Friday, April 29, 2011

Of Paper, Blogs and Books

When I interviewed Roland Smith, it surprised me to learn that he writes his first draft by hand in a journal. I haven't done that since seventh grade, the first time I ever completed writing a novel. The whole thing was written out on lined notebook paper in my Trapper Keeper. I still have it somewhere. In the garage. I think.

But I have noticed that whenever I get stuck on a story, it helps me to print it out and go over it with a pencil. It looks different in print than it does on screen. I look at my words differently. Scribbling notes to myself on paper or in a journal also helps. I never write a full outline, but I do like to write ideas, scenes or snatches of conversation on a note card.

Where do you write your first drafts? Do you write any part of them by hand? Does writing by hand help you when you're stuck?


Tomorrow I'm going to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and I can hardly wait!! Not only am I looking forward to hearing authors like Lisa Yee, Megan McDonald, Ally Condie and Allen Zadoff, I also get to see crazy blogger buddy Shannon Whitney Messenger. Woo-hoo! And did I mention the festival is FREE? I love free :)

Today I get to hang out with Casey McCormick. Coffee will be involved. And books. It'll be a blogtastic start to my weekend. I love that so many writers who I've met through blogging have turned out to be living, breathing people. People that I call friends.

One of those amazing bloggers gets a Roland Smith paperback of their choice. And today the winner is Kristin at Another Gray Day.

Congrats, Kristin! Send me your snail mail and your title of choice and I'll get that book out to you. And to everybody else, have an amazing weekend! I know I will :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How Babies are Made . . . According to an 8-year-old

My husband gave our son "The Talk" before he started fifth grade. He was asking some pretty pointed questions by then and we wanted him to know the truth before he heard too many distorted playground versions.

I know that the younger kids tend to learn things sooner than older children but so far, at least in this regard, it hasn't happened yet with my daughter. At least I didn't think so until we had this conversation...

Last week my husband was out of town for work. I took the kids to a restaurant on Thursday after my son's fencing class. The three of us noticed an adorable baby across the aisle who was quite taken with my children.

After smiling and making faces at the baby, my daughter turned to me and asked, "Why doesn't Daddy spit in your mouth?"

"Um, because that would be gross?"

"No, Mommy. He needs to spit in your mouth so you can have another baby."

I literally choked on my water. And then laughed until I couldn't breathe. And then texted my husband and laughed some more.

Seriously, what are they learning on the playground?!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Author Spotlight on: Roland Smith

It's another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and I'm pleased to welcome author Roland Smith to the blog.

If you've been reading kids' books for a while, chances are you've come across a book by Roland Smith. With nearly 30 published titles to his name, Smith is a prolific writer of picture books, middle grade and YA novels. His stories are filled with realistic characters and amazing adventures that appeal to a wide range of readers. Last month he released STORM RUNNERS, the story of a boy and his father racing across the country in pursuit of hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.  The second book in this series will be out in September.

Read through to the end for a chance to win one of Roland's books. But first, the interview...

Do you still write all your first drafts by hand?
My preference is to write my first drafts in a Moleskine journal. I do this because it's portable and doesn't need a battery. For me to keep the momentum on a story going it's best to carry it wherever I go, reminding that what I'm supposed to be doing is writing, even though as an author there are many other things that I have to do like speaking, signing, and selling books. If you write by hand there is no spell check, grammar check, it's just you and the story and the words. I just returned from speaking at a conference last night.  Got to the airport early, took out my Moleskine and wrote my way across the country.

Just like Grace in Cryptid Hunters! I love it!

Besides the penchant for moleskine journals, your background working with animals also plays a part in a number of your novels. You’ve said that you’re uncomfortable with animals in captivity. How did that influence your choices when you worked in zoos, and now as an author? 
I think everything in your life influences your writing and working in zoos as a zookeeper, curator, and research biologist for twenty years has certainly influenced my writing.  When I say that I'm uncomfortable with animals in captivity I'm not saying that I oppose zoos. Zoos are here to stay and have done many wonderful things for wildlife. When I was hiring zookeepers I liked candidates that were a little uncomfortable with the idea of animals in captivity.  I felt (and I believe I was right) that they would take better care of the animals in their charge. I should point out that 99% animals people see in zoos today were born in captivity. Very few wild born animals are put in zoos.

