Mountain Writing Retreat: YA with Altitude

March 2, 2012

If you’re a serious YA or MG writer (but not so serious that you don’t appreciate important writerly things like wine, chocolate, and working in PJs), I hope you’ll join us in Fairplay, CO, May 3-6, for an incredible writing retreat! Our cozy little group will gather at the historic Hand Hotel bed and breakfast in downtown Fairplay for three days of workshops led by me and author Heidi R. Kling, followed by plenty of writing, eating, and camaraderie.

About the retreat

YA with Altitude!
May 3-6, 2012
Hand Hotel
Fairplay, Colorado

The road to publication can be long, dark, and riddled with potholes. Experienced authors Sarah Ockler and Heidi Kling can help you navigate these mean streets with finesse at YA with Altitude, the first ever annual Fairplay writing retreat for serious young adult novelists. Bring your current project and plan to work through it during this four day mountain escape at the historic Hand Hotel in Fairplay, Colorado. Participants will attend craft workshops, read and get live feedback from fellow retreaters, and learn the ins and outs (and ups and downs) of publishing in the competitive YA market. Come prepared with questions, smiles, and chocolate, and go home with the inspiration, information, and motivation you need to finish (and hopefully sell) your YA manuscript!

For more information and registration details, visit YA with Altitude!

Hope to see you there!


Colorado Cuteness Report

June 18, 2011

It’s finally summer in Colorado, and after several aww-inducing hikes in the Centennial State, I’ve come to an important decision: whoever’s in charge of giving states their nicknames should totally rename Colorado the Cuteness State. For one thing, “Centennial” is super boring and stuffy. And for another thing — a more important one by far — just look at all this adorableness!

Baby bunny who could fit inside my coffee cup.

Chatfield Bunny

This guy was hiding on the side of the path, so small we almost stepped on him. He was seriously about the size of my palm. After nearly blinding him with the flash of a thousand photos, we kindly ushered him off the trail, into the safety of the taller grass. Hours later on the return trek, we found him exposed again, hanging out on the side of the road like some kind of bunny of the night. Kids these days. Honestly! Okay, I’m not sure whether he’s actually a bunny or some kind of chipmunk, but still. He should not be out on the road like that!

Bewildered prairie dog who took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Poor thing was all, “WTF is that?! WATER! Where the hell am I?!” He spent a few more minutes darting out toward the waves and back before taking off into the woods, probably to reboot his GPS.

We saw both of those furballs at Chatfield State Park last week. We also saw coyote and fox on the Highline Canal trail (they’re admittedly less cuddly). Yesterday, we hit up Roxborough State Park for a hike in the rain. I didn’t have my camera, and for most of the afternoon, the only wildlife we saw was a caterpillar hanging out on a leaf, which was totally fine by me, because Roxborough is Rattlesnake Country (yes, there are signs so naming it), among other things, and I prefer to keep my poisonous wildlife, my larger-than-a-bicycle wildlife, my teeth-sharper-than-a-razor wildlife, and my shit-that-can-just-mow-me-down-and-eff-me-up wildlife at least fifty feet away at all times. Little personal policy right there.

Unfortunately Pet Monster doesn’t have the same policy. He’s like one animal mimicry away from a trip to the emergency room. Near the end of our Roxborough hike, he started making eyes at a mule deer in the meadow, who then followed us onto the path as if we had food. Or possibly were food. Or maybe she just wanted to be friends. Now, I like a cute mule deer as much as the next girl, but not when she’s following me instead of skittering off like a normal deer ought to. So I got a little jumpy and begged Pet Monster to keep his eyes on the trail ahead of us, walk fast, and stop encouraging the thing.

Death-by-mule-deer narrowly averted, we marched onward, only for PM to make a new friend.

