Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Caroling and Winners

Image Source
The thing I love most about working in a school is being around the kids. I love their energy and enthusiasm, not to mention the funny things they say.

For instance, this conversation I overheard between two first graders working on a holiday word search.

"Did you find CAROLING?"
"No. What is CAROLING?"
"I think it's Santa's wife."

Love them!

And now, my fellow bibliophiles, some books I need to ship out. The winners from last week's giveaway are:

Myrna Foster: Wisdom's Kiss
Jackee: The Replacement
C.R. Evers: Revolution
Kelly Polark: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Tricia O'Brien: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Woo-hoo!! Congratulations one and all!! Send me your snail mail addy's and I'll get these books to you, maybe even before Christmas :)

Have a great holiday and I'll see you all next year!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

That Time of Year

The holidays are all about gifts and giving, right? So here's my gift to a few lucky readers: books, of course! I have five to give away:
  • The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff 
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  • Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
  • Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (ARC)
  • Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (ARC)

Leave me a comment if you'd like to win and if your profile doesn't connect to your email, be sure to leave it in the comment as well.


I can't guarantee that you'll get it, but you have a better chance of winning it if you tell me which one you want to read the most. You don't have to be a follower to win, but followers do get an extra entry. (There has to be some sort of reward for hanging around here!)

Five winners will be announced next Wednesday. Good luck and happy holidays!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Amazon's Game of Monopoly

Okay, so back in May I facetiously wrote a post called, Amazon Seeks (Publishing) World Domination. It's looking less like a joke every day.

Let's recap. Amazon has six imprints: AmazonEncore (publishing overlooked books and authors), Amazon Crossing (publishing popular overseas titles for English-speaking markets), The Domino Project (publishing "Idea Manifestos" whatever that means), Montlake (publishing romance titles), Thomas & Mercer (publishing mysteries and thrillers), and 47North (publishing science fiction/fantasy/horror). They'll be launching their seventh imprint next year, headed up by publishing veteran Larry Kirshbaum. They have also taken over and forged a dubious book-rental partnership with Overdrive (dubious because it isn't clear how authors will receive royalties on some of the rented titles). 

Their latest move? Acquiring more than 450 children's titles from Marshall Cavendish. (Here's a link to the New York Times article.) So not only are they causing unfair competition with bricks-and-mortar retailers by not charging sales tax in many states, they're also competing directly with the very companies that helped establish them as a powerhouse company: publishers.

Amazon has many positives. Their website is easy to use and they've become the go-to site for finding information on books and authors, no matter how obscure. They've also been a great resource for self-publishers. But their growing dominance as a book seller AND publishing company will continue to impact this industry in many ways. And I'm not sure how much of that impact is positive.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Five Worth Reading

I went back over my Goodreads list to see which of my most recent reads got five stars (I don’t give those things out lightly!). It was no surprise that 3 out of 5 were dystopian/futuristic/sci-fi books. What surprised me is that out of the 120 books I’ve read so far this year (!) only 20 have earned a five star rating. And within those 20 is a mix of realistic fiction for adults, YA and MG, as well as my beloved dystopian/futuristic/sci-fi titles. There’s still a month to go. I wonder how many more five star books I’ll find in that time?

Top Five Recent Reads

The Pearl Wars (Skyship Academy #1) by Nick James
The voice of this character pulled me in from page 1. I absolutely adore Jesse. Great action, great pacing, great characters. And the crazy futuristic world he’s created? LOVE it. I can't wait for book 2.

Variant by Robison Wells
I hadn't read any reviews of this book before I started so the twists and turns in the story were a complete surprise. I raced through this, breathless to see what would happen next. The only bummer -- it's part of a series. *sigh* I'm reading too many series books!!

Shine by Lauren Myracle (One of two realistic fiction titles on my list)
All I can say is that the National Book Awards people got it wrong. This was such an incredible book, such a moving story. It stayed with me for weeks. Loved it.

A Million Suns by Beth Revis
Expected publication: January 10th 2012 by Razorbill 

I love this series, love that the world is so believable, love the characters and the obstacles they overcome. So imaginative, so awesome...SO SAD that I have to wait more than a year for the final book!!! 

Write fast, Beth!!!

Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss    (You wouldn't guess it from the title, but this is my other realistic fiction pick)  
Expected publication: January 3rd 2012 by Simon Pulse

This book surprised me in so many ways. 

The writing is practically perfect. The characters, I loved. Watching the MC struggle with questions of religion and atheism and respecting his parents as he falls in love, grows apart from his friends and deals with betrayals -- it's all in there and written with such honesty and humor. Once I started reading, I didn't want to stop. And when I did have to step away to cook or pick the kids up from school, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I read it in a day.

So there you have it, five books that blew me away. Books that I keep telling people they have to read. What are some of the best books you’ve read recently?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mastering His Stuff

I help out in the Homework Club after school three days a week.

Yes, the euphemism makes me laugh, too. 
Join our club! It rocks! 
Trust me, I didn't name it.

A few days ago, one of the 2nd graders raised his hand to ask a question. I headed over to his table to help him. He was sitting next to a couple of older boys from my daughter's class.

As I got there, one of the older boys leaned over to the 2nd grader and said, "If you need help, you can ask us. We're in 4th grade. We've mastered all that 2nd grade stuff."

I bit my tongue to keep from laughing. I wasn't needed here. That boy was in good hands. The hands of a master.

Instead, I ran for a piece of paper. So I could write down what the 4th grader said.

Of course.  :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Launching Open Minds: A Conversation with Susan Kaye Quinn

Earlier this month, author Susan Kaye Quinn launched book one of her Mindjack Trilogy. Since it was her first foray into self-publishing (she has previously published a novel with Omnific Publishing), I was curious to know how well her promotional efforts went. She was more than happy to answer a few questions for me.

Overall, how do you think the launch and blog tour went?
I seriously could not have asked for it to go any better. The response on launch day was awesome and wonderful and overwhelming! I’m so glad that I had a chance to share that day with my Virtual Friends (I had an in-person book signing later that week for my Local Friends). I love that people are intrigued by the premise, buying the book, and reading it right away. And leaving reviews! It’s awesome.

The Book Blog Tour has been cool in a different way, reaching out to new readers, people that are not in my circle of friends. And they’re having a great response to the book too. The book bloggers themselves have been gracious and fun to work with. And the reviews have been great! Can’t ask for anything better there as well. (I just had one blogger come back and want to include Open Minds in their year-end Best Books of 2011 list!)

