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Over this last year, I've become a big reader. People often ask me, a working mom, how I have time to read. I don't really have time to read... I make time to read. I admit I often choose to read over watching TV, a favorite pastime of mine. I read on the treadmill or while commuting or even while hula hooping. I try to read a few books a month from the various piles of books all over out apartment.* And my favorite way to read is to binge read; my pattern as of late has been to read two or three books in the span of a week or so each month. I don't always make as much time as I'd like to read, but often make reading a book a reward for writing a certain amount (I'm about 2/3 done with the first draft of my novel: it ain't pretty, but the important thing is that I'm getting there and I absolutely love writing it).

When I look back on my adult life, I realize that the only reading I really truly ever loved was when it involved my kids. I read to and with my kids until they were in middle school. Our schedules have gotten more erratic and it has unfortunately been easy to put other things before reading together. And even though the last thing they want to do at ages 16 and 13 is to read with their mother, I am glad that I can show them the new found joy I get out of a good book. Sometimes they'll even indulge me and read what I'm reading. And I'll take sometimes!

In honor of Mother’s Day, I asked some of my favorite mothers to share two of their favorite books: a fiction book and a book they've read to or withtheir kids when they were young. Before I share their picks, here are two of mine:

Fiction: I love so many, but the one that stands out for me because it became part of my heart is I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. It’s outer-worldly and the characters are so beautifully developed. The story is mesmerizing and gorgeously fleshed out and reading it (twice!) made me feel every emotion imaginable. (You can read some of my other recent fiction picks here.)

Kid book: A Giraffe and a Half by Shel Silverstein. The book just celebrated its 50th anniversary since publication. I used to read it all the time to my sons when they were little. The rhyming, the rhythm, the story… they’re all magical.

Here are some other moms' favorite picks:

~Amy Nagler, mother of two

Fiction: I loved The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown because it gave me an idea of what it was like to live in the U.S. during the 1930's before WWII began.

Kid book: I loved reading Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter to my girls because it gave them some motivation to stop complaining.

~Jenny Starkey, mother of two

Fiction: My favorite recent books include Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple and Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a very sweet story about a non-traditional mom and a daughter who loves her exactly as she is. When Bernadette goes missing after displaying increasingly odd behavior, her daughter delves into her e-mails to learn more about her mom as a person and everything she had been dealing with. It’s a good reminder that we moms don’t have to be perfect, we just have to be there.

I joke a lot to friends that “grown-upping is hard” and Dept. of Speculation takes a sad and sweet look at a marriage from beginning to middle and onward. It shows how children change your relationship for better (and for worse) but it also captures the beauty of a family and why you fight for it.

Kid book: Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney: It’s hard to be a working mom and I deal with guilt from time to time. I love this book because while they don’t specifically say that Llama Mama is off to a job, it shows little Llama at pre-school all day and helped both of my little ones understand that it’s OK to miss being around your mom during the day, but it’s also OK to really enjoy being at school. It also helps me remember the same for myself—that I can miss my kiddos but still enjoy my work.

~Nicky Rubens, mother of three

Fiction: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. This was a great read for me because it was relevant, true and deep but still light and filled with laughter.

Kid book: The Doll People by Ann Martin and Laura Godwin. I have three daughters close in age and this was something I could read that we could all enjoy together, and the trilogy kept it coming.

~Vandana Sheth, mother of two

Fiction: Hard to pick one. Nora Roberts, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Danielle Steele, and Lisa Scottoline are a few of my favorite authors. I like their books because they deal with human emotions, family dynamics, and often with a strong female character.

Kid book: The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I loved reading her books because they transported us to another place and because of the characters, details, and emotions they evoke.

~Karen Portugal-Whiton, mother of two

Fiction: I just read The Boarding House by Sharon Sala. A page turner. Could not believe the twist it took.

Kid book: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Loved hearing my kids giggle with all the rhyming that goes on in it.

~Leslee Kunzinger, mother of three

Fiction: I really enjoyed the middle grade novel Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I loved how complex the characters were in a very understated way. (EZ note: I read this and really enjoyed it. Reading it made me want to adopt the main character, Willow. Just so damn lovable.)

Kid Book: We recently listened to the audio CD of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane every night before bed. We loved the first person account of this porcelain rabbit's journey of being cast aside and then of being united with new strangers who cared for him, and his internal "journey" of learning to love.