You’ve rescued sea otters, reintroduced wolves to the wild, lived in the jungle with elephants: is it safe to say that you’ve had hands on experience with many of the topics you write about? 
Many, but not all. It's been said that you should write what you know. I think this is a little misleading. I don't know Stephanie Meyers, but I doubt that she's ever had an encounter with a vampire. My point is that you need to write about what is important to you, what's interesting to you, which can be very different than what you KNOW from personal experience.

You spend a lot of time traveling and doing hands on research for your novels. How long does it take you to research a novel before you start writing? 
That of course depends on the novel. Here's my spectrum... I wrote my novel SASQUATCH in three weeks, and I was traveling during that entire period. The three elements in the novel were Mount St. Helens, Big Foot, and D.B. Cooper. I already knew a lot about all three subjects, so I didn't have to do a great deal of research.  ELEPHANT RUN took me about 10 years to complete. I had to do a great deal of research, travel to Myanmar, and there are four completed novels with the same title, totally different from each other, that no one will ever see. I just couldn't get the story right until the fifth try and I won't send a book in unless I like it. When I started writing it took me twice as long to do the research as it did to write the novel. It takes me a little less time now. I think experience has made me a little more efficient.

SASQUATCH is one of my son's favorites. He'll probably be in awe to hear how fast you wrote that. I'm in awe of how fast you wrote that! But you’ve managed to release at least a book year since your first book came out in 1990. Do you work on more than one book at a time? How long does it take you to write and revise a novel? 
 On any given day I only work on one novel, but alas because of my many deadlines and book contracts (I'm not complaining) I'm working on more than one novel at a time. I don't think this is the best way to write a book and I don't recommend it. Ideally you (and I) should work on one book at a time. As soon as I catch up, and I've told myself this for years, this is how I'm going to write my books.

What happens to me is that I will be working on a book and an editor will send in the line edits for a book I finished, which means I need to stop working on the book I was working on and put my head back into the book I finished. Or, I will be working on a book and an editor will say we need for you to outline the book your supposed to send to us next year... "Could you please..." Again, I'm not complaining. I'm happy editors and readers want my books. Maybe someday, when I grow up, I will be able to work on one book at a time.

I know you’re a big reader. Do you read nonfiction? Middle grade? Adult fiction? What’s on your nightstand right now?
I read two or three books a week, and for the last couple of years almost all of the books I've read have been read with the Kindle app on my iPhone and iPad. I travel a lot and I travel light with a library of 250 books in my pocket. I read a lot of adult thrillers, adventure, and mysteries, which is the genres I write for young adults. I also read a lot of non-fiction.  I just finished reading "At Home: A Short History of Private Life" by Bill Bryson. The week before I finished "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbran." Both were fantastic reads, which have nothing to do with the novels I'm working on at the moment.

I do read YA books that my friends write, or publishers send me. For instance I just got back from Texas where I was speaking at a luncheon with 5 other authors, some whom I knew, some whom I didn't know. I read their most current books, because it's rude not to know the work of the people you are speaking with.

Your I,Q novels don’t deal with wild animals or cryptids or the outdoors at all. What was the inspiration for this series?
Again, I write about what's important to me. When an author writes something different from what they've written before it's often said that "it's a departure" for them. The truth is that it's a departure for the reader because the reader doesn't know the author personally or what interests him or her.

My son and I are dying to know: how much longer do we have to wait for the sequel to Tentacles?
It's schedule to be out in 2012. In fact, I'm working on it today right now....

Awesome! Can't wait to read it!

Want to know more about Roland Smith? Here's where you can find him around the web:

If you'd like to win one of Roland Smith's amazing novels, tell me in the comments. One lucky reader will get to choose any of his novels that is available in paperback. Comment by Thursday midnight (PST). A winner will be announced Friday.

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade Books? Check out these bloggers:
Shannon Whitney Messenger talks TIGER and has a giveaway as well.
Shannon O'Donnell
Ben Langhinrichs
Joanne Fritz
Brooke Favero
Myrna Foster
Barbara Watson
Aly at Kidlit Frenzy
Anita Laydon Miller

I also have winners to announce from the YA giveaway last week.