Do you think one works better than the other or are both necessary?
I struggled with how to do this when setting everything up. I’m really pleased with how it worked out, though. The Virtual Launch party was a one-time thing, and mostly with people that I already was friends with (although I made some new friends too!). It gave my friends a chance to celebrate my book with me (which is awesome), without being restricted to a certain schedule or pacing, like a tour. And it was fun!

The Book Blog Tour serves a different purpose, gathering reviews and reaching people who I who don’t know, but that I hope will be intrigued by the book. I’m posting the Book Blog Tour schedule on my blog for my regular blog audience, as we go, but only because they might be interested in some of the guest posts or contests. The Book Blog Tour is really to expand my Reader Audience. As I mentioned on Adam Heine’s blog Monday, I see the two events serving different circles– one is my Blog Audience and one is my Reader Audience. The intersection of those circles are my friends who enjoy reading my work. But the two events were really directed at the two different circles.

That's an interesting way to look at it. I didn't realize you would reach different people with the blog tour. So do you think you the blog tour did its job of attracting new readers and/or followers?
Absolutely. I love the support of my friends, and that’s a key part to getting a book started. Hopefully those are the people that will start handing the book to their friends and they will enjoy it too. But pulling in readers with just a blurb/cover and possibly a review is important. People need to love the book first, and the author second, if it’s going to be successful in the wider market.
Speaking of which, how did you do in that wider market? You climbed pretty high on the Amazon charts, didn't you?
The peak on Amazon US was 7,156 … so close to breaking the top 100 in the Action & Adventure bestseller list for Young Adult e-books (about 6-7k in the Kindle Paid Store)! And while it would have been great to break into the bestseller list right away, I’m really hoping to have the visibility of the book be wide enough to catch some of the after-Christmas Kindle market.

Those are some impressive stats! How'd you do on B&N?
Most of my sales are on Kindle (or paper in the beginning, for friends that want autographed copies), with B&N a much smaller player. There’s all kinds of ways to measure ranking on Amazon. Honestly, I don’t even track rank on B&N.

Okay, so back to the promotion. Were you able to maintain interest over the entire blog tour?
If by “interest” you mean “do your regular blog readers click through”? Probably not (although some clearly are and leaving comments). But, like I mentioned above, the idea of the Blog Tour was not to get my regular blog readers excited/interested in Open Minds – it’s to reach new readers. In that, it’s been very successful, and the sales that I continue to have I attribute directly to the Blog Tour. Some Book Blogs have greater reach (more potential readers) and some have a passionate, but smaller, audience, but both are definitely bringing in sales. Book Bloggers do a great service for both readers and writers. Another benefit is meeting the Book Bloggers themselves. I have several that are already asking to be put on the list to review Closed Hearts (which is key, because most Book Bloggers won’t review the second book in a series if they haven’t reviewed the first).

That's so cool that you can see sales as a direct result of the blog tour. So, what would you change for the next time around?
I still need to do a serious post-mortem, but a couple things I would change: 1) query more teen book bloggers (in addition to the book bloggers I’ve already queried, who are awesome!), 2) shorten the Book Blog Tour to 1 ½ weeks (as opposed to 2 ½ weeks). Originally I thought there would only be one stop each day, but I had so many book bloggers interested in reading/reviewing that it didn’t work out that way. Now, I think it would be better to have multiple stops per day over a shorter (overall) tour.

And because inquiring minds want to know: how far are you on Closed Hearts?
I just uploaded my 19,308th word to NaNo. :) Which, for you plotting nerds, is almost to the break into Act II. In other words, we’re getting to the good stuff!

Woo-hoo! Can't wait to read it!
Congratulations, Susan. You've given me some great ideas for book promotion and targeting audiences. I keep learning so much from you :)
Thanks so much for having me on your blog!

A few places where you can find Susan on the web:
Inkspells (blog)
Mindjack Trilogy website
Life, Liberty and Pursuit website (Susan's first novel with Omnific Publishing)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Editor Spotlight on: Sarah Ketchersid

Back in September you might remember I mentioned going on the Best Retreat EverWhile I was there I was lucky enough to meet the wonderful Sarah Ketchersid, Executive Editor at Candlewick. She edits picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA fiction, as well as those extremely popular OLOGY books. (We own Dragonology and Egytptology.)
In between jetting to exotic places like Frankfurt and editing books with release dates as far away as 2015(!), Sarah was kind enough to take a few minutes for this interview.

It was great meeting you at the Los Angeles Working Writer’s Retreat. How intense is it for you as an editor to participate in an event like this where you have to provide feedback on so many different stories?
It was great to meet you, too! The retreat was amazing, but, yes, very intense. I really have to be on my game for two whole days. Yet the time I have with each individual author is very short—just 15 minutes, and that includes listening to him or her read the work out loud. So I’ve got to listen carefully and then respond almost instantly with something coherent, and I hope, intelligent, insightful, and encouraging all at the same time! It definitely helped that all of the authors were so open and willing to hear my feedback. And it was especially gratifying to listen to the first pages session on Sunday morning and see how well the writers revised based on our feedback.

Have you ever found a new author through a conference?
To be honest, I haven’t yet, but I’m ever hopeful. Once at a conference I met an author whose work I was already considering and we had a chance to talk in person about the manuscript, and then I signed it up a month or two later. Being able to connect with someone one-on-one like that goes such a long way toward building a trusting working relationship.

Good to know there's hope!
You recently went from Senior Editor to Executive Editor at Candlewick Press. Can you explain the difference?
Thanks for asking about this. I don’t think there is a general answer for what makes one editor a Senior Editor versus an Executive Editor—it really depends on the company and the dynamics of the editorial department there. For myself, I am adding some more responsibilities, including working more closely with our Foreign Rights Team. So I attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany a few weeks ago for the first time.

Oooh, I'd love to attend Frankfurt some day. Did it live up to your expectations?
I have to say that it did. It was huge! They even have a mini bus to take people from one hall to the other, because it's so big. It was so interesting to see publishers from all over the world as well--it felt as if nearly every country had at least one booth there.

Sounds incredible! Some day... :)
I think you said you’ve been with Candlewick for ten years. How did you get into editing?
I was an English major in college and wasn’t sure what I was going to do after graduating, when a recruiter from Penguin came to campus. I thought, Publishing! That’s it. I’d always loved books and reading so I knew it could be a good fit for me. My work study job was as an aide at the campus day care center, so I was also interested in children and their development. After I got my degree I worked for a year as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble in the children’s department which helped me realize that I wanted to work in children’s publishing. I was eventually hired as an editorial assistant at Dutton Children’s Books, and was there for six years before I joined Candlewick in 2001.

