Friday, October 29, 2010

In the Name of Research

It's official. You can learn how to do anything on YouTube.

I learned how to make the best tortillas EVER from watching this video.
My son swears by these stop-motion tutorials from FancyPants. (Love that name!!)
And just this week my husband learned to play Iron Man from a YouTube video. Rock on, babe!

When it comes to research, Google and You Tube are a writer's friends.

But when I found a link to the Lifehacker website on the MediaBistro blog, I was blown away: Learn to Pick Locks for Fun and an Increased Understanding of Security.

Fun? Seriously?

To be perfectly honest, I was equal parts thrilled and horrified. I mean, if you write the kind of books where a character needs to break into someone's house, this will certainly make your scenes a lot more believable. But, oh man, do you have any idea how easily you can break into a hotel room? With a rubber band? Yikes!

Then there's the comical warning on the screen that says, "Only pick your own locks–or you could wind up in a lot of trouble." Am I the only one who's not really convinced that aspiring criminals aren't learning a thing or two from YouTube?

How far are YOU willing to go to research your writing projects?


If you'd like a chance to win Something Old or Something New, don't delay. Contest ends Tuesday at midnight PST. Go to the post below to enter.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Something Old, Something New

It's time for a giveaway!

I've got two ARCs up for grabs. Something old and something new :)

The something old is my ARC of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl. The sequel, Beautiful Darkness, came out earlier this month. Here's the blurb from Goodreads:

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Please note, this ARC has been read by a few people so the cover has a bit of wear and tear, but it is still in fair condition.

The something new is my ARC of Nightshade by Andrea Cremer. This book has been getting a lot of buzz as well as some videos designed to take you into the world of one of the main characters, Shay Doran. Here's the blurb from Goodreads:

Calla Tor has always known her destiny: After graduating from the Mountain School, she'll be the mate of sexy alpha wolf Ren Laroche and fight with him, side by side, ruling their pack and guarding sacred sites for the Keepers. But when she violates her masters' laws by saving a beautiful human boy out for a hike, Calla begins to question her fate, her existence, and the very essence of the world she has known. By following her heart, she might lose everything--including her own life. Is forbidden love worth the ultimate sacrifice?

In the comments, let me know which book you'd prefer to win. If you're a follower, you get an extra entry. Contest is open for one week. A name will be randomly selected at midnight PST on Tuesday, November 2. Okay, maybe not exactly at midnight, but you need to have your entry in before that!

Good luck to you all!! 

Monday, October 25, 2010


I love the small school that my children attend, but we don’t have a GATE program. As a result, I know very little about what it means to be gifted. It would have been really helpful information, especially since it turns out I may have a gifted child in my house.

I knew my son was different than other children. I read up on ADHD and the wide spectrum of autism and Indigos. I searched numerous books on parenting, trying to find answers. But none of the scenarios or definitions fit what we were experiencing until I read EMOTIONAL INTENSITY IN GIFTED STUDENTS by Christine Fonseca.

Most people saw only the highly intelligent, cooperative child that my son can be. They thought I was crazy to think something was wrong. They didn’t see the erratic mood swings, the random hyperactivity, his inflexible viewpoint on issues, or the relentless drive for perfection that kept him from trying new things. After I read the first chapter of this book online, I almost cried. I wasn’t crazy. And neither was he.

Amazing how a book can change your life.

I’m not saying that lightly at all. Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m proud of my children. But some days I just wondered what I was doing wrong. How could I get through to my son when he was so intense?

While many of the parenting strategies found in EMOTIONAL INTENSITY IN GIFTED STUDENTS would be useful in any home, what really impressed me were the tips for helping children (as well as parents and teachers) recognize emotional triggers. Once kids and parents learn to see the signs building, they can work together to prevent outbursts and find ways to relax before negative emotions overtake the entire family. Useful tip sheets, checklists and worksheets throughout the book offer practical guidance for working through various issues. The final third of the book helps parents learn how to better communicate and “coach” their children through difficult scenarios.

This book is written in a conversational tone, making it incredibly readable. Christine has managed to give her readers real insight into what it means to be gifted and clearly illustrated the internal struggle that children might face as a result. Anyone who works with kids can benefit from reading EMOTIONAL INTENSITY IN GIFTED STUDENTS, but if you have a gifted child in your home, you won’t regret making this book your guide.

Since today is Nonfiction Monday around the Kidlitosphere, here’s a listing of what other people are talking about on their blogs. If you have a nonfiction post to add, email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and I’ll include your listing below.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I have so much to be thankful for, but today I'd like to thank Lori, one of my critique partners, for sparking an idea that has turned into a job. (You've seen the stack of books on my nightstand. I need another job to support my habit!)

