Book Review: Counting By 7’s

My first book review! So bear with me. I have been reading a LOT of books lately, and trying to pick one of the best to share with you. Whether you love reading or you only pick up a book when someone makes you, I think you should give this book a shot.

Quick Look

Counting By 7’s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan (2013)
Find on Goodreads or Amazon

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life…until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read. 

My Thoughts

Okay, my brother and I were in Denver at a historic downtown train station waiting for a friend’s train to arrive, and we found a really cool bookstore to explore while we waited. I can’t go into a bookstore and not come out with a book (I know, an expensive habit), but this is the beautiful book I came out with.

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The Good

From the first page the prose really captured me. It’s a very unique perspective–that of a 12-year-old who is smarter than nearly everyone around her (I first thought she was autistic), but she’s not cocky about it. Just very matter-of-fact. Her dry, scientific observations and the reactions that she gets from others will make you laugh sometimes.

But Counting by 7’s wasn’t just a well-written character exposition, it had a structured, engaging plot as well.

The Bad

Okay, so some reviewers will say this book has clichés in the plot (parents killed in an accident, someone wins thousands of dollars, etc.), and I say, sure, but life happens like that sometimes. Maybe not all to one set of people, but then a story wouldn’t be interesting if everything was perfectly realistic. Others say Willow isn’t relatable as a character, throwing facts at the reader left and right. Like, who thinks like that? Yeah, maybe not you, but there’s a lot of people in this world, and I’ll grant it to Willow that there are some kids who are like that. I mean, I’m no genius, but I do walk around thinking half-French and half-Chinese sometimes, and diagramming sentences in my head. And other people are into things like subwoofers and radiation and Greek mythology and all kinds of random stuff I have no clue about. So there…

The Best

Counting by 7’s made me laugh and cry. It dealt with universal themes–things like grief, friendship, loneliness, and a longing for home. Things I could identify with that drew me into the story. And like Maya Angelou said good writing should do, it slid right through my brain and went straight to the heart. I haven’t read a book like that (besides my own, lol!) for a long time.

Survey says…?

5 of 5 stars to a book that grabbed me and took over my world for a couple days. Check it out and tell me what you think! Keep reading, keep learning, keep exploring this wonderful world God has given us!

See you next week!

Hannah K

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Camp NaNo-What?

If you’re familiar with the NaNoWriMo, you know it’s a lot easier to spell than it is to say. And if you can’t say it you just end up spelling it out. “National Novel Writing Month”.  Well, July is Camp National Novel Writing Month (the official one is in November). I heard about it on July 1 (the day it started), and by the end of the day I had decided to do it.

I went around to friends and family taking a poll. Because I knew I wanted to write a novel in a month, but I wasn’t sure which one. The options? Three stories I have been wanting to write. What do you think? Here they are with their working titles.

Book #1: God’s Kid
When his uncle Marty goes on the run, 16-year-old Connor is forced to move in with his mentally-unstable mom in San Diego. Trying to understand his relationship with a woman who’s always rejected him, Connor begins to unravel a mystery that will send him and a handicapped child on a harrowing road trip across the United States in search for answers.
(A sequel to Marty’s Kid, the book I am currently trying to publish)

Book #2: Paris of London 
(Lol, you wondered why that was the name of this blog!)
Struggling to keep himself and his sister alive on the streets of WWI-era London, Paris accepts a job running messages for a shady man. By the time he realizes the spy organization he has entangled himself in, Paris has gone starry-eyed over a beautiful rich girl named Melody, whose father is influential in both politics and crime. As his job becomes more dangerous, his relationship with Melody gets more complicated, and his homeless friends begin calling him a traitor. Will Paris find a way out of the maze of fear and crime, to find a home with those he loves?
(This is more of a romance, a rewrite of a book and musical I wrote several years ago.)