Candlewick is a relatively young press (started in 1991, right?) but your books have made such an impact on children’s literature. How does that award-winning past factor into the choices you make for future books?
Thanks so much for saying that. We do take a lot of pride in our work at Candlewick and in creating the very best books we can. That comes into play in a variety of different ways from the kinds of books we acquire to the quality of the paper we print on! I think all of us editors feel a responsibility to only take on the best of what gets submitted to us, in order to keep that goodwill that we seem to have built up over the years of publishing such wonderful books. Our designers also work so hard to create truly beautiful and beautifully designed books, right down to the smallest details.

Over dinner one evening you explained that the company is 100 percent employee owned. How does that work? How does it affect your approach to books and authors?
The company was founded by Sebastian Walker (as Walker Books) in London in 1978 and Candlewick Press, the American arm of Walker Books, was started in 1991, just before Sebastian passed away. When he died, he left the company in trust to his employees and now employees are given shares in that trust. So we all own a part of Candlewick Press and of Walker Books in London and Australia. It is a good feeling to know that as a company we are only answerable to ourselves and not to a larger company, whose main business may not even be books. I think that gives us the opportunity to take a few more creative risks and to follow our editorial instincts when we sense that something is right.

I know you were excited about ABOVE WORLD by Jenn Reese. Can you tell us about the book and some of the others you have coming out in the next few months?
Yes, I am very excited about ABOVE WORLD! It’s coming out next February and it’s a middle grade novel set in a future where humans have turned to genetic engineering in order to survive in extreme environments, like growing tails to live under the ocean, or wings to live in high mountains, or horse bodies to survive in the desert. It’s a great adventure with strong characters that I simply love.

Sounds like my kind of book! I'll have to look for that one.
The other middle grade novel I’ve got coming out next spring is the fantasy novel THE PRINCESS OF TRELIAN by Michelle Knudsen. It’s the sequel to THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN which came out a couple of years ago. People might know Michelle as the author of the picture book Library Lion. She’s also an amazing fiction writer. Here is another novel whose characters I just fell in love with! I’m very excited for this sequel to come out—I know a lot of young readers who have been waiting.

I’m also excited about two lovely picture books publishing this spring: HAPPY LIKE SOCCER by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Lauren Castillo; and STEP GENTLY OUT by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder.

And I’ve also got a very funny new illustrated chapter book from Daniel Pinkwater called MRS. NOODLEKUGEL.

And the eleventh Ology book is also coming out next spring: ILLUSIONOLOGY, which is about magic and illusions. I didn't know anything about magic before starting work on that one, and now I can do some pretty cool card tricks and mind reading feats!

Now I wish I had brought a deck of cards with me to the conference. I could have learned some magic and impressed my daughter! I know she'll want that book. She's always buying magic kits and trying to do tricks :-)

How many books are you working on right now? How many new projects have you signed on in the last year?

 I’m working on lots of different books in various stages of development—from looking over proofs near the end of the process, to line editing or reviewing sketches in the middle, to giving feedback on plot synopses and first drafts right at the start. In 2012, I’ve got about 15 books coming out, and in 2013 I’ve got 11 so far. And then I even have a few books already scheduled for 2014 and 2015. In the last year I’ve probably signed up about 7 to 8 new projects.

2015? Dang, that's so far away!
Will you be at any other conferences in the next year?
I actually don’t have any writer’s conferences scheduled right now, so I’m not sure!
Have you been practicing your karaoke for the next conference? :-)
Ha ha! I really should! I think was a little ambitious taking on ABBA’s "Fernando." Did I really do that?? A true “one-night only” performance that I don’t think will (or should!) be repeated ;) It was so much fun, though!

It was fun! There was something in the air that night... :-)
As was this interview. Thanks, Sherrie.

Thank you, Sarah!

Find out more about Candlewick Press at their website.

A few of Candlewick's bestselling/award winning books:
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson
The Magician's Elephant by Kate diCamillo
Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Author Spotlight on: Caroline Starr Rose

Today I'm so excited to be interviewing someone who is not only a fabulous author, but an agent-mate as well. Caroline Starr Rose has had more than her share of ups and downs on the road to publication. (Read this post, When Things Don't Go as Planned, to learn about just one of the bumps.) 

But the end is in sight for her debut novel, May B. It's set to hit shelves in January and best of all -- I get to be there for her launch party in Albuquerque! Woo-hoo!!


YES!!! It worked out perfectly!
That is so cool!!

I know, but I have to stop dancing around the house, and do a proper interview so tell me: how long have you been writing?
Fourteen years this December.

Has it always been historical fiction?
No, though my first attempt at a novel was a horrendous historical about the Oregon Trail. I still shudder to think of it!

Ha! My first novel causes way more than a shudder. Ugh! What sparked the idea for May B.’s story?
A couple of ideas came together for me as I worked on May. I started by researching the frontier -- an era that fascinated me -- and trusted something would catch my interest as I read. I was curious about the challenge of writing about a character alone for much of the story.  And I’ve always wondered how children with learning disabilities would have coped in an era before their challenges were understood.

How did you research the setting and period?
I started reading about mail order brides, actually!

Mail order brides could make a good story :P  And actually, Mrs. Oblinger sounded kind of like she could have been a mail order bride.
She wasn't, but I thought it would be fun to throw in a little ode to my beginning research :)

From there I read about the frontier in general and was especially drawn to first-hand accounts of families moving west and to journals and letters kept by pioneer women. I decided May’s story would be a great fit for Kansas: the geography was right for a sod house (with which I was enamored) and the weather extremes worked with the blizzard I needed to help tell her story.

Well her story is amazing. I enjoyed it tremendously and I'm not the only one. You’ve been getting some amazing blurbs, including the awesome one from Karen Cushman. Are you just delirious?
Absolutely, crazily delirious. I’m not sure if I still believe it!

I first found Karen Cushman’s books in college and used CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY, THE MIDWIFE’S APPRENTICE, and THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE in my classroom. To realize she not only read my work but loved it -- it’s an incredible honor.

You've had a wilder ride than most in your quest for publication. How did you keep your spirits up when you heard your first publisher was shutting down?
Agent Michelle let me vent when I needed to. She reminded me from the start there were other editors who had loved May before and would probably be interested in her again. I was a part of the Class of 2k11 at the time, and they along with the Elevensies really bolstered me. My first editor, Nicole Geiger, let me call and cry. Really, people were wonderful.

