Learning to Draw: Starting at the beginning

I’ve been teaching myself to draw through books, mostly, but still felt like I was missing some key fundamentals and I wanted to be able to ask the instructor questions. So, I finally found a class that I could take that let me go at my own pace, ask questions, and that didn’t cost me as much as a credited class. It was an online course through Salt Lake Community College called Drawing for the Absolute Beginner.

The class went quickly, but I put all my focus into learning and doing the assignments to the best of my ability. And you know what? I feel like I made progress. One of the things I struggled to understand was perspective drawing, and I finally got it.

I spent many hours and drafts, but I finally got the hang of it.

I also got a better grasp on basic shapes and lighting.

When we moved to rendering techniques and drawing animals and futuristic scenes, I felt more confident and began experimenting with style. My mind turned to some of the picture book manuscripts I’ve written.

The best part is the more I practice the easier it comes and the longer I can draw before I wear out mentally and creatively. I am having a really fun time and look forward to learning more.

First Tri of 2019 Season

June 1st dawned with a summer thunderstorm. The last month rained almost non-stop and remained below 70 degrees F, which is unusual for a typical May around here. But race day’s forecast was warm and sunny. So, my first thought upon waking was, “no, no, no! It’s not supposed to rain!” My second thought was, “I am going to freeze.”

Quitting never crossed my mind. Athletes compete rain or shine. Unless, of course, the race director postpones the race. Then most of us sigh in relief. The crazy ones curse.

Instead, I prayed the rain would stop so I could do my best and not freeze. And — it did stop raining just as I parked at the venue. The water was warmer than the reservoir where I practice, and I was completely dry by the time I hopped off the bike. The clouds held off until well after I’d finished racing. (Only my poor award certificate suffered.)

I love the excitement of race day and the way the surge of adrenaline speeds me along for the entire sprint course. I flew through the bike leg, five minutes faster than last year and entered the run at a decent pace. Then, about halfway to the finish, a woman passed me. I looked at her age stamp and then at the distance stamp and groaned inside. She was in my age group. She stayed within sight the rest of the race, but I just couldn’t catch her.

2nd place in age group

Still, I am pleased with my improvement from last year, especially considering my injury last fall, which has drastically affected my run speed. As always, my goal is to do even better next race.

Storystorm Follow-up

If you read my last post, you know that Storystorm is a picture book idea challenge that takes place every January and that I pledged to participate this year. (If you didn’t read the post, now you know.)

I am happy to report that I completed the Storystorm challenge this year and it was easier than last year. More importantly, since January, I have written four picture book manuscripts. Two ideas came during Storystorming and two did not.

Are the manuscripts any good? Surprisingly, I believe they are. They were a blast to write, and as an added bonus, I enjoy them all over again each time I go through to edit.

Also, since January, I have read many many more picture books, discovered a new favorite author, and found a new picture book critique partner. She is an awesome author/illustrator and is encouraging me to develop artistic abilities as well as my writing. (Check out her art.)

I think it’s safe to say that picture book writing is a solid part of my career aspirations. And perhaps one day I will even be able to illustrate my own work.

Today’s Book Recommendation:

Circle by Mac Barnett

Storystorm 2019


National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) bridged my dream with an actual, attainable goal. Writing a complete manuscript gave me the courage and confidence to believe that I was a writer and that I could become an author if I learned the business and trained hard enough.

While working as a librarian, I discovered the fantastic world of modern picture books and became enamored with the complexity of seemingly simple language and art. Mo Willems especially impressed me. I read his books out loud on a regular basis. If there happens to be a kid present, all the better.

Excerpt from We Are in a Book by Mo Willems

Other picture books had a similar effect on me:

Do Not Open This Book

Do Not Open This Book by Andy Lee, illus. by Heath McKenzie

Hooway for Wodney Wat by [Lester, Helen]

Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester, illus. by Lynn Munsinger

The Monstore

The Monstore by Tara Lazar, illus. by James Burks

I found myself wishing I had the talent to write and illustrate funny, expressive books like the ones I loved. Eventually it occurred to me that the talent these authors had was the same kind of magic I admired in my favorite novelists, and I’d been working on developing that talent for years. I could learn to write picture books, too.

