Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book Launch: Initiation

This month is rich with wonderful book launches! It's my pleasure to introduce Susan Fine and her debut novel, INITIATION. (I was delighted to learn that Susan had co-authored ZEN IN THE ART OF THE SAT. Her book was one reason my son had what he needed to score well on the SAT this past year!)

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, INITIATION. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

It's a coming of age story set in an all-boys school in New York City. The novel covers the freshman year experience of Mauricio LondoƱo, the main character and narrator. Mauricio pretty much struggles all year, not only because of the huge academic demands but also because of the social dynamics he encounters. Throughout the year he feels like an uninvited guest at his new school, although he's simultaneously attracted to the world of some of his seemingly precocious peers. There's a cruel digital scheme that sweeps through the school, and, as you would guess, Mauricio is one of its victims. A friend recently said that she found the novel very "dark." It's definitely for high school aged kids (and beyond).

I was interested in exploring the world of adolescent boys and also wanted to look at the role digital tools plays in kids' lives. There are so many stories these days about trouble for kids on Facebook and MySpace (and now there's also the whole sexting phenomenon, which wasn't as visible when I was writing INITIATION as it's become in recent months). I don't think cyberspace trouble is so much the stuff we had originally been fearful of (e.g. stalkers and the like) but rather cyberbullying and kids' making bad decisions about what they post -- or the images they are sending to each other on cell phones! The novel reveals pretty starkly how wrong some of these things can go.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

I wrote a nonfiction book for young adults, ZEN IN THE ART OF THE SAT, which came out in 2005. I've also written a chapter book for 7-9 year olds, but it's still in search of a home. I've been writing for children for about five years, but I did a lot of fiction and essay writing before that.

Can you describe your path to the publication of INITIATION? Do you have a writing mentor or critique group?

I started writing INITIATION in the fall of 2006. Originally I didn't think of it as a young adult novel, but I realized along the way that's what it was. I had the first draft done in about six months, but then a lot more work set in! I rewrote and revised the manuscript a lot before my agent, Laura Dail, started working tirelessly to find a home for it. The acquisitions editor at Flux, Andrew Karre, who bought the book also provided excellent suggestions for improving the novel and became a big inspiration for me with fantastic suggestions about various YA books to read and think about.

When I was drafting and revising INITIATION, I got great support from my agent with the manuscript. I also have an amazing friend, who used to teach English with me, who provided endlessly helpful feedback.
Along the way, I read the whole thing out loud to my husband, who patiently listened and offered many suggestions. So while I don't have an official writing mentor or a critique group (although I would like to have both!), I got a lot of help from other people. During the fall when I was first drafting the novel, I took a class at The Writers' Loft. The teacher there, Jerry Cleaver, and his book, IMMEDIATE FICTION, were very helpful, especially because Jerry has a clear and specific way of explaining how a story works. During college I took two fiction classes with Jim Shepard, and I learned a lot from him. He gave meticulous feedback! I wish I were still in his workshops now!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

For me, being an English teacher was an incredible education about so many things! Teaching English led me to read, read, and read some more AND to think about how authors put together sentences, paragraphs, stories, and novels. Of course, being a student of literature does this, too, but when you're in charge of teaching others about language, you discover more -- I've found. Careful thinking about language is invaluable for anyone who wants to write. I also believe that you do need to understand language grammatically -- know the rules and then consciously break them. The other big thing to emphasize is the kind of commitment and tolerance writing requires. It's very hard to endure the awful drafts that sometimes lead to something worthwhile, but I think most authors have to push themselves and their work through those first rough and painful early stages. Part of the commitment is discipline and setting goals and coming up with deliverables for yourself are ways to get something done. And then trying to remain optimistic and hopeful every time you walk into a bookstore and see how many books are out there or when you sit down to work on something that you think is terrible... remaining positive and pushing yourself and your writing until it gets better!

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I said to a friend the other day that I need to define more clearly my professional mission! I was an English teacher for 16 years to 5th-12th graders, and there are days when I miss the students and the school community and the work of teaching English very much; however, I don't miss grading papers late at night and on weekends! I'd like to do some teaching -- perhaps in a community with fewer resources than the ones where I did my previous teaching -- but I want to continue writing, too. I also want to be active in the world of writers and recently joined the SCBWI. I am hoping to attend some of their conferences this year and look forward to that. I loved professional development and conferences when I taught and deeply appreciate learning new things, having mentors, and participating in lively discussions with people in my profession. I do have two little boys who figure largely in all of my plans. I'm also thinking that I'm in need of and ready for a new athletic challenge. I did a couple of marathons a number of years ago, and my mind and my body are telling me that I need another big athletic goal. My second son is heading to a full-time school program soon, so that's also part of my thinking about the future and what's next and how best to shape and schedule the various parts of my life.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

Yep! I'm about halfway through a second YA novel and hope to have a manuscript done this summer.