How hard was it to go through another revision with a second editor once your book found a new publishing home?
I’ll be honest; I was a pill at first. I’m generally very open to others’ suggestions, especially ones from the publishing world. But it was really hard for me to hear my book, which had been weeks from an ARC printing, needed more edits. As in three more rounds. That said, editor Emily Seife so clearly loved my character and wanted what was best for the story, she won me over pretty quickly.

I’m so grateful things ended up this way. The book is much stronger; I have two marvelous editors to thank for that.

And you wound up with an AWESOME cover!!

You were a teacher for a number of years. How do you think that influences your writing?
I’ve taught all over the place -- five schools in four states. Being with kids from all over and from all walks of life showed me despite incredible differences, kids are pretty much the same: they need to feel accepted and they need to know there are adults who believe in them. I’d like to think I’m respectful of my young characters and honestly portray their experiences, hoping one day my young readers will, through the magic that is fiction, see their own big and small moments as important and valid.

You’ve been looking at unconventional ways to market this novel. Can you share some of those ideas?
You mean those 2000 postcards sitting in my office? ;)

Uh, yeah. 2,000? 
That's a lot of stamps!
I spent months collecting addresses of frontier and historical museums in the plains states. I also have the addresses of every elementary and middle school in Kansas. May comes out two weeks before Kansas Day, the anniversary of Kansas’s statehood and a day set aside in Kansas schools to study state history. I’ve used Kansas Day as a draw in the postcards I’m sending to schools. As for the museums, it’s a long shot. Still, I think of the number of times I’ve left museums with a book or trinket related to the exhibit I’d seen. I also plan to send postcards to all Kansas public libraries and all the elementary and middle schools in my city.

I created a huge giveaway called the May B. book club kit open to any school, library, or reading circle. Included were 10 copies of the book, discussion questions, lesson tie-ins, bookmarks and stickers, a copy of the May B. book trailer, and a Skype visit with the winners after they’ve read.

Then there’s Take Five! Pick Two! where I sent five bookmarks to interested blog readers and asked them to share two of them with librarians, teachers, young readers, book bloggers, or booksellers.

I also applied for SCBWI's new grant for authors with books coming out in 2012, where two winners receive $2000 to put toward book promotion. Though I didn't win, it was an opportunity I refused to let slip by and gave me a chance to intentionally think through promotion ideas.

How do you plan to celebrate your release day?
Not sure yet! Champagne, definitely.

Well, when I'm there we're celebrating at Sadie's with some sopapillas! If they have champagne, too, all the better!
Sadie's, here we come!

What are you working on now?
A picture book about the Louisiana wetlands and another historical verse novel.

Thanks so much, Sherrie. This was a delight!

Absolutely! See you in January!!

To learn more about Caroline, you can find her in these online spots:
Blog: Caroline by Line
Facebook May B. Page
The Apocalypsies -- Class of 2K12
The (Teen) Book Scene

Monday, October 31, 2011

Why Cheesecake is like Mud

I write for children,  read children's books and teach elementary age children. I've got two children living at home. You'd think I would have a good handle on describing things in a childlike way. But every once in a while (more often than I'd like to admit!) I get a peek inside the 8-year-old- psyche that reminds me just how far I am from truly thinking like a child.

My daughter and I were making cheesecake together last week. As she mixed the ingredients for the graham cracker crust, she kept asking me if the consistency was right.

"No," I'd say. "It needs to be a little wetter, so it holds together when we put it in the pie pan. But not too wet."

She sighed. "Do you mean like mud?"


She saw my questioning look. "When you dig in the dirt, and it goes from dry to kind of damp and it sticks together in clumps."

I had to smile.

"Yes. Exactly. Make it like mud."


Tomorrow is the launch for OPEN MINDS by Susan Kaye Quinn. I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am for Susan, and not just because I beta read this book and was completely blown away by the story. I'm impressed with how she has approached this book release, how she has balanced the publicity with her blogging and how organized she manages to be with everything! I could definitely learn a thing or two from her, and luckily she's documented a lot of it on her blog :)

Her launch has cool prizes up for grabs (I want that t-shirt!) and a blog hop that will reveal the story behind OPEN MINDS. If you haven't already heard about  Susan or her virtual launch or her books, you will. She's amazing.

Have a great Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Author Spotlight on: Martha Alderson

I’ve written before about Martha Alderson and her helpful YouTube series on plot. Today I'm talking to Martha about her new book, THE PLOT WHISPERER: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master (Adams Media, October 2011). It's out just in time to inspire all of you getting ready to start National Novel Writing Month next week.

How did you become the Plot Whisperer?
The light bulb moment when plot became clear to me took about ten years to snap on. First came trial and error with my own writing, attending writing workshops and classes, and reading every book on writing I could get my hands on. But… the actual moment arrived when I volunteered at a writing workshop for children. Thanks to my background as a special education therapist, I completed a task analysis of the skills required of the students and developed a simple handout to support the children’s writing experience.

One of the first questions I asked the children to answer was who is the main character? (Character emotional development, inner plot)
The second question asked what does the main character want? (Dramatic action, external plot)

The simplicity of those two questions hooked me and since then I’ve been racing to keep up. I began analyzing all sorts of novels, memoirs and screenplays for plot and structure. I was so excited about my finding that I wanted to share the plot ideas with other writers. When I started plot consulting with writers from all over the world, I become the Plot Whisperer.

You’ve been teaching people about plot for nearly 15 years, through workshops, books and dvds. How is this book different from your previous offerings?
Thank you for asking this question! The plot bliss I’ve been swept up in for all these years has deepened as I began to deepen my understanding the universality of our shared journey together. Now I’m passionate to share the story beneath the story.

Just as a writer can push aside her words to see the deeper meaning of her story, anyone can push aside the drama of her own personal life to see the deeper meaning at play and what supports her efforts and what depletes her.

The Plot Whisperer book conveys that deeper meaning and points out how to direct your choices in ways that best supports you in achieving your personal long-term goals in life.

I watch your YouTube videos when I get stuck or need inspiration. What made you decide to create those – for free?

I’m so pleased you use the Plot Series as inspiration! A joy to hear. Thank you.

No, thank you! They've been so helpful.

A friend had created her own channel a couple of years before I did. I remember at the time how foreign it all sounded, exotic and confusing – hmmmmm… sort of just like what the protagonist of your story feels upon entering the exotic world of the middle and you may feel each time you move away from your comfort zone in life.

The idea must have been growing in the back of my mind all that time, because one day I asked my friend if she wanted to go for it. I owe the Plot Series all to her because she jumped in with both feet and off we went – blissfully being pulled along, never much knowing exactly what we were doing but having a ball doing it.

