Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Confessions of a Crazy Gym Mom

Months and months ago the owner of my daughter's gym asked me to write up a flyer for gym parents about good parent behavior and not falling into the trap of being a "helicopter parent" (ie. parents who stay at all practices monitoring every detail of their child's progress, coaching from the sidelines, etc.)

I haven't written the flyer yet. 

I haven't written anything on that subject because I don't want to be a hypocrite.  

My daughter, Anna, is devoted to gymnastics, which is obvious from the twenty-hours-a-week she willingly puts into the sport. She's athletic and strong, maybe not the most athletic and the most strong, but she loves it and I never have to coerce her into going to practice. She's a hard-working kid and has a pretty determined personality for someone going into third grade.

When it comes to meets, Anna is pretty chill. She doesn't seem to get nervous and she enjoys herself. Yes, she'd like to do well, but if she doesn't do well, she shakes it off pretty quickly.

Now enter her mother (ME). The night before meets, I can hardly sleep. If I do watch her practices, I'm sitting there biting my fingers and saying pseudo-curse words in my head if she can't make her clear hip/kip/toe circle/jump to the high bar combination.


My daughter is testing right now to see if she can qualify to go down to the National Training Center in Texas for national testing. The last couple days she's been struggling on beam and bar. I woke up this morning with visions of flawed beam skills dancing through my head.


For the most part, I keep these thoughts to myself. I work on encouraging my daughter, not tearing her down. So, I'm not so worried about her emotional health as I am about my own.

I talked to my mom about this problem while I was visiting Hong Kong earlier in the year. I had to miss Anna's sectional meet (the score of which would dictate if she was going on to State). I knew from a text from my husband that she fell on beam, and that she didn't get her best score on floor, so I figured she was out of the running for State. And I felt miserable about it! (As it turns out, she did make it, and went on to have a pretty good State experience, but that's another story.) While I was struggling with misery, I asked my mom that same question: WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Why I am feeling this way about something I have no control over? Why can't I just let her go and have fun with gymnastics? Why do I, at least every couple weeks, have to fight back the monster of Crazy Gymnastics Mom that seems to want to take over my (usually-reasonable) body?

Part of me wonders if I can't be chill about this because we put in so much time. So many hours. Not only in the gym, but also in the car. We live a few towns away from her gym, so our mileage and gas bill are atrocious. Our family life has been turned upside down. I never considered home schooling, but now that Anna has this schedule, we have no other choice. So, part of me wonders, am I just trying to prove to myself that this was a good idea? If Anna does well in gymnastics, wins medals, goes to Texas for the national testing, does that somehow make all that sacrifice WORTH IT?


My mom gave me sage words of advice. She said something like, "This may be something you always struggle with, to have the right perspective. But you have to keep fighting the battle to have the right perspective and not let that wrong perspective win."

That's advice I should know how to follow. Believe me, I've had plenty of experience as an aspiring author with the ups and downs of pursuing a dream. It's often a struggle to have the correct attitude, to keep going even when the "prize" seems far away or even unattainable.

There are always other writers who are better, more brilliant, than you are. You want to cheer everyone on, but sometimes it's so discouraging when others are pulling ahead and you're left behind.

Anna's coach said something wise, and I remind myself of it every time I find myself in Crazy Gymnastics Mom mode. I heard him tell one little girl,  "You can't do gymnastics forever. When you grow up, you're not going to be able to do this stuff anymore, and the only thing that's going to be left is the character you built from doing it."


This blog post is my pep talk. Not only to myself, but to all of you out there who are pursuing a dream, no matter what it is.

In the end, it's the journey that matters. That's where we build character. As a writer, I had to come to a place of peace. My dream may be to win the Newbery Medal someday, and that's a huge motivation, but I can't let it distract me from the joy I find in the journey. From daily writing. From reaching my smaller, more attainable goals. And doing the best I can with the talents (and responsibilities) God gave me.

I want the same for Anna -- and all my kids when they figure out what their BIG DREAM is. I want them to feel peace, to do it because they love it, to make sacrifices, to work REALLY, REALLY hard, not for the awards or the praise, but because they want to grow as people and make a difference in lives around them.

I feel better now. I may be able to sleep tonight ... and wake up to wrestle with these emotions all over again tomorrow.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Speaking Out On Diversity: Why I Wrote a Chinese Protagonist

Hi! That person in the photo is me. I'm a white writer who wrote a book with a Chinese protagonist.

I've read a lot of great blog posts by different writers with opinions on whether writers should write from the point of view of a character whose race is different from their own. Can a non-minority author write with integrity about a minority character?

Most recently, SCBWI Executive Director, Lin Oliver, added her voice to this debate. She made excellent points in her article here.

I'll start by saying I agree with her entirely.