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


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Book Launch: Operation Redwood

During this week of Earth Day celebrations, I'm delighted to introduce you to S. Terrell French's timely OPERATION REDWOOD.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, OPERATION REDWOOD. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
OPERATION REDWOOD is the story of four children and their quest to save a grove of old-growth redwoods. The main character, Julian Carter-Li, is a twelve-year-old San Francisco boy. His father is dead and his mother has gone off on a trip to China and left him in the care of his wealthy uncle, Sibley Carter, who heads an investment company, IPX. The story begins when Julian finds himself alone in his uncle's office and uncovers an e-mail with the subject heading "SIBLEY CARTER IS A MORON AND A WORLD-CLASS JERK!!!" Unable to resist, he opens the e-mail and discovers an angry rant from a girl named Robin Elder, who is furious about IPX's plan to cut down a redwood grove near her home. The rest of the story follows the exploits and misadventures of Julian and Robin as they set out to save the redwood grove.

I was interested in writing a book about children who come together to solve an environmental problem -- my first image of the book was a boy uncovering an e-mail from a faraway girl about some issue that he knew nothing about. Because the book is set in San Francisco, I was also interested in writing about a multicultural set of characters (Julian is half-Chinese and his best friend, Danny Lopez, is Hispanic and fluent in Spanish). And I wanted the story to be exciting and fast-paced and funny! When I was writing OPERATION REDWOOD, my son had this good-hearted and hilarious group of friends, and I think the energy and humor of Julian and Danny came directly from them.

You deal with an important contemporary issue (feel free to elaborate). Was it challenging for you to address this in the context of the story?
I wanted my book to be about an issue that would be meaningful to children and I think children have an intuitive love of forests, especially redwood forests which are so spectacularly beautiful. OPERATION REDWOOD is an adventure story, but it's also a story about land and how we use it. Probably the most stunning fact about redwoods is that more than 95% of the original, old-growth redwood forest -- two million acres stretching from Santa Cruz to the Northern California border -- has been logged. I think this kind of environmental history is often unfamiliar to children (and adults) and yet it's an important part of our heritage. I learned a lot doing the research for this book and I'm hoping that kids will come away with a sense of hope, but also with some new questions about the land around them: What is sustainable? What is its best use? In the book, these questions aren't abstract because the redwood grove is a place Robin loves. Most places that are saved in the real world are saved through the efforts of people who feel a deep connection to them.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
This is my first effort and my first book.

Can you describe your path to the publication of OPERATION REDWOOD?
A friend read the manuscript and recommended it to her friend at Janklow & Nesbit. She passed it on to Kate Schafer Testerman, who specializes in YA and children's books (she now has her own agency, kt literary). Susan Van Metre at Amulet Books was interested from the beginning. Kate and Susan have both been great to work with and I feel very lucky to have found a home for OPERATION REDWOOD at Amulet. Susan was not only a very thoughtful editor, she made sure that the book was printed on paper certified by Forest Stewardship Council (recycled or from well-managed forests). It was important to us that the book be true to its environmental message.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Try to write the best book you can! Keep in mind what you find appealing as a reader. You'll have plenty of time to fret over agents and editors and publication later. I did take a weekend course on children's book publishing at one of our fabulous independent bookstores, Book Passage. It gave me some basic information, but was also a little daunting.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I have three children and still work part-time in environmental law, so I'm pretty busy. My three kids are my main distraction, but also my inspiration.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I'm working on another middle-grade story set in San Francisco.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about OPERATION REDWOOD?
Yes. www.operationredwood.com. It has a page of information on redwoods and also information for teachers (including a teacher guide with questions, projects and vocabulary lists).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think it's appropriate to post a review of a superb debut novel with a science/naturalist theme on Earth Day!

