face it, I have so many more friends than most people.  Okay, okay, the majority of them aren’t real, but still….  I’m never alone.  There’s always a conversation in my head, or potential plotlines swirling in my subconscious.


8.    Holding your finished book for the first time!  The second best thing to giving birth.


9.    Dreams are more active and music touches you differently.


    10.  Writing is CHEAP THERAPY!  My parents and husband should be thanking me for all the money I've saved them over the years!  :)


    11.    It’s fun to have a secret, special world.


    12.   I love playing literary GOD!  I can create or destroy in a matter of sentences. 




    13.  There’s a certain amount of “local celebrity” that comes with the title!



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Posted by on in Author Series

If there is one word that I could use to sum up my experience at Tampa Bay Comic Con, it would be exhilarating. The show was a week ago, and I’ve seriously needed all this time to digest and process the whole experience.  A week after the fact, and I’m still feeling the buzz from it all.

I was at the Tampa Convention Center on Saturday, August 2nd, and Sunday, August 3rd with my two author friends and Twilight Times Books partners-in- crime, Scott Eder and Dora Machado.  We manned a table in Artist Alley where we sold lots of books, people watched (the costumes were phenomenal!), and spoke to a lot of great, like-minded people.  On Saturday, I spoke on two panels -  YA Literature is NOT just for Young Adults, and From Page to Screen: A Discussion of Some of the Best (and Worst) TV/Movie Adaptations.  Scott, Dora, and I were joined by authors Tracy Akers and K.L. Nappier.  This was the first time authors were given the opportunity to speak on panels, and despite being left off the general TBCC program, both sessions were well attended by a lively crowd that kept the discussion flowing and created a very educational and entertaining environment.



 (TTB Florida division: (l-r) Me,Dora Machado, Scott Eder)


The overall, general vibe of the weekend was exciting.  Being in the thick of it, in the heart of my people gave me a sense of belonging to a larger entity.  I was apprehensive at first about doing a convention at this scale (there were over 30,000 people in attendance the entire weekend) because I was convinced my OCD and anxiety issues would send me over the edge.  And yes, there were a few times when walking back from a panel, or just getting up to go to the bathroom gave me some serious heart palpitations, but I think it was more from sheer awe and wonder than from true fear (okay, okay, I was afraid that there would be an outbreak of the zombie virus… but I SWEAR it was only for a split second!)

What I walked away with was priceless.  There were not very many authors represented at CC, which I had expected.  I don’t think buying a novel is at the top of the average “con-ners” list of things to see.  Everyone was pretty much there with a purpose – be it to see Evan Peters or John Rhys Davies or the sisters from The Walking Dead (love Brighton Sharbino and Kyla Kennedy!), cosplay the day away, pick up some Gimli art, get a rare Lady Death #1 comic book, or take a picture with the Tardis or Chewbacca.  As a matter of fact, many people looked surprised to see authors selling and signing novels at a venue called “COMIC CON.” But the feedback I received was outstanding, especially when someone I knew sauntered by our table and took pictures and gave hugs.  


(Me and former student, Callie J. So many surprise faces at CC!)


I truly believe that fantasy and horror authors do have a voice in a place like Comic Con.  This was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as I’m already looking ahead to next year and beyond.  More panels, more books, more people.  Come at me, bro!  Bring it.  I’ve been bitten by that strange and quirky “con-bug” and its venom is working itself quickly into my veins!



Here are some of my “authorly” observations for my writer peeps who might be interested in expanding their reach to large (or small) cons.  These tips might even help for book signings and author engagements.  Just my two cents.


Author takeaways: 


1.     Cover art matters.

Never judge a book by a, but how else are you gonna capture attention?  A lot of people told me, “Your book cover is what drew me to your table.”  Whether they bought a book or not is immaterial.  The fact that Ember drew them in matters.  I sold a book solely because the person who bought it said Ember looked like me, which I take as the highest compliment.  So make sure your cover not only captures the spirit of the story, but that it also “pops”.


