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#EndGunViolence [Dec. 7th, 2014|05:24 pm]
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Remembering victims

Two years ago, in Newtown, Connecticut, innocent lives were taken by gun violence. In Tucson, we witnessed our own tragedy nearly four years ago.

We can recite these places where gun violence occurs like a litany.

Shockingly, when the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings takes place next Sunday, 60,000 more Americans will have died from gunshot wounds.

St John on the Desert Presbyterian Church in Tucson is partnering with the Newtown Foundation, Washington National Cathedral, States United to Prevent Gun Violence, and Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. Across the nation, from December 11-14, there will be special events and services in remembrance of the victims.

St John is my church, and I will be there for the worship service, followed by a candlelight vigil, for the victims of gun violence.

Gun violence affects all of us.

I hope you will join me.

Friday, December 12th, 6-7 pm
St John on the Desert Presbyterian Church
2695 N. Houghton Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85749
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Give it a listen: If That Breathes Fire, We’re Toast! [Nov. 8th, 2014|01:47 pm]
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If That Breathes Fire, We’re Toast! by Jennifer J. Stewart (that's me) is now available as an audiobook, from Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. If you get the book as a new Audible listener, it’s free!

I also have FREE Audible download codes. Please email me (jennifer at jenniferjstewart dot com). I will send them out while they last, along with easy instructions for using them.

Miranda Stewart narrated the audiobook. It’s good to have a family member in “the business.” Miranda also narrated another of my middle grade children’s novels, The Girl Who Has Everything, as well as Wendy K. Williamson's bestselling memoir, I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar. I am sure Miranda will narrate many more books! Have a listen
to a sample.

When If That Breathes Fire, We’re Toast! first came out, VOYA put it on its Best Fantasies of the Year list. It was also a finalist for Oklahoma’s Sequoyah Book Award.

Trade review snippets:
This enjoyable, slapstick story has tongue-in-cheek humor and interesting characters that suspend reality and will captivate its audience. VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES
...the sharp, funny phrasing and the likable, believable characters give the book freshness and zip, and the eye-catching cover will help it circulate in libraries. BOOKLIST
The story beautifully blends fantasy and reality. This book is tough to put down! CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
Relaxed, readable debut... tongue-in-cheek humor will keep readers turning pages. KIRKUS
The dialogue is fresh, and the characters are likeable, including the adults... A quick, fun read. SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

I hope you enjoy the audiobook, and if you do, please consider leaving a review if you have time. They matter. Thank you.
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Link love [Oct. 29th, 2014|10:37 am]
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In no particular order, these are websites that are helpful for writing people, unorganized people (imagine a Venn diagram here showing how these two intersect), and people who just want to have a little fun, which includes everyone.

TeuxDeux—This virtual ‘to do’ list keeps me organized and on track. Now it comes in colors and with a flying unicat!

Number Five Bus—Interesting conversations between interesting people, all of whom happen to be picture book creators—authors, illustrators, or author-illustrators. You will learn a lot.

Drew Weing's webcomic, The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo—Make sure you start from the beginning. Perfect for Halloween!

We Need Diverse Books—If you haven’t heard of this group, you need to, whether you are a part of the children’s and teen literature community or not. It matters. Their indiegogo campaign is here. I donated. Please join me.

The Minimalists—They’ve helped me clear the clutter and think about all my stuff in a new light. Perhaps they will help you. Plus, playing the #minsgame on twitter is fun.

Which websites are your favorites? Also, as the possessor of a new smartphone, are there apps that I shouldn't miss?
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So how’s that #minsgame going? [Oct. 16th, 2014|08:44 am]
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Back in August, I wrote about my beginning experiences playing the #minsgame, an idea dreamed up by The Minimalists. On the first of the month, you rid yourself of one item, two items on the second, three on the third, and so on. It’s a way to pare down your possessions, and clear the clutter from your home, in order to make room for what really matters—which usually isn’t a material thing.

I have never been successful at clearing the clutter before because I looked at it as a chore, one that I never seemed to get around to, even by bribing myself. It just wasn’t fun.

It’s different now. It’s is fun, because (1) it’s a game, and (2) you tweet about what you’ve recycled, given away, or dumped, and (3) through twitter, I’ve met some like-minded people all around the world doing the same thing. Some of the #minsgame players post photos; one man arranged his collection of gift boxes on his bed so that they looked like a Mondrian painting. We inspire each other and look forward to hearing about each day’s haul. It gets tough towards the end of the month, and that’s when having a social network really helps.

So I guess what I’m saying is I needed my uncluttering process to be social, competitive, and accountable, and most of all, FUN, which is why #minsgame fits the bill.

So, two months in—I played #minsgame for August and September, my home is less cluttered, and my mindset about hanging onto things just in case has changed. There are a few shelves in my house with nothing on them. Even my husband finds me things to give away.

One thing surprised me. I didn’t resort to culling my massive book collection yet, which will be the hardest for me, along with all my late mother’s things.

I’ve slacked off this month because while on vacation, I caught a dreadful cold, but now that I’m feeling better, I am planning on jumping right back in come November.

