Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why I'll Never Kill My Parents

I'll probably catch a bit of heat for this, but I have a huge pet peeve when it comes to children's books: I hate dead parents.

Most times, dead parents are used as a device for writers to allow the child character to go off and have adventures that no sane parent would allow. For me, it's a huge problem because most of these literary children never have another thought about their deceased parents.  Granted, a child that was orphaned at 10 is not still going to be moping and crying at 16. But even if that child was adopted by a loving family, the lack of parents will influence them in countless ways.

I should know. I was that child.

Every person reacts differently in a given situation, but even a child that never knew their parents will think about them at different milestones or tuning points in their lives. When I learned to drive, I remembered sitting on my father's lap and steering the car on country roads. I wondered how he would have taught me differently, if I would have even been learning on the same streets, in the same car. When I had my first boyfriend, I wished my mom could have met his mom because I knew they would have been friends. I wondered what advice she would have given me and how it would have differed from my adoptive mother. To this day, every time I bake cookies, or smell fried chicken, or see a violet or a duck, or hear certain songs on the radio, it triggers a memory of my parents. I don't break down and cry, but I think about them, every day, in so many little ways.

Novels are stories about turning points in a character's life. Too often characters don't ring true because writer's don't give them that added depth of reflecting on how their turning point would have been different if their parents were around. J.K. Rowling did this masterfully in the Harry Potter books. His parents were woven into the storyline countless times, in a way that was meaningful and real. When Harry looked in the Mirror of Erised, I desperately desired my own. And the photos where he could see his parents moving about? Priceless. Rowling understood the emotions surrounding the death of a parent, probably because she experienced that loss herself as she was writing the books.

Many things can be imagined in a novel, but false emotions regarding dead parents never sit well with me. It's hard to write a book with realistic, living parents. But it's a challenge more writers should attempt. Because when we were children, every day was an adventure. And even when our parents were around, we found ways to have those adventures, safe in the knowledge that our parents would be there to bail us out if things got out of hand.

Maybe it's my own fantasy, my way of making my parents come alive in the pages of my stories. Maybe someday I'll be a good enough writer, a brave enough writer to honestly portray the raw emotions of a character without parents. But another part of me fights back. Aren't there are enough dead parents in children's books?

I think I'll keep mine alive.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Digital vs. Print -- How I Read

I was not one of the first people to run out and buy a Kindle. I resisted it. For a long time.

I've always considered myself lucky to live in a town with a fabulous bookstore run by intelligent people who know books and know their customers. I love being able to go to a store and pick up a book, study the cover, read the back, explore the first few pages. And I never want to lose that.

But I noticed something shocking this week. At least shocking to me. In the last year, the number of ebooks I've read outnumbers paper. By far. I think I've read maybe 15 physical books. By comparison, in the same time frame, I've read (gulp!) 75 ebooks.

How did I make such a drastic shift?

Blame it on the iPad. Being able to download books for Kindle, Nook, PDFs and Bluefire Reader makes it oh so convenient to read anywhere, anytime, any format. And where do I do most of my reading? In bed with the blanket pulled up over my head so I don't disturb my sleeping husband. I feel like a kid with my favorite novel and a flashlight. Only the iPad lights itself, and instead of one book, I've got hundreds. And now that I have an iPhone, I can also read while I wait for my kids, when I'm in line at the grocery store, on my lunch break.

And then there's the price. I read a lot of books from independent authors which tend to be in the $0.99 to 3.99 range. Not to mention the fact that most of these would never be found in a bricks and mortar book store. I do also buy Big Six books (often when they're on sale), and I've also been sucked into a series and shelled over the $8.99-10.99 for a book I just had to read. Even then, the digital book is less than a hard cover.

Even the library has contributed to my digital habit. Borrowing an ebook from the library is easier than a regular book because there's nothing to return. Once the time's up, it just disappears from my reader -- no more late fees! Hooray!

I never thought I'd move away from "real" books. My son still hates electronic reading and while my daughter is more open to it, she still prefers paper. When they pick up the iPad, they tend to open up Doodlejump or Angry Birds, not a book. But I wonder when that will shift for them as well.

What about you -- do you read more paper books or electronic books? How has that changed from how you read a year ago?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

So, that Romance Novel You're Writing for NaNo...

Every writer knows that November means NaNo, even if they've never participated in the challenge. This year, romance authors have one more reason to finish that book they're working on: Avon Impulse wants to read their new novels. From their news release:

During the month of November, Avon editors will make themselves available to the author community via online forums at, and by sponsoring “NaRoWriMo,” the publisher hopes to acquire original works of romantic fiction, to be released in 2013 by Avon Impulse. “NaRoWriMo” romance fiction submissions should be submitted by December 10, 2012 to Avon Romance’s online submission portal (, and tagged “NaRoWriMo.” All novel and novella-length submissions (50,000 words and above) will be reviewed, and will be considered for publication through Avon Impulse, the publisher’s digital-first arm.

I'm not a romance writer, but I know a lot of you out there are. Check it out and let me know if it's worthwhile!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wisdom from Odwalla

Last week, a very special guest came to talk to the seniors at the school where I work: Greg Steltenpohl, the founder of Odwalla. He said a LOT of inspiring things to the seniors, but this really stuck in my mind.

“Being an entrepreneur, you have to kind of put your idea out there and believe in it and then manifest your vision,” he said. “You just keep coming up against things constantly, no matter how long you go along, there’s going to be someone who just says, ‘It isn’t possible.’”

Change "entrepreneur" to "writer" and omigosh, it's totally my truth. And how did he deal with the doubters?

“Nine times out of ten, it’s about manifestation. If you believe it, then other people start to believe it and pretty soon it becomes the reality.”

Kind of how I try to live my life. Believe it into reality. His final pearl of wisdom:

“You never know what's going to happen, just by doing what you love.”

Greg sold Odwalla to Coke in 2001 for $160 million. Not a bad payoff for doing something he loved!

I have no aspirations to make millions. But I do hope that by staying true to what I love, I can find  success.

