Have you ever been at the start of something big? That struggling actor you met is suddenly a box office favorite? That novel you read by an unknown author quickly moves up the best seller list? My husband recalls seeing a young comic starting his career at a comedy club up in L.A.many years ago. He was surprised when a few years later this comedian had moved from the comedy stage to become a big star. His name?

JimCarreyJim Carrey

Yesterday, I had two moments that I would describe as cusp moments. I was invited to a concert for an unknown band and I received the ARC for my best friend Sarah’s novel.

KPRIWe have a local independent radio station here in San Diego. For the past 10 years they have helped new bands kick off their careers with a small private concert for a group of  listeners. These concert’s have helped launch the careers of such artists as Jason Mraz, Shawn Colvin, and Imagine Dragons.

Last night my husband and I hopped aboard the Hornblower  ship Inspiration for a  a harbor cruise and to listen to a new band called the Bad Suns. It was the perfect night for a cruise on the San Diego bay.  The Bad Suns were talented and put on a great show. Speaking as a band widow of over 25 years and on how excited the audience grew through the evening, I predict this band will go far.
MBEI was also happy to receive the ARC for my blog buddy Sarah’s novel My Best Everything. I have been excited to watch this novel grow from pages submitted to our critique group to a full blown novel you can actually hold in your hand. To say I’m thrilled would be an understatement.

The novel has undergone several revisions, since those days long ago at critique group and after only reading the first few chapters (I did have a concert to attend) I am eagerly looking forward to see how the novel has changed and grown.

We can never predict what the future holds, but I can say that with both the band and Sarah’s book I feel like I am on the cusp of something big. I can’t wait to see if my predictions come true.

Happy reading,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

Sorry I didn’t post last week. It’s been a busy week here at the Santillan household. In the last eight or so days we have celebrated: 2 birthdays, Father’s Day, a graduation, a funeral, the ending of an old job and the beginning of a new job. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was coming or going. But each event served as a reminder of the constancy of change. Nothing stays the same. Things are always in movement.

Last Saturday, we celebrated Son#2’s graduation from High School. As I faced that last week, I marked down the milestones that I knew I would never face again: last school lunch, last day of carpool, etc… It was a bittersweet moment as I watched my son take the stage to receive his diploma. My baby has grown up. I remembered his first weeks in High School and wondered where the time went. But just as I look back at those moments and wish I could hold on to them for just a moment more, I look forward to the future and am eager to see where he will go.

One week later, I found myself at the funeral for a family friend. The gentleman was in his 70’s and had lived a full and happy life with a family who cared for him greatly. And though his final years were faced with the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s I was touched by the legacy of love and hope he left his family. This legacy will continue on through his children and grandchildren.

In our family, it has become a tradition to place an unlit candle on the side of the cake. It represents the hope for the coming year. As I placed the candle on the cake this year, I was reminded of both the graduation and the funeral. Both events while on opposite ends of the spectrum were celebrations of the past, with the eye to the future.

I’m hoping things will settle down here for a while and we can catch our breath. But if they don’t, I know we’ll be okay. I’ve seen the past and I have tremendous hope for the future.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk



WITLast night I had the pleasure of attending the WIT (Whatever It Takes) Showcase.

A course designed for teens who want to be leaders and agents of social change, this event was an opportunity for the students to present their projects to the community. Pretty exciting stuff!

My understanding is that once teens are accepted into the program, they attend weekly two hour classes where they develop business skills and work to come together as a team. They are then given the opportunity to pitch their ideas in hopes to get backing to enact their dream projects.

Some of the programs presented last night included:

  • Project FULL: Since some children receive their most substantial meals while at school, their goal was to provide additional food to children during extended vacations.
  • S2S Project: Provides inexpensive art instruction in schools where the arts funding has been cut. 
  • Embrace: Promotes positive self-image. They sell and wear bracelets as a way to kick the habit of making body shape and size a topic of conversation and source of judgment. 
  • Major Decision: allows high school students–particularly those aspiring to be first-generation college attendees–to be mentored by current college students in order to gain awareness and better understanding of college.

There’s more! Check out their website to learn more and to support them in their endeavors. 

I loved listening to these articulate and enthusiastic teens explain their reasons for the projects they chose. Quite impressive! But another thing that was really great was they shared their failures as well. Some projects never got going. Others faded out due to financial or motivational problems. It was clear that they all learned from the mistakes and frustrations as well as the rewards. They’ve definitely learned the power of social media!

It’s a great motto: Whatever It Takes. 