If you want to join me on twitter, I’m at @JenniferJStweet.
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Maybe [Sep. 6th, 2014|04:26 pm]
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Maybe the editor’s on vacation—after all, it was Labor Day last week—and that’s why my agent hasn’t heard anything on my submission which has been out for three whole months.

Maybe she’s off riding an elephant in Thailand, and maybe a baby elephant sat on her laptop.

Maybe she’s actually in the office, but her assistant accidentally spilled his iced almond funky monkey all over the keyboard. The whipped cream is proving particularly difficult to remove.

Maybe the keys for Y-E-S mysteriously went missing.

Maybe she was riding in a hot air balloon and it suddenly popped over the Bermuda Triangle.

Maybe she sprained both wrists, plus she was already on crutches from bunion surgery.

Maybe she’s taking an e-break from email, and as you know, telephones are the devil’s invention.

Maybe she hasn’t read the manuscript yet. Maybe she had a stack of 293 books to be read on her nightstand, and this morning they toppled over onto her head and caused a severe concussion, which means she can’t read anything for the next three weeks.

Maybe the manuscript needs to be discussed in an editorial meeting, but the intern whose job it is to give a report on the manuscript is on vacation. In Antarctica.

Maybe the editor secretly writes sexy romances on the side, and they’ve become so popular, she’s going to leave children’s publishing and move to a tropical island, or a Greek one; she can’t decide. Maybe she’ll buy one of each. Island paradises never go out of style.

Maybe she became addicted to Farmville, Words with Friends, and Sudoku all at the same time.

Maybe she is taking a personal day so she can sacrifice a goat on the steps of the New York Public Library, the one where the lions guard the entrance. No, don't ask me why she needs to sacrifice a goat. She just does.

Maybe she was a close, personal friend of Joan Rivers and is set to give JR’s eulogy.

Maybe she opened her wardrobe yesterday morning, and found that it was the wardrobe that leads directly into Narnia. So she went there, and may never come back, although if she’s wearing lipstick, Aslan might have a problem with that.

Maybe I’m going to go crazy waiting.
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For your listening pleasure: The Girl Who Has Everything [Aug. 18th, 2014|10:21 am]
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Last Friday, the audiobook of my middle grade novel, The Girl Who Has Everything
was released. It is now available for purchase from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. You can listen to a free sample at any of these sites.

The audiobook is narrated by Miranda Stewart, and no, it’s not a coincidence that she and I share the same last name. She’s my daughter. Miranda is a director/model/actor/website designer living in downtown Los Angeles, and now she’s making use of her voice talent, too. She uses professional level equipment for recording and editing.

It is so much fun to hear my characters come to life!

It couldn't have been an easier set-up on my end, as I signed up to have the audiobook produced through, and then chose Miranda to narrate the audiobook. I approved samples along the way and modified my book cover to fit the square format display (think: CD case). Every time I am forced to use photoshop I practically get hives, but with technical assistance (my husband), I was able to get the cover uploaded, and it really wasn't all that hard.

This is Miranda's first audiobook production, but it won’t be her last, as she has already gotten another gig, based on the work she did for me.

Thanks, Miranda!
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#minsgame [Aug. 7th, 2014|02:36 pm]
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It’s seven days into August as I write this, and by the end of the day, I will have given away, recycled, or trashed 28 items in my house. I gave away one item on August 1st, two on August 2nd, and so on. Today’s goal is seven things. By the time August is over, the total will hit 496 items, if I’ve done the math correctly. That’s right, by month’s end, my house will have nearly 500 fewer things in it.

I’m playing a game, specifically the #minsgame. Conceived by The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, it’s a way to unclutter your house or apartment and get you thinking about how nice it would be to have fewer things—the idea being that once you shed your possessions, you’re more open to what really matters.

It’s called minimalism.

To be honest, I’m more about having less to dust and store. I’m not likely to move into a tiny house. Still, minimalism appeals to me in many ways, and not least in terms of possessions.

I think many writers may practice it unconsciously, hoarding (heh) their time for what matters, for getting the words down on paper or typed on a computer screen. Saying no keeps distractions from encroaching upon that precious writing time—because we all only have 24 hours in a day, and adding a commitment means skimping on something else. I’ve tried to skimp on sleep, and that never ends well. You start feeling like a rat in a laboratory experiment focusing on the effects of too little refreshing REM sleep. And sometimes, at night, in a dream is when I get my best ideas. There’s something about going to bed with the story and my characters fresh in my mind, and bingo, in the morning, I have a snippet of dialog, or an idea for what could happen next.

I’ve tried decluttering for 15 minutes a day before, and I find if I have to force myself to do something, it tends to languish on my to do list (actually, my teuxdeux list), rolling over to the next day for weeks (let’s feel a little guilty) or even months (let’s feel massive guilt) on end.

But this is a game, and I’m competitive—I want to report my progress on twitter and see what others are tweeting goodbye to—and I don’t want to lose, either. I intend to stay on track.

The #minsgame gets more challenging as you go, obviously, but my ace in the hole is many thousands of books, which definitely need culling, if I should run out of other things. But I’m not sure I will.