How do you define success?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mayonnaise and Coffee

Sounds yummy, right?

Yeah, not so much. This is actually a parable of sorts that a writer friend sent out last week. I love the story here, especially since I read it the day after having coffee with my friend Casey (skinny latte, hold the mayo, thanks). Rather than tuck it away somewhere, I thought I'd post it here for others to see and as a permanent place for me to find it as well.



A professor stood before his philosophy class with some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a very large, empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked
the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “YES.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else – the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.

The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children! Take time to get medical checkups. Take your wife/husband/lover/friend out to dinner. Maybe even play another 18. There is always time to clean the house and fix the disposal.

Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled.

“I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there is always room for a couple cups of coffee with a friend.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing in Retreat

We’d talked about it–fantasized really–for months, maybe even years. A girls' weekend/writing retreat with nothing to distract us: no families, no internet (hopefully!), not even each other. We’d stay at a spa and eat healthy meals, have separate rooms, but get together every once in a while to bounce ideas off each other and just have a mental break. At the end of the day we’d relax with massages to ease away all the tension from a long day of writing.

Of course, the price tag gave us a reality check, but we weren’t ready to give up the idea. After all, when it came right down to it, the Motel 6 would serve our purposes just fine, right? But then just like a good novel, a twist: Lori’s husband took the boys camping, but her daughter got sick. Could we just meet at her house?

Definitely cheaper. But would a familiar location be too much of a distraction, especially for Lori with a sick child?


For 24 hours we wrote, stopping briefly to eat, compare notes, sleep. And it worked. I spent my time reworking a story I’d given up on. With quiet time to think about what worked and what didn’t, to experiment, cut, write and rewrite, I found threads I didn’t even know where there. Best of all, I found my mojo again. I was ready to write. Anything. Ideas were bursting over each other, words flowing, aching to come out.

I was so happy I cried on the way back home.

And now I know. Next time I hit a rut, all I have to do is find a quiet stretch of time to focus.

Or send Lori’s family packing for the weekend and move myself back into her house :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On Being Relentlessly Happy

I’ve always believed happiness is a choice. At least for most people, most of the time.

I don’t claim to understand clinical depression. But I do understand the blues. I experienced them after the birth of my son. I was deliriously happy. But also sleep deprived, adult deprived, constantly covered in regurgitated milk and slowly losing touch with life outside of my house. It may sound like the romanticized pressure of being a new mom, but the reality was far from charming.

The same could be said about my writing life. I’ve definitely experienced the blues, sometimes for months on end. I’m proud of things that I’ve accomplished. But I’m also sleep deprived, understanding adult deprived and constantly surrounded by people who are doing everything better than I can. At times, it’s hard to focus on anything other than life inside the writerly sphere, especially when things aren't going as planned.

Definitely not charming.

And the thing is, when I slip into the blues, even though I do have understanding adults around me, I push them away. I paste on a smile and deflect their concern with unrelenting cheer. Every once in a while, the forced happiness is enough to pull me out. Other times it sends me further into hiding, away from anyone who might ask questions I don’t want to answer.

Although it’s hard to avoid the tough questions I ask myself.

Oddly enough, it’s the writing that pulls me out. A big block of time, a story that’s dying to be told. That’s what brings me back, every single time. Because no matter how hard my doubting brain works to convince me otherwise, the fact is, I’m a writer.

And so, I write.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Blog Break

I'm on a blog break for the month of August. I'll see you back here in September.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

NPRs List of Best-Ever YA Novels

It's time to vote for your favorite YA novels!

Last month on NPR, they asked people to nominate their favorite YA novels of all time. Yesterday they posted a list of 235 finalists. The panelists that narrowed down the nominations included a teacher librarian, the children's book editor at the New York Times Book Review, the children's book editor at Publishers Weekly, and the book editor from The Onion.

There are quite a few classics sprinkled in with new titles, and some series' that haven't even finished being written yet. And yes, this is VERY unscientific, but it was cool to see how many bloggers and new authors made the list, some of which have been interviewed right here on this blog :-)  Everyone gets to pick their top ten. Voting is open for a few weeks.

Here's the list, along with my highlights and comments:
(Blue books I've read and recommend, starred books I love, my personal top 20 from this list)

13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson
Abhorsen Trilogy / Old Kingdom Trilogy (series), by Garth Nix
**The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
**Across the Universe, by Beth Revis (read my interview with Beth Revis)
Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel
Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater
Along for the Ride, by Sarah Dessen
American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins
Anne of Green Gables (series), by Lucy Maud Montgomery (I read this in middle school; doesn't seem YA, but that's just my opinion)
Annie on My Mind, by Nancy Garden
Ash, by Malinda Lo
**Ashfall, by Mike Mullin  (Read my review on Shelf Awareness)
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (series), by M.T. Anderson
The Bartimaeus Trilogy (series), by Jonathan Stroud
Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray
Before I Die, by Jenny Downham
Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
Betsy-Tacy Books (series), by Maud Hart Lovelace
Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys  (Another one I want to read)
Blood Red Road, by Moira Young
Bloodlines (series), by Richelle Mead
Bloody Jack Adventures (series), by L.A. Meyer
The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley
The Book of Blood and Shadow, by Robin Wasserman
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
Brooklyn, Burning, by Steve Brezenoff
Bruiser, by Neal Shusterman
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
**The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Chaos Walking (series), by Patrick Ness
The Chemical Garden Trilogy (series), by Lauren DeStefano (I've only read the first book; is book three even out yet?)
Chime, by Franny Billingsley
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier (I could NOT finish this book!)
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci (series), by Diana Wynne Jones
The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica (series), by James A. Owen
**Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
Circle of Magic (series), by Tamora Pierce
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (series), by Louise Rennison
Copper Sun, by Sharon M. Draper
Crank (series), by Ellen Hopkins
Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins
Crown Duel, by Sherwood Smith
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
The Curse Workers (series), by Holly Black
Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
The Dark is Rising (series), by Susan Cooper
Darkest Powers (series), by Kelley Armstrong
Daughter of Smoke & Bone, by Laini Taylor
Daughter of the Lioness / Tricksters (series), by Tamora Pierce
Delirium (series), by Lauren Oliver
The Demon's Lexicon (series), by Sarah Rees Brennan
Discworld / Tiffany Aching (series), by Terry Pratchett
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Divergent (series), by Veronica Roth
Dolphin Sky, by Ginny Rorby
Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen
**Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick (read my interview with Jordan Sonnenblick)
Dune, by Frank Herbert
Earthsea (series), by Ursula K. Le Guin
**East, by Edith Pattou
**Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (series), by Patricia C. Wrede
Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S. King (On my nightstand to read)