When she mentioned last spring that her boys were part of a Writing Club that creates the school newspaper, I got really excited. You see, as much as I enjoy writing, my graphic design work is what helps pay the bills. But a school newspaper combines so many of the things that I love: writing, design and working with kids.

I put together a proposal for the school where my kids attend and I substitute teach. The principal thought it was a great idea and starting next month, I'll be leading a Writing Club for 3rd through 6th grade. I've been making my lesson plans, figuring out what topics we need to cover and looking for fun ways to get kids excited about writing. Best of all, they're actually paying me to do this! Woo-hoo!!

That's what I'm thankful for today. What about you? Got any good news to share?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Birthdays and Alternates

Not so long ago on Candyland's blog I met the wonderful Lenny Lee. If you haven't visited the blog of this amazing 11-year-old writer, you really should. Through him I've learned about doggy lifeguards and the importance of hugging. This post for mother's day will blow you away.

Today is Lenny's birthday and I just wanted to give him a shout out. Hope it's a fabulous day, Lenny!!


And since we're talking about wonderful boys, today I'm featuring a guest post from my favorite almost-11-year-old boy: my son. He's written a review of one of his favorite books, The Force Unleashed, and written an alternate ending as well. Please welcome him here today!


A Review of The Force Unleashed

The Force Unleashed is one of the best Star Wars books ever. This book is based on the video game (which I must say is awesome). The main characters are Galen Marek who is Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, Juno Eclipse who is Galen’s chauffeur, Proxy who is Galen’s training droid, and of course, the one and only Darth Vader.

It starts out with Vader training his apprentice, and giving Galen a mission. Galen went to his destination to eliminate his target, a rouge jedi named Rahm Kota. He supposedly killed Kota and reported that to his master. Vader gave him another assignment to eliminate another jedi, which was completed as well. Finally, Vader gave him a last mission: to destroy the jedi master Shaak Ti. Galen successfully finised this mission, too, and went back to meet with Vader.

Galen’s next mission was to gather up a group of rebels to take on the Emperor. After weeks of work, Galen formed a small committee. But unfortunately, as soon as the alliance was formed, it was destroyed. Vader led a party of stormtroopers into the meeting, injuring Galen and capturing the rest of the alliance. Juno and Proxy found Galen and dropped him off at the Death Star, where he found the Emperor. (Start reading alternate ending or read next paragraph for the book's ending.)

Galen freed the rebels, which escaped with Juno. Galen stayed, and dueled with Vader. He wounded the dark lord and turned on the Emperor. The Emperor released a full blast of sith lightning on Galen, who simultaneously sent a force blast so large, the Death Star nearly exploded. The Emperor increased his lightning until Galen’s inert body fell to the ground. As Galen felt his life being drained from him, Darth Vader crushed his dead apprentice’s lightsaber.

Pretty unhappy ending, huh? Well, if you keep reading, then you will witness my alternate ending.

Alternate Ending

Another staggering, painful step and the Emperor was within the apprentice’s reach. With shaking fingers, he took the old man’s bony shoulders in his hands and gripped them tight. The lightning engulfed them both, and Galen jumped back. He pulled his lightsaber from his waist, and ignited its red blade.

He looked out of the Death Star’s window for a moment, and saw the Rebel ship leaving. Suddenly, turbolasers flared, and the ship exploded.

The Emperor looked at Galen, and laughed. “You see, youngling, there is no hope now!”

No, he thought. No!!!

But it was too late. Galen had given in to the Dark Side. He roared, and rushed at Palpatine, lightsaber raised. He swung the blade in a deadly arc, severing the old man in two.

Galen deactivated his lightsaber, looking at the two halves of the Galactic Emperor. What have I done?!?

He turned to see Darth Vader, standing behind him. “What–what–?” the Dark Lord spluttered. “You will pay for this, my apprentice!”

Galen reactivated his lightsaber. “I am no longer your apprentice. I will soon be the master!” He charged at Vader, and their lightsabers clashed once more.

Vader swept his weapon up, and brought it down toward Galen. Galen dodged, and outstretched his hand. A wave of Force knocked Vader to the ground. The Dark Lord skittered across the floor and banged against the wall.

“Ugh!” Vader grunted. He stood up, and somersaulted in the air before landing in front of the apprentice.

Right as Vader landed, Galen stuck his lightsaber straight out. “Huh?” Vader muttered. He looked down, and saw a lightsaber protruding from his stomach. “How–?” And the Dark Lord sank to the floor.