*Image of books I have yet to read via me.

What are some of your favorite fiction and kid reads? Share them in your comments below. And Happy Mother's Day! :)

 

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Check out the lesson I taught my mom, and other lessons taught by my RD/RDN colleagues and friends, in this Eat + Run piece for USNews.com.

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What would you add to this USNews.com list of underrated foods?

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Melissa Walker headshot

Melissa Walker and I have been connected via email for years. A former senior features editor at ELLEgirl and Seventeen Prom editor, Walker freelances for many magazines including Glamour, Teen Vogue, Fitness, Redbook, Marie Claire and More. In fact, she’s quoted me a number of times in articles she’s written for Fitness, Self, and You Beauty to name a few.

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Before last summer, I didn’t give more than a passing thought about the fact that, besides being a magazine writer and editor and freelancer, Walker was an accomplished young adult book author. She has penned eight young adult novels. EIGHT! These include her latest book, Dust to Dust, published this month by HarperCollins. Impressive, yes. But why would I, a grown woman who has spent her entire professional life reading and writing about health, food, and nutrition, have any real interest in young adult literature? After a series of events including my mother's unexpected illness (she's doing great, by the way, knock on wood), my personal and professional passions took a turn toward writing young adult fiction. So naturally, my eyes lit up when I checked out the enormous body of work Walker has successfully created. Did I mention she has written EIGHT young adult books?!

In awe of her talent and accomplishments, I decided to turn the tables on Walker and interview her via email about her career. Here are some highlights.

EZ: Did you always want to be a writer? What was the first thing you wrote and got paid for?

MW: I always loved writing and I dreamed of working at SASSY when I was a teenager in the 90s because it was such a cool magazine. My first published article that paid a significant amount was for BRIDE’s magazine—it was about how to be a good bridesmaid, and I remember thinking it was a BOONDOGGLE to get $1/word. I was so excited.

EZ: What’s the most gratifying part about writing for teens?

MW: Things matter to teenage readers in a way that they don’t to most adults. They are invested in the characters, and they don’t have as much of a filter about telling you what they LOVE and what they HATE. I enjoy that raw reaction so much more than the polite stuff.

EZ: I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed one of your books, Unbreak My Heart. For those who haven’t read it, it’s a very sweet story about a girl named Clem who’s trying to overcome a broken heart and starts to do just that over the summer on her family’s sailboat. Where did you get the idea for the book, and are most of your ideas for your books drawn more from your past experiences or your imagination or some combination of both?

MW: My parents always had a sailboat when I was growing up, and when I was a teenager I wanted to be ANYWHERE but on the boat with them. I knew it would be a good setting. As for the broken heart stuff, details are always changed, of course. Emotions, though? Straight outta real life.

EZ: You are a prolific writer and have churned out an impressive number of books as well as articles and blogs for magazines and websites. Is there a medium/form of writing that you find the most challenging/grueling, and do you find it difficult to switch gears while working on multiple projects?

MW: I like both fiction and nonfiction for different reasons, and being able to do both is a real pleasure. Right now I have two small children, so I don’t always feel like I have time to do both, and I have to pause on one in order to focus on another. But in a past life I used to write fiction in the mornings and magazine stories in the afternoon, and I hope to get back to that schedule once my girls are a little older. There’s definitely a separation that I need to do each type of writing well, and breaking the time up that way helped my brain switch gears.

EZ: Do you have any set writing schedule? And how do you keep yourself organized?

MW: Oh, I used to! And I aspire to again one day. But in the meantime, I like reading other people’s answers to this question because I’m a big ball of “each day is different and none feel that productive” at the moment!

EZ: What advice would you give someone who wants to write books for teens (especially for someone like me who’s already a writer but wants to try something new, or someone who’s brand new to book writing but wants to write for the young adult market)?

MW: I would say not to try to write for teenagers, just write for people and if the story you’re telling has teenagers at its core, so be it. Also, look back, remember the FEELINGS you had when you were 15/16/17. If you get the emotions right, the rest of the details will fall into place.

EZ: Can you share a few of your favorite writing resources?