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury  (On my nightstand to read)
Fallen (series), by Lauren Kate
**The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
Feed, by M.T. Anderson
Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones
The First Part Last, by Angela Johnson
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
**Forever..., by Judy Blume
Gallagher Girls (series), by Ally Carter (Book one was cute but I haven't read the rest)
The Gemma Doyle Trilogy (series), by Libba Bray
The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente
The Giver (series), by Lois Lowry
Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
Going Bovine, by Libba Bray
Gone (series), by Michael Grant
The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale
Graceling (series), by Kristin Cashore
Graffiti Moon, by Cath Crowley
Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers  (Read my interview with Robin LaFevers)
The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages
Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie
Harper Hall Trilogy (series), by Anne McCaffrey
**Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
Hate List, by Jennifer Brown
The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley
Hex Hall (series), by Rachel Hawkins
His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (series), by Douglas Adams
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, by Lish McBride
Hold Still, by Nina LaCour
House of Night (series), by P.C. Cast, Kristin Cast
The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff
How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr
Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
**The Hunger Games (series), by Suzanne Collins
Hurt Go Happy, by Ginny Rorby
Hush, Hush Saga (series), by Becca Fitzpatrick
I Am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier
I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
Immortal Beloved (series), by Cate Tiernan
The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa
The Immortals (series), by Tamora Pierce
Impossible, by Nancy Werlin
The Infernal Devices (series), by Cassandra Clare
Inheritance Cycle (series), by Christopher Paolini (I liked the first two, but haven't read them all.)
The Iron Fey (series), by Julie Kagawa
It's Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini
Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey
Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta (Interesting, but not one of my favorites)
Jessica Darling (series), by Megan McCafferty
Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
The Legend of Beka Cooper (series), by Tamora Pierce
Leverage, by Joshua Cohen
Leviathan (series), by Scott Westerfeld (I only read book 1)
Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
The Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lost in the River of Grass, by Ginny Rorby
The Lumatere Chronicles (series), by Melina Marchetta
Lux (series), by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff
A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass
The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith
**Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork  (LOVE this book!!! Read my glowing review.)
**Matched (series), by Ally Condie (another one where the series isn't even finished yet!)
The Maze Runner Trilogy (series), by James Dashner
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
**Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (LOVE this book!!!)
Monster, by Walter Dean Myers
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
The Monstrumologist (series), by Rick Yancey
The Mortal Instruments (series), by Cassandra Clare
My Most Excellent Year, by Steve Kluger
My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult (I never even thought of this as YA)
The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson
Nation, by Terry Pratchett
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan
North of Beautiful, by Justina Chen Headley
A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly
The Only Alien on the Planet, by Kristen D. Randle
The Outside of a Horse, by Ginny Rorby
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton  (This is on my nightstand to read)
Outtakes of a Walking Mistake, by Anthony Paull
The Oz Chronicles (series), by R.W. Ridley
Paper Towns, by John Green
**Perfect Chemistry, by Simone Elkeles
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
The Pigman, by Paul Zindel
The Piper's Son, by Melina Marchetta
Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King
Postcards from No Man's Land, by Aidan Chambers
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman (Love this movie; just bought the book yesterday!)
The Princess Diaries (series), by Meg Cabot
The Princesses of Iowa, by M. Molly Backes
Private Peaceful, by Michael Morpurgo
Protector of the Small (series), by Tamora Pierce
The Queen's Thief (series), by Megan Whalen Turner (I don't think book three is out yet)
Raw Blue, by Kirsty Eagar
Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly
A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L'Engle
Ruby Blue, by Julie Cassar
Ruby Oliver Quartet (series), by E. Lockhart
Ruby Red, by Kerstin Gier
The Rules of Survival, by Nancy Werlin
Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta
The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater  (Read my interview with Maggie Stiefvater)
The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (series), by Michael Scott
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
Seven Realms (series), by Cinda Williams Chima
Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi
**Shine, by Lauren Myracle
Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupis
**The Shiver Trilogy, by Maggie Stiefvater  (Read my interview with Maggie Stiefvater)
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (series), by Ann Brashares (I only read book one.)
**The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson
Sold, by Patricia McCormick
Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
The Song of the Lioness (series), by Tamora Pierce
Soul Screamers (series), by Rachel Vincent
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Split, by Swati Avasthi
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher (On my nightstand to read)
Stolen, by Lucy Christopher
Story of a Girl, by Sara Zarr
The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han
Sweep (series), by Cate Tiernan
Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr
Teach Me, by R.A. Nelson
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
This Lullaby, by Sarah Dessen
Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume (Another book I read in junior high)
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Trash, by Andy Mulligan
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen
Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt
Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler
Twilight (series), by Stephenie Meyer
Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Uglies (series), by Scott Westerfeld
Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi
**Unwind, by Neal Shusterman
Vampire Academy (series), by Richelle Mead
Wake (series), by Lisa McMann
The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic, by Allan Wolf
Weetzie Bat (series), by Francesca Lia Block
Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
Where She Went, by Gayle Forman
Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley
Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler (Reading now)
Wide Awake, by David Levithan
Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green, David Levithan
Willow, by Julia Hoban
Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Year of Secret Assignments, by Jaclyn Moriarty

What are some of your favorites from this list? What books would you add?

Get out and vote!!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ARC Love - The Raven Boys

If you've read my blog for a while, you know I'm a pretty big fan of Maggie Stiefvater. When I heard about her new series, The Raven Boys, I was beyond excited. New characters, new stories to get lost in.