2.     Stories matter.

Ya gotta hook ‘em in, right?  People are constantly on the move.  Especially at a venue like CC.  They have celebrities to meet and zombie parades to attend, so listening to you ramble on and on about your book is not beneficial to anyone.  Have a quick tagline at the ready.  Something that will grab them and make them go “Hmmm.”  I think I repeated myself hundreds of times, but every time I got a wide-eyed smile (okay, there was this ONE woman who crinkled her nose, but that’s fine.  An elf at the North Pole mining coal for the naughty kids at Christmas isn’t everyone’s cup of cocoa)!



3.     Giveaways matter.

Have something to hand out.  Anything.  Multiple things.  Business cards, book marks, rack cards.  Something that non-buyers can stick in their goody bags and marinate on when they get home and decompress.  Slap a QR code on all of your giveaways, too.  This can take potential customers straight to your Amazon market site.  The residual sales that I got from AFTER the con were worth it alone.  By Monday, I had a dramatic increase in ebook sales, and I have to attribute it to the after effect.  Candy also works.  We had a basket of candy perched at each end of the table, and that alone sparked many queries and conversations.



 (the scope of our table)


4.     Presentation matters.

Be presentable and approachable, and above all – have a nice looking table.  Ours had a company banner that drew a lot of attention.  As people walked by, I saw them mouth “Twilight Times Books,” or say “Hey, what’s that?”  I know, I know, the average person probably assumed we had something to do with the Twilight series (which could have hurt or helped us, depending on how you look at it), but the fact was, our name was on their lips.  Our table was dope, yo!  Scott had his amazing free-standing banner of his book cover (Knight of Flame) that caught a lot of eyes.  People actually stopped in the busy aisle to read what was written on it.  I had my Coal Elf mannequin to display my t-shirts, and Dora had her easel with her Curse Giver and Stonewiser series montage.  We said “Hello,” and “Good Morning” to everyone in eyeshot or earshot, and most of all we SMILED.  I was a good girl, and paid very close attention to curtail my eye-rolling (which I am infamous for).  J




(this was our TTB banner and it definitely drew a lot of attention!) 



 5.     Speaking matters.

Talk to potential customers, but most of all listen when they talk to you, especially if they are purchasing your product.  It’s a common courtesy to engage your audience on even the smallest of levels.  Do a panel or have time to address an audience.  Be yourself.  Speak from your heart, but also in your artist voice, if that makes sense.  Most book signings I do, I make sure I have a chance to speak.  Make sure you have a platform for which you can present yourself, your work, your philosophies, etc.  Comic Con was filled to the brim with aspiring novelists, and being on a panel allowed me the opportunity to connect with them and give some sage advice (whether it be from the business angle or the writing as craft angle.)  I’ve received emails from people who have told me that after listening to my presentation I’ve inspired them to write a book, or finish a project, or stand up to the person bullying them.  That alone is payment enough for what I do.  Making a connection with your audience on a personal level is one of the most rewarding parts of the business.     



(panelists extraordinaire: (l-r) Scott Eder, Tracy Akers, K.L. Nappier, Me, Dora Machado)

Hits: 1963

Let me start by saying this:  I love Barbie.  Yes.  Barbie.  As in: Barbara Millicent Roberts.  As in: the absolute fashion icon in American history since 1959.  As in: Barbie – the doll.  Yep.  That one. 

I love her.




I’ve loved Barbie since I was a little girl.  My mother retells the story of when I was barely two years old – I would play in my playpen and say to my mom, “Bobby!  Bobby!”  Well, like all good mothers, she gave me what I wanted:  a bottle!  But one day, a commercial for a Barbie doll came on TV and I started shouting, “Bobby!  Bobby!” it clicked for her - I wasn’t hungry, I wanted to PLAY!



                                                            (My favorite Barbies.  Yes, I had them all!)


