Monday, January 31, 2011


On Friday I was lucky enough to escort a group of 6th graders down to Santa Barbara for Author-Go-Round. Sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Office of Education, this annual event gives hundreds of students the chance to meet and learn from four different authors.

This year we heard from Bruce Hale (yay!!), Michelle Markel, Joe Cepeda, and Amy Goldman Koss. The event gets it's strange name because after hearing each of the authors make a presentation to the full assembly, students break into groups based on the color of their name tags. Each author has a booth decorated with a corresponding color. Students start off with the author matching their color. For 12 minutes they can ask questions, discuss books or learn how to draw some of the illustrations. When the circus music plays, everyone moves to the next author booth. It was a fun way to spend time with each author in a smaller group.

The hands-down favorite for my 6th graders was Bruce Hale, and not just because I kept saying how wonderful he was. He impressed everyone with his funny anecdotes, his hilarious voices when reading Snoring Beauty, and his easy-going cameraderie with the kids. He also encouraged them to write down their stories, telling them, "We're all story people. The world is waiting to hear your story."

Author/illustrator Joe Cepeda showed examples of where he has painted friends and family into his illustrations. He also taught everyone to draw using simple shapes, telling students to, "Use your artists eye to really look at what you see." He encouraged them all to keep a journal, not just for writing, but for sketching as well. "Use it as a receptacle for your creativity."

Amy Goldman Koss revealed herself as a pantser when someone asked if she likes to outline her stories. "If I already know the ending, the thrill would be gone. It's the best feeling in the world when everything becomes so real."

My husband was jealous that I got to meet Michelle Markel. He often reads one of her books, Dreamer from the Village (about painter Marc Chagall), when he teaches art classes. Since he couldn't be there, she was kind enough to sign our copy of the book to him.

The best part of the day, though, was just hanging out with the kids, and listening to their opinions on the books, the authors, and getting to "ditch" school for a fun event like this.

And now, for those of you eager to see if you've won a copy of Lois Lowry's classic, The Giver, I won't make you wait any longer :)

The winner is...

Congratulations, Kristan! Email me with your snail mail address and I'll get The Giver out to you ASAP. If you didn't win this time, don't worry. I'll have more giveaways coming up soon!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wonderful Recent Reads & a Giveaway

I've been reading a ton of books, in part because we went on a long vacation so I had more time on my hands. Here are a few titles that captured my attention, and one to give away as well.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
I didn't want to read this book because I'd recently read two other very good books that featured dead sisters (Tell Me a Secret and Losing Faith), but oh, how I loved this story. And despite starting from a similar place as the other characters, this book had something that the other two didn't: majorly HOT romantic scenes. Interspersed with poetry from the main character, prepare yourself to fall in love with this beautifully written story.

We Hear the Dead by Dianne Salerni
This historical novel chronicles the Fox sisters, three girls who unwittingly led the spiritual movement back in the 1800s. That alone makes for a fascinating read. But the story also follows the romance between one of the sisters and the best known explorer of the time, Elisha Kane. It's a story of survival and class distinction, of families and lies, and it totally pulled me in. Author Dianne Salerni has penned a script for this sweeping saga. I'm hoping the story makes it to the big screen soon.

Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon
Once I started this middle grade novel about acceptance, fitting in and staying true to yourself, I couldn't stop reading it. With a sweet romance (Are we noticing a pattern here? Maybe it's because I just had an anniversary!), wonderfully real characters and heart-wrenching choices, this story stuck with me long after I read the last page. Kekla is an agent-mate, but even if she wasn't, I'd be recommending this book.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Okay, so this isn't exactly a new book. I'm just a little late to the party. What can I say -- the guy on the cover always creeped me out so I never picked it up before. But with all the dystopian titles I've been reading, I thought it was time to go back to a classic. Was I ever blown away. The book lacks some of the action of the current crop in this genre, but it's obvious that 18 years later, authors are still using some of the world-building that Lowry created in this 1993 novel. If you haven't read The Giver, you really should. And I'm going to make it easier for one lucky reader by giving away a copy.

If you'd like to win a copy of The Giver, tell me your favorite dystopian novel in the comments by Sunday night. I'll announce the winner on Monday, January 31.

