Tag Archives: craft

I’m a curious bird

I haven’t been blogging much lately because of the double whammy of deadlines and burnout, but I did a recent interview with Ruth Tenzer Feldman, the author of an amazing trio of books that link near past and ancient past Jewish history through time travel and feminism. You definitely want to read Blue Thread, The 9th Day, and the forthcoming Seven Stitches! Anyway, here’s the interview we did (which originally appeared here). It was lots of fun! Thanks, Ruth!

So, Amber, with all you’ve done, what has brought you to writing?

I am pretty sure that Mo Willams based one of the characters in The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog on me:

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 7.56.14 AM

I write because I am curious about so many things. I want to know about Ama divers and Antarctica and the history of women explorers and Nordic biathlon and dog genetics and how toilets are made. I love documentaries and memoirs because they plumb people’s obsessions. The writing life gives me an excellent excuse to learn and experience all the things I’m interested in.

I write for teens because I like them better than adults (present company excepted). Young adults are on the cusp of the world. So many possibilities are on the horizon. It’s an exciting time in life when you get to figure out what you stand for and carve your own path. The problem with many adults (again present company excepted) is that they get entrenched in ways of thinking and being and living. I love the brilliant energy young adults bring to the world.

Do you have a favorite piece of your writing?

If so, what is it and why? There is a scene in The Way Back from Broken (the beginning of chapter 33) that is really important to me. It began as a picture book manuscript in the very early days of my writing adventure. I took it to a manuscript critique at a writing conference. The literary agent who read it told me (to my face) that the world doesn’t need another ugly duckling story and that I wasn’t a very good writer anyway and that it would be best if I quit immediately.

I probably wasn’t a very good writer back then but I ached to write about how we can live with our own brokenness. It was a story that I needed to tell whether the world needed it or not. And that’s the thing about writing… it is an audacious act that proclaims: My story matters. I matter. My voice will not be silenced.

Every time I read that section of the book, I want to simultaneously offer a rude hand gesture to that agent and a fist bump to my own pugnacious self.

If you could change one aspect of the publishing business, what would it be and why?

So many things… First… Oh, wait… What did you say? I only get to change one thing? Well… shoot (actually I’m saying a bad word here)… Here’s the deal: Writing a book is hard. Selling books is even harder.

Thousands and thousands of books are published each year. Some are amazing. Some are boring. Some are downright terrible. Helping your book—your blood, sweat, and tears on the page—swim to the surface and into the hands of the right reader often feels like an impossible task. I wish that it were easier to sell books. I wish less of the publicity work fell on my shoulders. I wish that good books always sold well and that writers could create without the looming threat of unpaid bills.

Word-of-mouth (direct or via reviews on Facebook, Amazon and Goodreads) is still the primary driver of book sales. If you know and love a writer, the most helpful thing you can do is share your appreciation for their work with your friends and family. Plus, it’s cool to talk about books with interesting people. Books are awesome!

Intuition, trust, faith – Lessons from SCBWI-WWA

IMG_5930I always leave writing conferences full of new ideas. Maybe a workshop has offered insight into some element of craft that I want to implement in my work in progress, or perhaps I’ve gleaned new strategies for social media and marketing.

I came home from the SCBWI-Western Washington Spring Conference with something a little different and probably far more valuable.

Sharon Flack and Nina Laden reminded me about intuition. Can I step back from over-analyzing and over-planning my projects and embrace the deep knowing of what my story needs?

Rachel Or asked us to trust in each other, in our art, and in ourselves.

David Wiesner spoke of faith in the ultimately unknowable act of creation that occurs when you commit to showing up on the page. Can I believe whole-heartedly in the process by which ideas are made manifest?

And to all this I will add kindness. A thousand thank yous to Dana Armin, Dana Sullivan, and Lily LaMotte for taking such good care of all of us this weekend. I was so happy to be among my people, to see your projects come to fruition, and to share my own. This writing business can be solitary and frustrating and heart-breaking, but it is also filled with the best people in the world.