  • Pet Monster: Look up there — something’s moving on the ridge.
  • Me: Ohmygod, is that a mountain lion?
  • PM: Um, no.
  • Me: I seriously think it’s a mountain lion. And look! It’s moving toward us!
  • PM: *Squints at the thing because it’s like 5 million miles away* No, it’s not.
  • Me: He’s coming this way! He’s totally stalking us! We have to go RIGHT NOW! *tugs desperately on PM’s arm*
  • PM: He doesn’t even know we’re here. Why are you so freaked out?
  • Me: Excuse me, but I really don’t want to get killed. Getting eaten by a mountain lion right now would be so… lame!
  • PM: You’re not going to be eaten by a mountain lion.
  • Me: Well I don’t want to get bit by one, either. Or tasted, licked, or sniffed. You know what? I don’t even wanna be looked at by a mountain lion. *speedwalks down the trail*
  • PM: That was a mule deer, just so you know.

I guess it’s fitting that as soon as we got back to the car, the final wildlife sighting — waiting for us beneath a nearby truck — was a Stellar’s Jay, which is this really cool blue-and-gray bird that totally sounds like he’s laughing at you.

So maybe the Cuteness State isn’t the best name for Colorado. How about the Cute From A Safe Distance and/or Looking Out The Car Window State?


Randomness Report From the Mile High

July 29, 2010


Summertime, and the livin’ is… busy? Happy? Crazy? Breathless? All of the above! Especially that last one. I’m no longer writing from the oxygen-rich, sea-level air of New York state. After months of planning and organizing and packing, weeks of transitioning, days of driving, I’m all set up in my new office (and home) at 5280 feet up. Because…

1. We moved back to Colorado! After 2 years back east, we realized how much we love the mountains and sunshine of the Centennial State. Yes, it really is sunny here. Mad sunny. The whole snowstorm thing is kind of an urban legend perpetuated by native Coloradans to keep people from moving here, but we’re totally onto those tricksters now. I mean, it’s so sunny here that even when it rains, we get rainbows.

2. Speaking of rainbows, did you see the Double Rainbow Guy video? If you have a few minutes, watch the whole thing.

I seriously got choked up watching this. How many people (especially adult people) do you see getting so emotional over anything, let alone a rainbow? Whenever I see a rainbow or some other really cool natural phenomena, I think about how fortunate I am to be able to witness such things, and “Bear” reminded me of that. Plus, I have a special affection for double rainbows, because they seem to appear in my life an special occasions, marking big and wonderful changes. The first was on our wedding day here:

Double Wedding Rainbow

The next was 2 years later on the day I accepted my first book deal, just after I left work for the day, wondering where this new path would take me. And three years after that, on the day we moved back to Colorado, we had a flash rainstorm followed by… yep, another double rainbow — the perfect welcome home sign. I didn’t even take a picture because I knew I’d always remember it.

3. FIXING DELILAH HANNAFORD news: The book is now called FIXING DELILAH, and the new cover is coming soon. Those of you who’ve scored ARCs have seen one cover, but it’s changing, so hold on! FIXING DELILAH officially hits the shelves, new title and new cover and all, on November 2.

4. Facebook freedom rocks! Hi. My name is Sarah. And I’ve been Facebook free for many blissful days. By “free” I mean “profile-less.” I still have a fan page for book updates and contests, but I don’t have the whole ball of big brotherly wax following me around to different web sites and collecting my personal information for some yet-to-be-revealed plot of global domination. Or something. Wait, I think my tinfoil hat is getting hot under all this sun…

I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer filled with happy sunshine, double rainbows, and lots of great books!


YA Book Bloggers Invade New York

March 7, 2009

Social networking makes stalking—I mean, *cough* meeting new friends—easy! Through Pageflipper’s online book club, I met YA book bloggers Sharon and Laura, and thanks to Twitter, I learned that our visits to New York City coincided, and thanks to a 1-2-3 Twitter-Facebook-Gmail combo punch, I made a Doesn’t-Anyone-Love-the-Author sympathy plea and inserted myself directly into their Wednesday afternoon plans: lunch and a shopping spree at The Strand book store in Union Square!

Laura, Lily & Sharon

So, after a yummy get-acquainted lunch in which Miss Lily, Laura’s adorable daughter, downed a chocolate shake faster than even my fry-stealin’ shake-lovin’ husband could have done it, we headed to The Strand with full stomachs and a singular mission: to load up on some great YA picks. Pretty simple, right?

