It’s Almost Here!

It’s Almost Here!
It’s Almost Here!

My new album of songs, that is!

I’ve said it to my husband after listening to it in the car on the way to and from work on day, and now I’m saying it online for the world to read: I have never been prouder of any music album I’ve ever made.

At last, everything works together as a whole and, most of all, I sound confident.

To think that this all started as a fun little diversion when I was about nineteen years old. Not feeling like my voice fit in with the classical stuff my teacher was giving me every week or with the pop music I heard all over the radio, I decided to try writing my own songs. I could better connect with the songs and they would be written for my kind of voice. I thought, “Surely it won’t take long to become good at this, right?”

Try eleven years! Oh and countless songs later.

But it’s all been worth it! I have never had more fun recording and singing these songs! Writing them was just as much fun too! I’ve become a much happier person since I last released an album and it shows in the music. I’ve got a lot more ups and downs in my melodies and it all works together as a whole more than any of my songs ever have before!

I’m also trying something new for this album: doing pre-orders on Bandcamp.

With three different editions: a standard edition, one with acoustic versions of each song, another with instrumentals.


As I was recording, I thought it would be fun to release acoustic versions of these songs so that people can hear how I wrote the song. And with minimal takes. I wanted to give them a live feel, like you’re sitting there in my music room listening to me sing and play. So that’s where that idea came from.

As for the instrumentals, well, this way you can also hear what else is going on in the song behind me. And also that these instrumentals sounded great by themselves, so why not put those out too?

And it just went from there!

I’ll be putting this out on December 1st, and if you’d like to get it right on the release date, you can pre-order whichever edition you want here. It all depends on what you’d like! 😀 It’s $5 for the standard edition, $10 for the standard + acoustic, and $15 for standard + acoustic + instrumentals. Some pretty great deals, I think! 😀

I’m ALSO going to be doing a set of concerts on my new favorite online venue: Concert Window! Up til Christmas, you’ll see me playing and singing on CW on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Except for the last one, which will be on Saturday. I’ve got plans on the Friday before Christmas. 😉 😀

So lots of awesome stuff going on! 😀

Can you tell I’m excited?? 😀


Due to tons of spam, I’ve turned off comments. But you can still find me on Google Plus, Tsu, and Twitter if you’d like to comment! The conversation doesn’t have to stop there! 😀



Loving What You Have

Loving What You Have
Loving What You Have

A few days ago I wrote about finding your own voice and the importance of that in any creative pursuit. And today, I thought I’d talk about some of my journey in finding my own voice when it comes to making music. More specifically, how to love what you already have.

For the first time ever, I am giving voice lessons! One of my dearest friends asked me to teach her how to be more confident with singing. And I said sure! I’ve taken voice lessons for years, so I know the ins and outs of singing correctly. But I never thought to use that knowledge to teach voice. I didn’t go to school for it, so I figured people wouldn’t take me seriously if I tried to become a voice teacher.

That and….. well, my methods of teaching would be a little different from any voice teacher I’ve ever encountered.

Besides my desire to teach pop/musical theatre/anything besides classical, I would want to emphasize something that none of my teachers ever did with me.

Above technique, which yes, is very important if you want to sing without hurting yourself, what is more important is loving the voice you already have.

None of my teachers ever talked to me about how to love my own voice. They taught me how to warm-up my voice, how to breathe properly for support, and how to pick good songs. I would sing O cessate di piargarmi to strengthen my middle range, Simple for my head voice, etc. They told me time and again to get out of my head and stop thinking. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how, when all I was thinking about was how I wished my voice sounded more like so-and-so.

When I took voice lessons for the first time as a shy sixteen-year-old, I hated my voiceAnd that continued well into adulthood. It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when I wouldn’t sing because I thought my voice was terrible and I wished it was different. I wished my voice was blaring and full like all those pop divas I heard on the radio. I wanted it to be this, I wanted it to be that.

But I had to learn that it’s more important to focus on what you can do versus what you can’t.

You’ll never hear me do a huge diva ballad. I don’t have the voice for those songs. Not many people do.

But you know what I can do? I can sing very well in French, I can hold long notes (thank you, classical voice lessons), I have a natural vibrato, and that I am a mezzo-soprano. In other words, I can sing some low stuff but I can also go high if needed, but my voice is most comfortable in the middle range.

So guess what? I pick songs that showcase those low notes and the pretty mid-range with some occasional ventures into the higher notes.

Once I learned to love what I can do, my singing became freer. I was out of that negative mindset of “I wish my voice was different, I hate how my voice sounds,” blah blah blah. Any negative things you think about yourself are going to come out when you sing. It’s just how it works. People forget just how physical singing is.

And once I was out of that negative mindset, I enjoyed singing more than ever.

Part of what I’m teaching my friend is how to actively like your own voice, how to focus on what you can do with your voice and build confidence from there. Because most of singing is just confidenceOnce you believe you can sing that note, you willWith my friend, we’re focusing on happy ABBA songs because she has a lovely, bright voice that works well for those songs. And more than that, she already knows the songs, so she’s singing something she already loves and is confident withIt’s just that this time, we’re learning how to breathe without taking gulps in the middle of words and phrases and how to tell a story with the lyrics, etc. Technique, in other words.

