What is a Teen Book Festival?


Last week I attended my first Teen Book Festival in Ontario, CA and I was so very impressed, I’ve created a VLOG (short video blog) for you! It was thrilling to hear from and meet amazing authors like Jay Asher, Marissa Meyer, Nicole Maggi, Andrew Smith, and Jessica Brody. I got to see San Diego author Stephanie Diaz again and loved her comments, too. And my friend Mary Weber was there and I finally have a wonderful signed set of her Storm Siren Trilogy to keep me company when I’m writing.

If you’ve ever considered going, I highly recommend it. I tried everything, even the “speed dating” and it was so fun. I giggled with the high school girls at my table when I met Marissa Meyer, and was humbled (and laughed a lot at his great jokes) when I met Jay Asher. I still need to thank him for writing such a hard book (Thirteen Reasons Why, about suicide) for such a needy audience. Whether you’re a writer or have an avid reader in the family, you’ll love the experience.

And I hope you enjoy this preview!

Here’s the Ontario Teen Book Festival site: http://www.ontariotbf.org/



Writing Insights from The Oscars – Makeup and Hair


Part Two of Writing Insights from two pre-Oscar symposiums.

I once heard a speaker say that artists have a unique skill for interpreting their world through the visual medium. It’s how they take in the moments of life. I think the same is true for writers, who need that touch and feel to interpret what’s forming. It’s a screen through which they see life’s trials and challenges and dreams.

At a recent pre-Oscars event discussing Makeup and Hairstyling, I found some similar aspects for the very talented people that are responsible for the physical look and feel of actors. From the type of hair materials used, to how prosthetics transform a person into a 100 year old or a terrible monster, I found it fascinating. I was in a room full of a few hundred people, many with very colorful outfits and inventive hairstyles to begin to picture how their creative efforts begin when a movie is in the planning stages.

From The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window, I learned just what the technicians see in a challenge to age and reverse-age a character. The subtle proportions needed to make someone not just seem older in a static environment but also in eating, sleeping, walking, moving with prosthetics on was fascinating. From understanding how small, delicate facial features bring character insights, to seeing photos of how prosthetics can execute small, subtle transformations was kind of thrilling.

Then I jumped into the terrifying and scary world of Mad Max: Fury Road. The sheer commitment and excellent skills of the technicians who worked on the characters was overwhelming. Considering how they did this in the midst of a desert for over seven months was a bit adventurous and certainly on the edge, just like the film. Understanding how to use products and colors to manipulate an instant reaction from the audience was amazing, as well.

These photos are of a character on whose body was written the history of the civilization, literally! It was fascinating to see her come to life in front of our eyes! From Mad Max: Fury Road.

The details in capturing Leonardo DiCaprio’s lip scars in The Revenant and other body mutilation from the bear was terribly severe and fascinating at the same time. I was deeply impressed with the expert mechanical details of building prosthetics and using products to craft the feeling and emotions in a scene. Powdered sugar on eyebrows looks like snow? Scratches in a shoulder with a plastic prosthetic? I know that none of it’s real. Yet when he breaks out of the dead horse, it FEELS very real and ugly and crunching and vital survival.


Leonardo Di Caprio’s scars from the bear attach in The Revenant look so real I cringe. But his eyebrows are fringed with white sugar and paraffin wax adorns his beard to make it look like snow. Fascinating process for hair and makeup design!


Those little tics you give your characters emerge as major important factors on the screen and someone may be set as advisor on the details you conceive. The art and science behind evoking a response to the character, whether gross, severe, or thoughtful will stay with me in developing my characters as well.

In my book, I gave careful thought to my characters’ wardrobe, featuring certain pieces to evoke emotion. This symposium really made me think about facial tics, scars, mannerisms, and more subtle details that I’ll enjoy story boarding for the next book I write, too. It was amazing seeing the challenge first, then their response, their adaptability in different circumstances such as an actor eating pizza with prosthetics on his face, or a windstorm and fight scenes. They were filming in constant sandstorms, or ensuring makeup wouldn’t freeze and just fall off in winter circumstances.

I’ve included additional insights in this YouTube video here:

More Oscar writing insights from the Foreign Language and Director’s Symposium here: https://elizabethvantassel.wordpress.com/blog/.