Right. That was before. Before, when Laura and I still thought Sharon was another sweet, good-natured book blogger. A lover of cats and upstate New York scenery. A kind, well-read soul with a heart of gold (or at least a high-grade silver). Before, we actually laughed when Sharon grabbed a double-decker basket thingy. “Why would you need two big baskets?” I asked (ignorantly). “I don’t think we need a whole cart,” Laura said (cluelessly). Yep. Before. I think I speak for both of us when I admit my utter shock on discovering that our tall blond companion is none other than… The Strand Master!

Listen, people, and learn as we did. When it comes to YA books, The Strand Master does not mess around.

She got her cart. Led us up to the second floor, past the YA shelves, straight for a low shelf near the children’s books. Dropped to the floor. Rolled up her sleeves. And dug in, hunting and pecking her way through doubled-up rows of ARCs. Fascinated, I pulled up an adjacent spot of floor and watched as The Strand Master (TSM) hunted for the besties of the book bunch, a bit like Frankie Perino’s bikini mission in TWENTY BOY SUMMER:

…Frankie takes a deep breath and gets to work. She weaves her way through racks of swimsuits, foraging like a mother antelope for her starving babies, passing over colors or styles that are “soooo last year” or “too blah blah blah for the beach.” When she finds something with potential, she tugs on the fabric to simulate a hard day in the surf and holds it to the light to ensure it has the right amount of see-throughability.

After fifteen minutes of hunting and gathering, Frankie emerges from the racks with two armloads of try-ons. A broken fingernail and a slight breathlessness are her only battle scars.

Speaking of battle scars, I almost lost a finger when I held up an ARC of Aprilynne Pike’s WINGS, so badly did TSM want it! It took me all of twelve seconds to relent, reasoning that I kind of need all of my digits for writing the next YA best seller (*grin*). TSM had been talking an awful lot about zombies that day, and she had that look in her eye…

*Shudder*

Sharon hunts for ARCs

Laura & Sharon

Anyway, after cleaning out the ARC shelves, TSM led us on another mission. Get-Sarah-to-buy-more-books-like-it’s-not-a-recession part deux, if you will. Down down down to the basement. Past the rows of textbooks and political discourse. Beyond the stacks of feminist theory and intellectual sales bins. Under the large overhanging EMPLOYEES ONLY sign. When met with curious stares from actual Strand employees, presumably those to which aforementioned EMPLOYEES ONLY sign referred, TSM uttered a secret password and the rest, well, to borrow a title from Ally Carter, I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU, BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU. But I will tell you that it was from a secret cave deep within the bowels of one of NYC’s best-loved book stores lined with gleaming hardcovers that I procured WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson and SHINE, COCONUT MOON by Neesha Meminger.

By the time we’d finished ransacking all the nooks and crannies of The Strand, we probably had 50 books between us, including Lily’s fave Spongebob pick. Laura and Lily had a long drive ahead of them, so TSM and I wished our Massachusetts friends farewell and headed into Starbucks for some coffee. There, squeezed around a crowded corner table, we met a man. A man who, as we soon learned thanks to his uncanny ability to rock the M in TMI, had seventeen recipes for rice krispie treats but no bones in front of his heart. It was all very Metropolitan Diary meets House, but Sharon couldn’t get enough of the gory details. Hmmm. I really think there’s something to her whole zombie obsession…

*Ponders*

Medical mishaps aside, the afternoon was full, fun, and fabulous — enough to exhaust any book-seeking urban explorer. I’m so happy that Sharon, Laura, and Lily shared their New York adventures with me! Ah, Internets. How ever did we instantly share the level of information cyberstalking requires without you? :-)

Don’t forget to read Sharon’s take on our day at The Strand (and see a few more photos) here!

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Where Do We Go From Here?

September 22, 2008

Six months ago, we packed up our lives1 in Colorado to move back to New York City. But maybe that old saying about how you can’t go home again is true, because in eight days, we’re packing it in (er, up) and heading for greener (er, snowier) pastures.

End of the World

NYC to Us: “Why You Want To Leave Me?”