My fascination grew from there.  I delighted in the cast of characters of Barbie and Ken and Midge and Skipper and the whole lot of them.  I saved my own allowance to buy the different playsets.  I even attempted to make my own Barbie clothes.  My childhood friend (ironically named, Barbara) also enjoyed playing with the dolls, and we would have weekend marathons of staying at each other’s houses and playing all day and into the night.  I enjoyed playing with Barbies so much, that I have to admit, the very last time I actually played, I was 13 years old.  By that time, I resigned to tucking them under my bed and focused on high school and my first long-term boyfriend (ironically named, Ken).



                                                          (my Barbie collection the summer of 1998.                                                                                                          doesn't even cover the tip of the iceberg today!)


 What I loved most about playing with Barbies was the possibility of what I could make them say and how I could make them act.  There were no rules.  No scripts.  Barbie had a lot of friends, family, furniture and fashion styles – she didn’t have a TV show, or a movie.  It opened the door for me to be as simple or as creative as I wanted to be.  I often concocted crazy soap-opera-esque storylines of people with amnesia returning from the dead, or a down-on-her-luck call-girl meeting Mr. Right only to find out he was her long-lost brother.  If I could dream it, I could play it.  There was no right or wrong.


But things have since changed. 


My daughter, Morgan, is five years old.  I swear she is the reincarnation of some genius artiste.  She spends a lot of her time creating her own stories, drawing, singing, and lots of imaginative and independent play.  I consider myself lucky that she likes Doc McStuffins, Lalaloopsy, Sofia the First, Disney Princesses, etc., but she can take them or leave them.  She asked the Easter Bunny for Scotch tape and a ream of paper over Frozen toys, so if that says anything… 

Anyway, Morgan recently asked me to play with her and her Lalaloopsy dolls.  We set up the house and playsets and all the stuff that goes with them.  I was the character Jewel Sparkle, and she was Dot Starlight.  Whenever I made my character talk, Morgan would say, “but Mommy, Jewel doesn’t say that,” or “Mommy, you can’t do that cause that doesn’t happen.”

This was shocking to me!  Telling someone who used to make up the most elaborate scenarios that they can’t do or say something is heresy!

Wait?  What do you mean I can’t do something?

We moved on to play with her Sofia the First toys, and again, “Mommy, don’t make Amber say that because she wouldn’t say that.” Or “Mommy, we can’t have a pet unicorn in the castle because Sofia doesn’t really have a pet unicorn.”

I tried explaining to her that you don’t always have to follow what the “show does” and that it’s okay to be creative and add in different things if you want to, but she wasn’t hearing it.  She felt compelled and bounded by the script - the confines of a predetermined play world that essentially removes all free thought and creativity. 

Every show has a toy and every toy has a show.  When these two come together, how can that leave any door open for imaginative play?  How can a child learn expressive play when they are playing with toys that tell them HOW to play?



                                              (Watch the 10 second opening, and you'll understand...)


Unfortunately, Barbie has jumped ship, too.  Over the years, we’ve seen Barbie in different specials like “Barbie and the Christmas Carol” or the various butterfly princess personas that they’ve given her, but nothing takes the cake like the show “Life in the Dream House.” It is an animated youtube series depicting Barbie and her friends and family as vapid, materialistic, twits.  It broke my heart to see Barbie being shoved into a role like that.  For me, this was like the final nail in the coffin of imagination.  Playtime is being replaced with “Re-enact” time.  Where’s the fun in that? Is imaginative play dead?  Is it dying?   I consider my “Barbie stories” to be the first seeds planted in my literary/writer’s garden.    


 Morgan has watched the Barbie show, but was not a giant fan.  Thank God, ‘cause the other night, we had her Barbie dolls rocking and rolling in a carnival made out of cowboy hats and shoeboxes!   

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Posted by on in Author Series

I was invited to play along in the blog hop by the fabulous Dina von Lowenkraft.  Dina is the author of Dragon Fire.


(Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she

lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat. Her

debut YA fantasy, Dragon Fire, was published by Twilight Times in
August 2013. Dragon Fire is a finalist in ForeWord Book’s 2013 Book of
the Year Award in YA fiction. Dragon Fire is also a category finalist
in the 2014 Eric Hoffer Book Awards.)