The winner of Jellicoe Road is:

The winner of The Water Wars is:

And since Amanda Hoving was the only one to put her name in for Soul Enchilada, that one goes to her!

Congrats to all the winners!! Send your mailing address to solvangsherrie at gmail dot com and I will get these books out to you.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Teen Book Drop and the E-volution of Free Books

If you're looking for free books, today is your lucky day. I've got plenty to choose from! And that's much nicer than worrying about those nasty taxes, isn't it?

It's no secret that e-books have been growing at a steady rate. As book chains fail and publishers tighten their belts, readers keep flocking to digital editions, often lured by lower priced stories and "free for a limited time" offers from bestselling authors like these:
Wings by Aprilynne Pike (free through April 18)
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (free through April 25)

But I had no idea just how fast sales have been growing. Most articles I read said that e-book sales were still only 5% or less of total sales for publishers. That's changed. Dramatically. Yesterday in Publisher's Weekly they announced that e-book sales for the first two months of this year are equal to trade paperback sales for the same period. That's right. EQUAL to trade paperback sales for 19 reporting publishers. Just for the month of February, e-book sales jumped 200%. That's huge!

But if we go completely digital, what will happen to events like Teen Lit Day?

Yesterday readergirlz promoted Rock the Drop! and we did our part by leaving three YA novels in popular hangouts on State Street in Santa Barbara. We left Paranormalcy by Kiersten White at Starbucks on the corner of Cota, As You Wish by Jackson Pearce at Yogurtland and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green at Natural Cafe. My daughter couldn't stop watching the people walking by the books we left, hoping someone would pick them up and take them home. She got so excited every time someone would look at them. Unfortunately, no one took them while we were watching. But it got her thinking.

"Why do we only do this once a year?" she asked.

I didn't have a good answer. As soon as we got home, she started pulling out more books that we could leave for people to find. I have a feeling we'll be dropping plenty more books in the weeks to come! And this time we'll leave notes on the covers so that people know right away that the books are meant to be taken.

If you're not in the Santa Barbara area and you don't have an e-reader, never fear! I'm still going to Rock the Drop right here on my blog. I love to see people smile when they get a free book, even if it's just a virtual grin :)

So what's up for grabs? Melina Marchetta's Printz winning novel Jellicoe Road, Cameron Stracher's dystopian debut The Water Wars and David MacInnis Gill's riotous deal with the devil, Soul Enchilada. And how can you win one of these prizes? Leave a comment letting me know which book you'd like me to send your way. If you don't pick one, you won't be entered in the drawing. (And that's okay! I still like to hear from you!) Random winners will be announced on Monday, April 25.

My kids are on spring break next week so I'll be on a blogging break. Have a fabulous week and I'll be back with a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and three lucky winners on April 25.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Brand X

A lot of people have been talking about author brands. (Stina did a good post that explains it pretty well.) I’m no expert on the subject. In fact, I screwed up from the get-go by using Solvang Sherrie for my blogspot address instead of Sherrie Petersen. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called Solvang as a result. (Note: it’s the town I live in, not my name!)

Actress Sherrie Peterson
But say you go to brand yourself, only to find out that someone beat you there, stole your name before you had a chance to lay claim. Google Sherrie Peterson and you’ll find an actress. Not me. But that’s who comes up when you spell my name wrong. (I’m “en” instead of “on.”)

Author Matthew J. Kirby added his middle initial when he found writers (and a whole lot of other people!) with the same name.

Another Matthew I know had a similar problem. Only the person who shares his name turns out to be a porn star. X-rated images are NOT what you want your fans to come across, especially when you're writing for the under 18 crowd! You may recognize him from his blog, The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. What you may not know is why he recently changed his name from Matthew Rush to Matthew MacNish.

How did you discover that you shared the same name as a porn star?
I don't remember. It was years ago, and I can only assume I just Googled my name, and he came up (pun intended).