So, I started my research into how to write picture books and soon came across Tara Lazar’s Storystorm. I registered last year and soon had over thirty ideas to play with over the year. Of those ideas, I wrote three picture books. They weren’t anywhere close to the quality I was aiming for, but they were fun, and each one was better than the last.

Last month, I had two new ideas that hit me in the way my novels have, and I know that I will see them through to the end. I’m excited for Storystorm 2019 and the fresh ideas it will bring.

Resolve to Evolve


Preparing for the plunge. Triathamom 2017.

How many of us cringe at New Year’s resolutions? *Raises both hands* Every year, my dad made us separate from our new Christmas toys so we could write our goals for the new year. We had to come up with at least one educational, one physical, and one spiritual goal. I resented it because I had little to no desire to change my ways, plus I just wanted to return to my book, which he had so rudely interrupted. Needless to say, I forgot those goals as soon as I could.

Then, a year ago, we were visiting my family on New Year’s, playing games, as we usually do when we get together, and I was feeling supremely unsatisfied with myself. I was about to turn 29 and I was not what I imagined for my thirty year-old self as a teenager. Where were my children? Where were my published novels? Why wasn’t I an American Ninja Warrior?

At that moment, somewhere between The Sheriff of Nottingham, and Dominion, something inside me snapped. I had one year before my thirtieth birthday, one year to become the person I wanted to be. And although my dad no longer made us write down our New Year’s resolutions, for the first time in my life, I made mine. I’m a competitive and stubborn person by nature, and I felt those attributes kick into gear. Nothing was going to stop me.

My main focus was my health. It seemed to me that everything was tied up in that. I couldn’t have children until I was healthy. How could I be disciplined enough to run a career as a published author if I couldn’t have the disciple to take care of my body? And of course, how could I expect to be an American Ninja Warrior if I weighed so much?

I had previously made attempts to lose weight, and over the past two years, I’d lost a net of ten pounds, but I was still in the obese zone. To be an ANW, I need to have an incredible weight to strength ratio. The optimal weight for me to achieve that is about 125 lbs. (I based this off the BMI chart for healthy women my height, and the weight of the women competing in ANW.) However, to be healthy, I only needed to drop below 150. So, that became my target for the year, although I kept the 125 mark in mind the whole time.

As tempting as fad diets are, this time I turned to the most effective method of weight loss: the slow and steady strategy of portion control coupled with balanced nutrition. To do this, I used MyFitnessPal to track what I was consuming and what I was expending. If I went over, I didn’t beat myself up, but I let it motivate me to do better the next day. I plateaued several times during the year, but with much perseverance and adjustments to my caloric intake and spending, I made it. The last time I weighed in, which was before Christmas, I was at 148 lbs and my muscle mass was more than my fat.


Me and my beautiful, blue, Trek Lexa. Triathmom 2017.

In 2016 I rediscovered my love for cycling and competed in a women-only sprint triathlon. I loved it and knew I wanted to compete again in 2017, so part of my resolution was that I was going to finish it in one hour. To give you some frame of reference, I’d finished in about 1 hr 40 min. Any athlete will tell you that cutting 40 min off is quite a feat. So, to make this a more reasonable goal, I broke it down into the legs of the race. I needed to swim the 300 meters in about 5 min., bike the 12 miles in 30 min, and run the 5k in 25 min.

I knew that probably wasn’t going to happen but if I could at least swim fast enough to hop in the pool with the advanced swimmers (5-7 min), then that would give me a leg up in the race and significantly improve my time. I kept the 30 min goal for the bike leg because my calculation from the race indicated that it was actually around 10 miles, not 12. Then I gave myself the challenge of running the 5k at an 8 min/mile pace.