The pre-events are now up on the Oscar website here:




Dancing at The Oscars, Great Insights for Writers


Earlier this week, author Sandra H. Esch and I traveled to Los Angeles for an intriguing set of pre-Oscar meetings at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. We left very early morning, hoping to glean some insights as writers. Sandi is working on some screenplays, and as a fantasy writer that loves great visuals, I wanted to see things from the Director’s perspective, like learning an intricate dance.

When I was an undergraduate, I took a wonderful cinema course at USC (before I realized I was really a Texan at heart and transferred to Baylor:). I learned to appreciate perspective, shadows, how music and light and wardrobe can build tension or release it, how thrills are built in the undulations of a good story structure, and how to elicit emotion from the audience with iconic images. This course has resonated with me through the years and allowed me to see good things whether or not I like the plot and story line of any movie.

This week, as I traveled to Los Angeles to sample a small tidbit of insight about the movie-making process, I was reminded of that moment, when in Citizen Kane, he mutters his final word, “Rosebud” and I watched in horror as the sled was burned, symbolizing the simple death of his childhood dreams and innocence, and so much more. These visuals have helped me craft a style of writing where I try to balance rich bits of detail along with a creating a tapestry of adventures that compel the reader forward.

I’d hoped to just leave with a few nuggets of insight, and was very curious about how the intricate hair and makeup items were prepared. And thankfully the sessions we attended were free from the political nature of the actual event (which was very disappointing. And where was Star Wars?? But putting this aside…) What I left with was tangible insights about the love of craft the directors have, the great lengths they go to incorporate traditions and small nuances with meaning into important stories, and especially some more specifics about how the details in framing your characters can really come alive on the screen. I’m splitting this into two blogs with thoughts for readers and writers alike.

Foreign Language Films and Director’s Insights

It felt like a bath of luscious details watching the international take on film as the Foreign Language Film nominees revealed their insights about how they made decisions about film vs. digital methods, whether to use native or professional actors and a host of other decisions. My favorite thing was seeing the passion the directors had for finding the best way to convey the look and feel of each movie.

Whether it was the black and white, coarse texture like old photos of the early explorers for the movie about indigenous natives in Colombia in Embrace of the Serpent, or the horrifying pain and thoughtless loss of life in the Holocaust in Son of Saul shot through a smaller lens like a series of photos, the directors highlighted their process. It was fascinating to learn one director in Afghanistan, in the movie A War, used actual refugees so their reactions would be authentic and preferred digital film so he could just let them react without being scripted.

Each director put tender, careful detail into how the audience would:

  • Feel and sense the texture of the look of visuals
  • Take the authenticity of the moment to heart
  • Settle into the location’s aspects, whether urban, run-down, in the amazon rain forests or in the desert
  • Be sensitive to local customs and insights
  • Be immersed in the time period in which the events took place

Dance steps and takeaways:

The crisp and clever details of setting lend so much to the whole experience of story, much like the kind of film or digital imagery used convey different looks and feel for a movie. Where you place the action in the scene is almost as important as what’s happening in that scene. If you say, for example, it’s a jungle scene, are you near a river or tangled up in vines? What animals, smells, and life is teeming in the background? Even if you don’t write in those details, soaking in them as the writer will lift your story to another level. Ciro Guera, whose story takes place in the wilds of Colombia, said “There are 30 different words for ‘green’ there.” His passion for connecting with the needs of the indigenous people was so convicting. It makes me want to be very authentic in representing international locations in my books, and also the magical locations I craft as well.

The directors were fearless about portraying the realities of death, but my favorites also brought beauty out with the severity, side by side, the contrast making the story even more poignant. In my stories, I want to have both sides of life, rather than bathing solely in the hearts and flowers, or in the dark corners. Contrast adds tension and always seems to peel away the veneer of the urge to either protect the reader, or remain in the utter darkness permanently. Next week will be part two, hair and makeup and what they taught me about dancing with the Oscars.



For more information, check the Oscars links here.

How To Create A Writer’s Wonderland


These Barnard Elementary students let each child write one or two sentences to create group stories. Their smiles say it all! Writers Wonderland was a great event! Try planning one in your community, too.

