Essence's Debut: The First Two Months

I can’t believe my debut novel Essence has been out for two months! What a fun, unexpected ride this has been.

My favorite part of the process has definitely been the opportunity to share in this journey with all of you. From chatting with readers to reading blog posts and checking out my Goodreads and Amazon pages, it has been an honor to realize Essence’s characters no longer simply exist in my head.

They are out in the world now. They are making mistakes and struggling desperately to learn from them. They are entertaining you, sometimes frustrating you, touching your life and bringing shades of your own experiences to the forefront of your thoughts.

They are reminding you of things. Of that summer you spent in Yosemite, of that complicated bad boy you once met, of the mistakes and lessons you learned when you first tried to figure out who you wanted to be when you grew up.

And, you know what? It’s a damn honor to share in these memories with you.

Here are some of my favorite reader quotes so far:

  • “I loved every second of Essence, and as soon as I finished it I wanted to start reading it all over again. And I still probably will.” -Ashley F. (The AP Book Club)
  • “This is kind of the ultimate summer read for me–fast paced without being fluffy, addictive writing that doesn’t drop in quality.” -Rachel M. (Giant Squid Books)
  • “Cults are one of the most unsettling things to read about, and I felt unsettled for the entirety of the book, which I think just goes to show how well O’Kane wrote this book.” -Rochelle (Goodreads)
  • “Intriguing. A fine job. Spent most of the book trying to figure out what would happen next.” -Joe S. (Amazon)
  • “I love this book! The day I purchased it, I was only planning to read a few chapters. I couldn't put it down until I finished it.” -Britt C. (Goodreads)

Please keep the reviews coming, and thanks so much to everyone who has already taken the time to comment on social media and/or leave a review on Goodreads and Amazon. I appreciate your feedback so much! Have you picked up your copy of Essence yet? Here are some handy purchasing links:

Thanks again for your support, and I hope you have a wonderful day!

ESSENCE Countdown: The Story Behind the Story

Yipes! My YA novel ESSENCE now debuts in thirteen weeks!!!!! To celebrate, I thought it would be fun to tell you a little bit about the story behind the story, about the summer that started it all.

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
When I first arrived Yosemite National Park in April 2004, I had no idea I would someday set my debut novel there. I didn't realize its towering, granite cliffs and secret waterfalls would beckon me to create an entire alternate reality--one filled with moss and decay, adrenaline junkies, romance and dark secrets hidden just below the surface. 

I thought I was simply reporting for duty: taking a risk and packing up my entire life into one backpack for the summer. (I wasn't even fully aware I was a writer back then!)

I had just accepted a sight-unseen position at the park's concessionaire, Delaware North Parks & Resorts at Yosemite. I had just saved all my money for a plane ticket from Orlando, and I had just agreed to share a 10' x 10' tent cabin with a mystery roommate for the next four months. 

Curry Village Tent Cabins. Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
To say I was excited would be an understatement. To say I was thrilled/terrified/jumping out of my skin would be a much better description. 

The summer would be epic, of course. That mystery roommate, Mary Siner, would end up becoming one of my closest soulmate friends--one I still turn to for advice and support ten years later. I would climb cliffs and raft the Merced River, and I would watch shooting stars and explore the mountains and the deserts of California. I would make friends with people from all over the world, and I would fall hopelessly, desperately, head-over-heels in love with a boy the way only a 22 year-old can. He would later break my heart, and the lessons I would learn from that relationship would resound in my head and my heart long after I finally found the strength to tell him goodbye.

Yosemite Crew making moves on the East Side. Summer 2004
I wouldn't regret a single moment of anything that happened that summer, because that was the summer I learned how to truly feel things with my soul. I learned how little I actually needed to be happy, and I learned that sometimes, you just have to close your eyes and take the leap. I learned that the world is filled with incredible people, and nature is sometimes so astounding it literally steals the breath from your lungs. You don't have to always follow the path everyone else is following, and the secrets to life are the experiences you have and the company you keep. 