Even if you don't want to win a copy, I'd love to hear some of your favorite recent reads. I'm always on the hunt for a good book :) 

Happy reading!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Act of Submission

I've been getting a lot of emails, asking how things are going now that I have an agent. Short answer: Great! But, I know, that answer doesn't really say a lot.

The truth is, I am thrilled/amazed/thankful to have the support of such a wonderful person. But I still have to cook for the family, pay the bills and put away the mountain of laundry threatening to overtake my dining room. So in a lot of ways, things haven't changed that much. At least, not yet.

In December, Michelle asked some questions, made some brilliant suggestions and I finished my edits on New Year's Day. Then the day I left on vacation, she pitched a list of editors. Most of them asked to see the manuscript. Hooray!

And now...

...we wait.

And ignore the butterflies of anticipation.

Kind of like querying. (Yes, I just went to check my email as it dinged!)

Katie Anderson says to enjoy submissionitis, that pukey feeling that sends your pulse racing, sort of like first love.

Um, yeah. First boyfriend? We all know how that relationship turned out!
Still, I see her point. It's all about enjoying every step of the journey.

Since this is my first time on submission, I have nothing to compare it to, but Stina Lindenblatt found a great post by ABLA agent Jennifer Laughran that you really should read, whether you're on submission or still looking for an agent. It pretty much lays out all the details of what happens after you get an agent. It's fun to read.

And to dream :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why I Love Teaching

A few weeks ago after writing club, one of my students hung back after everyone had left, offering to help me clean up. I could tell she wanted to talk about something, but couldn't find the words, so I got her started.

"How are you liking being a photographer for the Journal?"
"It's good," she said. "I chose that because I want to learn more about photography. Plus, I'm not a very good writer."

THAT, of course, stopped me in my tracks. An 11-year-old who has already given up on writing? Not while I'm around!

"Why on earth would you think that you're not a good writer?"
"Because the stuff I've written is never as good as I want it to be."
I had to smile at that. "Trust me -- everybody feels that way about their writing! Even best-selling novelists struggle with self-doubt. But the secret to being a good writer is to just keep writing. The more you do it, the better you're going to get."

I could tell from the look on her face that she wasn't sure if she should believe me or not.

"You know, Anna, even the stuff I wrote just two years ago isn't as good as what I'm writing now. And you'll get better, too. You read a lot and that will help you become a better writer. And I think that in addition to taking photos, you should try your hand at writing an article for the paper."

Her eyes opened wide in surprise, but she smiled. "Do you think I can?"
"Of course you can!"

We talked about the article she would write until the bell rang. A little later, as I made my way to the parking lot, she ran up to me with a paper in her hand. "This is something I wrote for class." She ducked her head. "I thought you might like to read it."

She ran off, not waiting to see my reaction, but I sat there in my car and read the hand-written, two-page story. A story about a house with windows for eyes, a house that saw more than it should. Deliciously creepy and atmospheric, and omigosh, why did this kid think she couldn't write?

I found her after school the next day and gave her back the story. "Don't ever think you can't write, because this is brilliant."

She took the paper and smiled. "You liked it?"
"Yes I liked it! And based on this, I'd say you already are a writer."

She skipped to the car where her mom waited and I smiled for the entire weekend. Because moments like this are what make me love teaching. And believe it or not, they happen every day.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Literary Adventure

Imagine a place where literary adventures come to life. A theme park where you can visit some of the most beloved characters and places ever written about in technicolor life.
It exists. And I went there.

Butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks anyone?

Yeah, on the last day of our vacation we spent the day at Universal's Islands of Adventure. I don't know if the people planning the park had this in mind, but it is seriously the most literary theme park I've ever been to and it was amazing. Of course they have the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which we all loved, but there's also Seuss Landing with a super cool Cat in the Hat Ride, Jurassic Park with the exciting River Adventure ride (and a replica of the museum from the movie), Marvel Super Hero Island with the incredible Spider Man ride and The Lost Continent where you can explore Poseidon's Fury.

Okay, so Spider Man may not be strictly literary, but I was surprised that the inspiration for so much of the park came from the printed word. How cool is that? And walking through a town that looks like it had sprung from the pages of a comic book? Awesome!

As for Harry Potter world, where do I begin?