I trained hard, running and biking a few times a week, and swimming a couple days a week. I added weight training on my running days, and had both short and longer runs. At first, progress seemed slow, but after a couple of months I noticed I was stronger with increased stamina. I finally got to the point where I could consistently swim the 300 in 7 min. and eventually reached six minutes. The biking was hard to measure because I rode different courses, but I could hold 16 mph on a flat road for over 12 miles. That was still not going to be fast enough, especially since there were hills in the race, but it was an amazing improvement. And I made it to 8:30 pace before my race.

A few weeks before my race, I developed runner’s knee, and it returned during the running leg of the race. But even so, I finished in about 1:17:00. I don’t have the exact data because I forgot to press start on my watch when I got in the pool, and I lost the print out from the race. My watch shows the following data after the swim: 1:43 – first transition, 35:22 – bike, 1:43 – second transition, 29:15 run, 1:08:06 – total. I think my swim was about 9 min because I got stuck behind a couple of people and was forced to walk in the pool. However, I know for sure that I placed 2nd in my age group and 30th overall. There were 417 participants. As far as I am concerned, I won.


A painful finish.

I still have the goal to finish in 1 hour, and I continued training after the race, though I had to rest my knee and started cross-training with Barre. That improved my mobility, strengthened my ligaments and core, and elongated my muscles. I reached 8:00 pace after a month of Barre classes. I ran the Haunted 5k in 26:28, and the Thankful 5k in 24:00. And I can now sustain 18-20 mph of cycling on flat terrain.

The best thing about my resolution at the beginning of last year is that I have proven to myself that not only can I transform my body, but I could apply that discipline to other aspects of my life. I developed and stuck to a writing schedule. Like my nutrition, sometimes I failed. I did not send out queries like I had hoped to do, but I did prepare my manuscript for beta readers and receive enough feedback to know that I am not ready to query yet. I also participated in NaNoWriMo, which pushed me to write a new novel during what would have been an unproductive writing month. I am already half-way through the first round of edits.

Goals are not enough. I have to possess a burning desire to change. When that ambition gripped me on the eve of last year, I did not just make goals for myself, I outlined a plan to success, and then I followed that plan to the best of my ability. So, yes, I do believe in the power of resolutions.

What does this year hold for me? My resolutions remain firm, but my plan has evolved with me. American Ninja Warrior looms above me, and I must reach at least 135 lbs before I begin seriously training for it. But I will be able to hold a handstand for thirty seconds, do twenty pull-ups, and dead hang for two minutes by the end of the year.

I will keep a 20 mph average cycling, run a mile in 7 minutes, and start training for Olympic-length triathlons. This means I will need to build endurance for long swims.

As for my writing career, I will continue writing 4 hours/day, and add drawing 1 hour/day. I will finish edits for Siphors and Amerixicana, draft another novel, and finish at least three picture books/short stories. I will query agents as soon as Amerixicana is done.

Here’s to another transformative year. May every year be the prime of your life.


Winning the year with Michelle Stoddard

2017 Christmas Letter

For as long as I can remember, my uncle, Barrie Marchant, has written parodies for his Christmas letters. About three or four years ago, he asked me to co-write this letter, and I’ve continued to help him since then. He comes up with the brilliant concept and together we put it together into something that we think is funny. So, without further ado, here is our 2017 Christmas letter:


“The amazing new Republican Tax Plan written by President Trump is the most amazing improvement for Christmas since Rudolf became lead reindeer,” declares White House source, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. Fox News correspondent, Daphne Higbee, reached out to identify the source of this bold assertion, and ask for further explanation. The following is a transcription of their conversation:

Anon. source: It is a really, really fantastic plan; the best tax plan ever written. We have the smartest guys—great guys—working, doing a fantastic job; Paul Ryan, a really fantastically smart tax guy—probably the smartest ever—promises that Santa’s tax bill [taxes?] will really drop; it will do so much for Christmas—but watch, the Fake Media will never report—like $40 or $50 million dollars—

Correspondent: Santa’s taxes will drop $50 million?