Sarah Tomp


funny-pictures-cat-is-stuck-in-your-christmas-treeStuck-itis, it’s that terrible condition that all authors face when they get stuck halfway through their story. We’ve all experienced it, and sometimes the effects can be crippling for a writer. Friend of the blog, author Bruce Hale, shared these four tips for helping an author get rid of stuck-iris in his recent newsletter. Bruce graciously gave me permission to share those tips with our readers today.

Dear Writer Guy,

I usually get story ideas all the time and start writing them.
However, I usually get stuck in the middle of the story and
don’t know where to go from there. Do you have any tips for
writer’s block or story stuck-itis?

Yours truly,
Julie in Texas

Dear Julie,

Usually, I find my story bogs down when I’ve lost track of what
the character wants or I haven’t given her a meaningful enough
goal to carry her through the whole tale.  If the character is
actively trying to solve a problem, your story will keep moving

Of course, it’s one thing to say this and another thing to
accomplish it.  Here are a few techniques you might try to get

o Character journaling: Write journal entries as if you were that
main character.  Sometimes in the free flow of writing, a new idea
will shake loose.

o Interview your character: Write this in Q&A format, with you
posing questions and your character answering.  Ask what she’s
feeling, what she wants – anything that will help you get past the
stuck place.  The answers might surprise you.

o Brainstorming: It’s vital to do plenty of this before you
begin writing.  Sometimes I’ve gotten stuck because I
didn’t allow the story idea enough time to gestate before I
tried to push it out into the world.  Play with the idea before
writing.  Let it grow organically.

o Dream seeding: Writing is a head game. (And some of us are head
cases because of this!)  Let your unconscious mind lend a hand.
Before you go to sleep, hold the key story question in your mind,
whether it’s, “What happens next?” “What does
she want?” or, “How does he get out of this

And if all that fails, try putting your story aside and working on
something else for a week.  The brain break may do you good.

If you’d like more writing tips, find out more about Bruce or subscribe to his newsletter check out the following links:

Thanks, Bruce, for letting us share your wisdom today.
Happy Writing,
Suzanne Santillan
Writing on the Sidewalk

As a writer you never know where you may find yourself. In the past I have visited bookstores and schools, leadership luncheons, camps and even a prison. I now have a new location to add to my list-The San Diego County Fair.



Last week I was invited by fellow author Cindy Jenson-Elliot to serve as a writing judge in the creative youth tent for this year’s fair. It proved to be a fun and rewarding experience. Because of my background in art and writing, I was paired up with Alonso Nuñez of Little Fish Comic Book Studio to judge the comic book entries.

I must say I was a little humbled by the caliber of talent that was presented by these kids. They will go far.

Alonso and I proved to be such a good team, that we moved on to judge some of the other art categories as well. By the end of the day our dynamic duo had judged five categories.


As we went through the process of selecting First or Second Place, Best in Show, and the Coordinators Award, I remembered my own boys and the joy they received from earning a ribbon at the fair. It was exciting to know that I was going to be an anonymous part of someone’s memorable moment as well. I wish them well and know they will do great things in the future.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk



Look to the Light


My son's steel wool photography.

My son’s steel wool photography

This past weekend I attended my nephew’s high school graduation. His private all-boys school promotes a strong work ethic and places a great emphasis on service. Sitting there, listening to snippets of the amazing achievements and important service projects completed, it was easy to believe that each of the 295 graduating boys was going to go out and do good in the world. It was clearly expected that each boy has already – and will continue to – make a positive difference. It was a message I needed to hear.

Because, while I was sitting in this ceremony, celebrating the shining wonder of these boys, I was reeling from the news of the drive-by shootings and rampage near Santa Barbara – an event that hit way too close to home. My beautiful, amazing, strong – and blonde – daughter lives in the neighborhood where this tragedy took place. She heard it unfold from start to finish. Before this, she had no idea what a gun shot sounds like. She does now. 

This mentally ill young man said some pretty horrible things about young women – with a focus on blondes – in a very public way. His comments have understandably and rightly promoted a heated reaction. Even though he was clearly unhinged and unwell, there is still a lot of hurt wrapped up in this ugliness. It has brought to light – again – the fact that there is a lot of fear and mistrust between the sexes. 

It’s terrifying to think my daughter and her friends were exactly the kind of girls that this troubled and broken young man thought he hated. And it makes me incredibly sad that they experienced this violence. Because a close call is enough to change you. It shifts your perspective. It makes the world look different. Less shiny.