Another venue in which to share my passion, that’s how I saw the experience. What I have gotten back from kind words and support from writers all over the world far exceeds what I give.

A lot of “pantsers” get hives when people start talking about plot, but your techniques seem to apply as much to revision as they do to first drafts. Do you think it makes a difference whether you pants your way through the first draft or plot it all out ahead of time?
No. I don’t care how you write the first draft. Just get it written all the way from the beginning to the end anyway you can – pre-plotting, plotting as you write, or writing purely by the seat of your pants. With a completed draft, no matter how wretched you may believe it is, you can then get down to the real work of plot and structure.

I tend to plot as I write so this is good to hear :)

You talk a lot about transformation. As a writer, how do you know if your character has changed enough to call it a transformation? And how critical is that to the story?
Change is enough. Change whispers the same empowerment to your reader as a deeper and more profound transformation. All that dramatic action has to have an effect on the protagonist or what is the point?

Change is critical.
Transformation is sublime.

Mmmm...I like that.

What do you think is the biggest stumbling block for writers new to plotting?
Giving in to the belief that it’s too hard. No matter whether you plot or not, the true task at hand is the writing. Don’t ever let anything to get in the way of your writing. If plotting stalls you from writing, stop. Slowly, the more you ready yourself and the ideas grow you’ll find ways to make plot work for you, too.

Oh, this is SO true! And a good reminder to not use plotting as an excuse to not write.

Do you have any workshops coming up where people can work with you on a more personal basis?
Not yet. This has been a wild year of writing and getting the book ready in time for writers to use it to pre-plot for NaNoWriMo. I’m exhausted in a glowy, satisfied way.

Teaching is a part of me. Anyone who is interested in when I plan to dip back into teaching plot can sign-up for the free monthly Plot Tips eZine or follow me on any of the social media.

Thank you, Sherrie!

Thank you, Martha!

Martha Alderson has worked with hundreds of writers in sold-out plot workshops, retreats, and plot consultations for more than fifteen years. Her clients include bestselling authors, New York editors, and Hollywood movie directors. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Follow her blog, workshops, vlog, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Bad Publicity Shines

Once upon a time it was a great honor to have your book named as a finalist for the National Book Award. Right now, I'm sure more than a few authors are grateful that they weren't caught in the vortex of embarrassment the National Book Foundation found itself in this week.

If you haven't heard about the confusion surrounding nominations for SHINE by Lauren Myracle and CHIME by Franny Billingsley, you can read about it in Publisher's Weekly, Vanity Fair or the Los Angeles Times. When I received the email announcement from the NBF, it included both books. Yes, it seemed odd to have two YA books with similar titles. Yes, I wondered why the category had six nominees instead of the usual five. Yesterday, under pressure from the NBF, Lauren Myracle bowed out of the nomination, after it was revealed that her book had been put forward by mistake.

I don't know about you, but if it was me, I'd have been devastated. To have the thrill of being nominated followed soon after by the knowledge that your book wasn't supposed to be there? To have the world publicly debating whether your book deserved the honor? We writers are already neurotic. What a nightmare to have to go through.

Lauren Myracle is used to being in the midst of a firestorm. Her books have been regularly banned and I'm sure she's used to a certain degree of public scrutiny. But no one should have had to endure the week she's been through. Despite her disappointment, she handled herself with grace, encouraging the NBF to donate to the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

To be perfectly honest, this book was not on my radar. I'd seen her earlier novels, ttyl and the others in that series. But after hearing about the whole debacle over the past week, I'm more than curious about SHINE. And I doubt that I'm the only one. All the publicity surrounding the Foundation's mistake has pushed this book to the forefront, in a way that simply being nominated for the award could not have done.

Maybe in the end, Lauren Myracle will have the last laugh, showing the world that not only is her book deserving of the title, so is she.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Paying it Forward Blogfest

Choosing just three blogs to highlight is tough. Kelly Polark's smile always cheers me up, especially when I read about the latest concert she's gone to. I enjoy reading Kristan Hoffman's musings and the adventures (and book reviews!) of Krispy and Alz. Medical Mondays with Lydia Kang always entertains and informs. Tricia O'Brien's poetry and photographs are always beautiful and Shannon O'Donnell usually finds something to inspire me when I need it.

So many great blogs I could highlight. I feel terrible leaving any out! There are plenty to visit on this blog hop.

But there are three that come into my Inbox on a regular basis. I don't always comment on their posts, but I always read them:

Susan Kaye Quinn
Laura Pauling
Stina Lindenblatt

Read them. They are awesome.

That is all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Author Spotlight on: Shannon Whitney Messenger

If you haven't already seen the news heard round the blogosphere, let me point you over to this post, because the news of the week is that SHANNON WHITNEY MESSENGER HAS A BOOK DEAL! And not just any book deal. We're talking a six-figure pre-empt, big-name-editor, OMG kind of book deal. Woo-hoo!!

I've read Shannon's posts for years. I've known her in person for more than a year. And let me tell you, when I heard about this deal, I was SO VERY happy for her. She's worked hard to get to this point and she has been so generous with her time for other writers and around the blogosphere.

But enough from me. It's time to hear all about this awesome new deal that she's been sitting on for five months! Yikes!

Okay, so first of all, HUGE congratulations on signing with one of the coolest editors ever. It took weeks before you could officially announce the news. How hard was it to sit on something like that?

Aw, thank you Sherrie. And weeks? Ha—try MONTHS! We finalized the deal back at the beginning of May. MAY! So it was really, really, really, really, REALLY hard keeping the secret for that long. But in some ways, it was also nice, because it gave me a chance to get used to working with my editor and power through all my edits with a lot less pressure, because no one knew what I was up to. Plus, I wasn’t totally alone in my suffering (at least for most of the wait). My friend, Natalie Whipple and I were both sitting on secret deals at the same time (yes—we spilled the secret to each other). So we had a lot of fun amusing ourselves with vague tweets with the hashtag: #codeword. I’m sure everyone who saw them thought we were weird, but we found it ridiculously entertaining. :)

Oh, that's too funny! So many secrets :)
So when you heard the great news, what did you do to celebrate?

I wish I could say I did something super exciting, but it all happened so fast (we got the offer on a Thursday and by Saturday we were accepting) that I was a little too shocked to do much more than stare at my phone, hoping it wouldn’t ring and I’d find out it had all been a big mistake. I think my husband took me to a celebratory dinner—but honestly, it’s all a bit of a blur. We did continue the tradition of commemorating landmark events with a new charm for my Tiffany charm bracelet, though. My husband bought me the New York taxi one, since NY is the publishing capital (and they don’t have a book one—what up with that T&Co?).