Galen stared at the carnage. Dead stormtroopers lay everywhere, and the remains of the Emperor and Vader haunted him. Galen put his lightsaber back in his cloak. There is no going back now.


I hope you have enjoyed my review on The Force Unleashed, and my Alternate Ending.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

It's almost time for that epic month of nonstop plotting, writing, lack of sleep and maybe a little monkey business: National Novel Writing Month. Woo-hoo!!

Even when I don't officially sign up for NaNo, I try to write as much as possible in November. It's a good kick in the butt and an excuse to ignore the cooking, cleaning and laundry (because I'm so on top of it the rest of the year!).

The thing is, I write middle grade novels and none of them has ever been 50,000 words. This year though, I have a story idea that could very well end up that long. I've done a little plotting, written a couple chapters that may or may not end up in the final novel. We shall see.

Is anybody out there doing NaNoWriMo this year?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review: Across The Universe by Beth Revis

When I first heard the concept for this book, I got excited: A cryogenically frozen girl on board a spaceship wakes up fifty years too soon when her cryo chamber is unplugged, and she is nearly killed. Sounds cool, right? But how could the author sustain this concept over an entire novel, let alone a trilogy?

She does it. And she does it brilliantly.

This book succeeds on so many levels because there are so many layers to this story. (Just like a croissant!) We get a murder mystery, a political thriller, a space fantasy, a medical intrigue, a love story (could you guess from the cover?).  But we also have the story of a teenage girl who wakes up fifty years before her parents in a foreign world where she is a minority of one. And that's a powerful story.

There is so much to love about this book. It's beautifully written, full of action and the futuristic gadgets are way cool. I was blown away by the thought and detail she put into creating the amazing society that has survived for generations onboard this spaceship. The main characters pull you into their stories with their distinct voices. The questions she raised and the themes she explored left me thinking about it for days on end.

A few things bugged me in the beginning, but by the end of the story, they totally made sense. And while there are some loose threads dangling for the next book, there was enough of a conclusion to the story to leave me more than satisfied. That's huge for me. I don't like reading a series only to be left dangling on the edge of a precipice because, you know, there's another book coming out in fourteen months. That makes me hate the book and the author. I'm glad that didn't happen since Beth is a bloggy friend of mine.

Now before you start thinking that my review is colored by friendship, let me just say that reading books by blogging buddies can be a double-edged sword. Because if you don't like it, then what are you supposed to say? So I was apprehensive going in. I wanted to like it but worried that I might not. I'm so glad that I didn't have to worry.

Across the Universe comes out January 11, 2011. I'm sure some of you are holding your breath, wondering if I'll be giving away the ARC (they are a sought-after commodity!). But I already have a lineup of people who want to read it here at home because I can't stop telling everybody how good this book is!

Even though I have the ARC, I'll be buying my own copy of the hardcover version. The story is THAT good. This is a book I will read over and over again. Plus there's a cool perk that comes with the hardcover version: a reversible cover.

 This map of the ship will actually be a reversible cover. How cool is that? You can't get the full impact with an ARC.

I was excited when Beth got her agent, amazed by how quickly her novel sold, even more surprised when I saw what a fast-track the book was on to publication. Because seriously people, last year this time Beth didn't have any of that. None.  (You can read the interview I did with her here to learn more about her road to publication.) Now that I've read the novel, I can see why.

Congratulations Beth on a stunning debut!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Ever Growing TBR Pile

Things may have gotten a little out of control here.

The lamp doesn't fit anymore and I end up knocking piles over when I try to answer the phone. But no matter how fast I read, the stacks don't get any smaller. I've read 77 books so far this year and at least another 50 are threatening to fall on top of me and suffocate me in my sleep because I haven't been able to move them off my nightstand. Of course, you understand, they can't leave the nightstand until they've been read.

Some are borrowed, some I won from blogs, some are ARCs from the Book Loft. A few might have to do with my own lack of self-control in the book store. Truly, I swear the books are making whoopie or reproducing on their own. That's the only explanation. They're like those plants that self-pollinate. (Maybe if I'd paid more attention in biology I'd be able to defend this theory.)

The good news is, once I get through some of these stacks, I'm going to need to clear space for the new books that inexplicably appear. That means I'll be hosting some primo giveaways very soon. Once I finish reading them.

What does your TBR pile look like?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tender, Flaky Layers

I spent most of Sunday at a friend's house learning to make croissants. We used an old recipe from Julia Childs that required a ton of butter and plenty of muscle for rolling. To be done properly, you really need more than a day. Luckily, my friend had dough already prepared at different stages for us so that we could maximize our time.