The important thing to remember is that everyone’s voice is different. Some people have whiskey-soaked vocals (Bob Dylan), others have pure and clear voices (Eliza Rickman), and others have anything in between. I can tell Sting and Peter Gabriel from a mile away. Same with Kate Bush. I always recognize Ellie Goulding when her fluttery voice comes through the radio. Some people can’t sing much beyond a whisper (Charlotte Gainsbourg), others have voices to fill stadiums (Florence + the Machine). It’s what fascinates me, how different people’s voices can be from one to the next.

And once you find what your timbre and voice is like, do what you can to showcase that and love it. The world would be so boring if everyone sounded the same when they sang. And you can’t sound like that singer on the radio whose voice you wish you had. Because they don’t sing like anyone else either. 

You can only be yourself.

Now, I know the comments are closed on this entry. But that doesn’t mean the conversation has to stop there! Let me know what you thought of this post by hitting me up on Google Plus, Tsu, or Twitter. If it weren’t for spammers, I’d leave the comments section open, but until then, those are the three best places for chatting. :)

Finding Your Own Voice

Finding Your Own Voice
Finding Your Own Voice

There are many things I have realized as I’ve gotten older. That I was a part of the last generation to grow up without the Internet in my everyday life is one important thing (my middle-school/high-school students don’t know a world without YouTube and all the other social networks). That being an adult can be fun (I’ll have pizza for breakfast because why not??) as well as stressful (ugh, finances). But more than all those things, I have found that there is something even more important.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve discovered is how important it is to find your own voice when it comes to creative pursuits. It’s so easy to copy someone else’s style. It already exists, so you don’t have to do much work to come up with something of your own. You like so-and-so author so you try to write with their eloquent phrasing. You love Whitney Houston’s work, so you try to sing those melismas the way she did. And you know, it’s easier than ever to do these days with the Internet and everything (well, at least, most things) being available at the touch of a button.

But if you really want to make something your own, you have to find your own expressive way with what you already have.

And that takes a lot longer than a simple Google search.

Try years.

Since I am a creative person, no one has realized this more than me. After all, I spend most of my days writing and/or planning stories. And when I’m not doing that, I compose and sing songs. Only now, three years after I finished Elodie and Heloise, do I feel like I have developed something of a “style” in my writing. And when I say “style,” I mean something that makes people read my words and think, “Oh yeah, I can totally tell that this is Cecilee.”

When I started writing Elodie and Heloise back in 2012 (hard to believe it’s only been 3 years since I did that book!), I was just writing a novelization of events I’d played in my Sims 3 game. I’d written stories since I was a kid, but I didn’t have a “style” yet. I was more concerned with just getting the words on the paper. The style came about only from writing and writing and writing and, oh yeah, writing.

And that, my friends, is the key to finding your own style. By trying and seeing what happens. Experimenting. And when you do that, sure you’re going to make mistakes. But that’s how you learn.

Is it going to take work? YES. Sorry, no way to sugarcoat that. But if you really want to do it, you will. I wanted to be a writer since I was a child, so I was willing to work at it.

The same goes for my music.

See, I had this moment when I was a teenager that I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. As much as I enjoyed singing in choir and in my voice lessons, I didn’t feel like my voice fit with either the poppy stuff on the radio or the classical stuff I had to sing for Mrs. Baldwin. So I wanted to write my own songs so that I would have something could sing. I already wrote poetry, so it didn’t seem that big of a leap to writing songs, right?

Well…… actually, yes.

The first song I wrote as a teenager was called Spencer. I was 19 when I wrote it. I still have the recording somewhere of it, recorded on my four-track machine. And I can still sing some of it (for funsies I might break it out at a concert someday if I’m asked nicely :P) but boy was it a bad song! The melody was not very good, I was trying to cram too many syllables into little space, and yeah….

Yeah I know I’m putting down that first song I wrote, but you know, it was the first of MANY songs that I wrote so that I would not only get better at songwriting, but also so that I could find my own style.

However, unlike my writing, finding my own music style took me far longer than three years.

Try more than ten years.

Remember, I wrote my first song at 19. And I’ve hit the big 3-0.

And it took years of getting my confidence and tons of bad songs to get to this point. And that will definitely be in another post (or two, or three, but most likely two lol!).

People don’t ever talk about the work that goes into making art. They think it just appears with no effort. And if you’re doing it well, then yes, it does look effortless. Watching my favorite singers, I wonder how they make it look so easy to get up in front of people and share their soul. Same with authors. But we artists, we know what goes into it. We know about the hours spent in front of the computer typing away at stories. We know about the rehearsal hours playing those songs over and over again.

And if you’re willing to put in the work, then you could do it.

Lastly, I’d love to know your thoughts on this. If you’re an artist, how long did it take you to find your voice? What did you do to help the process?

Feel free to message me on Google Plus, Tsu, or Twitter with your thoughts. I’d open the comments on my posts, but if I do, I get overwhelming spam. ICK. 😛

Just Release It Already!

Just Release It Already!
Just Release It Already!

There comes a time when I find myself staring at my latest book in Scrivener, all ready to release it. I’ve poured hours of my days into this work, and now that it’s ready, I want to just put it out there for people to read.

Except that I hesitate.

For weeks.

Andrew, my loving husband, will ask me how it’s going and I say it’s going fine and it just needs a few more tweaks and then it’ll be ready.

Another few weeks, same question. That story is still sitting on my computer, but I haven’t put it out yet because wait a second, I should change how that character is acting in this scene, and are you sure that seems realistic, and oh GOD I SHOULD JUST REWRITE THIS THING ARRRRGHHHHHH.

