Moments and Milestones

Well, we're back from our whirlwind weekend at the San Diego State University Writers' Conference. It was AMAZING! Yet again, the organizers brought together an impressive collection of talent, inspiration, professionals, tips and tools.

Despite the downpour of rain and tumbling tumbleweeds, we arrived to the conference on Friday eager to meet some new writerly friends and pitch, pitch, pitch! We had our list of workshops and our advanced reading appointments all set. Friday night, we hung out with a great group of people at the mixer-game night hosted by the hilarious creators of Game Night in a Can - Jason and Barry. They lead us in a series of team activities and physical challenges, complete with prizes and killer music!! I'm happy to announce that the YA table - District 14 - won the Best-Worst Book Title and Cover prize for a children's book called There's a Dead Man in My Dreams. It was so fun!

Saturday we perfected and practiced our pitch, met with engaging agents and savvy editors, learned more about our art, networked, brainstormed and Tweeted (the writing world is all over Twitter). We had appointments with literary agents and editors seeking authors for their publishing houses. The end result was three of them asking for us to send them the whole manuscript. That's a WIN!

When Holly and I woke up this morning, we could barely talk to each other. Not for lack of words and ideas, but because of ALL THE WORDS AND IDEAS! So we played the Fault in Our Stars soundtrack while we got ready for the morning festivities. And then, AND THEN, we were honored and so, so surprised to be nominated for the Conference Choice Award. Erin Quinn, our brilliant conference director says that there's a lot of negative feedback in the world of writing and these awards are meant to let us know we're doing something right. To Holly and me, it was the cherry on top, the icing on the cake, the fuel to our fire.

If you don't know any writers or editors or literary agents or book promoters or writers' conference directors, you should know this one thing: they are generous. They share their stories, their formulas for success, their encouragement and even a few fair warnings. And I think they impart such wisdom because they've been here, in this scary place where doubt and fear make writers feel like their work isn't good enough. This weekend, the keynotes were bestsellers R.L. Stine, Jonathan Maberry, J.A. Jance and Sherrilyn Kenyon...BESTSELLERS, famous and successful and still kind. They were gracious and funny, inspiring and authentic, and genuinely hopeful for all of us. And that's why people come from all over the world to attend this conference. This is our community you guys, and it is wonderful!

So thank you to everyone who messaged, texted, encouraged and prayed. We made friends, learned more than we could have imagined and have A LOT to do! We will keep you posted on our progress.

And #SDSUwriters, thank you, truly. We will see you next year!!


Holly and Jenn

The Word of 2017 Is...

Happy New Year, all! Wow...2017 is in full swing! The years just seem to slip on by, no matter what I do to slow things down. I believe this is the same sentiment that begins every year. Last year, my #oneword was EQUILIBRIUM and reflecting back, I think the Hales did a good job of maintaining it, despite my bout of vertigo in November.

2016 gave us some great moments and some sobering ones. On the international scene, markets rose and fell and proved as unpredictable as ever. We celebrated the Summer Olympics in Rio and worried about Zika. President Obama went to Cuba and NASA's Juno went to Jupiter. When some countries achieved peace, some endured prolonged war. Leaders were impeached, revolts gained ground and the UK left the EU. Refugees searched for safety; some found it, others were turned away. Terrorists attacked and ISIS recruited more extremists. Maybe most profoundly, Pope Francis declared 2016 the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy. Don't you find it interesting that amidst the year of extremes, the world was called to be forgiving, to show compassion and embrace mercy?

On the home-front, we saw killer clowns and tragic shootings ALL OVER social media. The Cubs won the World Series and we captured more gold medals. Sadly, a dizzying number of beloved celebrities left this earth, but never our hearts. The first woman presidential nominee was selected by the Democratic Party but the first billionaire won the election and the Oval Office. We got Stranger Things and This is Us and (SQUEALING) the return of Gilmore Girls. We got the Mannequin Challenge and Pokemon Go, self-driving cars and phones that caught on fire. Bomber jackets and bodysuits (WHAT-WHY?!?), bottle-flipping and "Damn Daniel." And these are just a few of the highlights and lowlights.

What a year. But what really became evident to me, through conversations and online observations, is the emergence of a culture: a culture of criticism. We're judgy and negative and point lots of fingers. Our opinions and comments have taken on an unprecedented harshness and it doesn't seem to matter which side we're on, there's righteous indignation EVERYWHERE! I say "we" because I am guilty too. (And if you're saying "not me" right now, you may need to look a little deeper. Maybe.) It's hard not to get wrapped up in the negativity when Facebook and Google target our feeds to convince us that everyone shares our worldview. This is serious. How are we going to bolster our kids to not just survive the culture of criticism, but change it?

Be the change...right? It's a simple statement that can be translated in many ways, all of which can lead to progress. So my #oneword for 2017 is OPTIMISM. Defined, it means "hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something." It's not only a mental attitude, or a philosophy, it's a choice. And even more importantly, with the turmoil of the past year and the uncertainty of this one, I think it's our only choice.

Maybe it won't change what happens in the world, but an attitude adjustment can change what happens in your home. That's a worthy endeavor, don't you think? Studies have shown that optimism positively impacts a person's mental and physical well-being. People who score high on optimism assessments have lower levels of stress than their more pessimistic peers. They are less lonely, less depressed, less anxious and get sick less often. Optimism is directly associated with life satisfaction, happiness, psychological and physical well-being. So why don't we see more of it?

Because the internet is evil! Okay, that may be extreme, but the prevalence of trolling, shaming and reckless posting, has never been greater. Somehow, the habit of putting negative statements and energy into the world has outpaced the habit of being kind. But we can change that. And I want to be the change...

I'm not saying that crap doesn't exist or that we shouldn't express ourselves when we're upset by the ugliness in the world. But where we can control the output, we should. I can't promise that my little corner of the cybershere will always be full of sunshine and lollipops because life is a mix, and an honest portrayal of life, should be also. But I can choose to feed the world with small doses of optimism, avoid the unnecessary spewing of criticism and limit the amount of negativity that I view. I will choose to see the hope in the midst of the inevitable ick and I will show my kids how to see it too.

So as you enter the new year, list of resolutions set in ink, I hope you find your #oneword and that it has the power to spread love and hope and joy. We get one shot at this life, let's make our legacy a positive one.

Happy New Year, friends!



Holly and Jenn