The level of detail put into every part of the park is just mind boggling, but seeing Hagrid's hut and the car in the whomping willow, watching people take money out of the Gringott's ATM and seeing Extendable Ears on the shelf -- it was SO FREAKING COOL!! We couldn't stop grinning the whole time we were there :D

The Pumpkin Fizz that my son got was surprisingly delicious, but the Butterbeer -- YUM! That thick head you see tasted like a creamy melted butterscotch candy. SO good! And yeah, I look like I'm wasted, but there isn't any alcohol in the butterbeer :)

Apparently the recipe for this drink is a highly guarded secret and the chef who created it actually flew to Edinburgh to bring J.K. Rowling a sample, to get her stamp of approval before the park opened. (You can watch an interview with him here.)

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is seriously the coolest ride ever and the walk through the castle to get to the ride is half the fun. Dumbledore talks to you as you pass through his office. Paintings on the wall talk to each other. The Fat Lady wakes up and scolds you when you go by the entrance to Gryffindor house.

But this might be my favorite thing. My souvenir from the day. My Gryffindor scarf.

Now if it would just get cold enough here so I could wear the dang thing!

And this has nothing to do with my post, but I had to give a shout out to blogging buddy Beth Revis. Her fabulous book, Across the Universe, is going to debut at #7 on the NYT Bestseller List! Holy Freaking Cow! So excited for her!!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Author Spotlight on: Denise Jaden

Last summer I started hearing good things about Denise Jaden's debut novel, LOSING FAITH. I added it to my TBR list, but, well, you've seen the piles on my nightstand! I finally started reading it at the end of November and wouldn't you know -- around the time that I finished the book, I wound up signing with the same agent as Denise!

Obviously, Agent Michelle has GREAT taste in books :-)  But we aren't the only ones who think Denise made a stellar debut. Here's what School Library Journal had to say:  

This thoughtful first novel explores early grief and shows how it can tear at the structure of a family that cannot mourn together...With pitch-perfect portrayals of high school social life and a nuanced view into a variety of Christian experiences of faith, this first novel gives readers much to think about.

The novel has gotten glowing reviews on numerous blogs and was also listed as one of the best reads of 2010 by multiple readers at the Best I've Read blog.

Whew--Heady stuff!

LOSING FAITH came out in September and today Denise is here to talk about her experience with this first novel and give us a peek at what she has coming up.

Thanks for stopping by, Denise! I know you wrote several novels before LOSING FAITH, but this book actually had a pretty short journey to publication once you signed with Michelle. How long did you spend writing (and rewriting) it?

I wrote the first draft of LOSING FAITH in 21 days during NaNoWriMo 2006. I had worked on an outline for about two months prior, and then I worked on revising the manuscript with critique partners for close to a year. I got an agent in 2007, sold the book in early 2008, and it hit the bookstores in September 2010.

Cool! I love that this story was a NaNo novel!

Now I’ve read that you consider writing your “hobby,” but you obviously take it pretty seriously. How many years have you been writing?

I think that’s just my style. I take everything a little too seriously. LOL. I’ve been writing for about eight years now, and whether I continue to publish or not, I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing.

Are you an every day writer or a binge writer?

I’m definitely an every day writer. In fact, if I go for more than two or three days without writing, I get a little, um, grumpy. My husband will attest to that! I do find, though, that the continuity really helps me stay in the story, and I often even dream about my characters and stories.

Oh, I can relate to the novel dreams :-) But your schedule, yikes! You exercise at the gym every morning, homeschool your second-grader and you’re also a professional Polynesian dancer. How do you squeeze writing time into your day?
I was pretty blessed in that my son napped right up until he was six years old. When he stopped napping, I implemented a “quiet time” and we stick to that pretty rigidly. That hour and a half is my only time each day to really focus on my writing.

You had a pretty extensive blog tour with the launch and I’m sure did some signings. Now that LOSING FAITH has been out there for a few months, which marketing efforts do you think had the most impact?
It’s really hard to say, since I don’t watch sales very closely. My motto has always been to give everything marketing-wise a try and see what feels right or isn’t too difficult. So far I haven’t found any of it difficult, and some of it I’d even say is TOO much fun (turn OFF the Twitter, Denise!). I love having bookmarks and that’s one thing I would never do without. I also had a lot of fun putting together a blog tour, and I think that raised a fair bit of awareness for my book.