Anon.: –not as much as Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers or some of the other awesome job creators that I know personally. He cried—Santa—real big grateful tears, for this fantastic present from the president.

Corres.: So Santa—

Anon.: And the elves cried—they were all so grateful in the North Pole—they said, Mr. President, why are you the first one to care about—I don’t know, I guess Barack and Michelle don’t believe—Mick, my really, really smart secretary, promises this is the first. Ever. Tax bill that helped elves. Not even the Keebler elves have gotten a tax cut by any president. Even that great genius, a personal friend, Ronald Reagan—who first suggested that I would make a great president—never wrote a plan that helped elves.

Corres.: Elves—

Anon.: Paul Ryan was one of the great minds at work here—so you know it’s excellent quality, brilliantly thought out—this amazing plan will give a lot to the poor—most Americans—especially Americans making less than $100,000 per year—which is what I spend at restaurants—

Corres.: Nng—

Anon.:–the highly respected, excellent Platte Institute research group says that the average American family will get $5,000 each year from my excellent tax bill to use for Christmas gifts like sail boats or jewelry for their wives. Believe me, there are some perfectly respectable boats poor families can buy for $5,000, and I think some women would appreciate a $5,000 ring. Not Melania, but average girls, anyone below a 7—I am truly blessed to marry truly beautiful beautiful women—$5000 is a $2.50 an hour raise for women making only $70,000 or $80,000 a year–really says something about a tax bill that is so very, very helpful and you know Obama never gave out raises to workers. Not even at Christmas. We will probably start calling this amazing bill the greatest Christmas gift ever—gggggggggggggggggffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

[End of transcription]

Others with the present administration seem to agree with our anonymous source. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that the tax bill will keep Santa in business.

Secretary of the Interior explained shrinking the monuments and announced unprecedented interest in Christmas Land. Ending its status as a national monument will open it up for coal mining and oil development. “After all the coal Santa has given me over the years,” Secretary Zinke said, “we know the land is brimming with the energy source.”

The Secretary of Treasury reported that 7 of 10 low income Americans polled indicated that they would use their $10,000 tax reduction to purchase big ticket items this Christmas.

And Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos identified Santa as the core problem in public education, banning all Santa books from American classrooms.christmastweets

From all of us @FOXNEWS, Have a Trumptastic Christmas.  Remember that “Wealth through Debt” is what Christmas is all about and festive MAGA hats, shirts, dresses, steaks, wine and lingerie (sizes 0-4) are available at:


Donald, Daphne and Barrie


Now that the tax bill has passed, @realDonaldTrump has been busy tweeting his victory and I have been snickering at the similarities between them and this letter. I wanted to share some of those with you:

Trump's tax tweets


And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without this little gem from CNBC reporter, Christina Wilkie:


The Cheeseburger Tamale: an American complex


The day with no identity crisis. I was a princess like my daddy always said.

Now that my manuscript is in the hands of beta readers, I’ve had the chance to explore my next project. It’s something I always knew I needed to write because the world needs stories like this, but it’s also a project I’ve put off because it requires me to open up about myself. I’m going to address the bi-cultural experience. What it feels like to be a cheeseburger trapped inside a tamale.

Before you start wondering what the heck I’m talking about and decide that you’d rather be eating a cheeseburger or a tamale instead of reading this, let me say that I was fortunate enough to grow up in a loving family and I did not suffer anything horrific. All my racist encounters were by all standards, mild. However, I had, and still have to some extent what I call the American complex. And at no time was this crisis more acute than during middle school.

I am American. I was born in Arizona and lived in many states all across the U.S. My dad is American. His great grandparents came from Sweden, and his father’s family came from England. My mom is American and Mexican. She was born and raised in Mexico, but became an American citizen when I was nine. Her grandfather was of native descent and her grandmother’s family was Spanish.

