Monday, February 1, 2016

Happy February!

I am trying to like February more than I have in the past. It's always a tough month for me, because my body is ready for more daylight. I long for less rain and more sun. And when February rolls around, it starts to feel like the grayness and the rain will never leave, and it can make me kind of cranky.

But I also believe that so much of how things go is partly influenced by our attitude at the outset. So today I'm trying hard to say - hooray, February is here! Can you see that pained smile on my face as I say it? Maybe I just need to fake it 'til I make it - that's what I'm trying out, I guess. We'll see if it makes a difference this year.

Kind of related - did y'all see this list of goals that author Octavia Butler made years ago? (Sorry, sometimes I just become Tami Taylor for no good reason. Texas Forever, y'all.) Anyway, Octavia Butler is the Queen of Goals, for sure. What's that saying - Believe it then you will see it? Mkay, I'm gonna believe February will be awesome and hopefully it will be so. If halfway through I give up and just want to curl up into a ball and have a Friday Night Lights marathon, well, at least I tried.

If I had my way, I'd just go to Maui for the whole month of February and be done with it. Now THAT would definitely affect a change in my attitude. (Here is a picture of me hiking through a bamboo forest a few years ago). Ahhhh... I miss you, Maui.

January wrapped up with with more good news. THE BRIDGE FROM ME made another list - it's a nominee for Iowa's teen book award. Thanks to the librarians there!

I have a bunch of promo work to do this month to get ready for the release of THE GIRL IN THE TOWER. (Speaking of which - if you're on Goodreads, there is a giveaway for FIVE Advanced copies. But hurry, it ends Friday!) And I need to start writing a contracted book that's due in a few months. So it will be a busy one, but it's all good. I'm constantly reminded how fortunate I am to be doing this writing thing for a living. Yes, there are frustrations and heartaches, but there are also celebrations around books and reading - two things I've loved my whole life. To be a part of the business of putting books in the hands of kids and teens is pretty incredible.

I'm wishing y'all a wonderful February. Eat lots of chocolate which the shelves are full of right now. I've heard it helps.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Good news times two!

First bit of good news - I reached the end on my manuscript over the weekend! Did you hear my cheers across the miles? Oh, I was so happy! And I'm really pleased with it, in general, which is always a good feeling.

I revise a lot as I go along, it's what works best for me, so by the time I reach the end I have a pretty clean draft. (Please note if you are a writer and you do NOT work this way, it's okay - we all have to figure out what works best for ourselves. There is no "right way"). Still, I will be going through it this week and doing some revision before I send it off to my agent to see what she thinks.

The other bit of good news is that THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU is a South Carolina 2016-17 Junior Book award nominee. Making state lists is always great because it means more kids will find your book.

I was thinking I might go do a little shopping to celebrate. I still have a bookstore gift card I haven't used yet from Christmas - ack! But first, I better finish those revisions...

Monday, January 18, 2016

What I'm up to and an audio book recommendation

Nothing to see here.

I'm hammering away at the keyboard. Well, some of the time. I also stare out the window a lot, put my head in my hands while trying not to cry, and drink a lot of tea.

I have a self-imposed deadline of February first that I'm trying to meet - I want a finished draft. That's two more weeks, I think. I hope I can do it!!

I'm reading a lot of books for research right now, so I'm not getting much done in the way of reading for fun. EXCEPT, I'm listening to the recent Newbery Honor Award and Odyssey Honor Award winner, ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan, on audio in the car and oh my gosh, it is probably one of the best audio books I've ever listened to. The story has a strong musical component to it, and they hired a musician to play various instruments throughout the recording. Plus the narrators are fabulous. It's really excellent. I love a good audio book - there is just something about having a story read to you that never gets old.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Trade reviews for The Girl in the Tower

It's about that time...

We're a little more than two months away from the release of THE GIRL IN THE TOWER. I'm working on a book trailer now - hoping to have it ready in a couple of weeks. It's pretty wonderful, if I do say so myself. I know, I'm so humble. But really, I can say that because it's made up entirely of art by the fabulous illustrator, Nicoletta Ceccoli. All I've done is put the lovely images together in some kind of meaningful manner. Hopefully.

In the meantime, I'm going to tease you a bit with some of the best parts of the trade reviews we have thus far.

School Library Journal says - "Forced to decide between her true destiny and the luxurious life of a princess, Violet makes tough decisions based on character and courage... Recommended for fans of fairy tales and modern Disney princesses.

Publishers Weekly says - "Kids will find it easy to root for determined Violet as she sets out to secure her family's freedom...her courage and hope light up the pages of this sweetly quaint fairy tale."