Sorry for the all caps, but that’s how I feel. Rather than being relieved and enthusiastic to put it out, I start tweaking parts until it’s my idea of perfection. Because that’s what I strive for: for every work I put out to be perfect. I want people to like it. Because I’m a people-pleaser, much to my own chagrin.

I sat on my book Back Bay for months before I put it out there because I wanted it to be as great as it could be. I had that file open most days just tweaking things because I couldn’t stand the thought of having a little typo here or a slight continuity error there. I wanted my first impression to count. Until finally my husband had to tell me to release it already, and I did.

It’s the same with my music.

I have no problems composing or recording music. But putting it out there for everyone to hear?

Not so much.

Because I constantly wonder if what I’m making is good enough.

And as a result, I have a REALLY rough time letting it go.

Several times in the last few weeks that I’ve been seriously recording songs for my next music project, I have wanted to just scrap the entire thing. Because I’m so afraid that it’s not good enough for people. I’m trying some different things with my voice on this album and though I’ve gotten positive feedback from my friends and people at my online shows, I was still so afraid it wasn’t good enough.

And yet I want to share it with people! I have spent so many hours working on my writings and music, after all!

Yet I have such trouble releasing things, that I have to be convinced that what I’ve done is good and to just put it out there.

I know I’m not the only one who has these troubles. I think it comes with the territory of being a creative person. You’re intensely self-critical. And what you’ve done is personal to you! You’re the one who made this thing. You’re the one who put the time and effort into it, so why not make it the best it can be?

But there comes a time when you have to just step back and go, “This is how I want it and I don’t care what other people think. This needs to go out there. The world needs this.”

Because you can’t please everyone.

And that’s OK. Everyone has different tastes. Some people like romance novels (I don’t). Some people like heavy metal (I don’t). My husband prefers sci-fi stories while I prefer reading historical fiction. Different things for different people. Don’t worry about trying to make everyone happy. Just put it out there.

And most of all, I have to remind myself that perfection doesn’t exist. You could spend years trying to tweak something you’ve made until you think it’s perfect, and by then, you might have even lost the heart and soul of why you made this thing in the first place.

I won’t go into the long history of my own confidence and self-esteem issues, but suffice it to say, despite what you might think in reading this blog entry, I’m a lot better than I used to be when it comes to being self-doubting! But it still comes up. And I have to remind myself that perfection doesn’t exist and to just not be so self-critical. I will hear things that aren’t there. Literally, I will play something for my husband and cringe at something I hear, but which he doesn’t. He’ll tell me “I don’t hear that at all.” I can’t tell you how many times my husband has had to talk me down and remind me that I’m doing well. It just doesn’t feel like it when you’re in the middle of a self-critical mood. It helps to have other people to look at what you’ve done so they can get you on the right track and get you out of your own head.


That’s important, just getting feedback from other people and hearing what someone else thinks about it. Someone else who isn’t so attached to it like you are.

How many times have I heard of music artists that are so afraid of releasing something that isn’t perfect that they take ages between albums tweaking what they’ve done? (Kate Bush, I’m looking at you.) I don’t want to be like that. I’m really working hard on not being such a perfectionist. And I have a feeling it’s just something I’ll have to work on for years. It’s a part of my personality. I just have to learn to control it.

Otherwise, nothing would get released. And I can’t have that!

Instead, I need to just release it already.


Because perfection doesn’t exist.

And most of all, it is good enough for people to read (in the case of my books) and/or hear (in the case of my music).

Release it already.

You’ll be glad you finally let it go.

A Fun-Filled Weekend: The Tidewater Comicon

A Fun-Filled Weekend: The Tidewater Comicon

Until last year, I’d never attended a comic convention. It was on a whim that my husband and fellow author Andrew found out last year that there was going to be a comicon in our area in October. Tidewater Comicon, the first of its kind in our area.

Andrew then asked me would we like to sign up for a table and sell our books there? I said sure, it was worth a try to meet other people and get our names out there! I wasn’t entirely sure that my historical fiction and young adult books might sell well (Andrew writes science fiction, adventure and fantasy) but it was worth a try!

More than that, it would be a fun experience because I’d never been to a con before. I’d heard of them before, but had never attended one.

That first con, held in October last year, was one of the most fun Saturdays we had had in a while. Not only did we get our names out there like we had hoped (we sold out almost all of our books! Note I said our books. Even my young adult and historical fiction stories), but there was something else that I enjoyed about being there: seeing so many people who were all showing off their passions for something.

When we heard that they were going to hold another one in April of this year, this time spread over two days instead of one, we signed up for a table again. And this time, between the two of us, Andrew and I had even more books to sell. I only had two books, False Cape and Elodie and Heloise, to sell in October. Between then and now, I put out three more: Bienvenue, Dominique, and Back Bay. I was so excited to sell them to people! Having more books means that you look more like a serious author. And having put out ALL those books, False Cape and Elodie and Heloise, in three years is even more impressive. I’ve encountered many authors who spend years working on just one book.

Our table after setting it up on Friday evening, the day before the con started. We started off in this style, with the table facing diagonally, and eventually changed it to straight. Unfortunately, I don't have a pic of that. :P

Our table after setting it up on Friday evening, the day before the con started. We started off in this style, with the table facing diagonally, and eventually changed it to straight. Unfortunately, I don’t have a pic of that later layout. :P

The fact that the con was going to be across two days instead of just one meant that we would have even more of an opportunity to sell our books. I love having our books to sell online, but being able to engage with people one-on-one about our stories and have them put a face to the name on the book cover makes all the difference. You can see the person who put their time and effort into creating that book that you’re holding your hand.