Maybe when you're as famous as Audrey Hepburn they'll make one for you. (And I have no doubt these books will make you famous, Shannon!)

Like you, I’m a huge fan of Brandon Mull. When you found out you would be working with the same editor as him, what was your reaction?

Absolute disbelief. All of the editors we submitted to were wonderful, but—I must confess—Liesa was someone I was really rooting for because I am a HUGE admirer of so many books she’s edited. So when my agent told me Liesa had come in with a pre-empt I had to let the words sit in my head for a minute before they actually made sense. Once they finally did, my next reaction was basically: OMG-how-will-I-work-with-such-a-rock-star-editor????  Fortunately, my agent set up a phone call between Liesa and I, and Liesa was so funny and friendly that she put me at ease right away. I knew after like five minutes (though we talked for almost two hours—it might have been a record!) that not only could I work with her, but that she totally got my book and would help me make it the best it could be. And I was absolutely right. Working together these last few months has been amazing, and I know for a fact that I could not have found a more perfect editor for me, or my writing.

Can you tell us anything about the novel?

I CAN! (Which is so cool, btw. I finally get to talk about my book!) It’s called KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, and it’s book one in a middle grade fantasy series launching Fall 2012. It's about a twelve-year-old girl who has always been different -- she's years ahead of the other kids in school and can read minds. She's always assumed there's some kind of logical explanation for her talents, but when she meets an adorable and mysterious boy, she finds out the shocking truth. She's never felt at home because she, well, ... isn't. There are secrets buried deep in her memory, secrets about her true identity and why she was hidden among humans, that others desperately want and would even kill for. And she must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world, before the wrong person finds the answer first.

Sounds awesome! I can't wait to read it!!
I know you studied screenwriting at USC. Do you have any finished screenplays?

Ha—um … yes. Though a better question would be: do I have any GOOD finished screenplays? To which the answer is a resounding, NO! I have one about boy bands (yes, really!) and one that’s kind of SLIDING DOORS-esque and then a few romantic comedies that aren’t nearly as romantic or comedic as they should be. I realized pretty quickly that my writing sensibilities were much more geared toward novel writing than screenwriting.

What made you decide to write a novel for middle graders?

Shannon as Rainbow Brite
Well, for one thing, I am totally in tune with my inner 12-year old (see picture at left!), so it’s a pretty perfect fit. I mean—you should see my toy collection. Middle grade was also the age range where I REALLY fell in love with reading when I was growing up, so when I started thinking about writing a book I was naturally drawn there. But this story was also not something I’d ever planned to write. I never thought I’d write something with such a complex world within our world, or such an in-depth mystery. But the characters popped into my head and they were so real and interesting that I couldn’t stop thinking about them, so I finally decided to write them down. Turned out to be a very good decision  :)

I’d say! Do you think your screenwriting background has helped you with writing novels?

It’s definitely helped with my character development and dialogue, since that is pretty much the foundation of a screenplay. But I guess the biggest thing I carried away from film school was to “think like a producer.” Every single scene, prop, location, and character has to be in the screenplay for A REASON—because it’s just too darn expensive when something ends up on the cutting room floor. We were taught to question the necessity of everything, and make sure that we tie every detail into the plot in as many ways as we can. And that’s definitely something I’ve carried over into novel writing, and I think it really helps to make each moment as interesting and powerful as possible.

Drawing by Shannon
Those are some great writing tips you sprinkled in there. In addition to writing novels, you are also an incredibly talented artist. Is it just for fun or have you ever thought of drawing for a living?

*blushes* Wow, thank you, Sherrie. And I actually did start out as an art major, but I switched away from that because I hate drawing on the computer (which is what so many of the careers in art now require) and because I am a REALLY slow artist. I realized that I would have to work ten times as hard as everyone else just to produce the same amount of work, and that didn’t seem like the most efficient career. So I switched my focus to writing—another decision that turned out pretty well :)

I know you and your husband met while you were studying screenwriting in college. Does he write also? Does he read your writing?

No, my husband is many awesome things, but he’s definitely not a writer, and he’s not much of a reader either. He’s only read a MUCH older version of my book (like, 5 or 6 revisions ago)—and keeps saying he wants to wait to read it again until it’s been printed, so he knows it won’t change anymore. But I don’t find that insulting because he doesn’t read anything else, either. He’s like a 10-year-old boy that way. If it isn’t a movie or a video game he’s really not all that interested. Le sigh.

Ha! I can so relate to that :)

So you write, you draw, you help organize WriteOnCon, you blog, and you attend conferences around the country... Do you also have a day job?

Thankfully, no. I was working part time until about a year and a half ago, but the schedule had kind of been killing me. So when I signed with Laura I decided that I was committing to making writing my career at that point, and I needed to take the leap. I quit the day job and hoped for the best, and I’m very, very glad that decision paid off. And I’m very, very grateful to have had a husband with a full time job to get us through the interim.

You’ve written some great posts about not giving up. How did you keep your mind off the submission process and just focus on writing?

It’s funny—whenever any part of this process gets stressful, be it intense revision notes, deadlines, rejection, whatever—I always find myself asking: WHY am I doing this to myself? But that question is actually what helps me get through, because I do have a reason. I love writing. I actually gave it up once, after I left Hollywood, and I missed it—bad! Sure, there are parts of this process that are filled with suckage and frustration. But there is also nothing more fun than watching a scene I see in my head come alive on the page. So whenever I start to get discouraged or feel like throwing in the towel, I do something to remind myself that writing is fun. I free-write a random scene with a favorite character just to play around a bit. No pressure for it to be good. No plans to ever show anyone. It’s just me and the words, falling in love with each other all over again.

When you started college, what did you think you’d be doing ten years later? How does this book deal compare?

Well, since I was at a very prestigious film school, I thought I was going to be a screenwriter. And while I wasn’t delusional enough to ponder who I would thank in my Academy Award acceptance speech, (okay, fine, maybe a fleeting thought had crossed my mind) I did think I’d have seen one of my movies on the screen by now. But honestly, seeing my book on the shelves—or better yet, in the hands of kids—will be way more rewarding. Hollywood and I were such a wrong fit, it’s almost laughable to think I wanted to work there. This is where I belong and I’m so glad I made the choices that brought me here. It’s certainly not perfect—nothing in this world is. But it’s totally my dream job, and I couldn’t be happier to have it.