Book #3: Zian’s Story
He’s a ghost child. The seventh child of poor farmers, non-existent in the eyes of the strict Chinese government and their famous one-child policy. She’s an American high schooler, sneaking around mountain villages at night, dropping Scripture booklets on doorsteps. In a twist of providence, he meets her and they are thrown together on a journey of harsh reality, danger, and love.
(I don’t know if this is a romance, adventure, mystery, or what–it’s a pretty recent idea based on some of my own experiences in China (plus imagination!))

Survey says…?

Well, the poll I took indicated Paris of London as the winner, so that’s the one I started. Honestly, I’d like to see all of these ideas as books someday, and I hope you feel the same! Which one is your favorite? And let me know if you are participating in Camp NaNo-Whatever it’s called, so we can encourage each other!

Remember today is a gift from God, you are a gift from God, and don’t forget to use those gifts God gave you!

Signing off!

Hannah K

 

Making a Movie

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Hello again, friends!

My 6 little siblings (ages 5 to 12) decided to make a movie. I got wind of it, and finding they already had come up with a plot (I hate plotting), I said, “Hey, do you need someone to write the screenplay?” Of course they did. (Actually they never thought of having a screenplay for their movie.) But anxious to use my cool screenplay software (Final Draft), I sat down and whipped up a few pages for them. It was hilarious fun to have little kids hanging over my shoulder, absolutely holding their breath to see what the evil horse rustler would say next, and bursting out in laughter at my (pitiful) attempts at humor.

They were very serious about this movie. Carried their scripts around and practiced every day. Finally the day of the shoot came, and they rooted through the house looking for Wild-West-era costumes and shoes other than sneakers. I lent them my boots, my skirt, my hat, my new vintage shirt (*wince*), my favorite blanket (for a shawl), my eyepatch (I’ve been saving for a rainy day), and a silk scarf I bought in Beijing. Yes, I was seriously invested in this film.

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It was my 5-year-old brother Isaac’s acting debut. He had fun getting into costume and playing the part of a little boy who witnesses a kidnapping and runs to the police with the news. With a lot of coaching, he performed pretty well. And hey, when you’re that cute, audiences are forgiving, right? 🙂 If I can get the rights I’ll post a link to the finished film so you can enjoy it. 😀

If you are very bored, check out some of the little films I made with my siblings when were little (see, with no TV or video games, kids get creative). Wealth is Worthless, based on a verse in Proverbs, was made in one afternoon when we lived in China. After that we did a big film twist of Oliver Twist, called An Olivia Twist. I wrote the screenplay for that one too, but unfortunately we never quite finished filming it.

In my brother’s newest film, War Movie, I appear only as a dead soldier lying on the battlefield. Actually that was my favorite role of any I’ve played in a movie. (You won’t see me in the trailer because I’m in the climactic shot!)

This is random, I know, but ah… the joys of summer! Ever been in a film or made one? Or wanted to write for one? Let me know in the comments!

Good chatting with you all! See you again soon!
Sincerely,
Hannah K

SUMMER!

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If you haven’t already heard my enthusiastic social media posts… I SURVIVED MY FIRST YEAR OF TEACHING! Four kindergarten kids graduated to first grade on May 26, and after the last kid was safely out the door, one teacher went running around the building screaming in delight. Well, I wasn’t the only one. After the lady teachers had got their screams out (the guys were a bit more contained), all the staff walked downtown for Subway and after that… freedom!

The following week I flew home to spend the summer with my parents and ten siblings (yes, I was expecting to relax!). Summer at my family’s house consists of reading, reading, and… what else? Besides a little summer school, a little swimming, hiking, and camping, and the occasional snack or movie, my siblings apparently plan to read all summer. Hey, that’s fine with me. The house is quiet, and I can write and read almost to my heart’s content. Everyone else is having their own private adventures (which is why books are so awesome)!

Because of the internet situation where I lived, I hadn’t submitted my book to agents or publishers for a while. Now that I’m home, I’ve set a goal (as of yesterday!) to submit Marty’s Kid to at least one agent or publisher a day. I’m still not sure where the future of this book will be, but I feel like I need to give it my best shot.