At what point did it finally feel real to you, that you were really going to be a published author?

Um, in some ways it still doesn’t. I’m still surprised when I see my book on a bookstore shelf, almost like I’ve forgotten that it’s actually out there. I think the biggest transforming moment so far, though, was when I held my advance copy of the book. Seeing it bound with a cover for the first time was really something else.

You had a great review in School Library Journal in December. Has it been hard reading the less than glowing reviews or do you just ignore them?
I have a pretty thick skin, but still, unpleasant reviews are not fun. I’ve been pretty fortunate that most reviews for LOSING FAITH have been extremely positive, but I’d have to say what bothers me the most are the “meh” reviews—the reviews that make it painfully obvious that the book I poured my heart and soul into didn’t really affect someone one way or the other.

Ugh, I can only imagine how disappointing that would be. What’s something you wish you would have known before publication that would have made the journey a little easier?
I wish I’d known how many areas there are to compare yourself to others. I wish I’d made myself break the comparison habit a long, long time ago, because it only seems to get harder.

Oooh, that’s a good one. And a hard one I think. 

On your blog I read that you’ve been hard at work revising APPETITE FOR BEAUTY. Tell me a little about this story and its road to publication.
APPETITE FOR BEAUTY has been a work in progress for over five years. It was the second novel I penned (the first YA) and holds a pretty special place in my heart.  It’s contemporary YA and another sister story.

I submitted it to my agent earlier this year, maybe in April. She came back with some minor changes, and we submitted it to my editor near the end of summer. I think it was a couple of months before I received an offer, and I’m actually working with a different editor at Simon Pulse on this one.

Oh, that’s excellent that you got the same publisher, though, and that they’re interested in more of your work. You have several other stories simmering on the back burner. Do you plan to go back to the archery story or is there a different one floating to the surface?
Yes, I can’t wait to go back to PERFECT AIM! But…I’ll be working on another book before that. I just wrote a first draft for a companion novel to LOSING FAITH. This one’s in Tessa’s point of view, and it’s my priority at this point so not too much time lapses between books.

Yay! I’m glad that we’ll be hearing more from these characters!

It’s January so I have to ask: do you have any writing goals for this year?

I’d like to revise, polish, and sell the companion novel this year. And get through at least one revision of PERFECT AIM. I also plan to write again for NaNoWriMo in November, but that will be a brand new project and I’m undecided on what that one will be about so far.

Sounds like you’ve got a busy year ahead! Best of luck with those writing goals and with everything else going on in your life. And thanks for stopping by!
Thanks so much, Sherrie!

Here's the trailer for LOSING FAITH.

And here are some of the places around the web where you can find Denise:!/denisejaden

Monday, January 17, 2011

Some Very Good Deals

I love to hear when someone I know lands a book deal. So it's been pretty exciting already this month to see the names of some familiar bloggers on the pages of Publisher's Marketplace. Here are just a few:

Robin Mellom's THE CLASSROOM, pitched as MODERN FAMILY for middle graders, in which a documentary crew descends on Westside Middle School to chronicle the life of a seventh grader and epic worrier, and his classmates, to Christian Trimmer at Disney-Hyperion, in a six-figure deal, in a 4-book deal, for publication in Summer 2012 by Jill Corcoran at The Herman Agency.

Author of BAD TASTE IN BOYS and Class of 2011 member, Carrie Harris's next Kate Grable novel BAD HAIR DAY, again to Wendy Loggia at Delacorte, in a nice deal, for publication in Summer 2012 and 2013, by Kate Schafer Testerman at kt literary (World English).

Ellen Oh's PROPHECY: The Dragon King Chronicles, in which an elite warrior and bodyguard to her cousin, the young prince, is feared and mistrusted by all except a select few in the Kingdom who know of her power as a demon hunter, and how she may be the vanguard in the coming war against invading forces, to Phoebe Yeh at Harper Children's, in a good deal, in a three-book deal, for publication in Summer 2012, by Joe Monti at Barry Goldblatt Literary (NA).

Visit their blogs and offer your congratulations, too!!