MW: My favorite “craft” book is BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, and I also like Stephen King’s ON WRITING. Lately I’ve been really into podcasts. Sara Zarr’s THIS CREATIVE LIFE is fantastic, and Barry Lyga and Morgan Baden’s WRITING IN REAL LIFE (this one’s new) talks a lot about balancing writing and parenting, which is of particular interest to me at this moment in time. I can listen to these when I take my new baby on long walks, and it helps to think about writing, even if I’m having trouble finding the time to actually DO it these days.

EZ: What’s your favorite color?

MW: Carolina Blue (Go Heels!).

EZ: What’s your favorite book(s) and/or authors?

MW: I read and re-read Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy because something in it really struck me as true, but my favorite book as a teenager was probably Gone With the Wind. I am also no stranger to Judy Blume, of course (who made me feel normal whenever I feared I wasn’t).

EZ: What would you do for a living if you didn’t write?

MW: Edit. (Is that cheating?)

EZ: Where do you think you’ll be professionally and personally in 5 years (still writing? More YA books in your future?)

MW: I hope to keep writing books—really my goal is to be in this for the long haul and keep telling stories for as long as I can!

EZ: What’s your favorite place/way to write?

MW: Cafes with no Wi-Fi and great foamy coffees.

EZ: What’s the hardest part about writing for you?

MW: The first draft. It always feels so hopeless and messy. Revising is easier once it’s all spilled on the page.

EZ: Anything else you want to share about yourself with readers?

MW:  I really really love talking on twitter. It feels like I have co-workers there in the writing community, and I highly recommend it.

EZ: Anything else you want to share about yourself with aspiring writers?

MW: Make time to read. This is more a “note to self” than anything else, because I don’t give myself enough reading time. But I should. And I plan to. It’ll make me a better writer.

Image of Melissa Walker via Marcie Hume.

To learn more about Melissa and her terrific work, check out her website. You can also follow her on Twitter (@melissawalker) and on Instagram (MelissaWalkerAuthor).

To receive my Food, Fitness, and Fiction blog in your inbox, subscribe here.

 

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Check out some top picks to make your spice rack complete in this Greatist list.

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Think your diet is healthy? Even so-called healthy foods can backfire if you overdo them. Check out RDN comments (including mine) in the Chicago Tribune.

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PHOTO: OPENING SESSION, YALLFEST 2015

This past weekend, I attended YALLWEST. It was an amazing young adult book festival in Santa Monica, California that hosted dozens of incredible and accomplished authors. It was AWESOME event and I'm so glad I decided to trek from NYC to California to enjoy it and to celebrate my love of books.

In case you wondered why a 40-something woman (I) went, here's why: 1) I am obsessed with books, primarily young adult books (with an occasional middle grade book or two mixed in);  2) I’m currently writing my first young adult novel and love learning about the craft of fiction writing and different elements of the fiction business; 3) I welcome any opportunity to mix and mingle not only with teens and book bloggers who love books, but with other writers, not to mention agents, editors, and filmmakers.

I attended several interesting sessions and can honestly say I enjoyed each and every one and learned a lot in the process.

In the Keynote, Ransom Riggs shared his ideas on how to become a writer. He said it’s possible to become a writer once you figure out what you’ll write about and where your ideas come from. He told the audience a great story about he took interest in old photographs with and without writing on them. He said all of them brought stories into his head. It’s clear it worked for him, because he’s the bestselling author of several books including Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

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PHOTO: RANSOM RIGGS

In another session called My Name is _______ and I am a Basket Case, several authors, including one of my very favorites, Stephanie Perkins, shared their personal stories about dealing with ADHD, anxiety, and depression in the context of their creative and highly successful work. Each panelist, including Lauren Oliver, Margaret Stohl, Libba Bray, Rachel Cohn, Kami Garcia, and Richelle Mead, offered some thoughts and practical advice for teens:

  • Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a loving friend;
  • Practice positive self talk;
  • Have compassion and empathy for yourself and for others;
  • Keep a feelings journal;
  • Just because you have _____ (fill I the blank with ADHD, depression, etc.) doesn’t mean that’s your whole story; it’s just one dimension of who you are.

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PHOTO: LAUREN OLIVER & STEPHANIE PERKINS

I admire all of these incredibly accomplished women for being honest about their struggles and for showing teens that even if you’re successful—e.g. you’re a New York Times’ bestselling author and/or have had your books sold in dozens of languages—it doesn’t mean you’re immune to struggles or having doubts about yourself and your abilities. The authors also added ideas to help teens when they’re in a funk e.g. to do yoga, call a good friend, volunteer, run, make music, have a Downton Abby marathon, or, heck, even rescue kittens.