A masterpiece of historical fiction, THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE is rewarding at every level. The protagonist, 11-year old Calpurnia, is the only daughter of seven children living at the turn of the last century in a sleepy Texas town. Calpurnia, who has a keen eye and a native curiosity, wishes to become a naturalist; her mother wishes to turn her into a respectable young lady. Calpurnia’s ally is her grandfather, and the lessons he imparts regarding the world at both large and small scales during the summer and fall of 1899 launch Calpurnia towards a promising life. The voice is winning; the setting is a rich tapestry of authentic period detail; the plot has charm yet moves with a lively pace. Altogether one of the best books I’ve read.

View all my reviews.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Book Review: The Dragon of Trelian

The Dragon of Trelian The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This enticing middle grade debut fantasy from Michelle Knudsen is told in alternating points of view (girl and boy), making for a page-turning read for teens of either sex. I don’t wish to spoil the multiple surprises within, but Knudsen has created a unique world and an action-packed adventure. Wonderful descriptive language and strong and engaging characters complete the package.

View all my reviews.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Book Launch: Breathing

This post I'm so pleased to introduce a wonderful debut novel, BREATHING, and Cheryl Renee Herbsman.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, BREATHING. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

BREATHING is the story of fifteen-year-old Savannah Brown. She’s growing up on the Carolina Coast with her mom and brother. When she meets a cute guy named Jackson on the beach, she becomes convinced that he’s not only her one true love and soul mate, but also the cure for her life-threatening asthma. When Jackson is called away to tend to family responsibilities and is uncertain of returning, Savannah has to learn to breathe all on her own. All this while pursuing a lifelong dream that might come true just when she’s no longer sure she wants it.

I met my husband when I was a teenager. He was older than me (like Jackson is older than Savannah) and we endured a long-distance relationship (like they do at times). I’ve always been a dreamer and a hopeful romantic. So there’s definitely some of me in Savannah.

Your character deals with asthma. Is this something you're familiar with? Was it a difficult subject for you to tackle?

My husband and my daughter both suffer from mild asthma. I also worked with hospitalized kids and teens during college, some of whom suffered from asthma. And my husband is a pediatrician who has done some special work on treating kids with asthma. So I had some good resources. But since the asthma my family has suffered from has been quite mild, it was not a terribly difficult topic for me to tackle.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

Before writing BREATHING, I wrote a YA fantasy which has not been published.

Can you describe your path to the publication of BREATHING?

While I was trying to sell my YA fantasy, I started writing BREATHING. I went to a conference in NY to try to sell the fantasy, but everyone there was much more excited by the first few pages of Breathing. So I went home and spent the next couple of months finishing the manuscript. I sent it to three agents, one of whom was very interested and made some suggestions for a revision. After the revision, that agency ended up rejecting it, which was terribly upsetting. But three days later, I sent it out to five more agents and one of them took it right away. Three weeks later, I had a book deal!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Just write, a lot, whatever you feel most driven to write about. Try not to worry about the form it takes or how long or short it is, just write, and slowly but surely, the form will begin to take shape. No writing is wasted. It’s all part of the process.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I’m a stay-at-home mom with two kids – a girl and a boy. I feel so fortunate to have had the freedom to be home with them. I write while they’re at school and that makes me feel really lucky, too. My husband and I will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary soon. Our relationship is still an inspiration to the romantic stories I write.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I just sent a new manuscript off to my agent. I’ll keep you posted!

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

Yes, you can find me at http://www.cherylreneeherbsman.com or my blog at http://blog.cherylreneeherbsman.com

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Today: Operation Teen Book Drop!

Today's the day for Operation TBD! Here's an excerpt from the press release:

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.

If you are a YA author and have a book you'd like to share, head to the nearest hospital and leave a copy for the pediatrics ward. Let's join readergirlz, Guys Lit Wire and YALSA and Rock the Drop!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Book Launch: The Dragon of Trelian

I'm delighted to post this interview with friend Michelle Knudsen, also a student at VCFA. Her fast-paced, fun novel THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN debuts on April 14. If you are in New York City on April 14, you're invited to join Mikki at her launch party at Books of Wonder,18 W. 18th Street, from 5-7PM. She'll be giving a brief reading from the novel around 6pm. There will be refreshments, and of course she'll be signing books!