Something new happened at this con that didn’t happen before: Andrew and I had repeat customers.

This time, we had people coming to our table asking us if we were at the last one. And occasionally, someone would tell us, “Yeah we bought one of your books last time and now you have more? I’ll take that one, please!” Sometimes, we had people approach the table who had bought something from us last time and wanted to tell us how much they loved our stories! Sometimes, those same people were chatting with us for so long that other people would come up to see our wares and they would recommend our book to them! One guy told us he loved the dinner scenes in my book False Cape because it brought him back to being a kid and sitting around the dinner table with his family. Another teenaged girl gushed to her friend, who joined her some minutes later, about how awesome our books were and that he needed to buy them!!! Her enthusiasm made me smile. And it was moments like that that made me happier than anything! It’s really something to see that people are enjoying what we write!

More than that, it was so great to see all the people dressed as different characters. I had a lot of fun picking out who was who. I didn’t get all of them, but that’s OK. By the second day, I was taking more pictures, which I will include here! 😀

As a disclaimer, if you happen across your picture here and want me to remove it, let me know and I will. 

Of all the characters I saw, I saw the most amount of people dressed as Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. I kind of figured. Those characters are still pretty popular.

Hands-down one of the most well-done Harley Quinns I saw at the con.

Hands-down one of the most well-done Harley Quinns I saw at the con!

There was also Groot and Starlord from Guardians of the Galaxy.

A little girl stopped to have her picture taken with Groot and Starlord, so guess what? I stopped to take a picture too, along with dozens of other people.

A little girl stopped to have her picture taken with Groot and Starlord, so guess what? I stopped to take a picture too, along with dozens of other people!

Lots of Star Wars characters, including a funny moment in front of our table when two Princess Leias encountered each other and stopped for a group picture!

And of course Doctor Who. Many Matt Smiths and David Tennants. Saw a few Fourth Doctors too (I had to look up which number because I recognized them as one of the Doctors but I didn’t know which number. I’m still new to all of that!) I’ll never forget a David Tennant who stopped at our table, “scanned” our bookcase with his sonic screwdriver, then turned to us and told us that our books were OK. Then, on the second day, the girls in the booth next to us dressed as the 9th, 10th, and 11th doctors, respectively. As you can imagine then, when other Doctor Who-related characters came by, the girls had their pictures taken with them!

The Doctors with a Dalek, the woman second from the left.  "EXTERMINATE!"

The Doctors with a Dalek, the woman second from the left.


And now the Doctors with the Tardis!

And now the Doctors with the Tardis!

Various Disney princesses too walked around, such as Belle, Ariel, and Snow White. Speaking of Snow White, there was the Evil Queen, who stopped to offer a Snow White a little treat.

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Then there was a Belle. I was taken back to when my mom made me a Belle costume (the yellow dress she wears when she dances with the Beast) for Halloween when I was a kid!

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There were also a few Ariels, including these two. Hey, Ariel’s my girl, of course I’m going to get pics of Ariel cosplayers!

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There was also a Daria, which thrilled me to no end. I love that show! When I saw her walking by, I ran out from behind our table and managed to catch her to get a picture.

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Game of Thrones characters made an appearance too. A Melisandre stopped at our table and bought some of my books. I didn’t get a pic of her, but Andrew did here. She was accompanied by a Jon Snow who must have gone without his glasses for the day. He kept holding his phone close to his face in order to read the screen! Several Daeneryses also walked by too, all holding little dragons of course!

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I supposed that I could’ve gotten into the spirit and dressed as something, and in fact, I almost did! At the last possible moment after the first day, actually. I thought of wearing a Renaissance-style dress that my mom made for me in high school and going as a slightly more obscure character, Cecily Neville Duchess of York, the mother of three English kings during the War of the Roses. (I read about her because she and I share the same name. Hey, there aren’t as many Cecilys as there are other names, so finding out that a major historical figure shares my name is really cool!)

Except that…… well, I would have wanted to put a little more effort into making it look authentic. Like with a headdress of some sort. In all the pictures I’ve seen of Cecily Neville, she wore a headdress like the one below.

And who has a headdress like this lying around these days?

Yeah, not so much…..

So I scrapped it and instead wore one of my vintage style dresses with some newly bought Tardis earrings from the booth next to me. Which I got compliments on all day! 😀

I think what I loved most about being at the con was getting to see so many different characters and talking with people about my passion for writing. Andrew and I were sad when it was all over. Getting to talk with people about our books and selling them to people, not to mention seeing all sorts of characters walking by our table, was such a fun experience. I liked seeing people who were showing off their love for a favorite TV show, movie or comic. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that it’s important to have a passion. It gives you something else in your life besides the usual routine of work and everyday life.

Plus, it’s fun! And don’t we all need a little fun in our lives? :)

Character Inspiration – Miyoko Raymond

Character Inspiration – Miyoko Raymond

This is the fifth entry in a series where I’ll be talking about the inspiration behind some of my characters.

Miyoko Raymond is the fifth main character in the Traveling Society series. As you can probably tell from her name, she is of Japanese descent. More than that, she is biracial: half-Japanese, half-Caucasian.