Okay, you know that guy that in high school who’s like the hottest guy ever and when he looks at you your insides start turning inside out? And one day when he smiles at you and says hi and actually uses your name instead of just doing that stupid what-up man-nod that boys always do when they’re around their friends your whole heart is about to explode right out of your chest? And then one day you find yourself innocently making out with him behind the school and you don’t even care that everyone is watching, or that in one day this guy knows more about your undergarments than the sales girl at Vicky’s?

But then you stop kissing long enough to get to know him and it turns out he’s about as dumb as a box of hair and he’s mean to his little sister and he kicks puppies in his spare time and also, he hits on your best friend? But he’s still really really hot and he brings you a rose and a little white bear on Valentine’s Day and you kind of forget about the best friend thing until naked pictures of her show up on his MySpace page, and even then you kind of laugh it off because he’s still really really hot and the other night in the Taco Bell parking lot you were shivering so he gave you his favorite black hoodie that you sleep with now because it still smells like him, even though the whole school is talking about those MySpace pics?

Yeah, that guy.

Anyway, that’s kind of why we’re moving. Not that NYC kicks puppies or anything, I’m just saying. Home is not what it once was for me – for many reasons. Did you get that from my clever (albeit quite-a-stretch) analogy?

Right.

Where To?

In 8 days, Alex and I are wandering up to Buffalo. Before you say anything, let me assure you that any rumors you’ve heard about Buffalo are probably true, but feel free to ask if you have any questions or curiosities. We’re excited to spend some quality time up there, especially since we work from home and therefore don’t have to shovel snow. Our neighborhood has everything we could ask for — a farmer’s market, an independent bookstore, Greek diners open all night, multiple coffee places, multiple veggie restaurants, a kick-ass library, close to Wegmans2, and my baby brother who is as funny and talented as he is adorable (not that I’m pimping him or anything, but ladies, he’s single AND he’s not afraid to cry over girly YA books…)!

Expect lots of dispatches from the Queen City as we get settled into our new place in the coming weeks… just in time for fresh orchard apples and real cider, Halloween, and probably the first of many blizzards3. I’ve also heard rumors that a rabid squad of 20-somethings4 is conspiring to turn me and Alex into a couple of beer-drinking, bar-hopping, goal-post-climbing Buffalo Bills fans (among *cough* other things), but like I told aforementioned baby brother, we are the grown-ups in this operation, damn it, and we’re not above going all After School Special on the lot of ‘em!

*cough* Kids these days!

So you’ll have those stories to look forward to. See, I told you after my long blog absence I would make it up to you! Well maybe I forgot to tell you, tell you, but I was thinking it, and now you’ll reap the bounty of my Buffalo-bound babbling all winter.

In the words of Napoleon Dynamite… “LUCKY!”

P.S. No puppies were harmed in the writing of this blog post.


1. By we, I mean me, Alex, our friend Criptoper, and two of Helicopter Pilot’s finest, who helped us drive 2,000 miles with severe hangovers and only to get grounded from Omaha, but we’re not bringing that up again!

IMG_1085.JPG

See? Aren’t the adorable? And hard-working, too!

2. For those of you unschooled in the glory that is Wegmans, see here. My first real job was as a Wegmans cashier. They had all these tracking systems so they could time how long it would take us to complete an order, even if it wasn’t our fault that the customer was digging in her purse for change or coupons or her club card. It was very high-stakes for a grocery job. Anyway, Wegmans is much cooler now than when I worked there, but they probably still time the employees.
3. This is not an exaggeration. Ask anyone to share childhood memories of Halloween in Buffalo and you will undoubtedly hear words like “snowsuit” and “frostbite.”
4. Yes, your honor. That’s them.

IMG_0423.JPG


Stormy Weather Five

June 25, 2008

In which I attempt to relate (however tangentially) five events under the banner of bad weather, give a nod to my fascination with storms, and blow the dust off my June blog drought.