This tour highlights the main character from my WIP -  The Altered: Plague Within

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Posted by on in Author Series

Christine Amsden, author of the Cassie Scot series, is stopping by my bloggy blog with a post on writing in different perspectives.  The fourth and final novel in the series, Stolen Dreams, is available now!  Thank you, Christine, for stopping by and giving us your valuable insight!



First Person: A Matter of Perspective

by: Christine Amsden

 Whether a writer is a panster or an outliner, there is one question she must answer before getting started: First or third? For some the answer is simply a matter of personal preference, but even if that's the case it's important to think through the implications.


First person is a compelling viewpoint for many authors because it is easy to imagine ourselves as “I” and to tell a story that way. It's sort of what we do, isn't it? Play an elaborate game of make believe? But unless you're a dedicated hobbyist, you're not just telling this story for your own amusement. You're writing to an audience, and your audience may have a different perspective.


As a reader, I usually prefer third person – and I don't say this lightly because my Cassie Scot series is told in the first person (I'll get into why in a bit). I enjoy third person because in my readerly games of make believe, it is a little easier for me to pretend to be “he” or “she” than “I.”  It also has the clear advantage of allowing me inside the heads of more than one character, deepening the story by bringing in multiple perspectives.


The third person limited omniscient is a great point of view which eliminates the distance between readers and characters. It puts us straight into their heads in a way that makes it a more intimate reading experience than first person. First person used to be the “close” point of view, but that's when it was competing with an omniscient version of third person. Nowadays, we have better options. Modern limited omniscient third person gets as intimate with the character as first person, but it eliminates distance in time. A first person narrator has, presumably, already lived through the events of the story and is telling them from the future. A third person narrator is right there in the moment.


But don't take this to mean that first person doesn't have a place. Of course it does! There is power in the first person narrator, but it has to be harnessed well and used wisely. As a reader immersing myself in a first person novel, it's more like a close personal friend is telling me their story in intimate detail. To get into it I have to like not only the story, but the person telling it and the way it's being told. Or to put it another way: Your narrator had better have character.


I'm just going to go out on a limb here and say this: If you can substitute “he” or “she” for “I” in a first person story and it's still basically the same, you've chosen the wrong point of view. If this is the case then you've thrown away all the advantage of first person while embracing all the disadvantages.


A first person narrator isn't just a narrator. He or she is a character telling a story. Their character will influence how they tell the story – including voice, style, and presentation method. First person narrators can get away with asides to the audience, or drop dark hints about what is to come (since they have already lived through it). A first person narrator can be unreliable – he can even lie to himself and believe it. He can also withhold information from the audience.


You can get away with breaking more rules in the first person than you can in the third. Ironically, this makes it harder to write. It's easier to effectively break rules once you know them and understand what they're for.


The power of a first person narrator is freedom of style.


I chose first person for Cassie, after a lot of agonizing deliberation, because she needed to tell her own story. It helped that the story (by which I mean the prominent series arc; the individual books are mysteries) is entirely about Cassie coming into herself as an adult. But you can tell a great story in the third person, even if it belongs to only one character. A first person story needs more.  It needs a character who desperately wants to tell her own story. Cassie's got attitude, and she's talking right to you. “My parents think the longer the name the more powerful the sorcerer, so they named me Cassandra Morgan Ursula Margaret Scot. You can call me Cassie.”



I said earlier that as a reader, I usually prefer third person. I put the “usually” in there for a reason – I usually prefer third person because I run across too many first person stories that don't harness the power of first person. That don't have the right style or perspective, or that differ from a third person story only in the pronoun choice. The whole truth is that when first person is done well, it's my absolute favorite to read. But of course “done well” is also a matter of perspective. 




Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

 At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that affects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

In addition to writing, Christine teaches workshops on writing at Savvy Authors. She also does some freelance editing work.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children.