Ever wanted to create a lively atmosphere at your school where kids are learning a bunch about writing and hopefully falling in love with the craft—and meeting some great authors, too? Some caring parents at Barnard Elementary recently invited me to participate and I wanted to share some highlights since it was so special.

For someone who loves writing, it was a bit like fairyland to step into that room. More than 200 kids over the evening were bustling between poetry and cartoons, book-themed dinner and desserts, creating characters while a talented artist drew them, and much more. The kids were treated to reading time with talented authors that showed their books and gave tips how to start crafting their own stories.IMG_3853.jpg

A team of talented parents headed by Sunny Park met together to brainstorm the games and plan the elements of each one. Here’s just a few:

  • Poetry tea party – learn different kinds of poetry
  • School paper article – pretend you’re on the school paper staff
  • Search and dig for sight words – dig in a bin of rice for the right words
  • Practice your letters in shaving cream
  • Write a comic book – fill in the blanks of your favorite comics
  • Bookmark crafts
  • Learn to write a story – each child writes one sentence in a notebook, then you string it together

It was a great evening and special thanks to my friend Sonia Chin for the invite to participate. A little creativity, and a lot of planning and your school can invite local authors to connect. Authors get to sell their books and connect with readers, and the kids get to see what it’s really like bringing their ideas to life. My friend Christa Kinde even brought her family in T-shirts with her books on them!IMG_3857.jpgIMG_3874 (1).jpg


For more photos, please stop by my author Facebook here:Facebook link

The Hidden Magic

Perhaps your own creative side is ready to burst forth. Listen today and something magical could begin anew.

Perhaps your own creative side is ready to burst forth. Listen today and something magical could begin anew.

Have you had a season of life where you felt bogged down, burdened by too many options and commitments? Look for that tinge of hidden happiness, and keep following it.

There is a hidden joy that surprised me recently. It reminds me of watching a thorn-bearing rose bush come to life as the fragrant flowers suddenly unfold. I’ve been feeling nudges of creativity wanting to come to life, even in the midst of getting over a sprained ankle, and had been pushing it aside. Finally last week I started research for the next novel and I could instantly tell the difference. Some secret joy came out of the drawer, like Peter Pan’s shadow dancing around the room in the Disney movie.

What’s going on? Why the sudden joy, even while my leg’s still throbbing?

It’s that listening to my calling, to being a writer.

I’ve been focused on marketing activities, which I enjoy in a different way, and practical life maters, so I’d been putting the creative side on hold. I forgot that I NEED to write to be happy at the core of my being. This is why it’s the CALL to write. It’s like when your phone keeps ringing even though you put it on silent.

Are you ignoring that call?

Perhaps you are skilled with baking or sewing. Or decorating cakes. Or acting in theater. And life’s brought many distractions, good and bad, to keep you far from that happy place.

Today I’m challenging you to listen to that little voice wooing you toward something beautiful and follow that urge. I need to do the same thing. When my creative side gets blocked by errands and laundry, I can identify the stagnant feeling that slowly creeps into life. When you get injured, you must slow down and adjust. I’m almost grateful for the pain that makes me reassess my energy and activities.

Ever since the fires, my husband and I have tried very hard not to live with regret. When you lose everything, all the bits you left there to burn can haunt you for a while. I used to wish I could just have five minutes to grab certain things. I had to give up that sense of loss and be filled with peace. That last sentence took a long time of healing, but when I need to adjust now in life I don’t want to keep putting it off. I’m encouraging you to do the same.

Even if it’s one small step, move out in faith that if you pick up the pencil to draw something good will come forward. It may not be a Rembrandt, but in the being still with your hidden skill, renewal and resilience can come to life.

There’s something magical at work, just waiting to come to life. Whether it’s arranging flowers or writing a poem, give it a voice today and see what grows from there.

What do you do to bring out your hidden joy?

Guest Blogging At Seriously Write!


Today I’m guest blogging at the wonderful blog to encourage writers, Seriously Write. My thanks to Dawn Kinzer for inviting me to share tips on how to share gems from your heart about being resilient in difficult times, without sharing the “rough.” Come join me there!