1. Happy birthday, Flurfy!

Flurfy

Last week we took a trip out to Coney Island to watch the Brooklyn Cyclones in celebration of our friend Flurfy’s1 birthday. The Cyclones suffered an American-as-apple-pie BEATdown from the Staten Island Yankees, but the evening was redeemed when I got to pose with the mascot (whom I’d been secretly admiring all night from a distance, especially when he got to dance with the ketchup and mustard puppet people during the 7th inning stretch).

BFFs

Speaking of cyclones…

2. Crazy Storms Invade Queens, Welcome Sarah Home

Standing out on the balcony the other night, I looked to the sky for a reminder of what I love about the east coast. Stormy weather? Bring. It. On. People think that the weather in Denver is tumultuous, but that’s an urban geo-legend. The climate in Denver is similar to that of San Francisco, and even when it snows or rains, it generally passes or melts quickly2. And while rural areas surrounding Denver are prone to tornadoes and rapid onset lightening strikes, we didn’t get much of that in Littleton. There was only one night where Alex and I shot up in bed, debating for a good ten minutes on whether we should head down to the garage and sleep in the car. Instead, we just had our bed fitted with rubber tires.

Anyway, here in the Q-borough, the sky was like this big cauldron of magic soup, and then my mother-in-law said, “Bims, you’d better get inside, I think it’s a tornado.” Hearing this, I turned my camera upwards and captured this, and when it started swirling, I videoed it.

stormy swirly

swirly stormy

After that, we were treated to a crazy thunder storm. But alas, no tornadoes. Which is probably a good thing, because the closest I ever came to a tornado was in Hamburg, NY, circa 1985. A forceful gust of wind had snapped off a rather large tree branch, to which I responded, “Oh my god! I don’t want to die!!!!!” and practically knocked over my entire family, babies and pets included, running to the basement, where I stayed for a few long minutes until I was sure it was safe, and when I got back upstairs, everyone was just sitting around the dining room table looking at dinner menus as my life speed-racered before my eyes. My uncle looked up and said, “We’re ordering pizza, what kind do you want?”

Yes, I’m the one you want by your side during a dangerous situation. Oh, Auntie Em.

Speaking of a tumultuous tornado of a time…

3. Congratulations, Ash! You Survived H.S. in the Suburbs!

Caps

Our friend, Ash, just graduated from high school in Pennsylvania. High school graduations are a time of joy and celebration and pomp and circumstance, but for me, well, I think I’m still suffering a fifteen-year-long an allergic reaction. We did learn, however, that for the smartest representatives of the class of 2008—valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively—life is equally “a box of chocolates, like in Forest Gump” and “a blank Word document with a blinking cursor.” Ponder that, why don’t you!

*Blink blink blink*

Anyway, congrats, Ash. I may jest to camouflage my own youth-related anxieties, but we’re thrilled that you mostly survived it.

Wait, why are you crying?

Hugs

Speaking of high school torrents most of us would rather forget…

4. Hey There, Delilah

This is the real reason for my failed blog crop.

I’m working long hours (with alternating procrastinatory intervals) to wrap up my 2nd YA novel, so if I don’t answer your phone calls, emails, door-knocking, IMs, texts, smoke signals, blogs, taunts, catcalls, or Scrabulous nudges3, it’s so not you. It’s me and the little people who live in my book—specifically Delilah, who’s giving me a hard time because that’s just the way she is. Right now, Delilah is more important than you.

Speaking of thunderous shakedowns…

5. Earth to Humans: All Passengers Must Exit

Anyone else get the feeling Earth is trying to shake us off? Just wondering.


1. Not his real name. He was very adamant about that. Perhaps I over-expose him with my ever-prodding camera lens?

2. With one exception: our first week in our new CO apartment. We got socked with a blinding, freezy flood of a blizzard, trapping us inside for 4 days. I had just started my new job the day before, so I worked 1 day and then took a little snow-bound break. Hey, I like to ease into things. Anyway, trust me. Colorado weather? 99% sunshiney good times.

3. Okay, okay. I never ignore my Scrabulous turns. Especially when I’m winning. But I am ignoring mostly everything else, including sleep and personal hygiene. Which is why it’s best for everyone that I not answer the door, either.