Ha! Yeah, I guess that particular job lends itself to all sorts of punny possibilities. Why'd you decide to change your last name instead of just adding an initial or using your middle name?
Well the pen name MacNish actually is my middle name. Sort of. My middle name is Minneice, which is an anglicized version of my grandmother's maiden name, which was MacNish, from her clan in Scotland.

Very cool. I love the history of names like this. You know I have some Scottish ancestors, too, on the Stevens side of my family.
Scottish is awesome.

I agree! So tell me, what kind of books do you write? Anything with crossover appeal for the other Matthew Rush's audience? :-)
Hmm. Interesting question. I've only written one novel, and I call it YA Rural Fantasy, but that's sort of a joke. There are no erotic scenes so I'm not sure how excited fans of the famous Matthew Rush would get.

Rural Fantasy? That's a subgenre I haven't come across yet!
Do you miss using your real name on the internet?
Not really. It's fun to have a pen name.

Has it caused any confusion for people who already knew you as Matthew Rush?
Just a few, but I didn't know them well, and they figured it out soon enough.

Well, Matthew, here's hoping one day you're just as famous as the other guy who shares your name. Though, you know, not for the same reason... (Sorry, you it probably makes you crazy, but it kinda still cracks me up!)
Don't feel bad about laughing about it for one second ... it's HILARIOUS. I still laugh about it a lot myself.

Thanks for sharing the reasons behind your name change. You've obviously maintained your sense of humor about it :P
* * * * * * * * * * *

So tell me -- have you ever Googled your name and been surprised by the results? What brand are you representing on the internet?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: Beyonders by Brandon Mull

It's another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and I'm pleased to offer up a guest review from one of the toughest book critics you'll ever hear from: my 11-year-old son. A huge Brandon Mull fan, he insisted that we pre-order Beyonders as soon as he heard about it. Then he spent the 24 hours after it arrived, reading it from cover to cover.

I haven't had a chance to read this book yet, but based on his review, I think I'll be sneaking into his room after he goes to school to check it out for myself :-)

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Being eaten by a hippo is both a good start for a book and something funny that you would never want to happen to you.

I've read all of Brandon Mull’s books and this is one of his best. It starts off with Jason, a 13-year-old who works at the zoo, getting swallowed by a hippopotamus and traveling to an alternate dimension called Lyrian. He meets another Beyonder (what the Lyrians call people from Earth), a girl his age named Rachel. Together, they set off on a quest to find the word to unmake the evil wizard emperor, Maldor, and find a way home.

Let’s start with the cons. It is a bit TOO coincidental that two Beyonders end up in the same place, on the same day, and find each other at the same palace. And did he need to bring a girl in so that it would appeal to female readers as well? I don't think so. This is a great adventure that would appeal to most girls even if there wasn't a girl main character. Also, the last ten pages are too quick and what happens is extremely unlikely.

Now that I’ve finished with the bad stuff, I’ll tell you the good stuff. The writing was excellent, and the elements he mixed into it felt extremely cinematic. The way Jason is dragged into the quest is realistic, and he acts like an actual person. What I mean by this is that he doesn’t become a leader and take up the quest willingly and give his life for the other world. He just wants to go home. The story has plenty of action to keep readers entertained. Plus, the ending had an interesting twist to it, but I won’t give you any specifics. Some of the things that happen in the story might be too intense for young kids, but this is a really good book for older middle grade readers.

Rating: 7.8/10
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade books? Check out these bloggers:
Shannon Whitney Messenger
Shannon O'Donnell
Ben Langhinrichs
Myrna Foster
Joanne Fritz 
Brooke Favero

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Ballard Jamboree

My kids go to a school that has been in continuous operation since 1883. This historic little red school house was actually yellow when they first built it. These days, it serves as the kindergarten classroom. Over the years it has seen countless children pass through it's doors, and more than its share of mothers crying as they leave their children on the first day of school. Some cry out of nostalgia, a few from separation anxiety, and others for joy and anticipation of a few hours of peace at last :-)

The little red school house is the backdrop for everything we do at Ballard School. Every morning students in K-6th grade gather around the flag to say the Pledge of Allegiance while two students raise the flag and another two ring the bell in the tower. Some days, this simple ceremony can bring tears to my eyes. Especially now, as my son nears the end of his time on this campus.