I’m glad God’s in control, and I’m happy waiting on his timing. I’ve probably already shown you this quote, but it is one of my favorites, and one of my best teacher-friends hand-drew this t-shirt for me.

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I’m loving the journey, especially the sunshine and relaxation of summer! How about you? Does your summer look busy or boring (or a nice balance)? What books are you reading (or writing!) this summer? Comment and let me know! And remember to thank God for the gift of another season. 🙂

I remain

Respectfully yours,

Hannah K

My First Rejection

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Today was a lovely Saturday. I went out to breakfast, went shopping with my friends, and didn’t spend a cent of money since I forgot my wallet (isn’t that nice?!). All my work in the little kindergarten classroom was done, so I hung out in my room reading about special education degrees, writing chapter summaries for another proposal, and of course, reading my book. 1st-grade-teacher Rhoda from next door invited me over for pizza, so I went over there and lamented to her about how hard a writer’s life is. (Only she’s an artist so she faces the same kind of woes.)

After dinner I went running around the block and came in through the front door to find a very strange letter addressed to me in my own handwriting. Oh yes, my Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope. “My first rejection!” I said aloud. Because I knew it would be a rejection, and I was okay with that. I had waited for this moment for so long–prepared myself, told myself it would be a cause for celebration, told myself I would enjoy it… And I did!

I went flying out the back door again, found Rhoda in the kitchen and nearly screamed. “I got a rejection! My first rejection!”

She was mystified. But she smiled at my enthusiasm, and hugged me, and said if I was happy she sure was happy for me. (The mark of a great friend, btw.) And in the next few moments, as I tried to hold back my tears of joy (or, I think they were tears of joy), I tried to explain to her what my first rejection means to me.

My first rejection means…
–I spent over a year writing, brainstorming, and researching for a book.
–I spent almost another year editing, submitting, pitching, writing queries and synopses, and organizing a professional proposal.
–I actually submitted my work.
–Someone actually read it (or, we hope so).
–I tried.
And most importantly…
–I CAN TRY AGAIN!

Have you ever received a rejection letter? If so, tell me about it! I rejoice with you, because even though deep down we would have liked acceptance (right?), a rejection letter means we are one step closer to fulfilling our dreams.

Two Lives

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2:00 a.m. shoveling snow for a little extra cash

Every writer lives two lives—the real-world life and the fictional life. The real-world life is boring but moves fast, the fictional one thrilling but often progresses very slowly. At least for me. Up until now this blog has focused on my fictional life—the world of my characters and story. But now that I’ve started submitting to publishers and agents, I’m spending less time writing more time in my real-world life. And I’m beginning to realize how cool real life really is.

Since I started this blog, I’ve lived in three different places, been in ten different countries, hung out with refugees in detention camps, cowboys on the prairie, and gangsters’ kids in the ghetto…you name it. If I could distil all my wild adventures into a coherent set of stories I would be a master indeed. And yes, I get tired of hearing, “Wait, you’ve been to [fill in the blank]?” (add an amused or disbelieving stare)

Yes, I have, and guess why I write. I write out of my experiences–not about them, but out of them. The beauty and magic and mystery and heartbreak of life forces me to write, to somehow explore it. Maybe make sense of it, or maybe just lose myself in wonder at the mysteries I won’t understand until, as 1 Corinthians says, we “know even as we ourselves are known.”

So from now on, you might find me posting about being a clown at a family fun night, or shoveling snow all night for 12 hours straight, or a kindergarten student asking me what a gallows is. (“If they just hanged Haman from there, then how did he die?”)

I hope you won’t mind. It’s all part of my writing—real or fictional. It’s part of me.

How does your real life inspire your writing life? Is there anything you see in your writing that is a product of a real life experience you’ve had? Please comment below—I love hearing from you!

In all of life, but especially your creative endeavors, remember it’s about the journey, not the destination.