At the same time, whenever I read a post like hers, I start feeling a tiny bit defensive. Not because anyone has told me to my face that I shouldn't write what I do (everyone has been nothing but kind and supportive about my book RED BUTTERFLY so far!), but because, on the surface, it seems like I'm flying in the face of all Lin Oliver's excellent points.

The key word in that last sentence is on the surface.

Let's start with a story, because stories are fun.

A few months ago I was in Seattle with my daughter and we went out to lunch at the awesome Taiwanese chain restaurant, Din Tai Fung. There's always a huge wait time there because the food is so ridiculously delicious. So, there I was, a white lady sitting with her white daughter in the waiting section of the restaurant, watching the crowds go by.

I'm not sure how you all feel when you're in a Chinese restaurant, but I blinked back tears. Happy tears. You know why? Because I was surrounded by mostly Asian people, most of whom were speaking Asian languages. There were familiar smells in the air--tea and steaming dumplings. Familiar sounds--the joyful loudness of Chinese restaurants, the clink of porcelain bowls and chopsticks. I felt so AT HOME and so HOMESICK all at once. Which is not something I get to feel very often living on the eastern side of the Cascades where there is no Din Tai Fung or any authentic Asian restaurants. (WAHHHH!)

I found myself wishing something, probably for the billionth time. I wished I looked as Chinese as I felt inside.

A very wise man (Dr. David Pollock) coined the term Third Culture Kid, and that's what I am. It means I was raised by a family of one culture within another culture. I was raised by American parents (first culture) in Hong Kong (second culture), which gave me some weird mix of the two (third culture).

So, there I was in the Chinese restaurant, feeling so at home and happy with the smells and the sounds and the people, and at the same time grieving that nobody in that restaurant would ever look at me and instantly know how much I belonged there.

I grieve this for RED BUTTERFLY, too, that people might pick up this book and glance at the jacket photo, see a white author's face, and put it back down, assuming it will be inauthentic. Will anyone do that? I don't know. I hope not! But that's a fear I have.

So, how does being a Third Culture Kid qualify me to write from the point of view of a Chinese protagonist?

Even though my main character, Kara, and I aren't exactly the same, we have some important experiences in common. She was raised by Americans in China, I was raised by Americans in Hong Kong (which is now technically part of China. If you're confused, watch this excellent video). Her struggles in China--looking like she fit in, while feeling so different inside--are struggles I have with living in America. She feels like an outsider in both the cultures she interacts with--her "home" culture in China, and her "new" culture (which was her parents' culture) in America. Like Kara, I have a hard time fitting in perfectly anywhere, too.

No, I'm not Chinese. But I can relate to my Chinese character's heart. And I think we'd all agree, that's what matters most.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Krista Van Dolzer (who is giving away an advanced reader copy of my book RED BUTTERFLY until June 19 here) tagged me in the "My Writing Process" blog tour. Thanks, Krista!

What am I working on?

I’m working on a time travel middle grade novel, tentatively titled MR. MADIGAN’S JUNKYARD. It’s on its second “good” draft. I’m reading it through one more time before I send it off for a second round of critique by a couple of my sweet writerly friends.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I love Magic Treehouse, but my book is not Magic Treehouse. In fact, maybe I shouldn’t even label my book a time travel. (Krista, should I call it a time travel book? … She’s the only one who’s read it so far.) Time travel is a device in the story, but it’s not the main point. The main point is how my main character learns to face her own (actually really difficult) life.  

Why do I write what I do?

Middle grade is my favorite genre!  It took me awhile to realize that, but it’s true. So, after attempting to write young adult for quite a few years, I finally began to get middle grade ideas. And after the middle grade ideas started amassing in my brain and my first attempt at a middle-grade novel sold, I was officially hooked.

How does your writing process work?

I get an idea (usually a character and a premise) and I wing it. That first draft is not a “good” draft. I would never let anyone see it! After that, there are usually a couple complete rewrites before I have the first “good” draft. Then it’s a matter of honing and shaping and finding the real story. It takes awhile, but I’ve tried other methods (like meticulous planning before I start writing) and they don’t work for me. Even though my first drafts stink, I love the thrill of writing them. I get to know my characters as I go. The only problem with this method is that writing endings is terribly difficult. I’m usually three “bad” drafts in before I can make myself write an ending.  

I'm tagging my two gracious friends who agreed to read my Work in Progress next -- Melissa Sarno and Julie DeGuia!

This has been a fun little exercise. Thanks for reading!

Photo credit: msmediadesign from

Friday, June 6, 2014


I'm having a party!
*throws sparkles*

It's a cover reveal party for my debut middle grade verse novel, RED BUTTERFLY!

Here's a short synopsis so you'll know what the book's about:

Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has … but what if Kara secretly wants more? 

Told in lyrical, moving verse, Kara’s story is one of a girl learning to trust her own voice, discovering that love and family are limitless, and finding the wings she needs to reach new heights. 