In another session called, So You Want to Be a Writer, several top agents and editors shared advice for aspiring authors. Here were some of their tips before querying an agent or editor:

*Try to craft one great sentence that distills the important ideas in your book;

*A query shouldn't include a ton about you; have it focus more on the main character and her conflict;

*You might want to rethink starting a query with a question; instead, include two or three sentences about the book;

*If you want to write a series of books, make the first one super strong; don't leave things over for the second or third books.

One of the highlights of my day was meeting (and crying in front of, but more on that later) Wyck Godfrey, producer of The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) and the new film that I can’t wait to see, The Longest Ride. Seeing Godfrey on the agenda, I immediately found him on twitter and tweeted him to see if he’d be kind enough to do a short interview with me for my blog. He emailed me back right away (nice guy!) and a few hours later we met just after the session, The Hollywood Story, for which he was a panelist alongside Rob Minkoff (director, The Lion King) and several notable Hollywood storytellers.

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PHOTO: YOURS TRULY & WYCK GODFREY

So why did I cry when I met Wyck Godfrey? I wanted to meet him not only because I loved TFIOS, but because I wanted him to thank him for making the movie and to let him know it quite literally changed the trajectory of my career and my life in so many ways. After my mother suffered from a significant brain bleed and a 5 week hospitalization (ICU/rehab), I lost some of my mojo, both professionally and personally. At the end of the movie, when the credits rolled, I pointed to the screen, turned to my husband, and said, “That is what I want to do.” I didn’t know if “That” meant I wanted to make a movie, write a screenplay, or write a novel. But I knew in that moment I needed to do something to help people feel in a way similar to how that movie made me feel. In the ten months since, I’ve been working on my young adult novel, have read a ton of young adult books (and an occasional middle grade book), have taken a few writing classes, have gone to a writing retreat (at the amazing Vermont College of Fine Arts), have attended several book signings, and will attend as many conferences as my schedule and my family permit.

I also said hello to New York Times best selling authors, E. Lockhart and Danielle Paige, after their enjoyable panel on retelling fairytales. I also saw two other lovely authors: Jennifer Niven (All the Bright Places--see Part One and Part Two of my interviews with her) and Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of the wonderful middle grade book, Counting By 7s (stay tuned for my upcoming interview with her). Last but not least, I met the terrific John "Corey" Whaley, author of Where Things Come Back and Noggin. (Incidentally, I just ordered both of his books on Amazon and plan to interview him for my blog VERY soon).

For more about YALLWEST, click here.

 

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Check out my response and that of other RDNs order at EatThis.com.

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Check out responses from several RDNs including me on EatThis.com.

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I recently had the privilege of interviewing Densie (not Denise) Webb. I first met her more than a dozen years ago when she was an editor and I a writer for the award winning nutrition newsletter, Environmental Nutrition Newsletter.

Webb has spent a long career as a freelance nonfiction writer and editor, specializing in health and nutrition, and has published several books and tons of articles on the topic over the years. A member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and SheWrites, her debut novel titled, “You’ll Be Thinking of Me,” was released as an ebook this past January by Soul Mate Publishing. A paperback and an audiobook will be released later this year.

A member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and SheWrites, Webb grew up in Louisiana, spent 13 years in New York, and settled in Austin, Texas, where it’s summer nine months out of the year.

Webb describes herself as an avid walker (not of the dead variety, though she loves anything to do with zombies, vampires or post-apocalyptic worlds), and as someone who drinks too much coffee. She also has a small “devil dog” that keeps her on her toes and has arrested development in musical tastes (her two children provide her with musical recommendations on a regular basis).

When I learned Webb had written a novel, I jumped at the chance to pick her brain about it and about making the switch from writing about health and nutrition to writing fiction (something I’m now pursing as well). Webb was kind enough to indulge me. Here are some highlights from our recent email interview.

EZ: What inspired you to even think about writing an adult novel, especially after being a writer and editor for so long?

DW: I can’t say that there was any one trigger. It just really appealed to me. I love to read and go crazy over lovely passages and well put together similes, metaphors and analogies. Basically, I love words. I just had a real need to do it myself.