Yosemite would forever alter the way I viewed myself and my place in the world, so it's only fitting my debut novel would star the park as a character itself. 

I hope I have captured it in such a way that you can glimpse how profound and astonishing it is to me. No other description would do Yosemite justice.

Check out my other ESSENCE Countdown posts here:

It's Electric in Here!

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Hi folks! It's been twelve days since my last post, but I have a really good excuse. It's March Madness now, and my goal is to write 10,000 words this month. I have been thankfully and beautifully sucked into my WIP, and I'm hoping this frenzy pays off!

Don't you just love that electric swell of inspiration that coats your insides when you work through a story problem? And how fantastic when your characters begin to come alive and talk to you! I've certainly been experiencing lots of these moments so far. I've also been experiencing some of those beat-your-head-against-the-wall moments, but thanks to my critique group and my friends at #wipmadness, I've found plenty of support, too.

You'll have to forgive my rambling, but I'm on a mission now. And since my WIP takes place in Yosemite National Park, I have lots of beautiful photographs to look at for inspiration. Here's one of my favorites, a view I got to experience every day the summer I lived and worked in the park.

Have any of you been plugging away at your WIPs this month? How are your March Madness goals progressing?

A Man's Love

After nearly two weeks of silence, I am back to the world of blogging! I feel refreshed and rejuvenated from my weekend in Yosemite National Park, and I feel incredibly honored that I got to be with two great friends during the festivities of their recent wedding day. How can you NOT be inspired in a place like Yosemite, and how can you be anything but humbled by the love radiating from both Mary Schwab and her new husband, Scott Siner?

During the ceremony, I had a great view of the groom's expression. From my vantage point in the back of the bridesmaid line--as one of two 5'8" bridesmaids in the midst of a 4'10" to 5' wedding party--I was absolutely overcome by the love and adoration I saw glowing in Scott's often-moist eyes.

It got me thinking... A man's love is so different from a woman's love, yet it is truly one of the most powerful forces on the planet. Strong and protective, loyal and self-sacrificing, it is the type of energy that can--and often does--move mountains.

I think this experience--and its resulting burst of inspiration--is exactly what I needed for my current work in progress. The project I'm working on is the sequel to the manuscript I'm currently shopping to agents, and this time, I'm writing from the male protagonist's point of view.

The prospect of writing as a male has me both excited and terrified. I've never written as a guy before, so I'm a little worried I'm going to make a mess of it. However, this weekend DOES leave me feeling a little more confident, and I think I'll be fine if I can just remember to make my characters love each other THIS much:

I'd also love YOUR help. Have you read any great romances--particularly YAs--from a male point of view lately? Have you ever switched genders in first-person? And do you have any tips or tricks for a first-time gender bender?

Thanks in advance for your advice!

An Embarrassment of Riches

Yay!  Holy crap, I am now the proud recipient of THREE new blog awards!  Sophie Li just bestowed me with an adorable strawberry shortcake, recognizing my "Irresistibly Sweet Blog."  (What can I say?  It's obviously those cuties in my right margin...  They're the real crowd pleasers here, not me! :))

If you haven't visited Sophie Li's blog, The Wordsmith Apprentice, you really ought to.  Not only is Sophie the most adorable Army vet and ex-parachuter you've ever seen, but she's also in the process of finishing her first manuscript, raising two kids and generally being fantastic.

My second blog award is from Pam Asberry, and it's so chic and svelte that I don't know what to do with myself!  My brand new "Stylish Blogger Award" proves once and for all that hiking boots and dirty clothes CAN be trend-setting!

As a disclaimer, take a stop by Pam's blog, Sometimes It's Cloudy, Sometimes It's Clear, to see what REAL style looks like!  Not only is Pam a writer, piano teacher, jewelry designer and single parent, but she's also an incredibly classy lady, and I'm honored someone so chic chose to give me this badge.