I couldn't be happier for you, Shannon! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and once again, CONGRATULATIONS!! Maybe next time we meet up at a book festival, it'll be ARCs of YOUR book we're holding up :) 

Shannon Messenger may have studied film and television production at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, but she was always a bit of an odd fit for Hollywood. Her screenplays were about boy bands and stuffed animals coming to life and lonely tumbleweeds finding true love, and her professors never quite knew what to make of them. So after a year trying to find her niche in television, she finally discovered that it made much more sense for her to try writing books for children. After all, she still watches cartoons, regularly eats candy or cupcakes for lunch, and cannot sleep without her bright blue stuffed elephant named Ella.

She currently lives in Southern California with her amazing husband and an embarrassing number of cats. KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES is her first novel, book one in a middle grade series launching Fall 2012 from Simon & Schuster (Aladdin). She is also one of the founding members of WriteOnCon, a free online Writer's Conference for kidlit writers. You can find her online at her personal blog, Facebook, or on Twitter.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Alisal is for Authors

I may not live in Solvang anymore, but this past weekend I got to experience one of the coolest things this little town has to offer: the Alisal Guest Ranch. Imagine my surprise when I found myself seated on a hay bale across from another children’s book author – one who’s book I own! But let me not get ahead of myself…

The Alisal Guest Ranch is ten thousand acres of wide-open spaces that has been in use for more than a hundred years. A working cattle ranch and luxury retreat, the Alisal started welcoming guests in 1946. If you time it right, you can live out your City Slicker fantasies during the spring cattle drive. That is if you aren’t already exhausted from all of the golf, tennis, archery, fishing, boating, hiking, spa treatments and other activities the ranch has to offer.

Most of us that live here never get to see much beyond the resort entrance since you need to stay overnight at the ranch to participate in the activities. And with rooms starting at $500/night in the off season, you can understand why we locals tend to sleep in our own beds.

But this past Saturday we got to join some friends on an all day adventure that started at 7:30 a.m. As soon as we arrived, we climbed on horses for a one-hour ride out to the Historic Old Adobe. My daughter loves to ride horses and has been actively riding for more than a year. My son, well…when the wranglers asked about each of our riding abilities, my son wanted to know if there was something lower than beginner. He even asked if he could ride one of the miniature ponies. “Less distance to fall,” he reasoned.

Fortunately, the lure of an amazing Cowboy Breakfast at the end of the ride convinced him that mounting the horse was worth it. After eating all the eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, biscuits, gravy, fruit, cereal, coffee, hot cocoa, oj and quesadillas we could fit in our stomachs, we rode back to the stables and got on a shuttle that took us out to the Alisal’s private lake. While the men jumped in a bass boat to go fishing, my friend and I got into paddle boats with our kids. We spent the afternoon cruising the lake and learning how to shoot air rifles as well as bows and arrows. What a blast! My middle finger is still numb and the bruises haven’t quite faded, but I think a compound bow and a target range might be on my Christmas list :)

As the sun set behind the mountains, we loaded into the hay truck to go back to our cars. Another family got in with us and the mother started talking about books with my daughter and her friend. They talked about The Wish Giver and the woman mentioned that she had written a book called The Wish Stealers.

My ears perked up. “Wait, did you say you wrote that book? It’s actually in the basket by my bed, in my to-read pile!”

Yep, I was sitting across from Tracy Trivas, her husband and two adorable daughters. We chatted for the rest of the ride about children’s literature, SCBWI and the writing retreat I had just attended. And I was reminded once again of just how small the world really is.

As we drove home, my son said, “It feels like we were on vacation for a day.” So true. A vacation practically in our own back yard.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Best Retreat Ever

Sarah Ketchersid, Tim Travaglini and Jen Rofé
Two weeks ago, right before we moved, I was fortunate enough to attend the Los Angeles Working Writer's Retreat. If you ever have the chance, two words of advice: DO IT.

I'd considered going in the past, but always ended up going to the SCBWI summer conference instead. This year I decided to skip the conference and try out the retreat. I'm so glad I did. Two things set this event apart from others I've attended. First, you get a lot of one hour blocks to write and revise. Two, you get to interact with agents and editors in an informal, intimate setting.

The retreat is limited to 40 writers and you have to sign up early because the spaces fill fast. They have a big waiting list every year. Participants are split into groups of four. These are the people you'll be attending critique sessions with for the weekend. (I was lucky enough to have the fabulous Lee Wind in my group. I can't wait to read him in print!!) Each group makes its way through the agents, editors and authors on faculty. This year's faculty included Jen Rofé from Andrea Brown, Sarah Ketchersid from Candlewick, Tim Travaglini who has edited projects like Michael Spradlin's YOUNGEST TEMPLAR trilogy and Laini Taylor's DREAMDARK books, and the writing team of Judy Enderle and Stephanie Gordon who have written more than fifty books together.

The critique sessions are not for the faint of heart. While nobody is out to attack the writers, they are there to ask tough questions. Jen Rofé pointed out several weaknesses in the opening pages of my WIP and wouldn't let me off the hook when I tried to explain my way out of it. Was it tough? Yes. Was it worthwhile? Absolutely. I ended up slashing three pages and starting the story in a completely different way. When she heard the new opening two days later she told me it was a great revision. Music to my ears :)

First Page panel: Jill Corcoran, Sarah, Jamie Weiss Chilton & Jen
That's the beauty of this retreat. You have time to write and revise after the critique sessions AND you're able to get more feedback on the changes you've made, to see if you're going in the right direction. At Sunday morning's First Page session, agents Jill Corcoran and Jamie Weiss Chilton joined the panel and let us know whether or not they'd be interested in reading more of our stories. I thought I'd be terrified being the first one to get up and read my page aloud. But after the karaoke party the night before...

Sarah sings Abba
Tim and Jen rock out to Weezer
...well, let's just say belting out Journey in front of everyone was a lot more nerve-wracking for me than reading the first page of my story! Somehow, losing our inhibitions through music made everything easier. How else would we have known that Sarah Ketchersid has a soft spot for Abba? Or that Jen Rofé and Tim Travaglini sound good on Weezer? My critique partner Lori and I sang AC/DC's "Back in Black" with Tim and we all jumped in when "Love Shack" came on at midnight. Yeah, it was that kind of night.

So next year, it'll be a tough decision: summer conference or writing retreat? Maybe I'll sell my novel, get a big enough advance and be able to attend both. *ahem* Did I say that out loud? Yeah, well, a girl can dream...

