Monday, March 30, 2009

Just for Fun Letter Slam!

Julie Larios, the poetess extraordinaire at Vermont College of Fine Arts, has started a favorite things list on her blog, The Drift Record. She graciously assigned me the letter S - and I'm to come up with 10 things I love that start with S...sssso, here goes! (Oh, and check out my friend Mikki on the letter C!)
Want to play? Post a comment and I'll post you a letter!

1. My Son and my Spouse. The lights of my life. My son is also the reason I write for children.

2. Star Trek. Yes, I'm a trekkie from way, way back. And now I share this affection with my son. It's nice to have anything non- controversial to share. He would here add Starbuck (the pilot, not the coffee).

3. September in the north. Cool nights, blue-sky days, fall colors, fires in the fireplace, school (okay - I was a nerd).

4. Seeds. When I have the time, I'm a gardener. And I love to grow things from scratch, so to speak (golly, all these S's!)

5. The Seine. Paris. Need I say more?

6. Shakespeare. Am I cheating with this one? Too easy? Too obvious? Oh, but wait - hasn't he become a hunk lately?

7. Stars. I like night. When I was a kid, I was terrified of the dark. Now I love it. We live outside of town, and the main reason is to be away from all those lights at night, so we can see the stars. And watch for Vulcans.

8. The supernatural. Anything unexplained. I adore mysteries.

9. Strawberries. A fruit shaped like a heart.

10. Stories!

Runners-up: Sleep, snow, sparklers, silk, spring...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t want to like this novel. A dystopian society that controls its population by pitting children against one another in life and death public combat is not my idea of a fun place to spend time. But – I was hooked from the first, and once in, I could not put The Hunger Games down. Collins’s pacing is tight, stemming from her straighforward sentence structure and sparse but effective description. Her world is believable, and she sprinkles masterful touches throughout (“tracker jackers” are killer wasps; “muttations” or “mutts” are dog-like mutants; details – names, images – evoke ancient Rome.) I’m itching to get my hands on the sequel.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Book Launch: My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters

I'd like to introduce another debut novel for 2009, the hilarious MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS by Sydney Salter.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
The initial inspiration for the story came from one of my worst days in high school. Four days into my new summer job as a delivery driver for The Cake & Flower Shoppe, I backed into a short metal post, destroying the van’s sliding door. Later that same day, in an attempt to make amends for my earlier disaster, I set up some poor bride’s three-tiered wedding cake by myself. I ran to help my distressed boss with the flowers. When I came back, the cake had tumbled off its columns into a ball of frosting and grass. Needless to say, I was fired. For the novel, I combined my worst day with my worst insecurity: my big nose. The title kind of wrote itself.

The book has a true teen voice. How did you manage it? Is any part of it autobiographical?
I’ve kept a daily diary since high school so I reread several volumes before writing MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS. I even snuck a few of my 17-year-old self’s words into the manuscript, but ironically those were the ones my editor flagged as not sounding like Jory’s voice.

Besides the delivery van incident, there are a few other autobiographical things. My mother did experiment with crazy diets while I was growing up, including the Dinner For Breakfast Diet. I also had my characters do a lot of things I enjoyed doing with my Reno High friends like hanging out at Lake Tahoe.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS is my fourth effort. I started seriously writing for children when my youngest daughter entered preschool—I made the most of those brief hours and completed three manuscripts. Feeling a bit discouraged by the submission and rejections process, I decided to try something new and wrote my fourth manuscript during National Novel Writing Month (it was so much fun!).

Can you describe your path to the publication of MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS?
Recognizing that MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS was my most commercial book, I decided to only query agents. I received several nice rejection letters—one agent I’d met at the SCBWI New York Intensive didn’t offer to represent me, but recommended Firebrand Literary. And that’s how I found my agent! I went through a few rounds of revisions with my agent, Ted Malawer, before he submitted the manuscript to publishers. We accepted Harcourt’s offer to publish two YA novels while I was in the airport on my way to the SCBWI LA conference. I loved celebrating my good news with fellow writers!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Finish your manuscripts—force yourself to keep writing even when you feel stuck. Read everything from award-winners to commercial successes (you can learn something from all of them). Write the next book, then go back and rewrite the first one. Get to know other writers by attending conferences and workshops. Join SCBWI. Meet industry professionals. Learn to take criticism and revise. Take yourself seriously. Persistence will pay off.