Her American father, Zachary Raymond, met Miyoko’s mother, Akasuki Kisshoan, while in Japan. He was in the military, she was a girlfriend of one of his other friends. When they broke up, Miyoko’s dad and mother began dating and they eventually married. Miyoko is the oldest of three children and the only one of her siblings to be born in Japan. Before she came to the US and began attending the homeschool group, she spoke only Japanese, since she was around her mother all the time. And in fact, until she was about eight years old, she was an only child, which made it easy for her family to move around as much as they have. They’ve lived in Japan, Guam, California, and, now, in Virginia. Her younger siblings were born in the Hampton Roads area. She has a sister named Kaori, who is about eight years younger than her, and a little brother Akio, who is in kindergarten when the stories begin.

Given her heritage, I imagine that she would look something like this:

Taken from

Taken from


Like Lavinia and Patty, her full name in the original Travel Club stories was changed when I decided to update the stories. She used to be called Myoko Nevern. You wouldn’t know from looking at that name that she’s supposed to be of Japanese descent. In fact, I made up the name Myoko because I wanted to something Japanese (you see, these were the days before we had the Internet and I could readily look this stuff up in five seconds!). Nevern, well, that was just a random name that sounded cool with Myoko. Not an actual last name.

Fortunately, that changed when I updated these characters!

Truth be told, I wasn’t that far off when I made up the name Myoko. You see, there is an actual Japanese first name that is very similar: Miyoko. And there you go. I had an actual name for her now!

As you can imagine from looking at her name, Miyoko is of Japanese descent. In the original stories, she was full Japanese, an immigrant from Japan. I picked that for her character because I’d never been to Japan and that would give me an opportunity to “travel” to Japan, since I’ve never been there before!

When I updated the stories, I decided to still make Miyoko Japanese, because that would open up some adventures for the girls in Asia. However, I thought, why not make her instead biracial, half-Japanese, half-Caucasian? I was inspired by several biracial people I know. One girl on the fringes of our social group is half-white, half-Korean, and another girl I befriend in college is half-Korean, half African-American. And I thought it would be fun to draw on what it must be like to have a dual heritage like that and put that into Miyoko’s character.

Now, having a dual heritage might play into Miyoko’s appearance and some of her personality (note that I didn’t say all), but that’s not all there is to her. I didn’t want that to be the focus of her character arc and personality. I did however decide that just because she is Japanese, that doesn’t mean that she loves video games and green tea, etc. I didn’t want to make her a stereotype. I wanted her to be a real person.

However, with me being a foreign language nerd, I thought it would be a great idea for Miyoko to be bilingual. That would also allow them, in possible future adventures to Japan, to navigate through the country, since Miyoko would be there to help them overcome the language barrier.

In the story, Miyoko’s capacity for speaking foreign languages is a matter of pride for her. Miyoko spoke only Japanese until after her sister Kaori was born, so when she came to the homeschool group, she didn’t speak much English. Her mother Akasuki enrolled her in the enrichment center because she wanted her daughter to learn English. So it was through her friendships with Nellie, Lavinia, and the other girls that she learned English: watching TV, chatting, and just interacting with other anglophones. She speaks English well, but she does use Japanese words every now and then when speaking with her friends. And when she talks to her mother on the phone, it is a mixture of both languages. I was friends with a girl in high school who spoke Russian and English, so it was always a treat to listen to my friend chatting on the phone with her parents in half-English, half-Russian!

Outside the group, she also interacts on a regular basis with her cousin Yoshiko, whose marriage she attends in Bienvenue. Miyoko doesn’t see her Japanese side of the family often since they all live in Japan, so Yoshiko is her link to that country. Not only do the girls get on well, but Miyoko gets to practice Japanese with her via Skype. Having a close cousin like that was based on my own friendship with a cousin on my mom’s side of the family (if you’re reading this, you know who you are! 😀 ). Even the fact that Yoshiko and Miyoko are eight years apart in age was taken from real life. 😀 Yoshiko is closer to my age, a late-80s kid (hehe), while Miyoko was born in the mid-90s, like most of my students.

When she isn’t practicing Japanese with her cousin and chatting with her American friends, Miyoko loves to play guitar. Her parents encouraged her to find a musical instrument to play and she chose the guitar because she loved the sound. I decided to have her play guitar because not only do several of my past students like to play that instrument, but also, I played it for a time. I’m more of a piano/keyboard/synthesizer girl now, but I still have my guitars! We don’t get to see that side of her much in Bienvenue, but it’s going to come out in the second book, where Miyoko becomes a more central character. 😀

There are also some other traits of hers that haven’t come out yet, but I don’t want to put in any spoilers for the next book (which I’m working on right now!) 😀

Speaking of Traveling Society books, if you’d like to read more about Miyoko and her adventures with the Traveling Society, you can find the first book Bienvenue on Kindle here and on paperback here.

And tune in next time when I’ll be switching gears and discussing another one of my series, A Wash Woods Legacy, and its central character: Mamie Marsh.

Character Inspiration – Anna Anderson

Character Inspiration – Anna Anderson

Welcome to the fourth entry in a series where I talk about the inspiration behind some of the characters in my novels!