But, at the same time, I have faith in these girls to make something good come out of the darkness. These are girls who have already stood up for themselves this year even though it wasn’t the easy thing to do. And I have faith in the good young men I know too. The ones that know women are more than their bodies. More than something to conquer and possess. 

We have to look to the light. 

 Sarah Tomp



When my buddy Sarah and I embarked on this whole crazy blog venture we struggled to find our niche. We knew that we wanted to talk about writing and books, but we didn’t want to limit ourselves to those two items exclusively. Over the years we have added recipes and craft items to our posts as well. Okay I admit it, I’ve been the one to add the recipes and craft items more than Sarah has, but nevertheless they have been included on the blog.

The one theme or philosophy that remains consistent has been the appreciation of creativity. Whether it is books, writing or yes even recipes and crafts, we both find delight in creative endeavors.

Recently a friend posted some pictures on her Facebook page that I thought shared the philosophy of our blog.

Some were simple inspirational words written in chalk on the sidewalk:

Photo courtesy of Conni Allen Mutchler

Photo courtesy of Conni Allen Mutchler


Photo courtesy of Conni Allen Mutchler

Photo courtesy of Conni Allen Mutchler

Others were beautiful masterpieces:

Photo courtesy of Conni Allen Mutchler

Photo courtesy of Conni Allen Mutchler


Photo courtesy of Conni Allen Mutchler

Photo courtesy of Conni Allen Mutcher

Photo courtesy of Conni Allen Mutcher

Conni’s photos were a reminder that whether it’s a few simple words written in chalk on a sidewalk or large masterpiece, inspiration is all around us. A writer must always strive to improve their craft and we need to look beyond the edge of our desks or we simply won’t grow.

Go outside and find the beauty around you.

Happy searching,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

P.S.  Special thanks to Conni Allen Mutchler, for letting me share your photos.

I’m so thrilled that the super-smart, fabulously generous Kelly Bennett invited me to take part in the “Writing Process Blog Tour” that is taking over the blogosphere! You can check out her process here. Kelly is a true Picture Book genius. Don’t be fooled by her modest talk. And… Oh my. She knows how to weave a storytime spell! I could listen to her read picture books aloud all day long. On top of that, she can belt out pretty much any show tune you have an urge to hear!

And now, on to the 4 questions!

1. What am I currently working on?

I’m working on a contemporary YA novel that takes place in a small college town in southwestern Virginia, right down the road from  MY BEST EVERYTHING. It’s a rocky story–there are lots of ups and downs for my main character, but also actual rocks. Like boulders. Underground caves. An abandoned quarry. She’s awfully lost at the moment, so good thing there’s a boy who loves maps, too. 

I also have other projects that I work on when I get stuck with my novel. For instance, I am perpetually trying to write the perfect picture book. I also love writing short stories and poetry. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My characters tend to be older than a lot of YA characters. They’re hovering at that point where they are going to be stepping out into the world on their own – but haven’t stepped over the line to adulthood quite yet.

And boy oh boy are my characters rule breakers! They’re feisty and determined, and so unwilling to take no for an answer.

I adore match-making between two flawed characters struggling with tough issues. I don’t think I follow the typical romance pattern. I like my couples to figure out exactly why they’re right together and then let them deal with a whole lot of other kinds of trouble beyond their relationship. It’s them against the world! 

3. Why do I write what I write?

I write realistic contemporary fiction because I love to read it. I always have.

For me, real people in the real world are infinitely fascinating and complex. I never get tired of trying to figure out why someone behaves a certain way. I am a psychology junkie. 

As for love stories… I think falling in love, especially for that very first time – well, that’s enough magic for me. It really is a mysterious and wonderful thing. I adore hearing “how we met” stories. First loves have a way of getting deep inside us, and can change how we look at the world ever after – even though they rarely last in the long run.

4. How does my individual writing process work?

As far as actual logistics, I don’t have an office ~ instead I write at one end of my kitchen table.

I do most of my writing early in the morning before going to work. I get up realllllly early! I can sometimes revise in the afternoon, but for new pages, that early early, still dark, maybe even still night, time is best. 

As far as the figuring out the story, my process is messy! And ever-changing.

In the beginning of a new project, there is a lot of trial and error. I have way more questions than answers. So I write. I delete. I write again. I quit. I write. I get mad. I write long ranty emails to patient, sensible friends. I quit again. Sometimes I cry. I journal madly and wildly and incoherently. I cut pictures from magazines. I write. Delete. I call my super blog buddy and whine. I write. Delete. I walk my dog. 