In fact, I may need to play the game in September, too.
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In the city of angels [Jul. 31st, 2014|12:59 pm]
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Last week, I was in Los Angeles for our daughter’s wedding. I thought I would give a shout out to some of the places and experiences I enjoyed.

First off, my daughter and I enjoyed hours of pampering at Wi Spa in Koreatown. This is a traditional Korean spa, and we got ourselves buffed and massaged on slippery pink vinyl covered tables. My skin was so soft after! Like baby butt soft! Then we were given relaxing facials (I nearly drifted off to sleep), and finally, long lasting manicures and pedicures. Mine are still going strong and they weren’t the gel type. If you go, expect to strip down to nothing but your locker wristband in the women’s area. The coed area has various sauna rooms, including one where you lie down on large crystals of salt. I was tempted to lick one, to see if it was really salt, but my daughter pointed out how many people had perspired all over the salt, and that stopped me. The restaurant is also very nice, particularly the kimchi and shave ice with fresh fruit, which aren’t eaten together. We saw many people enjoying a full day, napping, playing games, and we realized that with the price of rent in #DTLA, you could almost live there, since it’s open 24/7. It’s very quiet as people talk in hushed voices.

The Grand Central Market has been around for a long time, and if you can’t find something you want to eat there, there is clearly something wrong with you. Many of the wedding guests, who got in a day early, had breakfast and lunch at the market.

Another great place to eat is Orochon Ramen in Little Tokyo. Wedding guests enjoyed visiting the Japanese American National Museum nearby. Currently it has a tattoo exhibit. The permanent exhibit, detailing the history of the internment camps during World War II is very moving.

Union Station's Fred Harvey room was the setting for the wedding. Designed by architect Mary Colter of Grand Canyon fame, it was perfect. Jennie Cooks catered the delicious vegan food, which was served family style.

And, if that’s not enough, there are cars with pink mustaches driving around! The bane of cabdrivers, because they underprice them, they are part of the Lyft service, and your first ride is free. All you need is an app for your smartphone. Alas, my phone is not clever enough, but maybe by my next visit.
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That thing out of left field [May. 31st, 2014|02:14 pm]
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It happens to all of us. Maybe we have our whole story resting on a certain place we want to go to school, or a city where we want to live, or the idea that we’ll write a book, or get married, or have kids. What do we do when it doesn’t work out? What do we do when we don’t get what we thought we wanted? We can either choose to feel like it’s the end of the world, or we can choose to decide it’s the beginning.
That's from Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage, a memoir by Allison Vesterfelt.

My sister-in-law calls it when life throws you something out of left field, that thing you weren’t expecting. That wasn’t even on your radar. The thing that suddenly puts your whole life in perspective. That you didn’t prepare for, because how could you?

Because you couldn’t even imagine it.

But it isn’t a question of whether it will happen; it’s a question of when. We know how to prepare for natural disasters, but personal ones? I think maybe we protect ourselves by not being able to imagine some of the dark places we can go.

And maybe it’s okay if we’re unprepared.

Because when things don’t go the way you planned, that’s when you really grow up. That first curve ball knocks you off your pedestal of expectations.

Can you bend, but not break? When you buckle to your knees can you still manage to move forward? I think of Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” and her question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

One of the wonderful things about reading Maya Angelou, who died this week, is that she had so many of life’s curve balls thrown at her, and yet she both survived and thrived, and she took on so many roles in her long life: author, mother, artist, dancer, activist, teacher. She gave the commencement speech when I graduated from college, and I remember her reciting “Still I Rise.” I had already read many of her books, but I didn't know her poetry.

I’d had a couple curve balls thrown at me by then. I’ve had a lot more thrown at me since.

And while I’m not dealing with anything in particular now—it’s some of my friends who are reeling from what life has thrown at them—I’m going to go listen again.
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Dreams of a debut author [May. 15th, 2014|11:01 am]
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"I think there might have been a misunderstanding. What I really wanted was for you to publish my story, and send me fifty thousand dollars. Didn't you realize that?"
upon receipt of a rejection letter

I was in Nepal when my first novel came out. I remember reading the Kirkus Review in an internet café in Kathmandu, and thinking to myself, well, that’s nice.

I had never heard of The Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators. I had never heard of marketing collectives of authors banding together to cross-promote their work.
I don’t think I was even aware that I should promote my work.

When I came back, somehow I was invited to come sign my book at the Arizona Library Association Conference. I remember very clearly receiving the brochure in the mail, with my name highlighted with a long list of books. None of which I had written. That was my first experience with my doppelganger, the author Jennifer Stewart without the crucial middle initial J.

It seems to me that there is another whole level of pressure nowadays. Like your book has to be the first out of the gate, as if it were a racehorse, and that it has to lead the whole way, and there is no winning by a nose, it had better be by lengths.

As if when you go to the Olympics, you’re only going to be satisfied with a gold medal. Come on, you went to the Olympics!

You had a book published!

I suspect I might sound like a crotchety old-timer, but honestly, the amount of pressure debut authors put on themselves—not to mention what happens to their blood pressure—would be better channeled elsewhere.

Like go write another book.
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