Anna Anderson is another character from my Traveling Society series. Like Nellie, her entire name remains the same in the Travel Club and Traveling Society stories, the only other character to have that. I thought about giving her a more unique name, but I decided to keep it. Her name appeals to the poet in me. A A. 😀

When I pictured what Anna looks like, I imagined someone with dark hair and blue eyes. Now I know you must be thinking, wait, don’t you have another character with blue eyes and darker hair? Why yes indeed I do, you’ve been paying attention! 😀 You see, I made Anna’s appearance similar to Lavinia’s because the two of them are close friends, like Patty and Nellie. That’s how they were in the original stories and I thought it’d be fun to retain that aspect for my updated stories.

A couple of Internet searches for pictures for inspiration later, I found this lovely picture on Pinterest.


Like Patty, Anna didn’t have much of a personality. In fact, I don’t even remember what character traits I even gave her. She was just Lavinia’s best friend and that was it. This meant that I could have a lot of fun filling in her background and interests because I had a blank slate!

And oh did I have fun creating a backstory for Anna Anderson!

Anna is the oldest of eight children. At the homeschool enrichment center where I work, I have encountered many large families just like hers. In fact, one family I know of has eleven children. I can’t imagine what it must be like growing up with that many siblings! I have one younger brother and that’s it!

Of all the things that people think of when they think “homeschooled,” (probably things like “conservative” and “Christian” come to mind for most people), featuring a large family was the one thing that I wanted to have in my story. I’ve taught a lot of homeschooled students who come from families of five or more children. So it’s a fairly common thing.

So when I decided to create a story for Anna, I decided to pull that into her background. I was the oldest of two, so I have no idea what it’s like to grow up in a chaotic household. However, my dad was one of eight (which means I have tons of cousins on that side of the family!). In writing about Anna’s family, I drew on what it must have been like for my dad growing up with all those siblings.

Like Lavinia, she is interested in music. Lavinia and Anna both love country, pop, and Christian music. In particular, the girls enjoy the music of a pop singer named Lindisse. Lindisse is supposed to be a hybrid Francesca Battistelli/Delta Goodrem singer: a popular singer who writes upbeat, piano-driven music with positive (but not cheesy) lyrics.

I had thought so many times of referencing real popular artists like Christina Perri or Imagine Dragons in my stories, especially since my own students like their music. However, I knew the references would date my book. I’ve read YA books from the 70s that included references that I had to ask my parents about because I didn’t understand the punchline or even what the characters were listening to (a book referencing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” comes to mind). So instead, I came up with my own popular bands and singers. Instead of Carrie Underwood, there’s Sheryl Summer. Alicia Keys became Maddie Shannon. “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” became “Don’t You Dare Leave Me Now.” (Similar title with a similar sentiment, given what the former song is about!) Another real world reference, a TV show which Lavinia and Anna both like watching, and whose name was changed, was The Voice. I called the show Popstarz USA instead. It’s still a TV talent contest, but it’s got a different name. I did that so that my stories would remain timeless rather than dated. 

Not only does Anna enjoy listening to music, but she also plays music. Her instrument is the clarinet. In Bienvenue, Anna and Lavinia play a piece for a local talent show. I used to play the clarinet, so I put that into Anna’s character. I played clarinet in the school band from fifth through ninth grade. Symphonic Band, Wind Ensemble, the Marching Band, that was all me! I only stopped because in my sophomore year I decided to join the school choir instead. I even still have my instruments too, a plastic clarinet for marching around outside and a wooden clarinet for indoor performances. Given my experiences in playing that instrument, I thought it would be perfect for Anna! Even her experience in going to Band Camp mirrors my own. In middle school, I attended a local band camp, where kids from all over the county came together and perfected their skills amongst other kids their age. Of course, the band camp I attended probably didn’t allow homeschooled students, but you know, that’s half the fun of coming up with your own stuff! You can tweak it how you want! 😀

Tune in next time when I’ll be talking about the final main character in my Traveling Society series: Miyoko Raymond.

And to read about Anna’s adventures in the Traveling Society, you can purchase the Kindle version of the first book here and the paperback here.

Character Inspiration – Patty Monaghan

Character Inspiration – Patty Monaghan

This is the third in a series where I talk about the inspiration for characters I’ve written about in my books

Patty Monaghan began as Patty McIop, a girl of Irish origin with bright red hair, light skin, freckles, and light eyes. In other words, someone with a similar appearance to me. I can’t remain in the sun for a long time without burning, so you won’t see me hanging around the beach during the height of summer. And so it is with Patty.

As such, I picture her as looking something like this:

Found on Deviant Art. Can you believe this was created using ballpoint pens??

Found on Deviant Art. Can you believe this was created using ballpoint pens??

In the original Travel Club stories, each of the girls were paired off with someone who was their “best” friend. Just like in the Babysitter’s Club books that I loved so well. In those stories, Patty and Nellie were besties. Beyond that, Patty really didn’t have a personality. She was just the Irish girl who hung out with Nellie. I hadn’t really fleshed out much of her character. So I had some work cut out for me to bring her to life then. Because you know me, I like to have vibrant characters that jump off the page. It makes the story that much more engaging!

One thing I knew had to go was Patty’s last name. When I wrote her character, I picked a random name that sounded Irish. Of course, I know a lot better now! The truth was, I didn’t know what I wanted her last name to be then. There were so many different, actual Irish surnames to choose!

One evening during a family visit, I happened to be watching the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. That night, the special guest was actress Michelle Monaghan. I’d vaguely heard of her before, but couldn’t place where. What struck me though was the sound of her last name. Not only did it roll nicely off the tongue, but most of all, it sounded Irish. To verify, I checked several surname databases and sure enough, Monaghan is an actual Irish last name.