Follow Amsden on Social Media:

Christine's Website









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On Saturday morning, I was interviewed by a local Girl Scout Troop.  No, they don't just sell cookies... these Girl Scout Seniors are in the process of earning a The Senior Visionary Award and the theme of it is called “Girltopia.”  Part of their project was to interview someone who is creative and inspirational, and one of the girls in the group chose to interview me.  I was absolutely honored, to say the least.



(Read about “Girltopia” here.)



I met with Lauren, Kotomi, Anna, Grace, and Lauren’s mother Julie, and while they asked me the standard interview questions, our conversation went to a very thought-provoking level.  What is art?  What is the concept of art?  How can art change the world?  These questions jarred me a little.   



(1-r. Grace, Me, Lauren, Anna, Kotomi)

Well, what is art?  Where do we find it?  Art isn’t just the pencil and paper drawings, or finely spun pottery.  When you REALLY think about it, as cliché as it may sound, art is kinda everywhere - literature, photography, graphic design, food art, body art, sculpture, architecture, hell, even the fireworks on the Fourth of July represents a form of artistic work.  What I do (writing) is my version of art.  And my definition of art is “anything that bears a physical representation of someone’s soul.”  The creative mind, the creative heart, has a need to express itself in a particular way – whether it be a poem, or a picture, or an elaborately constructed cake.   Little snippets of soul, essence, aura, call it what you will, are sprinkled into anything that is creatively wrought.  And that is what separates “just a  _______” from something that is true art.     

And what of this concept of “Girltopia”?  Young girls face a plethora of problems on a daily.  Lauren asked me, “What is one of the biggest problems facing young girls today?”   Without missing a beat, I answered “Bullying.”  Cause, ya know… it kinda happens… a lot!  Kotomi opened her eyes wide and said, “You’re so right, I didn’t even think of that!”  From there we talked a lot about how girls are often too quick to judge others, and that stems from a poor self-perception.  I was wearing a tank top and shorts, and straight out admitted to them, “Guys, I’m 36 years old, and I’m sitting here with a group of young women, and what am I doing?  I’m constantly puffing out my shirt so that my little line of belly fat isn’t poking through.”  I think that kinda shocked them a little.  To this day, I STILL have a negative perception of myself.  Granted, it’s much better than my teenage years, and I’ve learned to love and accept the many aspects that make me me, but sometimes the damage runs so deep there are certain things that can never be erased. 


Dove put out a very interesting commercial last year called "Dove Real Beauty Sketches."  It compares how we view ourselves vs. how others perceive us.  It is definitely worth the 3 minutes of your time to watch it.  It certainly was an eye-opener for me.




 In a true Girltopia, a perfect environment, girls would be able to be comfortable in their own skin, not afraid to be themselves, and accepting of others rather than judgmental. 





Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? 

But these young ladies are connecting to each other in a way that can and will eventually drive change. The Girl Scouts is the perfect outlet for them to express themselves artistically, reflect on morals and values, and be the change they want to see in the world. They asked me about what a visionary is, and what qualities a visionary should have.

These four young ladies, three rising freshmen and one rising junior ARE the visionaries, and I am glad and honored to have been included in their journey. 








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Posted by on in Author Series

Bullying sucks.  Plain and simple. 

I was a victim of bullying pretty much my entire adolescent life.  Name called, hair pulled, teased, you name it – I was called it.  The one name my tormentors favored was “dog”.  Yes.  I was a dog because for years they said I was, and I believed them.  They ripped out pictures of models in magazines and left them in my desk with notes that said, “You’ll never be this.”  And when my teenage hormones kicked in and my face started to break out, they ripped out coupons for anti-acne medications and left those in my desk as well.  The bullying I received even got physical, and I was pushed down the stairs.  I was so brainwashed and battered that when my dentist was ready to put braces on my teeth, I cried and begged and screamed that I didn’t want them because in my heart I knew having silver metal in my mouth would be ONE more round of ammunition for them to use against me.  My mom didn’t understand why I didn’t want them, but I put up such a wild fight, that she eventually let the issue die.  I never did get those braces… although, in hindsight, I wish I had.  By seventh and eighth grade, I had seriously considered suicide, but I quickly learned that you can’t consciously drown yourself in your bathtub, and Benadryl only makes me sleep a real long time.  So, writing became my main outlet, my escape, my sanctuary, my way of brushing the hateful feelings off and transforming into a stronger me. 