Thanks to organizers Lee Wind, Sarah Laurenson and everybody at SCBWI-LA who worked hard to make this event possible.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Technical Difficulties

So, scheduling a drawing for the day I moved into a new house was probably not my brightest moment. Especially since we still don't have phone or internet service at the new house. Right now I'm sitting in front of a coffee house that closed hours ago, taking advantage of the free wireless access. Yeah, I'm that desperate for the internet :P

I should probably announce the winner before the cops show up to haul me away for loitering, so, without any further adieu, the winner of my ARC of LEGEND is:

Yay, Kathryn! Email me with your snail mail address and I'll get this book out to you (relatively) soon!

I'll be back in two weeks after we've settled into the new house since, theoretically, my internet service should be working by then. Based on past experiences with Verizon, I'm crossing my fingers but not holding out much hope...

Have a good weekend!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Win a copy of LEGEND

Some might say the dystopian craze is waning. But then a book like LEGEND hits the market, and all those predictions go right down the drain. If you enjoy dystopian YA, you're going to want to read this book. Lucky for you, I've got an advance copy to give away. Woo-hoo!!

Here's the description from author Marie Lu's website:  

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

And the book trailer:

This is the first book in a series, but the ending is still satisfying, no obnoxious cliffhanger here. I was impressed with the taut prose, the well developed characters and the heart-pounding action. It's no wonder this book has already been optioned for a movie!

The novel doesn't come out until November, but you can win my advance copy just by leaving a comment. Followers get an extra entry. Get your comments in by midnight on Tuesday, September 13. One lucky winner will be announced next Wednesday.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Protect Yourself

Have you ever Googled yourself or something you wrote, only to find that your content was on someone else's site, and it ranked higher than yours?

You're not alone. And Google is trying to do something about these "scraper" sites.

Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, tweeted this on Friday:

The link in his tweet takes you to a form that says:

"Google is testing algorithmic changes for scraper sites (especially blog scrapers). We are asking for examples, and may use data you submit to test and improve our algorithms." 
Provide the URL for your original content as well as the URL for the scraper site. But keep in mind,  this link doesn't flag the site's content. To make the alternate site go away you'll have to report a copyright infringement.

Yes, it's a bit of work. But in the long run, you'll help Google better monitor the content thieves AND you'll be protecting your work. Definitely worth the time.


And now, the winner of RIPPLE by Mandy Hubbard is:

Congrats, Susan!!! Email me with your snail mail address and I'll get this book out to you.

Check back next week for another fabulous giveaway. Trust me, you'll want this book. I won't tell you the title, but I will say that when Echo from the Book Loft put it in my hands, I literally started squealing. It's the lead title for Penguin's fall releases and it's already been optioned for a movie. It doesn't come out until November, but you'll have a chance to win a copy here.

Enough hints? Check back next week to see if you're right!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Amazing Summer Reads

Some people, when they are stressed, go for the chocolate. I tend to bake. And read. In the months of June, July and August, I have baked cheesecake, cookies, baguettes, challah, and countless other treats that my skinny jeans are already protesting about. I've also read 42 books. Yeah. It's been quite the binge. At least the reading binge won't show up on my hips :P

I've discovered some fantastic books this summer, and one that I'm going to give away. Read on for your chance to win.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
Published March 2010 by Bantam

I adored this book.

Set in a quirky North Carolina town, these characters are as rich and tasty as the southern barbecue they all enjoy. Told from alternating viewpoints, the novel follows Julia, who left as a teenager and returned after her father died to run his restaurant, and Emily, a teenager sent to live with a grandfather she's never met in a town she'd never heard of until her mother died. Secret pasts, mysterious lights and forbidden friendships keep the story moving along. But the beautiful descriptions and palpable emotions of every character made me slow down to savor each page. The touch of magical realism (and romance) didn't hurt either.

Even though The Girl Who Chased the Moon is marketed to adults, I can see it having crossover appeal. And certainly, readers who enjoy paranormal YA will be more open to the fantastical elements of this story. One of my favorite books of the summer. I'll be reading everything this author has written.

Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Expected Publication October 2011

So much to love about this book!

Jessica Martinez does an excellent job of capturing the intensity of child prodigy musicians. Carmen is feisty, ready to push beyond the boundaries and expectations her equally intense stage mother has set. While she's drawn to Jeremy, her own competitive streak pushes her to make hard choices.

I fell for these characters right away and sacrificed sleep to finish the book. It was incredibly readable and an exciting glimpse into the world of competitive classical musicians. I couldn't give it the full five stars because a couple of turning points pulled me out of the story. Completely. But maybe that's just me. And in spite of that, I still highly recommend this book. I'm looking forward to reading whatever Jessica Martinez publishes next.

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
Published May 2011

This is another book that I think has crossover appeal, though it's not a YA. Told in alternating viewpoints in third person, I wasn't sure if I would feel close to the characters from that distance. I did. 

I loved seeing how much these characters evolved because of a short encounter that changed their lives. Beautiful story, beautiful writing. I loved everything about Beautiful Girl.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
Published November 2010

I don't know how I even managed to stumble across this book, but I'm so glad I did. Great characters with depth, great premise (Deaf girl managing a band? Hello!) and wonderfully realistic situations. To top it off, it's set in one of my favorite places: Seattle, the birthplace of grunge and Jimi Hendrix (and  both play an important part in the story).

Piper is a wonderful character, full of determination, pride, intelligence and humor. I love how the band comes together, how they grow together. Definitely made me want to plug in an amp and start wailing to Nirvana :D

Brilliant book.

The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni
Published March 2010

Another story featuring a high school rock band. (I must have a thing for these!) I checked this book out from the library and loved it so much I had to buy my own copy. The weird and wonderful characters aren't just randomly odd for the sake being eccentric. These are fully realized people, delightfully complex and full of all the strange foibles that make us human. Set in Iowa, this coming of age story borrows philosophy from Buckminster Fuller and several punk rock gods. Yeah, it sounds strange. But trust me, the book is awesome.

This was Bognanni's debut novel. I can't wait to read what he comes up with next. 

And now, the book I'm giving away my ARC of...

Ripple by Mandy Hubbard
Published July 2011

Lexi suffers from a curse, handed down for generations, that turns her into a siren on her 16th birthday. Unaware of the power of her voice, she accidentally kills someone and ends up shunned by all her former friends. Things start to change when a new boy shows up at school, and one of her old friends reaches out to her. Soon Lexi is torn between keeping her secret and walking away from love. Talk about a deadly love triangle...

You can read my full review at Shelf Awareness for Readers.

If you'd like to win my copy of Ripple, leave a comment. You have through August 29 to enter.

What great books have you read this summer? I'm off to bake some banana bread :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...