My skin is a healthy cinnamon sugar, but by the end of the summer it can get as dark as a bar of rich milk chocolate. My hair and eyes are also dark, with the same nuances of brown layered in different shades and hues. To Americans, I just look Mexican.

My English is impeccable, or at least indistinguishable. Upon meeting strangers, the first time I speak is met with a confused look, which is often followed by the question, “where are you from originally?” You know how everyone has pet peeves? This is one of mine. What the person really wants to know is what box I belong in: Mexican or Native American.

I always have the urge to answer that question with, “I don’t know that I’m the right person to answer that question. You should ask your mom.” But I know that people aren’t trying to be annoying or offensive, they’re just curious, so I try to answer politely. Though, sometimes I don’t succeed and I just say, “my mommy’s tummy,” or “heaven.”

Inside, I’m a cheeseburger. You can’t get any more American than me. But all people see is the tamale. At least, that’s how I feel, that’s the American complex. I have gone to great lengths to get people to see past the corn husk to the ketchup and processed cheese.

As an adult, I recognize that I sacrificed a part of my identity to pursue a facade that will never fool anyone. My mother cries over her culture that is largely lost on her children. Slowly, painfully, I am learning how to be me, how to be American and celebrate the part of my identity rooted in Mexico. I am learning to be a burrito, American-sized and smothered in hot, smokey chipotle.

For a short blurb about this project, you can visit my works in progress page.



Calling all Beta Readers

Image result for people reading books

This is an exciting time for me. I finally reached the point where I feel I have done everything I can for my current novel, Siphors. I know there are still plenty of problem spots and questions that I need to answer, but it’s in a place now that I feel comfortable sharing it outside my critique group.

I’m hoping to get a mix of beta readers for this draft so I can get fresh reactions. They will be a sample of what I can expect later when I do get it published. Since I intend to traditionally publish this book, I am also entering the query trenches at the same time. That way, if I do sign with an agent, I will come armed with reader feedback and be ready to dig back into editing. And, if I don’t find an agent, I can apply the edits right away and try querying again.

If you’re interested in being a beta reader for me, please visit this page. You’ll find my reader expectations, a blurb of my book, and a link to sign up.

Breaking News: Trump Bans Santa Claus

For the past few years, my uncle has asked me to help him write his annual Christmas letter. He’s the mastermind behind the concept. I just help him execute it. This year’s letter was particularly fun.

Here’s the PDF version: fauxnews-report



Trump Bans Santa Claus from U.S.

Barrie Marchant | Daphne Higbee

In a not-so-stunning development, President Elect, Donald Trump denounced Santa Claus in a public rally on Thursday night. “Santa can go wherever he wants,” Donald said, “But I’ll tell you where he can’t go: here.” The President Elect went on to declare that as long as he is in charge, “no jolly fat man in a red suit” or his “stupid little slaves” will be allowed in the United States.

His comments were in answer to a question about his recent tweets where he labeled Santa a communist.


At the rally, aides to Ted Cruze, Ben Sasse, and Jason Chaffetz admitted to similar feelings towards jolly old St. Nicholas. Chris Christie complained of the lumps of coal in his Christmas pudding.

One stated, “Clearly, this is a political hatchet job by an overtly partisan foreign agent intent on destroying our constitution.” Governor Sarah Palin noted, “Santa has a long history of stalking and burglary. He has a comprehensive list of every child’s actions, and it is estimated he violates millions of American homes every year.” She went on to site his refusal to cooperate with DMVs across the country and his unlicensed sleigh.

Famed neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, highlighted another concern. “He is a known drug pusher. Children under his influence experience hallucinations of dancing sugar plum fairies. Mothers and fathers should be concerned about the negative influence Santa has on their children.  These dancing fairies highlight the role drugs play in advancing the homosexual agenda.”