You can pre-order at Powells, Barnes and Noble, Amazon or your local bookstore!

Monday, January 4, 2016

A look back - 2015

While I don't necessarily enjoy writing these "year in review" posts very much, I sure do appreciate having them to read later on. So here I go as we say good-bye to another year and hello to a new one! It's hard to say what I was working on in any given month. I don't really write that down in my calendar. I'm just always working on *something.* 

A little recognition for my small-town, big-dreams book

I was notified that THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU was an Oregon Book award finalist, which was wonderful news. Ultimately, it didn't win (April Henry's THE BODY IN THE WOODS took home the award) but it's always nice to be nominated. In January, I also finished a proposal for the book that would become SEALED WITH A SECRET, a companion novel to MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS (coming in May, 2016)

A new middle grade novel!

I worked hard on this novel for a lot of years, so it was fun to finally have it out in the world. I've gotten a lot of notes from people who have enjoyed it, which makes me happy! Besides the book release, my calendar shows a lot of substituting. And shuttling my son, who was a senior in high school last year, from school to home because he had early release and didn't drive. This year he's away at college -- we just took him back yesterday. I often hear parents complain about feeling like a taxi driver, but I never mind that part of parenting. Some of my best conversations with my kids happen in the car. 

Let's talk about reading and writing

I love visiting with kids, both virtually and in-person. In March I participated in World Read Aloud Day and read aloud to a bunch of kids all across the country. I also visited some middle schools in Grants Pass and had so much fun talking doing that! One of my favorite things about doing school visits is that kids often get the opportunity to take home a signed book. I was so impressed with the girl who told me she saved her dog-walking money so she could buy four of my books and get them signed and personalized.

My friend Cynthia Lord

The highlight of April was definitely meeting a friend I've known on the Internet for many years but had never met in person. When I heard Cynthia Lord (author of RULES and others) she was coming to my city for a school visit, I jumped at the chance to see her. We went out for dinner together and the next day I was lucky enough to be able to attend one of her presentations. She is so good at talking to kids, and I learned a lot from her. We forgot to take a photo at dinner, so we took a selfie in the car together. I love it! 

The first Cavalcade of Authors West

There's a great program in the tri-cities area of Washington that happens every year called the Cavalcade of Authors where authors come and teach middle school kids on many different writing topics. Last year, the Seattle area decided it was time they implemented something similar and I was fortunate enough to be invited for this inaugural year. Um, don't be too jealous but that is me on a panel with Marissa Meyer (THE LUNAR CHRONICLES),  Richelle Mead, (VAMPIRE ACADEMY) and Terry Trueman (STUCK IN NEUTRAL). It is so hard not to be a total fangirl at these events, let me tell you. May was also spent writing SEALED WITH A SECRET.

The month of freak out

Lots of times when I talk to kids they want to know what it's like to have a book published. To have a book with your name show up in bookshelves across the country. Of course in a lot of ways, it's thrilling. Wonderful. Humbling. But it also can be terrifying. Because the words you've slaved over, the words you've changed and changed and changed again, trying to get it *just* right, will now be read and dissected by people. I don't think I'd ever been as nervous about a book releasing as I was for ALL WE HAVE IS  NOW. I tried to keep my head down, I needed to finish the companion to MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS after all, but I also spent a fair amount of time worrying. Which is not a good way to spend my time, I know. But there you have it. I often tell kids who are wanting to be writers to try to stay focused on learning the craft and writing for fun and to practice because publishing is a TOUGH business. To say you have to have a thick skin for the criticism that will undoubtedly come your way when a book is published is an understatement. Maybe that's what I was doing in June - preparing my skin for what was to come. Because boy, did it come.

My seventh YA novel

When I did a librarian event in October, I had a librarian come up to me, so excited to tell that this is probably her favorite YA novel that she's read in the past ten years. It's one of the best compliments I've ever received about my writing. I could tell you the other things that have said about this book, but I'm not going to. I'm going to focus on the positive. Every day I try to remind myself I don't write for the people who dislike my books, I write for the books who DO like them. Not always easy to remember, but I try!

Time for some fun

I saw James Bay in concert. I took my husband to see Wicked for the first time (my third time, his first). I ate lots of peaches. Did a fun event at Seattle University Bookstore with some other authors. Soaked up the sun. (I miss you, sun!). 

College, here he comes

There was a lot of shopping in September. A lot of "making lists and checking them twice" to make sure he'd have everything he needed. He's only two hours away, but still, I wanted to get it right. It's hard to leave home and it made me feel better to know we'd done everything we could to make his new room as comfy and cozy as possible. 