By the time I got to high school, I had seriously toughened up.  Didn’t care.  Apathetic to the name calling in the hallway.  “Freak.” “Witch.” “Weirdo.” I have to admit, though, I didn’t do much to help my case.  I played the part well, cause that was who I was.  The freak.  The witch.  The weirdo.  I think people spoke to me more ‘cause they were afraid of me.  And I kinda liked that.   I kinda embraced me not giving a crap about what other people thought of me.  Okay, okay, I’m not that tough.  I did care, and lots of things still hurt.  Despite a small group of friends, I always felt alone.   Always felt like I was never good enough. 






But it got better, and I became stronger.


It might be a bad hour, a bad day, or even a bad week – but it’s NEVER a bad LIFE.



Last October I created a PSA for my middle school.  I was taken off guard when they aired it on the morning show.  Actually, my heart kinda stopped and I was eerily taken back to my elementary school years.  I felt like if ONE kid in my class laughed or snickered, I might burst into tears.  Creating the PSA was a very emotional, soul bearing moment for me; I was opening up a side of me that I had buried for so long.  My homeroom class was SILENT the whole time it played, and I honestly just wanted to shut the TV off and hide under my desk. 

How could I be so stupid to bring all that up again?


(View my PSA on Youtube here)


When it was over, I think the kids were a little unsure of how to react.  Finally, someone said, “Wait?  Did that really happen to you, Mrs. DeVivo?”

Yes.  It did.  Growing up sucks sometimes, doesn’t it.

And it was like opening the floodgates.  I was no longer the teacher, the untouchable, the “adult”, I was one of them – real, hurting, alone. 

Bullying doesn’t only happen at school.  It takes place EVERYWHERE, especially through  the wonderful medium on which you read this very post… the internet.  I know it’s unrealistic to say “end bullying.”  I honestly wouldn’t know where to begin with that one.  But what I will say is:  there is help.  And if you’re being bullied, I implore you to seek out help from the people around you.  There are people who care about you.  Even in what may seem like your darkest hour, there are people who love you and who are willing to listen.  I never had that.  I wish I had.  I never had anyone tell me “it’s gonna be okay,” or “it gets better,” or to just LISTEN. 

Cause sometimes that’s all we need – is someone to listen.    


It gets better.






Here are some links that help dealing with bullying issues.  Lots of informative stuff here.  Wish I had this years ago.  Remember, use all the resources available to you.  There is help out there!  











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Posted by on in Author Series

Memorial Day Weekend.  The official un-official start of Summer.  Lazy days at the beach.  Hanging out by the pool.  A full two months of fun and adventure.  Are you ready?  Have you gotten all your essentials ready?  Flipflops, sunscreen, bathing suit, book….  Oh yea…. THAT!  Hmm… have you asked yourself “What’s in my beach bag?” 

In honor of summer’s start, and as part of my NOT JUST A CHRISTMAS STORY campaign, I’ve compiled a list of my summer reading recommendations.  Click the link on each book to take you to a description and the spot where you can purchase.  There’s a little bit of something here for everyone, so dive into what you love, OR be adventurous and step outside of your usual “reading comfort zone.”  I promise you won’t be disappointed!

**And, as always, anyone leaving an AMAZON review will get extra credit!**


Picture Book

Nuwa and the Great Wall, Salena Casha

~reimagining Chinese mythology!



Historical Fiction:

 Sinners and the Sea, Rebecca Kanner

~the story of Noah’s unnamed wife (yes, THAT Noah! Ark and all!)