And then, eventually, something clicks. The puzzle pieces start to fit together. I start making lists of scenes. I write them on post-its and try to figure out how they might fit together. I arrange, and rearrange. 

Once I THINK I know where I’m going, I get to work. 

It still looks a bit like what I’ve described above, especially the write, delete, rewrite parts; but I’m a lot more productive. I am not afraid of tossing scenes or starting over, but I do like to feel as though I’m on solid ground moving forward. (Even if I’m wrong.) I will sometimes write super rough drafts of future scenes just to have a target of where I’m headed, but I know they’ll look different by the time I get there. So it’s mostly linear with lots of circling back to “fix” things as I learn more about my story. 

Oh! I also nap. Naps are a crucial part of my process!

And now… let me introduce who’s up next! Two amazing women that you will adore. Anindita Basu Sempere and Darcy Woods

Anindita Basu Sempere
ANINDITA BASU SEMPERE: Anindita was one of my classmates at VCFA. She is a true Renaissance woman: brilliant in a variety of disciplines, as well as thoughtful and kind. She’s been busy in a whole new way lately which is why I can’t wait to read her post next Monday! 

Anindita is a writer, educator, book addict, geek, and occasional dog rescuer. She has MFAs from the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and Boston University’s Poetry Program. In 2009 and 2010, she co-directed the New England SCBWI regional conferences “Many Voices” and “Moments of Change” and is currently the Critique Group Coordinator and Webmaster of SCBWI-Switzerland. Anindita has been an educator for over ten years and co-founded TheWritingFaculty.com. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she loves to travel, read, knit, and bake.


Darcy WoodsDARCY WOODS: Darcy and I share an agent, but I “met” her on Twitter. Now we meet regularly through email where we ponder deep important things like the importance of bananas. She also makes super adorable emoticon cheerleaders – I’m working towards earning what she promises will be the extra super amazing version.

Darcy was the winner of the prestigious 2013 Golden Heart for Best Young Adult Romance for SUMMER OF SUPERNOVA. She wears her heart on her sleeve and writes hilarious romancy YA. When it comes to stories she loves funny, whimsy, and strong girls who know how to wreak just the right amount of havoc on the world. 

Be sure to check out both Anindita’s and Darcy’s posts next Monday!

Sarah Tomp




Meet Your Reader Test

I spent Monday working in a high school. My job takes me to various public schools, but I spend most of my time in elementary schools. Even though I currently live with a teen, it is always good to hang out with real teens. To see them in action, to listen to them talk, to be reminded who my ideal YA readers are.

If you write for young people, there is an excellent chance that at some point you will be interacting with your readers.

We can’t always predict what your readers will ask (see Suzanne’s post), but you have to be ready for as many possibilities as you can anticipate. I’ve set WIPs aside because I realized I didn’t want to have to represent–or defend–a particular topic or issue. 

May I suggest a Meet Your Reader Test? Some questions to think about:

  • Do you want to talk face to face about your topic/theme?
  • Does the topic thrill you? 
  • Are you an expert?
  • Do you have more to say on the subject than you could ever fit within the confines of a book?
  • Does the story lead you places you want to be?
  • Are you ready to face any controversies that could arise from a discussion about your book?
  • Can you calmly discuss opposing views?

Yes? Well then, write on!

Sarah Tomp



girl on tracks

In a recent post my blog buddy Sarah mentioned the different roles that readers take when reading a manuscript. I must admit that I fall into the Dare Devil category. It is often a joke in our critique group that I love peril in a story. Life is too short to read boring books. I want my characters to face adversity and trouble and grow from the experience. I want to see a character tied to the tracks with a train approaching and show me how you get them out of that dilemma. I don’t want the blood. I don’t want gore. I want an honest to goodness problem that seems impossible to solve and a clever solution that makes me say…ahhh.

Pacing is important when creating peril for your character. You want to give your reader the “What happens next” moment that pulls them along in the story. Author Jody Hedlund ‘s post about Practical Ways to Leave Your Readers Hanging From a Cliff, gives some helpful ideas to give your readers that experience.

Here are a few of her suggestions:

• End at a point of physical danger to the main character (or another character)

• End with a crucial decision needing to be made

• End with the hero receiving devastating news 

As you can see, they don’t always have to deal with a life or death situation, but just honest to goodness conflict for your character.

Be sure to check out Jody’s post for other ideas to keep your readers hooked. Writer Caro Clark also has a great post on creating conflict in writing that is well worth a look.

So go put your character up a tree and throw some rocks at them. Remember life is too short to read boring books.

Happy Writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk