Friday, April 29, 2011

My favorite part of the royal wedding

As the mother of two boys, I've watched Harry and William over the years with a special interest. My heart broke for them when their mother died. And watching as they walked behind Diana's casket? So, so sad.

As they walked into the church together today, I got teary, remembering that day. Here they are, years later, all grown up and such fine young men. Diana would be so proud.

So, my favorite moment? This one. Harry turns around and takes a peek at Kate (their backs were turned) and then says to his brother "Wait 'til you see her" with a very boyish grin. Oh Harry. I adore you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Things I'm contemplating today

After watching Good Morning America this morning for a few minutes: Is this whole Donald Trump thing a joke? Like, is someone going to jump out at some point and say - gotcha?

After scheduling a couple of college visits in May: Will the anxiety ever go away about the whole college thing and my first-born? If I think going somewhere local and living at home would be best for a year or two, should I make him do it or not?

After realizing my cell phone contract is up this month: How is a simple person like me supposed to figure out which smartphone might be best to get?

After talking with friends yesterday about going to NYC: What are the must-sees in NYC when you only have a few days, and part of that time will be spent meeting people?

After a few e-mails yesterday: What would I do without my wonderful, wise writing friends?

After my long walk with the dog yesterday: Is there anything better than standing underneath a blossoming cherry tree and just breathing?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Motivation - Battling the pre-release angst

If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you *think* about it.  ~Mary Engelbreit

I know of writers who are paralyzed while writing, afraid of what others will think of their work. I'm usually able to get past that fear by turning up the music, turning off the noise of the internet, and letting myself get lost in the world of my characters. I've come to accept I'm not as good of a writer as I'd like to be. But I do my best. That's all I can do. Some people will like my writing and some won't. And that's okay. My job isn't to write a book *everyone* will love. My job is to write a book to the best of my abilities in an only a way I could tell it. I'm not saying it's always easy. Hell no. But I seem to be able to push through the fear, most of the time, and do what I need to do. 

In THE BREAKOUT NOVELIST, Donald Maass says, "Having something to say, or something you wish us to experience, is what gives your novel force. Identify it. Make it loud. Do not be afraid of what's burning in your heart. When it comes through on the page, you will be a true storyteller."

I love that. "Do not be afraid of what's burning in your heart." Mmmmm... I will have to play that line on repeat when I eventually dive into revisions on my latest YA.

For me, the fear and worries come along after the writing is done. Long done. Usually, when the book is about to hit the shelves, which is sort of ridiculous, because at that point, there isn't anything I can do.

I'm trying hard to battle those fears and worries as the release date of THE DAY BEFORE draws near. How?

1) By limiting my time on social network sites. About now, twitter starts to make me crazy. Every tweet about a fantastic book trailer reminds me that I don't have one and makes me anxious that I should. Every tweet about a book released in June reminds me there are lots of good books coming out in June and makes me wonder how mine will ever get noticed. Every tweet about a starred review makes my heart long a little more for one of my own. I could go on and on. When social networking starts to hurt me more than it helps me, it's time to let it go and not feel bad about it. 

2) By focusing on the good stuff, and saying thanks for them. Thank you for another book published. Thank you for my loyal readers (whether there are 4 or 4,444) who are excited about another book from me. Thank you for the opportunity to spend my days writing, and making an income off that work. Thank you, always, thank you.

3) By reminding myself of what I have accomplished instead of always thinking about what others have accomplished that I haven't. Easy to say. Harder to do.

4) By doing things that feed my soul - exercise, nature walks, movies, spending time with loved ones, and yes, writing. It seems some authors deal with the angst by being on-line more. Tweeting more, blogging more, giving stuff away, etc. etc. I don't find that works well for me. But you know, that's me.

5) By reminding myself that my worth as a human being is not tied up in how well my book sells. If my book doesn't sell well, it doesn't mean I am a bad person or even a terrible writer. There are too many factors at play for poor sales to really mean any ONE thing.

6) By celebrating the success of others. It is REALLY important to be happy for the success of other authors. I want to put that positive energy out there. It's good for everyone, me included. 

7) By finding ways to help other people. I find when I'm stuck inside my head too long, the best thing I can do is look for an opportunity to do some good in the world. There are so many people with far bigger problems than I have, and I should be spending time trying to help some of those people.

8) And finally, by reading this quote, from author Sara Zarr, over and over and over again:

"A book is a wonderful, miraculous thing, but in some sense, it's also just a book."

Anything you would add to the list?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thankful Thursday

1. I am thankful that two more of my books will be in Scholastic fairs and clubs starting in the fall! YAY - this makes me all kinds of happy.

2. I am thankful that I had a fantastic conversation with my YA editor yesterday. She is so awesome and I hung up feeling incredibly blessed.

3. I am thankful we are supposed to have a sunny and warm day tomorrow! I have a house to clean and lots of shopping to do, and I am much more energized when the sun is shining.

4. I am thankful for a hair stylist who said to me yesterday, "Oh, I think you should, let's do it" when I told her I was thinking of growing out my bangs. She told me it will get really annoying for a while, which I knew, but that I MUST STICK WITH IT! I really sort of love it when people get firm with me in regards to very important matters.

5. I am thankful for the care my publisher has put into this book - I think it is so beautiful.

6. I am thankful for this movie that I can't wait to see. It's bittersweet though, because Lisa and I were supposed to watch it together. My husband said he'll go with me sometime in the next few weeks. The previews look great, and I just loved the book so much.

7. Most of all, I'm thankful for Easter. I have so many wonderful memories of family gatherings, Easter egg hunts and church services. I always wake up on Easter Sunday singing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" and pretty much hum it all day long. I love it.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's April 19th - do you know what that means?

These two books are now available in paperback!! I found IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES at Barnes and Noble yesterday. If you go searching for one of them and the bookstore you're in doesn't carry it, remember, you can always ask to order it.

This latest edition of IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES has a little taste of SPRINKLES AND SECRETS at the end. And CHASING BROOKLYN has a sneak peek of THE DAY BEFORE.

Happy reading!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Things I like about being traditionally published

There is talk all over the internet about the pros and cons of self-publishing. If you think it's right for you, than by all means, do what you think is right for you.

But it bothers me when people start knocking those of us who have chosen traditional publishing and are continuing to choose, in this changing landscape, traditional publishing. So here is my top ten list of things I currently like about being traditionally published. Could this change in six months, a year, or two years? Of course.

I like:

10) Working with an agent, who is my business partner and so much more. I love having someone in my corner all the time, no matter what. Working with an editor, who is invested in my book, to make my work the very best it can be. The editor-author relationship is a special one. I think it's a little like having a really good personal trainer, who pushes you and makes you work hard because he/she knows the results are worth the hard work. Every editor I've had has made me a better writer, and has taught me something. Those are no small things.

9) Having a design team with people who are experts at design, and have studied what sells and what doesn't. I'm not artistic at all, which makes me appreciate what they do all the more. I've had so many people tell me I've been blessed in the cover department, and I couldn't agree more.

8) Having a publishing house that looks out for you and your books and submits them for awards and lists. I think it's wonderful to win awards and to be on lists! FAR FROM YOU and CHASING BROOKLYN were both chosen for the Texas Tayshas high school reading list. IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES was recently chosen as a 2011 Bank Street College of Education Best Book for 9-12 year olds.

7) Having an agent and/or publishing house who works hard at getting my books noticed overseas. CHASING BROOKLYN will be released in Korea soon and in Germany next year. I love that!

6) Getting picked up by Scholastic Book Fairs/Clubs. IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES has done extremely well in the book fairs and clubs. I'm positive that many lower-income kids, who wouldn't have otherwise had access to my book, were able to buy and read it because Scholastic picked it up after my publisher submitted it to them.

5) Having a sales team who works on my behalf to get my books in bookstores, and talks up my book to the necessary people so I don't have to worry about distribution at all.

4) Having a marketing team who sends books out to get reviewed, posts those reviews in relevant places,   and does some work on my behalf to get the word out about my book.

3) I can do as much or as little promotion as I want to. It's really the publisher's job to try and sell the book, so I think of most of the burden as being on the publisher. I do what I can, which is not a whole lot when you really get down to it. And the truth is, I don't want to do a whole lot. I really don't care for the sales part of the publishing business - it's definitely not my strength.

2) Doing school visits where kids can purchase books for me to sign so they can take them home with them. Which leads me to the number one reason.

1) Doing events where kids come with one of my books clutched tightly to their chests, the pages dog-eared, as they smily shyly and tell me how much they loved the book. Sometimes they tell me they've shared it with friends, and I like thinking about that book being passed from one set of hands to another, while the words, "You have to read this" are whispered.

I will respect your reasons if you choose to go the self-publishing route. I hope you will respect mine for choosing not to.

Wishing everyone much success, whatever path you choose!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chasing Brooklyn - Korean Style

I'm going to rock the drop with these today at a local Korean church.

I have a couple of more copies I'd love to give away - if you or someone you know speaks Korean, let me know please!! I'd be happy to send you one if you live in the U.S.

I think it's so fun to see foreign editions of books!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring Cleaning

I hate cleaning. But I love the results. Sort of like exercising, sometimes. Sort of like writing, sometimes.

We cleaned all of the window tracks, which were in desperate need of cleaning. Yuck.

I cleaned the fridge, and my husband has since told me about ten times how nice it looks. Um, it wasn't that bad, was it?

We bought a new stove and the new one is so pretty and shiny... and clean! I know, that doesn't really count, but I'm still including it. Because it's so shiny! So clean!! How come they can't stay that way?

Then, there was the toy room. Oh, the toy room. My boys are 13 (almost 14, ack!) and 16. They hardly went in the toy room anymore, except to get clothes, because their dressers were in there. I knew it was time to sort, give away, and put away. But I was in no hurry, because, ugh, what a big job. Then one night a few weeks ago my 16 YO said, I think I want my own room. Until now, they've shared a room because they wanted to. Poor G. I think his feelings were hurt a tiny bit. Like - you want to move away from me??? Of course it wasn't personal, but I know it felt that way. He's a pretty easy going kid, though, and seems to be doing okay since the big move.

Anyway... pictures!



Yes, it's very plain. That's how he wants it, I guess.

Now I have a nasty cold. I will have to tackle the cupboards and closets another week. Darn.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Linky Dink Tuesday

April is National Poetry Month. Did you know? I hope so! I am doing various interviews around the web in honor of this wonderful month, talking about verse novels mostly. I will link to them as I can.

Today you can find a conversation on the subject between me and Kimberly Marcus, the author of the fabulous YA novel EXPOSED, over at E. Kristin Anderson's blog. We talk a lot about process, if you find that sort of thing interesting. Make sure and check out her blog all month long - she has some amazing authors lined up every single day in the month of April.

On Thursday, I will be speaking and signing books at the Barnes and Noble in Vancouver, WA as they honor middle school and high school educators with an Educator Appreciation Event. Educators get 25% off their purchases that evening! If you are in Portland or Vancouver, I hope you'll come out! Information is HERE.

This Thursday is also YALSA's Support Teen Lit Day. Readergirlz and are teaming up and encouraging people to "Rock the Drop." Micol posted about it on the Contemps blog today, if you'd like to learn more about this great event.

And finally, the winner of the ARC of SPRINKLES AND SECRETS that I donated for the Kidlit4Japan auction wrote to me to let me know her and her 10-year-old daughter enjoyed the book very much and to show their appreciation for getting to read it earlier than most, they wrote a nice review for it on goodreads.

Have a great day!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Motivation: thinking about word-of-mouth

I think about it often. What makes a person tell a friend, "You HAVE to read this book."

We all know word-of-mouth is the best promotion there is. So what makes people talk about a book? I read many books - so what is it that makes ME talk about a book? 

I don't think it's necessarily one thing. I think it's a number of things mixed together with a little magic sprinkled on top that create a fantastic reading experience.  

Here's my list of things:

1) A gripping story. I think it is usually a story we haven't heard a hundred times before. A story that pulls us in, and it's hard to put the book down once you start reading. It is a unique reading experience, and the story is one you are excited to hear. Examples I can think of: WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen and MATCHED by Ally Condie

2) A character or characters we admire. Maybe they make us cheer. Maybe they make us laugh. Maybe they make us feel things we haven't felt in a long time, if ever. Maybe they open up a hidden space inside of us we didn't even know existed! Maybe their strength and determination or their steadfast love and devotion to someone makes us cry. Whatever it is, I think the character(s) have to think and/or act in a way that makes us go WOW. It's not enough to just like a character. To really make a reader grip the book at the end and scream to the world, I LOVE this book, the characters connect with us on a deep, personal level. Possible examples: THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett and THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger

3) Good writing. Some will argue this is not necessary. Certainly there have been books that have been popular where the writing was less than stellar. But often, it IS a key ingredient in the books that become huge hits by word-of-mouth. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson is one I'm thinking of as well as BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver. I've read books where the premise was fabulous, but in the end, I was let down by the writing. Stilted dialogue or inconsistencies in how the characters talk or act will take a book down a few notches for me. And those kinds of things will often keep me from recommending a book.

4) We can see ourselves there. Some books do an incredible job at making us feel as if we are there. Maybe we want to be, maybe we don't, depending on the story, but regardless, it is easy to picture the setting, the characters, the world, and once we are immersed in it, it is hard to leave. BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys was like this for me. It is a tragic story and yet, it was so REAL and I could not set that book down, as hard as it was at times to read.

5) It elicits strong emotions. I often don't remember details in books, because I have a terrible memory, but I can tell you I DO remember how a book made me feel. Sometimes I feel like I'm leaving treasured friends behind as I turn the last page, as it was with ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins. Sometimes I feel changed in how I view life, as it was with THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusack. Sometimes I feel I've read something that is a once-in-a-lifetime reading experience, as it was with LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green.

I do think there is a bit of magic that happens in a book where everything comes together and it becomes the book everyone talks about. It isn't a formula or an equation - a little of this plus a lot of that times a sprinkling of that will get you word of mouth. If it was, someone would have developed it by now and we'd be able to buy it on every corner. 

I'm curious - do you think about these things as you write? Do you try to write a book that people will read and be so touched/amazed/shocked/whatever that they HAVE to tell everyone about it? I admit, the longer I'm at this, the more I think about the word-of-mouth factor. Lots of people write good books. Some people write amazing books. And a select few people write books that people read and talk about for years. I say, go for the gold. What have we got to lose, right?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday Five

1. Vampire Diaries was like WHOA this week. So much going on, my little brain could hardly keep up! My take-away for my writing - keep your reader guessing. Predictability is not as fun as BIG SURPRISES.

2. Every time I watch VD, I am in awe of Nina's (Elana's) tall, thin legs. I can't help but think how fun it must be to shop if you are tall and thin like that. I am sick of all of my clothes, and yet, just the thought of going shopping causes me to break out into hives. I'm SO tired of shopping for clothes for my short and, um, curvy self. 

3. I have been doing cleaning projects around my house this week. All of the window tracks have been cleaned. The toy room was cleaned out so my oldest son can move in there (my boys have shared a room all of this time because they wanted to!) Today I get to clean the refrigerator. So excited (not).

4. The sun is shining today, which means after the fridge is clean and shiny, I can reward myself with a nice, long walk. March was so wet and gray. My husband said he read somewhere that it rained every day in March except one. I'm so ready for summer I can't even tell you.

5. I'm going to wake up tomorrow and start a new book. It is a book with the best title ever. There is nothing better than a great title to get me excited about writing. I haven't written anything book-wise for a couple of months, so it's time!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Literary Agent Donald Maass has a new book out. The back of the book reads, "The all-inclusive guide for novel writers. If you're serious about making your fiction vibrant, engaging, and marketable, you've found the right book. The Breakout Novelist gives you the craft and business know-how you need to make your book stand out."

This book combines information from his workshops and his previous books, and includes some exercises to help you work though your own novel and take it to the next level.

What I love about Donald Maass is how he explains things in a way that is easy to understand. Sometimes I read books about novel writing and I have to think really hard to "get it." Not so with Maass' books. He's very clear in what he says, and he backs up his ideas with examples from a variety of novels to show us what he means.

I went through and underlined some of the lines that resonated with me. Let me share a few of them with you:

"Regardless of category, a great many manuscripts have one common problem: not enough is happening. Action isn't necessarily the answer. The solution begins with the recognition that plot really means the events which must occur for a character to move from one state of being to another."

"Great scenes are a novel's building blocks, yet their fundamentals are surprisingly little understood."

"What is certainly true of all great characters is they are larger than life. I do not mean they are unrealistic. Quite the contrary. What I mean is they act, speak, and think in ways you or I most of the time cannot, or at any rate do not. They are saying the things we wished we had said. They do things we dream about doing. They grow and change in ways we wish that we could."

"What happens to the characters in the course of the story is unusual, dramatic, and meaningful. A great story involves great events. Not wars or wonderments, necessarily, but certainly events with impact."

"In both life and fiction, when people act in ways that are unusual, unexpected, dramatic, decisive, full of consequence, and irreversible, we remember them and talk about them for years. Isn't that the effect you want to achieve?"

This book makes me want to do great things with my writing. It makes me want to dig deep and to work hard. That's what I think a good craft book does - it not only teaches you things, it inspires you to want to *do* those things.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Motivation - Keep revising or shelve it?

Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.  ~Author Unknown

Let's say you write a novel. You spend months, maybe even years, writing page after page after page. For the most part, it's fun. You love spending time with your characters. Once in a while, you wonder whether you can do it, whether you can really finish the thing, and some days you have to bribe yourself to simply open the document. But you keep telling yourself to just get the story down. Just write, even if it's bad and doesn't make sense, just keep writing.

So you do. Day after day after day, you write. And then one day, something wonderful happens. You finish that novel! HOORAY! 

After that, you let it rest, like you're supposed to. You spend time away from it so you can come back with fresh eyes and do what needs to be done - rip it to shreds (ha).

When you've done everything you know how to do, you then seek feedback from other writers. Because you know it's hard to see the forest for the trees.  They help you identify plot holes, flat characters, unrealistic dialogue, pacing problems - the list goes on and on.

There is a lot of work to be done. Suddenly, you have doubts. Big doubts. Will this story ever be good enough? Can you make it good enough? 

One of the hardest decisions writers have to make, I think, is deciding between continuing on with a work-in-progress or putting it away and starting over with something new.

When I wrote my first novel, a middle-grade, years ago, I revised it and then took it to a conference for feedback. I got mixed reviews on the first pages - some liked it, some didn't. One editor did ask me to send her the manuscript, which I did. She ended up rejecting it, as did a few agents I queried. 

I didn't exhaust my list of agents with that book. It only took a few rejections for me to know it was time to stick it away and try writing something else. How did I come to that conclusion? I think it was a combination of things, but I remember hearing editors and authors speak at the conference, and something resonated with me. Your story has to be one others will be *excited* to read. Your premise has to make someone sit up and say - oh, that sounds GOOD! And then, when they are excited, you have to be able to deliver in a big way. 

My first novel didn't have that. My second novel might have had it, but then there were plot problems. I took it into weird territory, and I could never figure out how to fix it. My third novel was better, but still... I just couldn't get things to come together quite right. 

I've always said, I don't view those early novels I wrote as a waste of time. I view them as my schooling. With each one, I learned things. And still today, when I write, I'm learning things. After all, there is a LOT to learn! 

I think these are the questions you should ask yourself as you evaluate whether to keep going with a manuscript:

1) Is your premise unique? 

2) Can you describe what your book is about in one sentence? What are people's reaction when you share that sentence with them? Be honest here.

3) Is there lots of tension in your story? Does your main character go through some difficult stuff? If not, are you up to the task of adding in tension? 

Donald Maass, literary agent, says this, in The Breakout Novelist (which I'll be reviewing here soon): "Beginning novelists tend to tell their stories in strict sequential order, following the protagonist through her every day from sunrise to sleep, over and over again, until the novel is completed. That can make for some dull reading. The essence of story is conflict. That principle is so well understood, so often espoused, and so universally taught, it is easily the underlying and fundamental component of plot. Why, then, do so many manuscripts ration out conflict the way water is rationed on a desert trek?"

4) Are your characters memorable? Do they have qualities about them that will make a reader remember them long after they've turned the last page? They can't just be characters we meet everyday in life. They need to be special somehow. A little bit extraordinary. 

If we look at Isabel in the middle-grade novel, It's Raining Cupcakes, at first glance, she may seem like just an ordinary girl. She doesn't always get along with her mom, like many girls. She is sometimes a little bit envious of her best friend, like many girls. She rides her bike, she collects turtles, she likes to bake. All ordinary things. But she has a dream. A *big* dream. And through the book, she chases that dream, and what makes it so hard is one of the biggest obstacles of Isabel getting her dream is her very own mother. I know lots of people don't like Isabel's mom. They don't like how Isabel takes on more than a 12-year-old girl should have to take on in regards to her mother. But you see, THAT IS THE POINT. That's what makes Isabel memorable - she keeps going in spite of her mother. And that's what makes the reader route for Isabel all the more.

5) And finally, is this a story you can see people getting excited about, and passing around to other people after they've read it? WHY will they be excited? If there is one element of the story you say - yes, this is exciting stuff, you need to make sure THAT element is the major element of the plot. Move things around so that exciting thing is pulling the reader through the story. 

If you go through these questions and you feel deflated after reading them, not energized, then it may be time to put the current manuscript away and start working on something new. If you choose to do this, please understand, it's okay! It doesn't make you a failure! I know I wouldn't have four published novels and three more on the way if I hadn't been brave enough to shelve projects that just weren't cutting it and start in on something new.

Writers write. They keep moving forward. Sometimes that will be in making a manuscript the best it will be. And other times, that will be starting fresh with a new manuscript and saying, "I can do better. I will do better this time."

Noah Lukeman, literary agent and author of The First Five Pages, says at the end of the book, "The ultimate message of this book, though, is not that you should strive for publication, but that you should become devoted to the craft of writing, for its own sake."

If you think of it that way, there really is no right or wrong in relation to the work-in-progress. Get quiet, listen to your gut, and do that. Our instincts usually aren't wrong.