This past weekend we gathered together for a fundraiser, a day of old-fashioned fun that included sack races, tug o' war, pie throwing and the largest game of musical chairs you'll ever see. It took weeks of work for parents to coordinate, plan, decorate, advertise, sell tickets and procure auction items. But in the end, we raised more than $50,000 to help the PTA pay for field trips, special assemblies, computer maintenance and a music program for our students. Keep in mind this is a school with only 118 students. Maybe since we only do this big fundraiser every three years or so, people are more willing to spend money to benefit their kids.

As for the kids, the Jamboree is just a day of fun. A happy memory of cotton candy and barbecue, games and friends, music and celebration. Hopefully, as they grow older and move away from our small community, they can look back fondly on days like this and appreciate how lucky they were to grow up in the little town of Solvang.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Switching the Goal

Most stories start with a character who wants something. That need, that desire, is what drives the story forward as the protagonist fumbles their way toward achieving that goal. I've read countless books, blog posts and magazine articles talking about the importance of making your character's need very clear from the beginning of the story so that readers know to cheer as the MC gets closer to his goal, or feel frustrated as obstacles keep him from the goal.

But can the goal change over the course of the story?

Say you have a character who is desperate to get back home. But the taxi breaks down on the way to the airport, she misses her flight and is stranded by the side of the road. While she waits for another taxi, a minivan crashes in front of her. She pulls the lone survivor from the burning vehicle, a child who is suddenly alone in the world.

How would this affect your character? Would it change her goal, at least for the short-term?

Say your character decides to help this child get back to his family on the other side of the country, even though it means delaying her own desire to return home. Now she has a huge obstacle. Not only is she going in the opposite direction of where she actually wants to go, she's also responsible for another human being.

The choices your characters make don't just affect their goals. They also reveal who they are as people. My imaginary character could have handed the child off to the police and caught the next flight out of town. But then what would that say about her as a person?

What about in your story? Do you have characters with changing goals? Is your protagonist sometimes his or her own antagonist as well?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Before You Kiss that Frog...

I've never been a big fan of pink. I begged to wear jeans instead of dresses and I never wanted to be a princess.

So you'd think with the pink cover, the tiara and "princess" in the title, it would be enough to scare me away. But the truth is, I love THE FROG PRINCESS by E.D. Baker.

Now, if you've seen the Disney movie that was supposedly based on this book, then I strongly urge you to read the book. About the only similarities you'll find are that the princess kisses a frog who claims to be a prince and turns into a frog herself. The movie is kind of fun in it's own way, but the book, well, does it surprise you that I like the book better?!

The best thing about Princess Emma is that she's not your typical princess. She doesn't like the prince her parents have picked out for her, she's clumsy, she prefers to be outside rather than in a stuffy castle and her mother has pretty much decided that she's hopeless. Sometimes, she doesn't even want to be a princess. I can relate to this girl! But the best thing about Emma is her sense of humor. This book made us laugh out loud when I read it with my daughter. And he'll never admit it, but my son enjoyed hearing it, too :O)

Once she kisses the frog and the spell doesn't work, Emma and Eadrick are off on an adventure to find the witch who cursed him. They're hoping to reverse their froggy fates and get back to their families, but along the way there's plenty of adventure and fun.

Like many middle grade books, this is the first in a series. The eighth and final book came out this past fall. The four I've read in the series have all been funny, lighthearted and great to read with any age. Unlike some series' that tend to get darker as they go along, the characters in Tales of the Frog Princess maintain their playful spirits and the stories are nothing but fun. Even for someone who doesn't care for princesses.

Looking for more Marvelous Middle Grade books? Check out these bloggers:
Shannon O'Donnell
Ben Langhinrichs
Myrna Foster
Joanne Fritz

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

Sweet, juicy, strawberries in March. And do you see how big they are? 
That's a quarter on the table beside them. Ginormous!

Watching my son catch a fish...

...and then feed it to this guy.

Seeing snow up on the mountains when it's over 90 degrees here in the valley. 
Sadly, most of this has melted now.

All the amazing bloggers I've met. You all ROCK!!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...