And now that you're prepared ... are you curious? 

Is your interest piqued? 

Do you want to see the cover? 

Do you want to meet Kara? 

Here she is!

This piece of amazingness was designed by Laurent Linn (Twitter: @LaurentLinn) at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. The art was done by the incomparable Amy June Bates. Her illustrations for the interior are absolutely gorgeous. Every time I look at her work I think that, if I could draw well, I would want to draw exactly like Amy June Bates. She captured Kara perfectly. I can't wait for you to see the book, to see what a piece of art the team at S&S BFYR made it!

If you're curious about the cover design process, please head over to my friend Krista Van Dolzer's blog (@KristaVanDolzer). She interviewed RED BUTTERFLY's designer, Laurent Linn, and it's an extremely interesting interview (if I don't say so myself). Plus, she's giving away an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of RED BUTTERFLY.

I have other friends helping me celebrate, too! Thank you, Janet Sumner Johnson (@MsVerbose), Melissa Sarno (@MelissaSarno), Myrna Foster (@MyrnaFoster), Vijaya Bodach, Julie Deguia (@JulieDeGuia) and Faith Elizabeth Hough for your enthusiasm and for showing off the cover with me! (I've heard rumors that Janet Johnson might be giving away a pre-order? You may want to scamper over there and check!)

It's a good day for thankfulness! I'm thankful to Kate Testerman (@DaphneUn), my amazing agent, for snatching RED BUTTERFLY out of the fire (I was on the verge of shelving her (the book, not the agent) forever ... but that's another story) and to Christian Trimmer (@MisterTrimmer), my editor, for loving Kara and overseeing this whole process so she could shine. 

Last, but not least, thank you to you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for stopping by to admire my little book's cover! I hope you get to read it and tell me what you think.

One more time, because I love her...

For author news, "like" me on Facebook: A.L. Sonnichsen
or follow me on Twitter: @alsonnichsen

Friday, May 9, 2014



It's my adorable friend Kristin Rae's launch week for her amazing sweet teen romance WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN!

In the novel, main character Pippa comes up with a list of ten goals for her summer in Italy:

  1. Don't get arrested
  2. Don't make a fool out of myself in public
  3. Get my picture taken at the Colosseum
  4. Find random souvenir for Morgan
  5. Get a makeover
  6. See Pompeii
  7. Swim in the Mediterranean Sea
  8. Have a conversation with someone in only Italian
  9. Eat a whole pizza in one sitting
  10. Fall in love with an Italian
To celebrate launch week, Kristin wanted a few of us to come up with our own top ten list of what we would want to accomplish if we went to Italy.

It's funny, but one of my life goals is to GO to Italy. My maiden name is Pardini and I'm an eighth Italian (I inherited my dad's Italian nose), and I've heard there's still a Pardini flour mill in Lucca.

I also just finished a history unit on the Roman Empire with my home-schooled second grader, which means I now know more than I ever did before about the Pax Romana and ancient Rome. (It was an excellent curriculum, so that's not as pathetic as it sounds.) So, bring on my Italian vacation! I'm ready!

Now that you have a bit of background, here's my own list. (A bit different from Pippa's because I've already found the love of my life AND I'm of legal drinking age.)
  1. Find the Pardini flour mill
  2. Drink wine in Tuscany
  3. Spend an entire day (or two) at a Tuscan hot spring
  4. Take a cooking class
  5. Walk around the city of Pompeii
  6. Attend an opera in Verona at an ancient amphitheater
  7. Cirque Terre! (Pippa goes there and I'm in love already!)
  8. Of course gilato; lots of gilato
  9. Wander through Rome
  10. Art museum overload in Florence, please
Anything I missed?

And if you are like me and can't afford the time or money for a real-life Italian vacation at the moment, run out and buy Kristin's book and take a vacation in your head!

Also, there's a wonderful interview with Kristin here. You can read about all the juicy behind-the-scene book details!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Look What I Got!

My RED BUTTERFLY galleys arrived! These are uncorrected proofs that I'll be using for blog tours and giveaways.

It's so crazy to hold RED BUTTERFLY as a real book. And, perhaps the scariest thing is, my dashingly handsome sidekick is reading it. He hasn't read any of my writing before, so I'm terrified.

I'll be blogging more about the work involved in this stage of the process, and I hope to be able to reveal the beautiful cover by Amy June Bates soon. RED BUTTERFLY will be available for preorder early next month.

Can someone please pinch me? It's hard to believe this is actually happening! 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy Easter!

Easter is my very, very, very favorite holiday.

I love that it happens in spring (my favorite season!). I love eating Easter candy. But most importantly, I love the reason we celebrate: because Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave. New life! For all! That's definitely a reason to be joyful.

What's your favorite holiday? 

Have a wonderful Easter!


Photo credit: dmscs from