Since I actually have a job this summer I can't slip away to wonderful events like Comic-con or ALA, places where I could have snagged an ARC. So I can't even explain to you the joy I felt when this baby landed in my hands.

Isn't it be-yootiful??!!

Thank you, Book Loft! Seriously, if you ever find yourself in Solvang, best book store ever!!

I'm only on page 93, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to want the hard covers of all three books. Which means I'll probably be giving this lovely ARC away at some point.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Never Enough...Book Giveaways!

Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt like you weren't enough? I know I can think of several. Okay, yeah, a LOT of times. In high school I worried about not being thin enough, not being cool enough. Actually, those worries still plague me at times, but at least as an adult I'm comfortable enough with myself to not let those passing insecurities overwhelm me.

As part of the release for NEVER ENOUGH, the newest YA novel from my agent-mate Denise Jaden, several author-friends contributed their thoughts on not feeling like enough. You can see them on the video embedded below.

But wait! That's not all!

Denise is also hosting a HUGE book giveaway. Leave a comment here and then visit her blog and share the link back to this blog, and that will earn you TWO entries--one for commenting, and one for sharing the link. You can see all the books she's giving away by visiting this post:

Speaking of which, I can tell you exactly what I never have enough of: shelf space for all the books I want to read! 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Quest for a Good Review

Back in the old days, newspapers and magazines were the only place to read reviews about books. Publishers would send their upcoming releases to these publications and their paid reviewers would critique them.

These days, very few papers around the country even print book reviews. And why should they? Plenty of people are willing to write reviews for free: on blogs, on Goodreads, B& and Amazon.

But how many of those reviews are actually "free?"

Everybody knows that friends of the author are going to write some of the reviews. But some authors, even big name, best selling authors, are finding elaborate ways to get good reviews for their books. For example:

  • For every 25 reviews posted to Amazon or B&N, J. Thomas Shaw, author of The Rx Factor, will give away a $25 gift card to the "person judged to have written the best review."
  • Then there are websites like Readers Favorite that provide reviews and awards for authors. You too can "Become an Award Winning Author."

I get that people want, okay, need, good reviews of their books. But it makes me highly suspect of any positive review. At least in a newspaper, you know that the writer was paid to give their opinion. These other tactics feel like scams because as a reader, you don't know up front which reviews are honest. Unless they only have one or two stars. I'm pretty sure no one pays for those.

What do you think? Does it make sense to run contests to bump up your positive reviews?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Father's Day with the Petersens

It started with an innocent request.

The kids weren't ready. And come to think of it, they didn't smell quite as nicely as they should. "Take a shower while your father and I run an errand. When we get back, we'll all go out to lunch." Sounds reasonable, right?

Except that my phone wasn't on. And really, any time I'm away from the kids my phone should be on, shouldn't it. Because you never know what can happen...

My husband's phone rings, maybe fifteen minutes later. Since he was driving he didn't pick it up to answer. I glanced down and saw that a friend who lives down the street was calling. "I'll be you secretary," I said, answering the phone. "Hey, Mike! What's up?"

He hesitates, but I figure he's just surprised to hear my voice instead of Craig's.

"I don't want you to worry, but I have both your kids."

Any sentence that starts off I don't want you to worry, is usually good cause to worry.

"Why do you have the kids?"

"Well, there was a little accident while you were gone. We're on our way to Urgent Care."

My heart literally stops. We'd only been gone fifteen minutes! How much could have happened in fifteen minutes? And why didn't anyone call me?

I pull out my phone. Four missed calls from home and one from Mike. I slide the switch to turn the ringer back on, cursing myself for ever having turned it off.

On the left is an image of how we were supposed to spend the day. On the right is an image of my son's foot. The one that now has six stitches in it.

Apparently, after he slid the shower door open, the glass shattered and one chunk lodged itself in the top of his foot. My daughter went running into his room when she heard the crash, saw the mess, and immediately started trying to call me. When she couldn't get a hold of me, she called Mike. Thank goodness he was home and answering HIS phone. And thank goodness my nine-year-old daughter had the presence of mind to turn to him when she couldn't reach me. (Yes, I'm still beating myself up over the request AND the fact that my phone was off. And yes, we need to get Daddy's new phone number programmed into the home phones!)

One of the drawbacks to living in a small town: our Urgent Care was closed. Because emergencies don't happen on weekends, y' know? After going back home, flushing the wound out and putting on a fresh bandage, I took my son to another Urgent Care, thirty minutes up the road. My husband stayed home to clean up the glass and blood in the bathroom and on the carpet. Exactly how he planned to spend his Father's Day. *sigh*

But don't worry. I'm already finding a way to incorporate this into a story. Because that's what writer's do, don't we? Here's hoping your weekend wasn't anywhere near as eventful as ours!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Creative Binge

I've been working so hard on not-fun-projects (i.e. freelance work, volunteer work, housework, work work -- notice a theme here?) that finding myself with some free time has been...freeing. I have time to write again, and edit. All the pent up ideas are finding their way onto the page. At last.

So that's what I'll be doing for the next few weeks -- bingeing on words. Mine.


How do you plan to spend your first few weeks of summer?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting Mindjacked with Susan Quinn

Susan Quinn is one of the hardest working writers I know. She's frightfully organized, incredibly generous and often quite lucky. And did I mention talented? And super nice?

Today I'm proud to be part of the virtual party celebrating the release of the second book in her Mindjack trilogy. I've been lucky enough to be one of the beta readers for both books in this series and let me just say they are more than worth the $2.99 Ebook price.

But don't just take my word for it. Read a sample.

Book Two of the Mindjack Trilogy

When you control minds, only your heart can be used against you.

Eight months ago, Kira Moore revealed to the mindreading world that mindjackers like herself were hidden in their midst. Now she wonders if telling the truth was the right choice after all. 