Can you tell us something about your writing life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I absolutely love writing and can’t imagine doing anything else. As a debut author I’m working on figuring out how to balance a more rigorous writing schedule with my family life (I’m married and have two school-age daughters). I’m also learning how to market my books—and diving into the overwhelming realm of online social networking. I have so much to learn. And so much unfolded laundry!

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
My first middle-grade novel, JUNGLE CROSSING, comes out from HM Harcourt on September 28, 2009 (that’s my very first writing effort). I’m also revising another humorous teen novel called SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK (HM Harcourt/Graphia 2010). Oh, and brainstorming the next one…

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS? You can also check out my blog at

Monday, March 23, 2009

Operation TBD

Check out this quote from the press release for "Operation Teen Book Drop":

"Teen patients in pediatric hospitals across the United States will receive 8,000 young-adult novels, audiobooks, and graphic novels next week as readergirlz, Guys Lit Wire, and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) celebrate the third annual Support Teen Lit Day on April 16.

In its second year, “Operation TBD” (short for Teen Book Drop), puts free books donated by 18 book publishers into the hands of many teens most in need of escape, inspiration and a sense of personal accomplishment. Books with exceptional characters and fabulous stories can provide just that for teens and their families dealing with difficult, long-term hospital stays.

At a time when philanthropic giving is down, readergirlz co-founders have been inspired by overwhelming industry support for Operation TBD. “readergirlz is always looking for innovative ways to connect teens with literature, “ said Dia Calhoun, co-founder of readergirlz and acclaimed young-adult author. “We’re honored that publishers have supported this goal by giving so liberally this year.” "

I'm so impressed with these authors and their efforts. Go Girlz and Guys!

For more information see the readergirlz blog and view their trailer.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Craft Issue # 3: Research Methods

My debut novel, Faithful (Puffin, 2010), is historical fiction. When I started writing it four years ago, I knew a great deal about the setting: the bulk of the story takes place in Yellowstone National Park (, not far from where my family vacations. Researching the Park was made easier by the wonderful new research center located just outside of Gardiner, Montana. And I'd already spent a great deal of time in the Park; I made several special trips to hone my descriptions.

But knowing how to depict other details of the time period - language, clothing, transportation, culture - that took more intensive research. There are tons of resources, and I'd like to share a couple.

Clothing research for this project began with finding period pictures. Dover Publications ( specializes in archival books, including period clothing catalogues. Combing those catalogues allowed me to choose actual outfits for my character, complete with fabric choices. Costume exhibits in museums supported this pictorial research.

The New York Times ( historical society pages were also helpful. I found it intriguing to read between the lines in some of these small pieces, which often contain detailed descriptions of clothing, houses, and activities.

But one of the most useful internet sources I discovered was Project Gutenberg (, an electronic database of out-of-copyright books. I searched for the best-selling books of my time period, and then was able to download entire manuscripts of those books, all well out of print and otherwise unavailable. Reading those books gave me a flavor of language and manners of the time.

If you have favorite research tools, I'd love to have you share.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Launch: Jane in Bloom

Another 2k9 book launch interview, this with author Deborah Lytton for her debut JANE IN BLOOM:

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, JANE IN BLOOM. It is a moving and lovely story. What inspired it?
JANE IN BLOOM was inspired by a piece I saw on television about forgotten siblings. They were the ones lost in a family which was centered on a problem child. These children felt like they were invisible. I found the piece so moving that I wanted to write a book about a girl who felt invisible because she was the forgotten sister.