Last but certainly not least, Alison Beightol just bestowed me with my third honor, the "Versatile Blogger Award."  Wow, I looove this award; we are all juggling multiple paths as aspiring writers, so it's amazing to be recognized for my little corner of the world.

Alison's blog, Adventures of the Cautionary Tale, is a wonderful place to visit.  Not only does she jazz it up with hilarious pictures, but she provides tons of fun content, and she never fails to make me laugh.  If you don't know Alison yet, you really, really, really need to swing by and say hello!

Thank you SO much, ladies!  You have truly made my day!

After doing some soul searching, I am ready to pay my gifts forward.  Here are a few rules before I announce the recipients of MY blog awards:

1. Thank and link the person who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about myself.

3. Pass the Sweet Blog Award to 15 blogging buddies. 
4. Pass the Stylish Blogger Award to five new-found blogging buddies.
5. Pass the Versatile Blogger Award to five fellow bloggers.
6. Contact the winners to congratulate them.

Without further ado, here are my winners (in no particular order).  Some of you I've known for awhile, and some of you I've just met, but I've been touched by your kindness, style and humor, and I'm so pleased to be able to show my appreciation for you with these awards.

1. Anita Howard
2. Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC
3. Lydia K
4. EEV
5. brenda
6. Marewolf
7. Charlee
8. K. Syrah
9. Girl Parker
10. Dawn Brazil
11. Deirdra Eden-Coppel
13. K.C. Blake
14. Bethany C.
15. Jennifer Snyder

1. Rebecca Dupree
2. Moonlight Gleam
3. Talia Jager
4. Kimberly Spencer
5. Eliza Faith

1. Kalen O'Donnell
2. Katherine Jenkins
3. Coral
4. Beckah-Rah
5. Anna L. Walls

Now, on to my seven random facts.  Compiling these was great fun; I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!

1. My original career goal was to be a garbage man. People think I’m kidding when I say this, but I absolutely wanted to be a garbage man when I was five or six years old. This was back in the days when garbage men actually stood on the back of the garbage trucks, and I used to stare longingly at those dudes, wishing there was some way I too could someday get paid to hang on the back of a moving vehicle. (The whole disclaimer that you actually had to stop and pick up trashcans every few feet obviously didn’t make a dent in my childhood brain.)

Photo Courtesy of California Cthulhu (Will Hart)
2. I am too tall to be Cinderella. While I attended college in Orlando, one of my dreams was to become a Disney princess at Walt Disney World. Utilizing the behind-the-scenes knowledge of some acquaintances who worked at the park, I actually managed to maneuver my way into a casting session. Upon my arrival, I was floored to learn how specific Disney’s princess requirements are. Princesses, apparently, should be between 5’4” and 5’7”, and their feet should be no larger than a size 9. (Sad news for my 5’8” and size 9.5 self!) Although I tried unsuccessfully to slouch and scrunch in my toes, I was quickly dismissed, and that was the end of my Disney princess dream. As a parting gift, however, I was cast as a dancer in Epcot’s Tapestry of Dreams parade, and I spent the next year and a half dancing, sweating, and smiling my gold-painted face off!

Photo Courtesy of

Summer 2003: That's me!!
3. I’m a crappy surfer, and I apparently don’t have the sense to stay out of shark-infested waters. I lack upper arm strength, but that didn’t stop me from really, really, really trying to pick up surfing during the six months I lived and worked as an apprentice chef in Australia. (I know, random, right? I’m almost as bad at cooking as I am at surfing.) The crowning jewel of this failed attempt at greatness took place off the coast of Adelaide when my friend Simon and I spent an afternoon surfing on a fantastic, hidden and remarkably empty stretch of beach just south of wine country. Upon our return to town, a few locals stopped us. Seeing our boards, they asked us where we’d been, and their jaws dropped when we told them the name of the beach and remarked how unusual we’d found it to be so empty on such a beautiful day. Yep, you guessed it. The beach was renowned great white territory, and none of the locals were stupid enough to step foot in the surf. (I still get the willies when I tell this story!)