Croissants are finicky. You spend a lot of time chilling, rolling and folding the dough over the butter, working it in so that you wind up with the buttery layers that make them so distinctive. In fact, by the time you end up cutting the dough into the crescent shape, you've rolled and folded 55 layers of dough.


So of course this made me think of writing. We're supposed to have many layers in our stories: tender, flaky layers that draw readers in and give our story depth. Sometimes it's hard to know if we've given the story enough chilling time, if we've stretched and folded the characters to their breaking point. But for today, I challenge you to try and discover a new layer for your story, something that will hook your reader and make the story uniquely yours. You might not end up with fifty-five layers of depth, but it might not be a bad idea to try.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The End -- in Two Parts

This comes out three days after my son turns eleven. He's already made me promise to take him the day it opens.

There are no words to describe the excitement these books and movies have brought to so many kids, including my own. Considering how long the final book was, I'm kind of glad the movie is in two parts.

What about you? Do you think they're milking this cash cow for all it's worth, or are they just trying to get the final episode right?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In Defense of #2

Okay, first of all, get your head out of the toilet. I'm not talking about THAT kind of #2!

I'm talking about these.

My trusty pencils.

Somehow I think differently when I write with a pencil. I don't look at things the same way on a computer screen or even when I write with a pen. I love the scratch of graphite on paper, the softness of the slightly smudgy words. I connect to my story in a way that is hard to explain, but it's almost more primal.

Whenever I get stuck or overwhelmed or I just need a different frame of reference, I reach for a pencil and a stack of 4x6 note cards. And as I scribble, I learn more about my characters, their needs and the actions they have to follow to make the story come alive.

What tricks do you use make your words flow again?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Real Men DO Eat Quiche

My son asked me to make quiche last week.

Not something you expect to hear from a 10-year-old, especially one who tends to only eat food he's sure he likes. But when he showed me the recipe he wanted me to make, I had to laugh. Because it was in here.

Yeah. Who knew a graphic novel could make my kids try something new?

I've written about the Bone Series before. Author Jeff Smith started off publishing them himself. Word of mouth and the internet made these books wildly popular. They appeal to reluctant readers, and girls read them just as much as boys.

But did you know that they're #3 on ALA's list of Top 10 Banned Graphic Novels? Figures. What would you expect from a book that encourages kids to eat quiche?

Just for the record, the recipe is DELICIOUS! Thanks, Jeff :D

Friday, October 1, 2010

Video Killed the Radio Star...

...but what's it doing for writers?

People might still be lamenting the rise of e-books, but while they debate, technology marches on. This may come as news to some, but authors these days are no longer providing "manuscripts," they're providing "content." Because that story that's been rolling around in your head for years might end up on the pages of a book, as bits and bytes on an e-reader or even get translated into a game.

Check out this announcement from Kristin Nelson yesterday:

Flash media and online game artist (with an already created Facebook game set in the world with 13,000 registered users) Marie Lu’s debut dystopian YA trilogy starting with LEGEND, set in the flooded Republic of Los Angeles 2130 A.D., about a boy who is the Republic’s most wanted criminal and a girl who is the Republic’s most beloved government prodigy whose paths cross when her brother is murdered and she is hired to hunt down the boy responsible—but the truth they uncover will become legend, to Jen Besser at Putnam Children’s for fall 2011 publication, at auction in a very major deal, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (World).

13,000 registered game users, before she even had a book deal! Amazing!

Meanwhile, the former president and publisher of Simon & Schuster, Rick Richter, has launched his own company, Ruckus Media Group, to create high-def story apps for kids. The first book available, The Velveteen Rabbit, has the story read aloud by Meryl Streep while the screen zooms and pans over classic illustrations. The company plans to digitize favorites like Tom Thumb and John Henry. But they've also signed up authors like Jon Scieszka and Andrew Clements to create new work specifically for this format. You can read more about this at Publisher's Weekly and at

Big publishers are getting in on the digital movement as well. Random House Children's Books recently partnered with Smashing Ideas, Inc. to create similar book-based apps for kids.

Individual authors are getting in on the act, too. Last October, author/illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba released Lula's Brew for the iPod/iPhone and she recently made it available for the iPad as well. And back in June I wrote about a company called, that takes short, original stories from authors then has them read aloud by children. The site gets more than 500 submissions each month, and the videos receive more than 35,000 views. will gaming and video change books? Are you ready for this new frontier?


And the winner of a Roald Dahl book is:


Congratulations, JEM! Email me at solvangsherrie at gmail dot com with your mailing address and the name of the book you'd like.
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