You deal with several difficult issues (feel free to elaborate, if you like). Was it challenging for you to address these questions?
The difficult issues I deal with in the book are eating disorders, grief and family dysfunction. It was challenging and exhausting to write this book. I was on an emotional rollercoaster along with my main character, Jane, but it was the only way I knew to write her story. Doing the research on eating disorders was painful because the first-hand accounts are heart-wrenching. I think the hardest part of writing this story was in making it realistic but also appropriate for younger readers. I wanted parents to be comfortable with their children reading this book.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I have been writing for children/teens for about eight years, and JANE IN BLOOM is my sixth novel, although it’s my first published book.

Can you describe your path to the publication of JANE IN BLOOM?
JANE IN BLOOM was submitted as a completed manuscript by my agent, Stacey Glick of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Julie Strauss-Gabel was interested in the manuscript, but wanted me to incorporate her notes in a revision. I revised the manuscript, and the next thing I knew, I had my first book deal with Dutton Children’s Books. After that, I began working on some additional revisions. Julie is an incredible editor because she supports the work and gives the writer so much freedom. The revision process was incredibly smooth. The hardest part has been waiting for the book to be released.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Write something you love, because you may be working on it for a long time.
Try to listen to criticism and apply it if it makes sense to you, but don’t let it discourage you from writing. Write. Every day. And try not to self-edit as you go, but try to give yourself the freedom to create.
Read, all kinds of different books but especially read the kinds of books you want to write.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
My biggest inspirations are my two daughters. It means so much to me to show them that dreams come true. After my release date, we’re going to the bookstore together so they can buy my book. I can’t wait.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I have just completed a new YA manuscript which I am really excited about. And I have started writing my next middle grade novel. In it, the main character plays guitar, so I am learning to play the guitar.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about JANE IN BLOOM?
My website is I have a section for people to write to me. I would love to hear from readers!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Book Review

Need Need by Carrie Jones

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I first started to read this book, I thought, ‘Uh-oh. Another of those single-name books about a virginal girl who heads north, falls in love with a beyond-handsome guy who happens to be, well (not to give anything away), different, is threatened by non-human beings, and never solves a real problem.' I was deeply delighted to discover how wrong I was, and how much I enjoyed this thrilling novel. For one thing, the protagonist is a winning character with a desire to save the world (unusual in fantasy), and for another, there are plenty of twists and turns and subplots to keep the reader guessing. I especially enjoyed Jones's use of various phobias as a plot thread, and the slightly unresolved ending is intriguing. A wonderful book that I had to finish reading in the daylight because the scary bits were impressively scary.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book Launch: Freaked

Announcing another book launch! J.T. Dutton's debut is FREAKED, and if you're still truckin', this book may be right up your alley:

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, FREAKED. The story is compelling. What inspired it?
I was asked to write a “dramatic monologue” for a class I was commuting to at Columbia University about seventeen years ago. One night, Jerry Garcia was playing at Madison Square Garden and the train car from Stamford was full of people (mostly teenagers) on their way to the city. I had been a Dead Head in college. I scrapped the piece I had already written and invented Scotty Douglas Loveletter’s voice instead. I developed the character for a novel later, when I was in graduate school, and then rewrote it again several years after that.

The time period in which you place the story is so clearly evoked. What kind of research did you have to do?
I wrote the first drafts of FREAKED during the time it is set. I didn’t have the confidence to send the manuscript out until fifteen years later, though, so when I did my revisions for the final version, I dropped the cultural references I didn’t think people would remember and researched new details, especially those related to the Dead and their playlists and venues at the time. Whenever I met a devoted Dead Head, I asked them to tell me a story. There are some great tales out there.

Did you face any challenges in the writing of this book?
I didn’t face as many challenges as you might expect in writing FREAKED. I had to learn to write, which is hard, and I had to be patient about how awful the early drafts seemed, but I had a good time creating the characters. I had a lot of support from friends and family, and when it came to finding an agent and publisher, all I really needed was the courage to face rejection for a while.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I didn’t know much about the teen book market when I wrote FREAKED. I conceived of the original drafts as a book for adults—a nostalgia piece for people who had lived through the time. My agent was willing to market it this way, but thought we would have better luck selling it as a Young Adult novel because of the strength of Scotty’s voice. I did research in the teen section of the library and discovered shelves and shelves of amazing books I hadn’t known about that were labeled YA. I immediately saw that it was a niche for me. I’m really interested in adolescence—its complications, and rebelliousness. I’m so excited to be a part of this literary movement.