And thus I begin work this morning full to brimming…


May they be yours as well.


Flash fiction – Vicks VapoRub

Recently, I was on the faculty at the South Coast Writers Conference in Gold Beach, Oregon.  I had a wonderful time teaching and connecting with many talented writers.  I also was lucky enough to get to attend a workshop taught by the poet, Drew Myron.  Each participant received a clear vial of something.  We smelled and then we wrote.  It was a blast.  Here’s the piece of flash fiction that came out of that writing prompt.


I know we’re in love—the real kind—because you kiss me even though I’m sick.  I’m talking funny, nose-plugged, nestled in warren of blankets.  Laptop balanced between us, we’re cruising YouTube for TED talks and snowboarding clips and the Beanie Baby parody of The Hunger Games.

Every few minutes you lean through a mentholated halo of Vicks VapoRub and nuzzle my neck.  The smear of it under my nose drives you back into the pillows with watering eyes.  Laughing and wiping tears on your sleeve, you tell me a story.

There was this guy in my dorm in college.  Edgar.  We played ultimate frisbee on the quad every Thursday.  And he had the world’s worst smelling feet.  Anyway, in sophomore year, he started dating this girl.  I don’t remember her name just that she was in our ecology class and had dimples and she didn’t last long with Edgar.  Here’s why.  

It was late.  The rest of us were partying in the room next door.  But Edgar and Dimple Girl were having sex.  And she was kinda loud, so those of us near the wall between the rooms got full-audio.  They’d been going at it for a while when the moans turned to screams.  

Screams?  You pause, grin wicked, and stare at me until I can’t help blushing.

You wanna know what happened?

I nod and dodge as you dive-bomb my neck.  Mission accomplished, you flop back against the headboard.

That douche, Edgar—I found out later—reached for the lube and got the Vicks by mistake.

Oh my god!  I snort into the comforter.  Tiny bits of down tickle my cheeks.  Vicks!  Not Vicks!  I nuzzle your shoulder with the bite of it in my nose.  It ropes us in, sharp as barbed wire, but we are all tangled limbs, new love, and the scent—thank god only the scent—of Vicks.

More on writing the unexpected…

In Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly, readers get smacked in the face by the unexpected premise: angels are bad.  We think they are good, but they invade our world and suck the life force out of humans, who are, as they are decimated by angel burn, beg for more.

This promo photo for Witches in Bikinis is another great example. Witches?  In Bikinis? Who wouldn’nt want to see that show.

My point is the same as last post: write the unexpected.  It works.



Writing Incongruities (or Mucking Out Stalls in Full Make-Up & Heels)

Recently, I spent the morning dolled up for the Angel Punk team photo shoot.  (Thank you, Levy Moroshan, for the gorgeous new picture on my home page.)  Wait until you see the mid-air jumping shots!  Hilarious to shoot even if I was a tad terrified about breaking an ankle in my heels.

Then I proceed to go home and muck out Sir William’s stall.  The photo to the left is his high fashion shot.  A neighbor was hanging around while I worked, and every time she got a glimpse of me, she laughed at the incongruity of my heavy make-up and less-than-glamourous activity.  (I did change my shoes!)

But the process of writing is like that: sometimes exciting and sometimes pedestrian; sometimes a red carpet walk and sometimes a work-out at the gym.  And the writing itself should be like that.  Forget the predictable.  Go with the incongruous.  It builds better story!

The writer’s job: make alien out of auto parts

In my current WIP, my main character has a part-time job at an auto parts store.  While googling for a list of metal auto parts that I could talk about, I came across this amazing piece of metal art.

It strikes me that this what I am trying to do as a writer.  I want to take the pedestrian, the everyday, the bin of scrap auto parts, and transform them into something out-of-the-ordinary.  Maybe even out of this world!