As wild rumors spread, a powerful anti-jacker politician capitalizes on mindreaders’ fears and strips jackers of their rights. While some jackers flee to Jackertown—a slum rife with jackworkers who trade mind control favors for cash—Kira and her family hide from the readers who fear her and jackers who hate her. But when a jacker Clan member makes Kira’s boyfriend Raf collapse in her arms, Kira is forced to save the people she loves by facing the thing she fears most: FBI agent Kestrel and his experimental torture chamber for jackers.

Now available! $2.99 Ebook 
at Amazon (and Amazon UK) and Barnes and Noble

Request a Kindlegraph Paper copies available at Amazon or get signed copies from the author
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling YA novel Open Minds,  Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy, available on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iTunes. Susan's business card says "Author and Rocket Scientist," but she mostly plays on TwitterFacebook, and Pinterest.

Mind GamesOpen MindsClosed HeartsIn His EyesLife, Liberty, and PursuitFull Speed Ahead

CLICK HERE to join the Virtual Party for Closed Hearts
(including bonus content for the Mindjack Trilogy and writerly guest posts) 
ENTER TO WIN prizes below
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Must Read Title: The False Prince

One of the downsides to reading as much as I do: it's really hard to impress me. I used to feel obligated to finish a book once I started it. Not anymore. There are too many other books worthy of my attention to force myself to finish reading something that doesn't capture me.

THE FALSE PRINCE captured me from page one. Honestly, this book is freaking brilliant.

Sage is one of the best characters ever. Fighting everyone and everything, for reasons that aren't always clear at first to the reader, Sage is complex and funny and wonderfully developed. Whether brave or stupid, watching him grow into a role that he SO doesn't want was an absolute thrill of a ride. I literally did not want to put this book down until I got to the last page.

While technically I didn't care for the info dump in Chapters 42-43, at that point it didn't matter. I was in love with the characters, in love with the book and eagerly anticipating the climactic scenes ahead. As soon as I finished reading (okay, I went back and reread some of the juicy parts!) I handed this one to my 12yo and told him he had to read it. He devoured it and wanted more.

And therein lies the downside: it's the first in a trilogy. We have to wait another year to read the next one.

This will definitely be a read-aloud on this summer's road trip. It's one of those books that has enough depth to intrigue adults, will appeal to male or female and doesn't have objectionable material for younger readers. Yeah, it's the perfect book.

Wish I had written it myself :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chasing the Elusive Idea

I've been to a lot of author talks and regardless of the audience, the inevitable question always comes up: Where do you get your ideas from?

Even if the author is gracious enough to avoid the eye roll, I'm not. (Guess I'll need to work on that before I get published!)

The question doesn't annoy me just because everybody asks it. The truth is, most writers can't pinpoint a specific time or place where an idea comes from. At least I can't. Every book tends to come from a different spark. There isn't some magic box under the bed that writers pull ideas from. (If you have one, please share. I'm willing to split royalties.)

As I worked on edits for a book that I'm not ready to give up on yet, a new idea came to me, an idea that would add depth to the character and offer him an impossible choice. I have no clue where the idea came from. Unfortunately, I also have no clue as to how I'm going to incorporate this brilliant plot point. So I turn it over in my head and pray to whatever deity impressed the idea on me in the first place, to follow up with the second half of the equation because the drivel I've been typing out just isn't cutting it.

I guess that's the persistence part of this writing journey. Even if it's drivel, I keep typing, keep writing until it makes sense. At this point, I'm still willing to believe that if I keep at it, I'll figure it out. Eventually.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Writer's Day L.A.

Last weekend I got a dose of inspiration when I attended the L.A. Writer's Days. The two regional advisors, Sarah Laurenson and Lee Wind, put together an exceptional group of presenters. And I got to meet fellow blogger Tricia O'Brien. Bonus! I'm so glad I got to go.

One of my favorite Santa Barbara writers, Lee Wardlaw, talked about the fact that her most recent book, Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, was rejected by seven editors over three years. That book, which my daughter proudly owns, is now in its fourth printing and has won scads of awards including the 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2011 SLJ Best Books of the Year. Lee said something that resonated with me:

"I'm thankful for all those rejections. Because those editors wouldn't have loved it enough to see it through acquisition meetings, marketing, finding the right illustrator... If it hadn't been rejected, it wouldn't have become the book that it is."

Photo of Stacey, Michael & Sara by Rita Crayon Huang
Agent Michael Bourret spoke on a panel with editor Stacey Barney (Putnam/Penguin) and debut author Sara Wilson Etienne. The synergy between the three of them was beautiful to witness and I kid you not -- as soon as their panel finished talking, all of Sara's books were gone within a matter of minutes. They were that good.

I could write several posts just based on the things they talked about, but here's one thing that really stuck with me. Sara wrote the first draft of her book, Harbinger, ten years ago. There was no dialogue, only one character and the entire novel was about 90 pages long. She didn't know what to do with it so she put it away for a few years. She worked on it some more, took it to an SCBWI conference and got good feedback on it from an editor there. She worked on it for almost two more years before sending it to Michael Bourret. And then, when he took it on, they revised it together for another year.

I can't even begin to tell you how much this encouraged me. I am a SLOW writer. I get impatient with myself, frustrated because I can't whip out a novel in six months, let alone in the month of November. Some edits are easy. Others have to go round my brain for a while before they solidify. Knowing that there are other slow pokes like me who take their time and still manage to make their debut and make it big, was incredibly inspiring.

People ask me all the time if I think it's worth the money to go to a conference. When you come away inspired to keep at it, excited to lock yourself away and sit in front of a glowing screen, I'd say it's definitely worth it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Living with a Peeta-file, Part II

A lot of people feel that The Hunger Games is too brutal. They say the book is nothing more than glorified violence, that real people would never let something that horrific happen.

I respectfully agree. And disagree. Here’s why.

In the early 1960s, the United States increased their support of a war that was already in progress halfway across the globe. We didn’t have nearly enough soldiers to make a difference in that war, so in 1969a televised lottery was held. The draft. (Reaping, anyone?) Many of the young men sent to fight in Vietnam were poor; they had no means to avoid the draft. And according to a popular song from the 80s, the average age of those soldiers was 19.