“…to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor.”
~Robert Louis Stevenson~

Submission!

Lyrics were spinning through my head on December 8, when I turned 20 years old. You can’t catch me and make me a man... No sir, we’ll stay young forever!

Four days later I finished the 4th draft of my second novel, Marty’s Kid, and printed it for the first time. Carried it back to my kindergarten classroom (did I tell you I’m teaching kindergarten at an innercity school?), and ‘bound’ it with turquoise duck tape.

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The next day I sent it off to the freelance editor I had met at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference in May. Why the next day? Did I even read through it after I finished? No, I didn’t. I’m the kind of person who could go on editing forever, so I had to force myself to close my eyes and push send.

On the last day of January I got it back from the editor. Meredith Sloan–she did an amazing job! 10 hours of editing time and she trimmed, clarified, stregthened…cut most of my miserable metaphors (magic of omission!), and encouraged me on my way. I was very pleased with her services, and moved forward with another draft based on her suggestions.

Sunday night I finished putting together my proposal for the acquisitions editor of a small Christian publishing house. For nine months I’ve been planning to send my book to this publisher (who expressed interest at the writer’s conference and asked for my proposal). The moment finally comes, with the e-mail proofread and ready to go–and my heart starts pounding and my arms feel weak. I cover my face with my hands.

Four years ago, on an island in Southern China, the 12th floor of an apartment building, in front of a giant bubble window with a view of the ocean, I picked up my pencil and a simple brown cardboard notebook. Heart pounding, I began to write.

Now, as I hover over the send button–my first submission and the beginning of the next chapter in my writing journey–I have to take a breath. Raise my hands above my laptop, and pray a prayer of surrender. It was never mine–this inspiration, this talent, this book. It’s yours God, and what I have done with it, I give back to you. In the weeks and months and decisions to come, your will be done.

And then, with the tap of a button, I let it go.

 

Happy Birthday, Connor!

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My baby is growing up too fast! Yes, really. Yesterday was Connor’s 15th birthday, and one year since I sat down at my desk to write his story. I was frightened. I knew that once those first words were on the page I would never look back.

No one will ever read this. No one will ever…
I couldn’t lie to myself. I knew people would read it. It was a story I had to share–once it was there, on paper, it would go places I never dreamed.
Come on. Start writing!

I did. And one year later, I think of it as one of the most amazing days of my life. Marty’s Kid, this simple story of a hardened 14-year-old who encounters the love of Christ, has led me on a journey more wild and wonderful than anything I could have imagined.
And the journey’s not over. As I forge ahead through the 4th draft, I am filled with hope for this book’s future–a future that might be just around the corner.

Let me glace at my document. Created August 29, 2016 at 17:43.
275 pages.
82,626 words.
Approximately 33,000 minutes of editing time.
Which is 559 hours–over 23 days of my life.
All in one year’s time.

Don’t say I’m obsessed. Say my characters captivate me.

And pray that they captivate someone else someday.

 

You keep me going, people! Wish Connor a Happy Birthday, and come again sometime!

 

Cracks in the Sidewalk

Lately I find myself trapped between my two least-favorite parts of writing a book. Detailed research, and detailed editing.

Most of the time, this is what detailed research looks like…

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I know, a lot of Google Street View. I pour over garbage cans and cracks in the sidewalk as if they were keys to the treasure chest of inspiration and accuracy. Until my eyes are so tired the buildings on the screen start melting in front of me. Like a lost stalker with a severe case of jet lag. Wait, didn’t I pass that house an hour ago? 

As much as I love learning new things, especially things related to my characters, after a couple weeks I found myself scribbling the same thing in my writing journal almost every night. “I miss writing.”