The US Chamber of Commerce announced full support of Trump’s actions, their official statement noting that Santa has not contributed to any CC sponsored super PACs, or supported anti-union legislation. The Chamber allowed that as such time as Santa actively endorses the legislative agenda of Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, and the Platte Institute, they will reconsider his suspension. “Until that time,” they said, “we are confident that large retailers like Walmart will produce appropriate gifts at prices of excellent profit margin.”

Meanwhile, malls are encouraged to replace Santa with kiosks protesting Planned Parenthood. Letters to Santa should be replaced with contributions to support the Family Research Council, the Billy Graham Evangelist Association, and the 700 Club.

Pentagon officials refused to comment on the proposal of a northern wall. However, both the NRA and Minuteman militia officials expressed their enthusiasm. Governors in Nebraska, Texas, Utah, and Mississippi have initiated an open season for all reindeer during the month of December.

The President elect ended his speech with a final declaration: “Santa is not Patriotic. Nobody is as unamerican as he is.”

Santa was unavailable for comment.

Reporters Barrie Marchant and Daphne Higbee are special correspondents of the Marchant/Higbee FauxNews Service with a focus on political factoids and innuendo.

Pitch Wars: #pimpmybio

I’ll admit, Pitch Wars is new to me, and quite frankly, all the Twitter interaction is intimidating. Making friends has always come easily, but conversing via social media couldn’t be more awkward for me. Still, I won’t shirk from something that could only improve my writing.

Submission Manuscript:

Siphors is a YA superhero origin story where incredible powers aren’t enough to make a hero.

Fifteen-year-old Chandler O’Connor knows your pain, your anger, your insecurities. He can take it away or use it against you. But even the best intentions fail when it comes at the price of your humanity, and Chandler must decide what it means to be super-human.

This story began as a short work for a college class. I liked the premise so much that I expanded it into a novel and have rewritten it several times in my quest to find the right plot, age, and voice. Each time, my skills have grown, and now the elements feel just about perfect. My critique group recently provided feedback on the full manuscript, and I’m ready to polish those edits with the help of a Pitch Wars mentor.

About Me:

As a child, I wanted to be a fireman, an inventor, and a marine biologist. I grew up in libraries and savored my dad’s bedtime readings: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Mouse and the Motocycle, The Chronicles of Prydain, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and other classic children’s tales. Though, I didn’t like reading on my own until Animorphs, when I no longer saw the words and felt literally transported to a different world. It wasn’t until I read Ella Enchanted in sixth grade, that I knew I would be a fiction writer.

Since then I’ve dedicated myself to the art of writing. I enrolled in as many creative writing, and literature classes as I could during high school and college. I worked in libraries from college through last fall, when circumstances allowed me to write full-time. I’m the current president of the nonprofit organization, Utah Valley Writers, and take full advantage of the great critical minds that frequent the group.

I split my writing time with triathlon training, cooking (especially grilling), my husband, and religion. When not working or training, I dabble in other hobbies such as rock climbing, archery, fencing, and gardening. My not-so-secret desire is to become an American Ninja Warrior.

Non-comprehensive list of favorites as they come to mind:

  • Ella Enchanted
  • The Goose Girl and Enna Burning
  • Hollow Kingdom
  • The False Prince
  • The Rithmatist
  • Airman
  • The Lunar Chronicles
  • Ruby Red
  • Smile
  • El Deafo
  • The Way of Kings
  • Psych
  • Monk
  • Castle
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • NCIS
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch
  • Last Man Standing
  • Gilmore Girls (mostly seasons 1-2)
  • American Ninja Warrior
  • Chopped
  • Unbreakable (M. Night Shyamalan)
  • The Princess Bride
  • Ever After
  • Batman (the animated series, Christopher Nolan, and comics)
  • Superman (the animated series, and Man of Steel)
  • Spiderman (spectacular, 90’s animated, Tobey Maguire, and amazing)
  • Captain America (Chris Evans)
  • Zelda
  • Homemade pizza, burgers, Mexican, and Brazilian
  • Thai and Indian restaurants
  • Chocolate