So Patty McIop instead became Patty Monaghan. More specifically, Patricia Anne Monaghan, a.k.a. Patty.

So now that she had a new name, what about her personality? Like in the original Travel Club stories, Patty and Nellie are very close. They aren’t best friends, but they do spend the most amount of time with each other, though they get along well with the other girls. I figured that they should have similar personalities then. As such, Nellie and Patty are not afraid to speak their mind and can both come across as abrasive to others.

However, Patty is very sarcastic. In a way, her sarcasm is something for her to hide behind. She wants to seem tougher than she actually is and doesn’t like to show any vulnerability to anyone. It is fitting then that her Twitter page quotes The Hunger Games, her favorite book series. She knows what she wants and she says it, usually shrugging and adding, “I was just telling the truth” at the end of her statements. In that respect, she is quite a bit like me. I have strong opinions about things I love like music and writing, and I know that it can put people off. So I added that bit of my own personality into Patty’s.

When it came to determining Patty’s interests, I wanted to give her something that other girls her age might see as something they could try: math and science. I read somewhere that even now, the number of girls in higher level math and science classes is much lower compared to the number of boys. I say even now because when my mother was Patty’s age, almost forty years ago, she and one of her other friends were the only two girls in their higher level math classes. Math was something that my mother absolutely loved and still does. She even says that she contemplated a career using her math skills, but she never did.

That always fascinated me about my mother. I always wished that I had been more inclined in math and science, but I’m a language and musical person. You make do with what you are given! So I decided to make Patty into someone who enjoys her math and science classes to encourage other girls her age to give that math class a try and see what happens! Maybe it’ll turn out that you’re better at math than you ever thought! I myself didn’t like math when I was in school, but because of my interest in sewing, I actually enjoy geometry. Clothing is wearable geometry, after all.

Because of her interest in math and science, Patty’s goal is to become a veterinarian. She loves animals and biology. She can rattle off the names of bones in a cat’s body right off the top of her head. That aspect of her personality was inspired by a student I had a few years ago. She was really good at animal anatomy and even asked if she could look up the names of different bones in French for extra credit! Giving Patty something that I am not as familiar with allows me to step outside myself and play as someone else who isn’t me. :)

And isn’t that half the fun of writing? 😀

Tune in next time when I’ll be talking about another Traveling Society character: Anna Anderson.

To read more about Patty and her adventures with the Traveling Society, you can purchase the first book in the series here for Kindle and here on paperback.

Character Inspiration – Lavinia Welch

Character Inspiration – Lavinia Welch

Welcome to the second of several posts detailing the inspiration behind some of the characters in my books.

Like Nellie Tryke, Lavinia Welch is a character that I created for my Traveling Society series. Unlike Nellie, her original name was not retained in the new stories. Her original name was Lavinia Sharp. I can’t even remember why I changed her name to Welch instead, perhaps because I thought it sounded better. Actually I remember now. It was supposed to be a reference to her British Isles roots.

When I thought of Lavinia’s appearance, I pictured someone like this: long brown hair, blue eyes, freckles. I’ve always thought that brown hair and blue eyes was an intriguing combination, perhaps because one of my favorite singers, Nolwenn Leroy, happens to be a brunette with light blue eyes. So I thought it would be great to use that for this character.

Found this on Pinterest

Found this on Pinterest

Of all the Traveling Society characters, Lavinia is the most like me, at least, personality-wise. I knew that I wanted one of the girls to be musically inclined. When I decided that Lavinia’s interest was going to be in music, I decided why not make her a singer. Singing is one of my life’s passions, so it would give me something to write about which I knew well.

Little did I know that Lavinia would develop into the sixteen-year-old version of me.

At her age, I loved music more than anything else. While other kids played sports, I sang in the school choir. Like Lavinia, I also listened to my favorite music all the time, though my favorite music was not contemporary! Lavinia enjoys country music, which is not something I like but which I wanted to explore a little more of in her character. Like me, Lavinia also loves to sing and is known among her friends for constantly humming and trilling when she thinks no one is listening. She even takes private voice lessons. When I was Lavinia’s age, I took voice lessons for several years, so I’m very familiar with singing and what it’s like to sing Italian songs, like the kind of songs that Lavinia has to sing for her teacher.

Oh do I know this book very well!

Oh do I know this book very well!


Her experiences in singing and gaining confidence mirror my own. In Bienvenue, Lavinia has a confidence crisis when she hears another girl her age singing with a voice well beyond her years. Angela Brennan, the young girl with the mature voice, is an amalgamation of several girls I knew when I was in choir as a teenager. Sara was a senior when I was a sophomore and she sang Tell Me On A Sunday as if she were the woman living those lyrics. Another girl I knew like Angela was named Katherine. She sang with such confidence and maturity and oh was I jealous of her. Anytime she sang, people stood up and cheered. If she’s not on Broadway right now, I’d be very surprised.

Like Lavinia, I became just as intimidated after hearing them sing. At that age, I was very fragile and the littlest thing would set me off. That’s how Lavinia is. To help with her character, I drew on my own experiences of hearing Sara and Katherine singing and my own feelings of inadequacy.

Of course, that’s not all there is to Lavinia. Like me at that age, Lavinia is shy and not assertive, the perfect foil to someone like Nellie who expresses herself without much of a thought as to how it will be received. However, she is also kind and reserved. Perhaps her biggest flaw is that she always wishes that she were someone else instead of being happy with who she is. How I can relate to that. Lavinia also loves any and all things French, which is another one of my passions. Her fluency in French serves her well during her trip to France with Nellie and Patty in Bienvenue. Lavinia is the only one who speaks French, so she is able to use her abilities to help the group.