So I got back to writing. But I soon discovered that writing, in this case, is detailed editing (and I don’t mean punctuation and grammar either.) Plot and scenes are staying generally the same (though I’m fine-tuning the setting), but almost every sentence needs to be completely rewritten, with more creative structure, better word choices, “show don’t tell”, and so on. It’s the cracks in the sidewalk again–the little tiny details no one would think of, but when combined make a world of difference. It goes very slowly for me. A page an hour, working hard. Wow. I’ve always been a fast writer and I guess now I’m paying for it.

Although my summer is starting to get extremely busy, leaving little time to write at all, when I do find a moment this is how it goes: Research, editing, research, staring at a screen as I whisper the words to the song that’s playing.

Who knows…?
Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true

But God is teaching me, through all of this, not only perseverance and patience, but hope. Hope that’s not grounded in how accurate my story is, or who says they’re interested, or how many people look forward to reading it. When I put my hope in those kinds of things I’m always going to be disappointed. There’s only One I will hope in, will hope for. One I will keep working for, no matter what the outcome. And whatever the outcome, if I hope in Him, I won’t be let down.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
(Psalm 42:5)

I’m Still Here!

I made it! I had a tremendous, amazing time at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference and I’m here to tell you about it. Except I’m not sure what to say–I’m still processing everything that went on, all the wonderful people I met, and the next steps to take with my novel-in-progress, Marty’s Kid.

First, thank you so much for all your prayers. Although it dumped nearly three feet of snow in the three days we were there, thankfully my family decided to get a lodge instead of RV and tent camping. I’ve never seen so much snow! After the first day, I was hiking a half mile down to the conference center because the car was completely buried.

Notice the progression from no snow to blizzard to buried! (Behind the RV is our little blue Yaris–did you spot it?)

As for the conference itself… Here was the progression of my emotions. Day 1, after a class with a bestselling author who told us things like never use “he/she said” in your writing and never ever use a semicolon or parentheses–I felt confusion. Didn’t I just read a bestseller that broke those rules? Who’s to say what’s what when it comes to writing–the next professional I ask says something completely different about the same subject! How do I know who to listen to?

Day 2, after I met with my first agent for a critique of my work, and besides pointing out a bunch of flaws and inaccuracies in my first several pages (kids don’t say ‘bummer’, kids don’t ask a girl out), he told me in so many words that there was no market for my book–I felt…despair. Is that too strong of a word? After seeing your careful work of eight months come crashing down on your head? As much as I told myself I was being sensitive and childish, I still took it hard. Thankfully not in front of the agent. I hiked up to my cabin and had a pity party for myself.

Day 3. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to pitch my book to another agent, I didn’t even want to look at my book. (Even with that awesome kid on the front, I know.) So I gave it to God. I said, God, this book is yours anyway, I wrote it for you, and if you want me to pitch it (in the trash), I guess that’s fine. And I think I’m all done being a writer, but if you say keep writing, I will. It’s all about you, Jesus.

You know what? I watched God give that book back to me. During the next 8 hours. I met with an award-winning author–he encouraged me, gave me ideas for how to get my book to the market, and told me I had wisdom (I was thinking, I don’t know what I just said, but if it was wisdom it was God talking, not me). I met with an editor for another critique, and like a polar opposite of the first guy, she pretty much only had good things to say about my work. And then, because of an error only God could have arranged, I met with an acquisitions editor for a small publishing house, who seemed interested almost before I started talking, and twenty minutes later was telling me, “Get the book to where you want it and send me your proposal.” I couldn’t believe it! Besides that, there were so many wonderful people I met, and people who encouraged me, and little things God did for me–it was like he was saying, what are you despairing about? I’m still in control here.

And he is. As I sort out numerous things I learned, advice people gave me (which usually conflicted with someone else’s advice!), and the plan for where to take the book next, I keep going back to God. Begging him for wisdom. For the next step. And in regards to both me and Marty’s Kid, I think of one of my favorite poems, by Langston Hughes.

I been scared and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
   Snow has friz me,
   Sun has baked me,

Looks like between ’em they done
Tried to make me

Stop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’–
But I don’t care!
I’m still here!

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