Can you describe your path to the publication of FREAKED?
I love to write but faced insecurities about being published. For a long time, I didn’t feel worthy of the success I hoped for. But one day our roof began to leak. My husband was deep into his PhD, we had two kids we wanted to take to enroll in preschool and dance lessons, I was losing my hearing and finding it hard to teach. I decided that being “great” didn’t matter as much as contributing what I could to my work and my family. I started drafting and placing articles, at first for free, hoping to get something going in freelance non-fiction. My husband said that if I was going to try to publish, I should put the finishing touches on the novel I had hanging around and send it out. So I did, not sure what to expect.

What followed was a large number of rejections by agents and one acceptance. But that’s all it took. She sold Freaked three days later. It was a quick turn around.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Believe in what you like in your work. It’s the struggle that you should find enjoyable, because even if you get to the top of the mountain, there is always another mountain that has to be slogged up after that.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I’d like there to be a third and a fourth book (I’m just finishing a second). I’d like to see Russia someday, especially if I could take my kids with me. I’m pretty open to whatever adventures await, really.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I am in the final draft phases of a novel entitled STRANDED about two teenaged girls coming of age in Iowa. A baby has been discovered in a cornfield near where they live. The tragedy forces them to think about their lives and draws them together in ways they don’t expect.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about FREAKED?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

How I Plot (For Now...)

My friend Mikki Knudsen (in my "class" at Vermont College - her debut novel The Dragon of Trelian will be out April 14) asked me recently how I plan and plot. Whew! I'm still trying to figure out a method that works, which suggests that there is no one right method at all. However...I've recently been toying with that very issue and this is, more or less, what I said:

About the planning and plotting...who knows if my method works??? Only time and readers will really tell. But I have discovered that I tend to work organically from the ground up. Yes, once or twice I've had an idea for a story and the idea came with an ending, but that's not the usual thing for me. I start with a germ - a tiny seed. Sometimes that seed is a phrase, sometimes a potential title, sometimes just an image. Then I start writing. And along about page 25 or so I've discovered one or more of my main characters. At that point I do a character analysis - sometimes a really detailed one. That may take days, and is constantly undergoing scrutiny. Then I write a little more.

Suddenly I'll grab the heart of the story. I start to write and rewrite at the same time. Along the way, I may think of a scene or two, and I've discovered that the most efficient way for me to remember them is if I write them in short-hand on post-its and put them on a board, like a storyboard, so I can mix them up. Eventually I write to the end of the story. And THEN.....I need to sit back and analyze the whole thing and what it means and who it's about. And I start all over again. I've never yet had the courage to ditch the ugly, messy first draft entirely; but I'm considering it. Just chucking it out and starting again. I'll let you know when I get that brave.

Usually scenes pop out of nowhere; sometimes entire plots have to be revised to fit what happens; and pacing can be a problem that I have to deal with (I often get deep into the scene and flower it up). But, generally, my work grows like a tree. Organically.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Book Review

The Amaranth Enchantment The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
What fun, and what a fast read! Berry knows how to keep a reader turning pages. This is a fantasy “historical” YA in the vein of Ella Enchanted, and equally entertaining. The plot twists are believable but not predictable, and the characters are well drawn, especially the protagonist and her male side-kick, and Berry’s settings are rich with detail. A great debut.

View all my reviews.

Friday, March 6, 2009

More Friends on Bookstore Shelves...

Here are more book covers on my local bookstore shelves: Cynthia Leitich Smith's Eternal and Tantalize, and Lisa Greenwald's My Life in Pink and Green.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Friends on Bookstore Shelves!

The other day I caught sight of a number of books by friends in the bookstore!

From left: Need, by Carrie Jones, The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt (with those two gorgeous stickers on the cover), two books by Micol Ostow - 30 Guys in 30 Days, and Golden Girl - and The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice.

This is just about as exciting as seeing my own books! And there are more but I couldn't squeeze them in here, so I'll display another round another time.