New York City!

This was probably the highlight of the year! Oh, we had so much fun, my husband and me. It was great to lunch with my editors and to see the places where books are made and where dreams come true. I want to go back again soon. It had been four years since I'd been there (my first time), and it was too long. Next time I want to go with my husband in the late spring or early fall when it's much warmer. It was a little too cold at times for me. 

Switching gears

After some disappointing news, I did some soul searching and decided to work on something new. It's secret. Super secret. I've only told a few people. I love it. I'm going to keep working on it because I want to finish it and because I think it's good, dang it. This business has been and always will be a roller coaster. The main thing is to keep writing through it all, and that's what I always try to do.

A sad month

There were four sad days in December, when I logged in to Social Media and felt my heart break for myself and friends who had lost someone wonderful. I don't really have it in me to elaborate so I'll just leave you with this thought that I posted on my author FB page. 

As I look ahead to the new year, I want to do a better job remembering that the best things in life are the little things and the best friends/family in life are the ones who are always happy to see you, and to treasure them every day. 

Happy new year!!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Merry Merry

Look, we finally got our tree up yesterday!

Now I just need to buy and wrap some presents to put under it. Why does this month always just zoom by so fast? It's not fair. Need. More. Time!

I posted these pics on facebook, but thought I'd post them here as well, in case you want to check and see which titles you might like to put on your list. It's not too late! Okay, almost, but not quite.

For the 12+ crowd:

For the 8+ crowd:

I'm going to sign off now until the new year, because did I mention there is so much to DO? If only I could join the dog here. Maybe December 26th...

Happy holidays to you and yours!


Thursday, December 3, 2015

On beginnings and the awesomeness of Kate DiCamillo

Recently I substituted in the library of an elementary school. At this school, each class has about 25 minutes in the library, so the Media Assistant reads a picture book or two and then lets the class loose to pick out books.

Right before my last class of the day, second graders, the technology teacher told me she had to cover another class and so I would have the class of 28 kids for 45 minutes instead of the usual 25. For a moment, I panicked. How could I possibly entertain them for that long?

"I need a good book," I thought.

So I went over to the D section to see what might be available in the Kate DiCamillo section. Lucky for me, there was one copy of BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE checked in.

I hadn't read it in a while, even though it is one of my favorites. But I have faith in Kate. At least I thought I did until I had those 28 faces looking up at me from the carpet where they sat.

See, second graders are in this kind of weird stage when it comes to reading and books. I remember with my two sons, second grade was a really challenging time. They're often not quite ready for middle grade novels, even though they want to be.

"Do you think you guys will be okay with a book that doesn't have any pictures?" I asked. Some of them nodded. Some of them shook their heads. "I bet you can do it. It's fun to use your imagination,  right?"

And so, with a wish and a prayer, I opened the book and began reading. As I read those first pages, immediately drawn in to when Opal walks into that grocery store and sees everyone fussing over a dog (a stinky, ugly dog), I was reminded of what is so magical about this book. We are rooting for Winn-Dixie. And we are rooting for Opal. I read two chapters to those kids, and for fifteen minutes, they were completely captivated. The author does an amazing job of dropping in bits and pieces of background information here and there rather than a big info. dump. This is so important with younger kids, because it can really pull you away from what you care about - the situation at hand. In this case, Opal finding a dog, taking it home, and wondering if her father (the preacher, as she calls him) will let her keep him.

The other thing I noticed is what a master DiCamillo is at speaking kid-language. I mean, look at this great passage - we get a wonderful image of what Winn-Dixie looks like.

"Once we were outside, I checked him over real careful and he didn't look that good. He was big but skinny; you could see his ribs. And there were bald patches all over him, places where he didn't have any fur at all. Mostly, he looked like a big piece of old brown carpet that had been left out in the rain."

So I'm jotting mental notes to myself as I'm reading: create suspense/tension right off the bat, create characters you can't help but root for as quickly as possible, keep background information to a minimum, and watch the language and rhythm of the story, using details kids can easily pick up on. Yes, I've heard these all before, but it's so powerful when you actually see it in action.

I'm actually thankful I had that class for a longer period of time. It was a good lesson for me in what holds kids' attention. And now I've decided I'm going to keep reading this gem of a book. Two chapters was all it took to remind me of how much I love it. I can't wait to revisit the other characters Opal will get to meet in the coming pages.

So once again I just have to say - hooray for Kate DiCamillo! She has a new book coming out in April, 2016 called RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE, and I am so, SO excited!