Though much of Lavinia is like me at her age, there are some differences. Her background was directly taken from my Travel Club stories. The oldest of two girls, has divorced parents, and is from Britain. I remember making Lavinia of British origin because I was, and still am, a bit of an anglophile. Many of my favorite music artists are from Britain. Keane. Kate Bush. Pet Shop Boys. The Fixx. To name a few! Also, when I wrote the Travel Club stories, my favorite books were all from British authors. Jane EyreWuthering HeightsA Little Princess. So I chose Britain because it was a place I was fascinated with and wanted to visit.

And who knows, maybe I’ll be getting to travel to Britain through Lavinia in a future story!

Tune in next time when I’ll be talking about another Traveling Society character: Patty Monaghan.

To read about Lavinia and the adventures of the Traveling Society, the first book in the series is now available here on Kindle and here on paperback.

Character Inspiration – Nellie Tryke

Character Inspiration – Nellie Tryke

Welcome to the first of several posts detailing the inspiration behind some of the characters in my books.

Nellie Tryke is a character in my Traveling Society series and the only one whose full name was retained from my original Travel Club stories, which I wrote about here. The other girls in the series still have the same first name as before, but the last name is different. I’m not sure if Tryke is a real surname, but I thought it sounded too cool to throw away! (McIop, however, I tossed away like a dirty rag. That’s not an Irish surname! Same with Nevern. What was I thinking??)

When I thought of what Nellie might look like, I imagined Nellie as a tall (about six foot) blond with curly blond hair and dark eyes. Kind of like this:

Note: I didn't take this picture. I can't even remember where I got it...... :-/

Note: I didn’t take this picture. I can’t even remember where I got it…… :-/


When going into writing these stories, I wanted to make sure that above all, the character development and their personality are what drive the story. Many YA books I read at that age were all about romance. Those books didn’t interest me much. I preferred stories about regular girls like me who were at that weird transitional time between being a kid and being an adult and still trying to find themselves.

With Nellie, I knew that I wanted her to be an imposing figure. She likes to lead people and is always the first to suggest something. She can also come off as brash for those who don’t know her, since Nellie always says what’s on her mind. Since other people are intimidated of her because of her personality, I figured what better way to show off those character traits than by making her tall? In the original Travel Club stories, she was the club president (remember, I based the Travel Club on The Babysitter’s Club, hence the title). This time around, I retained Nellie’s personality, but instead of making her a president (since the girls aren’t in a formal “club” like in the original stories), I made her instead the so-called leader of the group, pretty much the glue that holds everyone together. Wherever they go, she is always prepared to help out and lead everyone. She always looks up places where they can go when the girls travel together (in Bienvenue, her phone is loaded down with a navigation app so that the girls will never get lost while walking around Paris) and has something fun in mind for everyone to do. She also thinks that she knows everything, but then again, doesn’t every teenager think that at some point? I know that I did! 😀

Something else that I thought of when I developed Nellie’s character was what does she like to do in her spare time? The most interesting literary characters, for me, are people who have many interests. Maybe those interests don’t always drive the story, but they are there. It’s something else for the character to do away from the main action! And, it’s more realistic.

I allude in Bienvenue to the girls having part-time jobs. Many of my high school students work at the mall or a local Starbucks. And I too had a job at their age during the summer. So I decided to have that in the background for my girls. Again, not something to drive the story, but it’s something else that keeps them occupied. Also, having a part-time job gives the girls spending money for their adventures.

Nellie, when she isn’t working at home or at the enrichment center with her friends, is a waitress at a local Mexican restaurant. I chose that job for her because I was a waitress at that age. I only lasted a month, however. My boss overheard me arguing with a customer over their order (they said they’d ordered one thing, I said they didn’t and thus implied that the customer was wrong. Ooops!). He told me he’d call me when he needed me. That was almost fifteen years ago. I’m still waiting for that call. 😛

Fortunately, Nellie has been able to hold down her job for longer than I ever did as a waitress!

Nellie’s interests in drawing and all things Sherlock were inspired by several of my students. These girls were always passionate about their love of art and British TV, and it meant that we sometimes got off topic in class during discussions, but I didn’t mind much. I teach small classes anyway, with less than ten students in a room. One of those students told me that she aspired to be an artist when she grew up. And she had a lot of talent, so much that I told her I wished I could draw as well as she did! Drawing is something that I’ve always wanted to better, but I just never have.

So when it came time to think of interests for my characters, I decided to use my students’ personalities as inspiration for Nellie and her interests. In a way, I’m living through Nellie because I’ve always wanted to be able to draw well but just haven’t ever taken the time to do it!

Of all the girls in the Traveling Society, Nellie is the one whose personality resembles me the least. Since Nellie is not like me at all, it’s a lot of fun for me to write from her perspective! I get to step outside of myself and act as someone completely different. And I think that’s half the fun of writing stories: getting into the minds of different kinds of people. 😀 Besides, if she were too much like me, it would be way too easy!

Tune in next time when I’ll be talking about another Traveling Society character, this time one who is very much like me: Lavinia Welch.

To read about Nellie and the adventures of the Traveling Society, the first book in the series is now available here on Kindle and here on paperback.