The Vietnam War was the first televised war. Unlike the newsreels sent home from previous wars, the government didn’t get to edit the footage that was released to the American public. Technology had advanced too far and a growing mistrust of our elected leaders made news services all too eager to exercise their freedom of speech.

But here’s where we differ from the people of Panem. Those nightly images served up with a thawed out tray of mystery meat got to be more than Americans could tolerate. Rather than accept that this was our fate, that we had to send more of our children to die, people started protesting the war and demanding that our soldiers come home. It didn’t take twenty-four years for people to start a Rue Riot. Thank goodness.

I know the parallels aren’t exactly the same. But when people say the Hunger Games is too violent, I wonder if they’ve watched the nightly news. Because those smiling hosts are always happy to dish from the scene of the crime and replay the carnage until we’re numb. When people say that we would never let that happen, I say we already did.

And we still do.

Only these days, no one’s forcing us to watch. And I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, or not.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Living with a Peeta-file, Part I

I took my son to the midnight showing of The Hunger Games the day it opened. So many people were wrapped around the building that they had to show it on two screens. In my small community, that’s pretty amazing. But I guess we’re just a reflection of what was going on in the big cities.

A group of smiling girls dragged my son into their part of the line. And while he still claims to hold to the belief that girls are strange, he didn’t fight them too hard.

I was ambivalent going into the movie. Most adaptations fail, in my opinion, to capture the essence of a book. And this book was so very good that the thought of seeing it ruined before my eyes, larger than life, left me with butterflies in my stomach.

When the lights finally went down, people cheered. The spectacle we’d waited so long to see was finally here. As the opening frames lit up the screen, their screams got louder, then died away. And the further we got into the story, the more I felt embarrassed by our exuberance. This wasn’t a rom-com, lighthearted flick. Children die on the screen. It’s not the sort of film you can walk away from without being moved.

Over spring break, Drew tore through the next two books. I warned him that I was depressed for a week after reading Mockingjay. But of course that didn’t stop him. Some things you just have to discover for yourself.

I don’t know if I’ll watch the sequels. I LOVE The Hunger Games. And I think they did an incredible job making it into a movie. I highly recommend it. I enjoyed Catching Fire, though I still have a major hang-up with them returning to the games. But Mockingjay? I don’t know if I could ever read it again, let alone watch it unfold in all its horror onscreen. Though maybe a watered-down theatrical version would leave me less disturbed.

My son and I have had some pretty in-depth conversations because of these stories, about right and wrong, choice and sacrifice. That, I think, is what sets this trilogy apart. All those layers to chew on.

And once we’re done discussing the “heavy” stuff, there’s always the endless debate: Team Gale or Team Peeta? I loved Gale from the opening pages, had my heart torn out by him in the final chapters. My son thinks Peeta is a much better character, (though that might have more to do with projecting himself into Peeta’s role since, y’ know, he winds up with the kick-ass heroine).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where Kids' Votes Count

Voting is still open for the Children's Choice Book Awards. I've helped my kids vote. Here are the nominees:

Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year

Bailey by Harry Bliss (Scholastic)

Dot by Patricia Intriago (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan)

Pirates Don’t Take Baths by John Segal (Philomel/Penguin)

Three Hens and a Peacock by Lester L. Laminack, illustrated by Henry Cole (Peachtree)

Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster)

Third Grade to Fourth Grade Book of the Year

Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Bruel (Roaring Brook/Macmillan)

A Funeral in the Bathroom: And Other School Bathroom Poems by Kalli Dakos, illustrated by Mark Beech (Albert Whitman)

The Monstrous Book of Monsters by Libby Hamilton, illustrated by Jonny Duddle and Aleksei Bitskoff (Templar/Candlewick)

Sidekicks by Dan Santat (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)

Squish #1: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House)

Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade Book of the Year

Bad Island by Doug TenNapel (GRAPHIX/Scholastic)

How to Survive Anything by Rachel Buchholz, illustrated by Chris Philpot (National Geographic)

Lost & Found by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog by Garth Stein (HarperCollins)

Teen Book of the Year

Clockwork Prince: The Infernal Devices, Book Two by Cassandra Clare (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Little, Brown)

Divergent by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins)

Passion: A Fallen Novel by Lauren Kate (Delacorte/Random House)

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster)

Author of the Year

Jeff Kinney for Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever (Amulet Books/Abrams)

Christopher Paolini for Inheritance (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House)

James Patterson for Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life (Little, Brown)

Rick Riordan for The Son of Neptune (The Heroes of Olympus, Book 2) (Disney Hyperion)

Rachel Renée Russell for Dork Diaries 3: Tales from a Not-So-Talented Pop Star (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)

Illustrator of the Year

Felicia Bond for If You Give a Dog a Donut (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

Eric Carle for The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse (Philomel/Penguin)

Anna Dewdney for Llama Llama Home With Mama (Viking/Penguin)

Victoria Kann for Silverlicious (HarperCollins)

Brian Selznick for Wonderstruck (Scholastic)

Help your child (or your school) vote for their favorites at the Children's Choice Book Awards.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

According to Joel Stein I'm a Perv

In a New York Times essay on March 29, Joel Stein wrote:

The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter...

I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like. Maybe there are complicated shades of good and evil in each character. Maybe there are Pynchonesque turns of phrase. Maybe it delves into issues of identity, self-justification and anomie that would make David Foster Wallace proud. I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.

Let’s have the decency to let tween girls have their own little world of vampires and child wizards and games you play when hungry. Let’s not pump Justin Bieber in our Saabs and get engaged at Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland. Because it’s embarrassing.  

To which Maggie Stiefvater tweeted:

I realize the guy's a satirist, but really? Maybe because he wrote a book for adults that's coming out soon, he wants to make sure there are adults around who are interested in reading it.

Based on his essay, he can count me out.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Digital Critique Partner

Greg Pincus from The Happy Accident mentioned this in an email and I'll admit, as a bit of a techno geek, I was curious. It's called Auto Crit and it's basically an automated critique wizard. Seriously. Gives a whole new meaning to an online critique.