EZ: What were the first steps you took to learn about fiction writing? Did you learn on your own, take any classes, or do a combination of things to get started?

DW: With my novel, “You’ll Be Thinking of Me,” it was a 5-year process with a very steep learning curve. I have a completed novel in the drawer that came before. It’s embarrassing to read now, but I have been thinking about pulling it out and seeing if I can make it better.

EZ: How did you come up with the idea for your novel?

DW: I’ve long been fascinated by celebrities’ lives. Not in a Kim Kardashian sort of way, but in a horrifying how-can-they-live-like-that sort of way. It’s like rubbernecking to view a car wreck. I can’t turn away. Anyway, I saw this interview with a young actor several years ago. He was incredibly popular and everywhere he went there were hoards of screaming girls and women. The interviewer asked him where did he think it would all go from here. He chuckled and made a blithe comment about someone jumping out of the crowd and stabbing him, ending it all.  It just really struck me how vulnerable celebrities are and it was the seed of an idea for the story.

EZ: Did you do any special kind of research for your book?

DW: I knew nothing about stalking, other than what I had seen in movies, so I started researching. I Googled it, of course, and found textbooks, articles, memoirs of victims, and court records on stalking. Some were specifically about celebrity stalkers. I interviewed a psychologist who had worked on celebrity stalking cases, testified in court and had interviewed the stalker in a well-known case. He was gracious enough to speak with me for 45 minutes. I read a couple of his textbooks in advance and he provided some terrific insight.

EZ: What has been the easiest thing about writing fiction for you so far?

DW: I remember when I first considered writing fiction, I complained to a friend that I knew absolutely nothing about writing dialogue and I wondered how I could possibly do it. It turns out that dialogue is my strong point. It seems to come fairly easily to me without sounding stiff or unnatural—at least that what my critiquers say.

EZ: What has been the most challenging thing about writing fiction for you so far?

DW: Where do I start? For me, writing is easier than storytelling and you have to learn to be a teller of stories that hang together from beginning to end, to write a novel. Before this, I seldom wrote things that were longer than maybe 5,000 words. My novel is 95,200 words. Big difference.

EZ: How did you go about getting an agent/publisher for your novel?

DW: I queried and queried and queried. And I got what have been called “rave rejections.” Complimentary and encouraging, but in the end it was a “no.” One agent said something to the effect that she was sure I would find representation elsewhere, “elsewhere” being the operative word. In the end I found a small publisher without an agent. The publisher thought my story was “compelling” and I was and am a happy camper.

EZ: Do you write at specific times or in specific places or does it change depending on the day/how do you arrange your writing schedule—and how do you divide fiction writing time with the other writing/editing projects?

DW: I don’t have specific times. I’m afraid I’m not that disciplined. And my day job often gets in the way or drains my brainpower so that there’s not much left for fiction writing. Because I work at home, I prefer a change of scenery, so a couple of times a week I go to a coffee shop and write. Right now, I’m thinking of taking a couple of days off, going to a small town about 45 minutes from here and having a one-woman writing retreat.

EZ: What advice/suggestions would you give to anyone who is considering writing a book/fiction, especially if they aren’t writers or work in a completely different field that doesn’t require much writing/creative writing?

DW: I don’t have any original advice, but read as much as you can, especially in the genre you’re interested in writing in. Read and absorb everything you can on the craft of writing and editing fiction. There are tons of books out there, but among the best are anything by Donald Maass, Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Also, attend conferences and workshops if you can. If traveling and expensive registration fees are not an option, there are some good ones online that are much more affordable. And look for local critique groups to get unbiased feedback.

EZ: Any advice for writers like us who want to try their hand at a completely different kind of writing?

DW: It’s a tall order, but you have to sort of shed most of what you’ve learned about sentence structure and order. Science writing, like I do for my day job, is devoid of emotion, an unbiased representation of the facts. Fiction writing is the total opposite. Your job as a writer is have readers see the world from the characters’ totally biased point of view and even understand and empathize with, all the while creating your own writing “voice.”

EZ: How can people find your book (which I will read as soon as the hardcover/softcover is available; I can’t do digital)?

DW: Right now it’s available as an ebook on amazon (Barnes & Noble to follow) with a paperback due out later this year. An audiobook is also in production and should be available in April.

You can learn more about Webb and all her terrific work by visiting her website.

Image of book cover courtesy of Fiona Jayde.

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