Tale of Two Maidens, Anne Echols

~a Joan of Arc adventure


Magnolia City, Duncan Alderson

~1920’s romance and scandal




Cassie Scot: Paranormal Detective, Christine Amsden

~New Adult/ Cassie is the un-special daughter of two powerful sorcerers trying to figure out where she belongs in this world


 Dragonfire, Dina von Lowenkraft

~YA/ Dragons and revenge.  What more can you ask for?


The Curse Giver, Dora Machado

~Epic Fantasy.  Lords, ladies, birthmarks and curses!


An Elfy on the Loose, by Barb McCaffrey

~YA/ What’s an elfy to do when he’s straddling two worlds?


Knight of Flame, Scott Eder

~Contemporary Fantasy.  Florida residents will not be disappointed!




Middle Grade

Homefront, Doris Gwaltney

~coming of age story set during WWII



 The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus, Stephanie Osborn

~Enjoy the first four books in the Nu-Sherlock Holmes series. 


Spirit me Away, Aaron Paul Lazar

~the summer of 1969.  Sex, drugs, rock and roll, and slave traders.  Gus LeGarde and his new wife are in for a mystery of a lifetime.






Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose their Mates, Mary Batten

~looking for some non-fiction to whet your appetite?  I know my science teacher friends will definitely love this!


Travel Memoir

Plunge, Mari Christine Anderson and Fritz Damler

~Read of Anderson’s and Damler’s trials and tribulations as they pack up and leave their stateside abode for island life in the Bahamas.


Young Adult

The Dagger X, Brian Eames

~ARGH!  Those pirates are at it again in this sequel to Eames’s THE DAGGER CHRONICLES




Manhattan Film Festival; June 21st, Quad Cinema

Jack and Paul, Thomas Moore

~More of a visual person?  Gonna be in NYC on June 21st?  Check out Moore’s short film Jack and Paul debuting at the MFF!






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Posted by on in Author Series

     We all got problems.  No denying - it’s just a plain, straight-up, hardcore fact.  I often hear my students lament, “Oh, you wouldn’t understand, that’s a teenage problem.”  Or the women in my neighborhood will say “We got (insert your master-planned community name here) problems."  Baby cutting teeth and won’t sleep at night?  That’s a Mommy Problem.  Just spent five hundred dollars to repair the air conditioner when the water heater decides to conk out?  That’s a Home Owner’s Problem.  It got me thinking about how we as the human race identify with each other.  There are so many pockets of common ground, so many ways in which we as a people relate, empathize, and coexist.  I thought about all the various “categories” with which I identify myself, and how my identity is shaped through family, friends, colleagues, and yes, community… the writing community. 

                Last summer I devised my “Author Problems” list (and if you know me, you know my obsession with lists) that’s specifically directed at my writing community. 

            And stay tuned for THIS summer’s list, where I will tackle a whole other side of writing… ;)


“Author Problems”

(In no particular order)

1.       Characters who won’t shut up in your head.





2.      Condensing a 250+ page novel into the dreaded 1-2 page synopsis.
3.      Choosing that perfect name for your character! It's probably more difficult than naming your own flesh and blood child!
4.      The QUERY letter.  ‘Nuff said.
5.      Chapter titles or no chapter titles? – that is the question.

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Posted by on in The Coal Elf

My friend and fellow author, Erin Entrada Kelly, passed the Baton to me in the Writing Process Blog Tour. (Be sure to look out for her debut novel from HarperCollins/GreenWillow early 2015!) I have to answer a few questions about what the writing process is for me, and then tag out a few others for your pleasure!  So here goes…

Q1:  What are you working on?
A:  Right now I am in the developing stages of the sequel to my yet-to-be-published Paranormal Thriller/Literary Horror, The Altered.    It’s tentatively titled, The Altered: Plague Within, and I can’t really give away the plotline and such because the first one is still waiting for a publisher pick-up.  But I can say this much - zombies, drugs, conspiracy, and high-tension all rolled up into social commentary on human nature. 

Tagged in: Blog Hop
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The Coal Elf Trailer

Memo: Ember's Song

Are you on the list?