Photo Courtesy of Terry Goss, Wikimedia Commons
4. I once lived in a tent for four and a half months. I spent the summer of 2004 living and working in Yosemite National Park, and my assigned employee housing was a 10’ x 10’ tent with canvas walls, a wooden floor and a pair of creaking, rusted army cots. (Did I mention I SHARED this 10’ x 10’ tent with a roommate??) Despite this rustic housing, I truly view those 4.5 months as an amazing turning point in my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. By living simply, I realized how much crap I actually didn’t need in my life. My summer in Yosemite also cemented my love of the outdoors, and I don’t think I would be where I am today if not for the lessons I learned while hiking, biking, stargazing and floating down the Merced River. (I will actually be returning to Yosemite next week to be a bridesmaid in my Yosemite roommate’s wedding. Mary Schwab, you are an angel, and I can’t wait to be part of your big day!!)

Photo Courtesy of Rainer Marks, Wikimedia Commons
5. The tattoo my left foot depicts the footprints of my six favorite animals at the Alaska Zoo. When my husband and I made the difficult decision to leave Alaska after nearly four fantastic years (see Thoughts on Leaving the Last Frontier), I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my job at the Alaska Zoo without taking along mementos of my six favorite animals. The result was this tattoo, which symbolizes (from bottom to top) Knobby the Bactrian camel, Elf the moose, Tracy the mountain goat, Mac the red fox, Max the raccoon and Peabody the great horned owl. (I have many more zoo loves, but these six animals in particular touched my life in so many ways that I’m ecstatic I get to carry them around with me every day.)

My bony feets!
6. I survived a horrific car crash last October, and nothing has been quite the same since. During my husband’s and my exodus from Alaska last October, we ran into a patch of black ice on a remote stretch of the Alaska Highway just south of the town of Fort Nelson in northern British Columbia. (See The Product of Post-Crash Insomnia) Our truck flipped six times and one of our two dogs was tossed out the back window, but we all miraculously survived. (My husband, our boy dog and I suffered only minor scrapes and bruises, and our girl dog suffered a hairline fracture on her pelvis, which healed after six weeks or so.) Although we walked away mostly unharmed, I couldn’t sleep for weeks, and I was haunted by the idea that the sum of our lives—our memories, our relationships, our goals and our dreams—could have been extinguished so easily in that split-second. The accident taught me many things, and the strongest of these is that we should ALWAYS tell people how we feel about them. If they are important to us, they should know that, because we might never get a second chance to express that. (On that note, thank you—ALL of you—for stopping by to visit me here. I know I’ve never met most of you in real-life, and I know I don’t know most of you very well yet, but our commonality and purpose as aspiring writers {most of us, anyway} is so powerful, and I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve found all of you to share in this journey with me.)

July 4, 2009: Milk Glacier, Girdwood, Alaska
7. A snake took a ride on my backpack this Tuesday. Now that I’ve gotten all “Debbie Downer” on you, I’ll end on a funny note. I’m currently working as the Director of Education at a nature center in Denver, and I had a huge field trip group out at the site this Tuesday. As I was wrapping up their field trip program, I set down my backpack to say goodbye to the teachers and pass out evaluations and whatnot. After leaving the backpack unattended for no more than five minutes, I picked it up, slung it over my shoulder and headed back to our educational shed to put my gear down. As I turned a corner, I caught a flash of movement at the corner of my eye, and THIS SNAKE fell off my backpack and hit the ground at my feet. WTF? WTF? WTF? WTF? I’m not really allowed to be afraid of snakes in my line of work, and I’ve worked with enough of them that I’ve kind of gotten over my girlish fear of them, but OH MY GOD. How are you supposed to NOT freak out when a 16-inch bull snake falls off your backpack and lands on the ground at your feet??? The best part, of course, was the fact that I had to grab a stick, pick this guy up, and run him to a safe place before the kids found him. Yikes!!!

Photo Courtesy of Antonio Muniz
That's all from me...  I can't wait to hear YOUR seven facts!! :)