So obviously, I had serious doubts as to what this thing could do, but since I had a chapter that was annoying me, I thought I'd paste it in and see how the program worked. I was impressed by the points it claimed it could critique: overused words, sentence variation, cliches & redundancies, repeated words & phrases, pacing, dialogue, initial pronouns, readability and homonyms.

Since I was testing the free version, it would only accept about 800 words and it only critiqued the first three points. Once you pay an annual fee ($47 – $117, depending on the level you choose) you can enter more text and access more critique points. But what it found in those first few points was kind of cool.

The programmed false praise "Awesome! Nice work!" was kind of annoying, but the information was good, especially since this list was followed by my text, with overused words highlighted in red. Guess I need to cut back on it/there and knew/know! The second report on sentence variation was interesting, too.

I like how it gives a visual representation with the red dots of how long the sentences are and I was glad to see that my sentences vary in length. And just in case you were wondering, I blurred my words since this is a first draft of this story :)  The third report showed that I had no redundancies (Yay) and no clichés (Great work).

Of course, these are technical points and it makes sense that an automated editor could find these issues. But can a robot really judge these finer aspects of a story? I'm really curious to know how the algorhythms work on pacing, dialogue and readability. Just not sure if I'm $47-$117 curious.

What do you think? Would you invest in a robot critique partner?


And the winner of the paperback copy of Samuel Park's THIS BURNS MY HEART is:

Congratulations, Ivanova! Email me at solvang sherrie at gmail dot com and I'll get that book sent out to you pronto.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Author Spotlight on: Samuel Park

Today I have a treat here on the blog – best selling author Samuel Park. I “met” Sam through blogging, shared his excitement when his book sold, gave my opinion when he chose his author photo. It's so much fun to see blogging friends do well!

His novel, This Burns my Heart, was recently released in paperback and he has generously offered to give away a copy to one lucky blog reader. Isn’t it a gorgeous new cover? Even more evocative than the original.

Sam, I’m so happy to have you here!

Thank you so much for having me on your blog. I remember when my book became an Amazon Best of the Month, you were one of the first people to email me and congratulate me, and I really loved that.

Oh, well, I’m kinda nerdy that way. I get ridiculously excited when I see press about people I know. (See my blog post on Friday for proof!)

I don’t read a lot of books for grownups, but I have to tell you that I loved This Burns my Heart. There was one scene near the end, where they’re in the park listening to street musicians – omigosh, the longing, the covert thing with the hands – I don’t want to give away too much, but it was so beautifully written. Did it take a long time, getting the prose just the way you wanted it?

I think it's a tricky balance. On the one hand, you have to hold the reader's attention through beautiful language, almost like poetry. And I think this is particularly true nowadays, with all the competition from other mediums, and the availability of so much other (often free) entertainment--beautiful language is the only thing fiction can offer that other mediums can't. But I also believe that in order for the reading to become an immersive experience, the reader shouldn't even notice the language, and just become engulfed by the story.

I suppose in a way I just described the difference between literary and commercial fiction. The goal for me, then, is to find scenes where it feels organic to pause and engage in some beautiful language. Like the scene you're talking about--the descriptions of the musicians and the song involve lyrical language, but they're also embedded within the plot, since that's what the characters are listening to in that very moment. You look for moments where those two things can overlap, or where the fast moving plot can discreetly cede way, for a moment, for a beautiful reflection, or a metaphor.

English is not your native language, and yet you have a doctorate and you’re a professor of English. I know you decided as soon as you could read that you wanted to be a writer. What made you want to be a teacher?

I think it started when I was six years old and I would put mine and my sister's teddy bears and dolls in front of me and pretend that I was giving them a lecture. I don't remember what I would teach them, but it must've been pretty engrossing, since they would never move. Also, growing up, I always loved teachers. I was a classic teacher's pet, you know, the one the teacher would put in charge while she stepped out? In college, I would go to my professors' office hours and plant myself there. They could not get rid of me. I always liked teachers, partly because my first teacher, in many ways, was my mother, and I liked *her* a lot, too.

Have you had to autograph books after class? Do you have students asking for novel critiques and/or advice on being an author?

My students are starting to now, but for the most part they're much more interested in getting an extension for their papers, or figuring out how many points I take off for a late midterm. I teach art students, and they're very cagey, not at all the way I was back in college. (See answer above.)

Ah, the tunnel vision of youth :-)

You’ve also made a short film and then developed a novella based on that screenplay. Tell me how that came about.

Well, I was living in L.A. at that time, and when you live in L.A., you're practically obligated to write a screenplay. They won't give you a driver's license, unless you show proof of WGA copyright. So I wrote a screenplay based on a play and then a short film based on the screenplay and then a novella based on all that. And if you were able to follow that, you deserve an award. The novella was basically the screenplay, plus what I like to call "stage directions," which is what I call all that stuff that is not between quotations. It's very short, about 50,000 words.

Um, you're talking to someone who writes books for kids. 50K is an average sized novel around here!

Now that This Burns my Heart has been out for eight months, how has the experience of being a debut novelist changed from how you thought it would be?

Signing books at Vroman's in Los Angeles
The thing that surprised me, in a really good way, was to find out that in this age of movies and video games and Internet, people are still very passionate about books. In spite of all the bad news that we all know, with newspaper circulations declining and people reading less than ever, there is still a passionate core group of readers, journalists, reviewers, booksellers, and book lovers who are out there, all over the country, championing books. And that was really wonderful to see, and be a part of, 'cos I got to meet in person a lot of people doing events, and I saw that there's a huge community out there of people involved in book festivals, radio shows, etc, whose lives revolve around keeping literary culture alive.

There's a lot of doom and gloom out there so this is nice to hear.

I’ve heard people say that aside from editing, they have very little input once they turn their novel over to a publisher. Was that the case for you or did you have any involvement with the cover or the marketing?