Randomness Report From NYC

April 15, 2008

I’m not dead!

Hi!

*Waves!*

I know, I’m like the worst blogger/friend/daughter ever, leaving on a crazy cross-country move and then not writing for more than 3 weeks. For all you know, I could be stuck in a roadside diner-slash-gift shop in rural Iowa (yes, we visited a few) or hiding out in the Nebraska cornfields with Malachi and the children of Gatlin. But I’m not. Here I am! I truly appreciate all the emails and calls and I’m so sorry for triggering the abandonment issues some of you expressed. I’m back! I’m okay! I’m… yay!

After 34 hours on the road at the end of March, we made it to Buffalo, only to head out a day later to NYC. Some of us got sick for days after, while others did all the unpacking and sorting and settling in while simultaneously purchasing cough drops for aforementioned sickypoos and arranging them in their very own little jar for easy access (the cough drops, not the sickypoos). Not naming names, but, I may have been the… *cough*

I swear I didn’t plan it!

Anyway, maybe I’ll do a more complete essay on the road trip another time, including top ten quotes and memorable moments1, but for now, a few random tidbits on our new life in New York to let all you loyal readers know that yes, I’m still alive, and yes, we’re settling in just fine!

  1. I’ve been a vewy bad vegetawian. After 6 whole years without ingesting anything that has a face, I…

    Ate.
    A.
    Tuna.
    Sandwich!

    3 of them, if we’re being honest. Horrible! Sea creatures everywhere, beware, because the worst part of it is… I really really liked them! Tuna melts at the diner, ahhh… No, I don’t want to talk about it. I disappoint myself. Poor little fishies.

  2. But a good writer! After weeks of focusing on nothing but packing and moving across the country, I’m finally getting back into the writing groove. The city is a good place for it—very alive, easy to tap into the constant stream of energy. I was trying to explain to Alex today why it’s easier for me to write in a crowded coffee shop2 than it is at home with my mom-in-law chatting and the television spewing out the latest horrible news via 24/7 CNN (because in a crowd, I can’t focus on any one conversation, especially when said conversations are happening in Asian languages which I do not speak, so the noise fades into a general comforting din, allowing me to focus on my writing and not the word “bitter”). He didn’t believe me (truth be told I think he just misses me when I’m away), but I had a really productive day today—the first in a while.
  3. Sweet, sweet korma. OMG, best Indian restaurant ever, right around the corner. Seriously. I’ve been there like 8 times already, and I always get the same thing (navartan korma and veggie samosa3) and for like 47 cents, they hand me a bucketful of amazing food and unsolicited political commentary (“All of these candidates are bad. Worse fighting than in my third-world country at home.”). Yes, but are they bitter enough?
  4. Memory lane is still… memorable. Alex and I took the 7 train to Woodside, our old hood, the other day. We had lunch and strawberry smoothies in this little Cuban place we used to frequent, walked past our old apartments, and stopped in to say hello to our old favorite pizza guy (who in our absence, expanded his little pizza place to take up the entire corner and add an outside patio). Last weekend, when my mom was still in NY with us, we met my brother, aunt, and uncle for brunch at our old fave Irish brunch place in the same neighborhood. The food was just as we remembered, as were the old Irish guys hanging out at the bar. Is it possible that they haven’t moved in 5 years?

Now that we’re relatively settled, I’ll try to post more often. And eat less tu—hey, I said I didn’t want to talk about it! Bad, bad!


1. More likely I’ll just say I’m going to write about it but I won’t actually write about it, so don’t get your hopes up. Hey, that’s how I roll!

2. Crowded Starbucks is very different here than in, say, Panera at Aspen Grove in Littleton, Colorado. This particular SB had two floors for seating, and I got one of the only open tables. This was at 4 PM, before the evening rush. At one point, three tables of girls simultaneously broke out in song, singing a Jack Johnson song in its entirety along with the piped in SB music. Moments earlier, they were enjoying their frappucinos and conversing separately in Chinese, so the whole thing was kind of cool and surreal.

3. Lucky for our sea-dwelling little friends, tuna samosa is not on the menu.


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