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Anniversary

He made her laugh.
From the moment they met
And every day since.
With his green eyes
Shy smile and
Soft lips
He captured her heart
Inside of his.
On a cold January night
They swore to
Cherish each other
In sickness
And in health
And twenty years later
They still do.

Today is not the exact day of my anniversary, but we've started the celebration a little early. Hubby has swept me away to a tropical paradise and I've left my computer at home. *gasp*

I won't be blogging again until Monday, January 17, but I trust you'll survive without me here :)  In the meantime, I've written a guest post over at Christine Lee's blog, Write Brained, about finding my fabulous agent Michelle Humphrey.

Have a wonderful week. I know I will!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Beauty of the Beta, Part 2

It's true that editors and agents aren't going to jump for joy when you tell them that your friends and family love the story. But does that mean you should exclude them from critiquing your story? Absolutely not.

One of the best critiques I ever got on a story was from a very good friend who didn't read a lot of kids books. Her critique was valuable because she told me where the story was muddled, when actions or words didn't make sense, anytime she had questions or if something was too unbelievable. And that's exactly what you want from a beta reader.

You don't want readers who are just going to tell you your writing is fabulous. If that's all you're looking for, then you aren't ready for a beta read. You also don't want people who are going to change the way you've told your story, insist on alternate story lines or rewrite entire pages or change your character's voice.

When I beta read, I try to point out plot holes and places where the action drags, make sure the character's motivation is clear and note times when the characters might not be acting "in character." I also highlight repeating words or phrases, and let the author know if something in the story doesn't make sense. Almost as importantly, I make note of scenes that work beautifully, dialogue that impresses and things that just plain make me smile.

Before I start reading, I ask the author what they are expecting from me, how detailed they want my critique to be, and when they would like to get my comments back. Some people like notes at the end of each chapter. Some people want overall thoughts. Still others prefer a line-by-line critique. Being up front and clear saves a lot of misunderstanding and hurt feelings.

I LOVE being a beta reader. I mean, how cool is it to get a sneak peek at great stories before the rest of the world! I've also been so thankful for the comments I get back from people who critique my writing. Yeah, it's devastating to hear that those two chapters sucked and I should really delete them completely. But better to hear it from the betas than to send that story out before it's ready.

Like writing, the more you beta read, the better you'll get at it. I was TERRIFIED the first time I did a beta read for someone, worried that my comments would offend, scared that I might miss something important. But keep this in mind: chances are that you are just one of several people reading the story. Hopefully, the author will get comments that are similar to yours as well as some from people who catch other things.

We all bring something different to the pages we read, and that is the beauty of the beta.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Beauty of the Beta, Part 1

I have been lucky enough to beta read some amazing books in the last year. Seriously, I would have paid money for every single one of the books I read.

But a year ago, I didn't know what a beta was, much less what they were supposed to do. So I thought I'd take a minute to talk about what's involved in a beta read.

First off, let me just say that every writer should look for beta readers, even if you are in a critique group. Why?

Two words: fresh eyes.

Once someone has read a story, no matter how hard they try, it's difficult to see it with the same level of critical analysis. Critique groups are fabulous. I love mine. But if they've already read my chapters as I wrote them, and then read the book as a whole and given me additional feedback, that doesn't mean it's time to query.

Trust me. I learned this the hard way. That's just the first round.

Now it's time to send that baby out to a few select people who have never seen it and get feedback from them. Your critique group loves you and might not see your flaws as readily as someone with more distance from you and your writing. Take that leap, go the extra steps and find beta readers for your manuscript.

And how exactly do you find these elusive beta readers? Social networking, and I don't just mean the internet kind. Talk to people at your next SCBWI schmooze. Sign up for your local listserv and look for writers with similar interests or find a second critique group. (I actually know a few writers who are in as many as three critique groups!) I've also responded to comment threads on Twitter, email requests and open calls on people's blogs.

But remember: beta reading should be reciprocal. If someone reads your masterpiece, be prepared to do the same for them at some point. It's just common courtesy.

When I needed beta readers of my own, I emailed people I thought had both the writing and critique skills I was looking for. Sometimes I was disappointed with the feedback, but every single time, I found something useful I could take away from the critique.

Wednesday I'll talk more about what to expect from beta readers and how you can be a good beta reader for other people.
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