 You know, I had some input, yes, but here's what I'm gonna say about that: I don't think authors should have any input on book covers. You're just too close to the book, and you're too distracted by your own projections about what this Platonic ideal of this thing that you created should look like. You really need someone more objective, someone who actually saw what you created, rather than what you think you created, and can express that visually. I'm a big believer in expertise, so if an expert art designer thinks that this is what I should go with, then I'm happy to sign off. Having said that, I'm not shy about forwarding them suggestions before they come up with a cover and saying, "This is what I think might be a nice inspiration. This is what I imagine the world of the book to be." For the paperback of This Burns my Heart, I really wanted the book to have a very soft, feminine quality, and I was really happy with what the designers came up with.

How much support did you get from Simon & Schuster and what things did you have to do on your own?

They were/are incredible. I literally could not ask for more. What I admired about their handling of the book was that they always knew what was right for it, and at what point. They're incredibly smart about how to market books. They know how the business works, and knew who I should meet, and where our energies should go toward. And their focus was to just get the book in people's hands. They really thought that the book was going to sell itself, and they were right. The weird thing is that up to that point I was very much used to having to do things on my own. So I thought with the book, I'd have to do my own marketing, but instead they did everything for me. And they did it a thousand times better than I could, because they knew things that I, and most authors, don't know.

It had to be pretty surreal having one of the morning hosts talking about your book on the Today Show. And being chosen by Amazon and Kirkus as one of the best books of 2011. Were you surprised by how much praise your novel received?

That day I learned about the incredible power of television. And the way it unfolded was pretty surreal. I didn't know the endorsement was coming. I just noticed that day that my Amazon ranking (which I have to confess, I check way more than I should!) had shot up to #90 or something crazy like that. I thought, "Huh, something must've happened." And I went online and googled the book and found nothing unusual, or new. But then I noticed on twitter somebody thanking Hoda Kotb of the Today Show for her recommending This Burns my Heart. This light bulb went off on my head that said, "Oh wow, maybe she mentioned it on the show."

By then, I had already missed that morning's show, but fortunately, they put up clips of it right away on the Today show website. So lo and behold, I saw the clip from the show, and I found out that Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford have a segment called "Favorite Things." The book was Hoda's "Favorite Thing" for that week. And she gave it an amazing review, which I'm so thankful for. The book's sales really shot up--apparently it had gone up to #2 on Amazon that day. People tend to associate Oprah with endorsing books, but I think Hoda has an incredible fan base and an amazing ability to be a tastemaker.

Wow. I can't even imagine how amazing that must have been!

And you know, I wish I were cool enough to say "Oh, yeah, I totally expected all those best of 2011 picks!" But the truth is that I was totally surprised. That's kind of my personality: every time something good happens, it takes me completely by surprise and I'm totally grateful for. I didn't think I was going to get any of those shout-outs at the end of the year. I mean, this is the year so many incredible people had books out: Eugenides, Oondatje, Murakami, Tea Obreht, Geraldine Brooks, etc. So no, I wasn't expecting any of it--but once I did, I loved it!

I’ve heard rumors that you’re working on a novel based on mother-daughter relationships. What stage are you at with that? Do you feel like you’ll have as much time to develop it as you did with TBMH or are you feeling pressure to get it finished and turned in to your editor?

I'm going to plead the fifth on that one, before I get into trouble! I'm very superstitious about discussing books in progress. Actually, there's a really fascinating story about how this new book is coming together, but I'm going to wait to tell that story when the actual book eventually comes out. I have a tendency to spill the beans, and I need to hold myself back!

But to answer your question, I think everyone wants to know that you have something in the pipeline, but they'd rather you take longer and produce something great, than rush with a not-so-great book.

Okay, I'll accept that. For now :P

Anyway, thanks so much for having me on your blog! It's been a pleasure!

Thank YOU, Sam! And let me know when you're ready to talk about that new novel. I'm eager to see what you come up with next!

You can read more about Sam and This Burns my Heart by visiting his blog and website:

Watch his book trailer on YouTube.

If you'd like to win a copy of This Burns my Heart, let me know in the comments. This contest is only open to U.S. residents. Leave your comment before 9pm Pacific time on Tuesday, March 27. I'll announce the winner on Wednesday, March 28.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Inspiring Katie Anderson

I can’t even begin to tell you how happy it made me to read this yesterday in Publisher’s Weekly.

Because I remember back in 2009, when Katie was depressed after the SCBWI conference. She thought she had finished writing a fabulous book, but editors and agents didn’t. They liked the concept but thought it needed major reworking.

I remember reading the first five chapters after she started revising and thinking, holy crap, if this book doesn’t make it big, then something’s wrong with the world.

I remember how excited she was when she had multiple agents trying to sign her, how sad she was when her book made it to acquisitions, only to be turned down. I can hear her voice in my head right now, encouraging me as we both went through Submissionitis.

Katie worked for YEARS revising and submitting and revising some more. She thought this book was dead. She even wrote a post, almost exactly one year ago, called "The Death of a Book." To have it come back to life, and in such a big way, it’s karma people. Good things have come to the woman who wrote and revised. And waited.

I am so proud of you Katie, so thrilled that the world is going to get to read your book, see your movie and wear your lip gloss! YES! It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.

Read the Publisher's Weekly story then go congratulate her


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Everyone Just Wants to be Loved

My 12yo plans to have a career in film, so he tends to analyze everything he watches. Nothing escapes his notice. He pays attention to the music, the acting, the storyline, the editing, and how they all work together.

As a rule, he tends to avoid romances. That mushy stuff has never been up his alley in books, and certainly not when it's acted out on the big screen. But he shared a realization with me the other day.

"All the best stories have romance in them, don't they?" he asked.

I gave him a quizzical look so he elaborated.

"My favorite movies, like Avatar. It's basically a love story, right? Inception? The most tragic love story of all. Every good movie has great action, funny stuff and an amazing story, but there's a romance at the center of it. All of it has to be there for it to be really good."

"Why do you think that is?" I asked.

He thought for a moment then shrugged. "I guess maybe everyone just wants to be loved."

Amazing, the lessons I keep learning from my kids...
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