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
I've always wanted to write fantasy novels. When I first started reading "grown-up" books as a young reader, authors like Piers Anthony and Robert Asprin completely captivated me. I knew I wanted to write about other worlds like that, filled with magic and adventure. THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN has a lot of my favorite fantasy elements in it -- castles, spells, secrets, danger, true friends, powerful enemies, and of course, dragons. So it was definitely inspired by my own love of fantasy literature. The story is about a mage's apprentice named Calen and a princess named Meg who, among other things, discover a secret plot against the kingdom which threatens everything they care about. They're each struggling with their own problems too, which include Calen's magical training and Meg's unsettling connection to a young dragon she found and is secretly trying to take care of.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I've been writing for children for about 12 years. I started out as a children's book editor, and wrote my first books as part of my former job at Random House. All of my earlier books are for younger readers -- board books, picture books, beginning readers, etc. My best known book is the picture book Library Lion (Candlewick Press, 2006), which won several awards and spent more then 30 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. If you count everything, including the Star Wars and Godzilla movie tie-in coloring and activity books, THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN is my 40th book. But it's my first novel.

Can you describe your path to the publication of THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN?
I started writing this book in 2001. Looking back at my files, it looks like I wrote the first chapter in July, and the second in October. In November 2001 I started keeping a log of my progress, recording the date and the number of words and pages, and what chapter I was up to. There were weeks when I wrote almost every day, and months where I didn't write at all. In early February 2005, I sent the first 18 chapters to my agent, Jodi Reamer at Writers House, so she could tell me if it was terrible and whether I should just stop working on it. But she said she loved it, and made me finish. It took me until November 2005 to write the last few chapters, some of which I did while riding the subway back and forth to work. I revised the manuscript a bit for Jodi and then she sent it to my editor, Sarah Ketchersid, at Candlewick. I did a few more rounds of revision with Sarah, and continued to make smaller changes all the way up to seeing the paged-out galleys in November and December of 2008 (the first galleys are what the ARCs were made from, so the final book has some small differences from the ARC). So that's...seven and a half years from start to finish. A pretty long path! I think one reason it took me such a long time, especially in the beginning, is that I was terrified of actually finally trying to write a novel. I kept expecting someone to come and stop me. And I often put it aside to work on other projects, or to figure out backstory, or various other things. It seemed important not to push too hard, to let myself take as much time as I needed and figure out how to write something so much longer and more complex than anything else I'd ever attempted. The whole thing was a huge learning experience. Hopefully everything I learned will help make writing the next novel a little easier!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Read a lot, especially the kinds of books that you want to write. That seems obvious, but I'm amazed at how many people who want to write picture books, for example, don't spend time reading lots and lots of picture books. Look at the books you like and try to figure out why you like them, how the author held your interest here or made you feel something there, etc. Look at the books you don't like, too, and try to figure out why you don't like them. And write, write, write! Don't be afraid to try things, don't be afraid to write awful first drafts. Give yourself permission to write terrible, terrible things -- that will help free you up to get your ideas on the page. You can always fix them up later; just focus on getting them down in that first draft. Writing workshops can be really helpful, if you can find a good one. Join SCBWI. Go to conferences, talk to other writers, listen to editors and agents speak about what they look for in a good book. Read lots of books on writing. Try to learn as much as you can, but reject any advice that doesn't feel right to you -- there are lots of different ways to write a book, and not every approach works for every person. Listen to everything, then use what works for you. And always write what you love. Don't try to write what you think will sell best, or what you heard a certain agent is looking for. Your own best work is going to come from what matters most to you, what's closest to your heart, and what you honestly want to spend hours, months, and years of your life working on.

Can you tell us something about your writing life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I want to keep working on different kinds of books -- definitely more picture books and novels, but I also love writing beginning readers, and I have a chapter book I've been playing with on and off for years. Right now I'm also working toward my MFA in writing for children and young adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and doing a LOT of reading and both creative and critical writing as part of that program. I'd love to do more school visits and get to spend more time interacting with kids, talking with them about their own stories and helping to get them excited about books and writing. And I would like to teach children's book writing at some point down the road.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I have a middle-grade short story coming out in a Candlewick anthology next year, and my next picture book, ARGUS, is scheduled for Spring 2011. Right now I'm working on the sequel to THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN, along with some more picture book manuscripts and the beginning of another fantasy novel, which might end up being YA.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN?
Yes! It's www.michelleknudsen.com. I also have a blog at http://michelleknudsen.blogspot.com/.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I listened to this novel as an unabridged audio book. That may explain my response. While the premise is riveting and the ending heartbreaking, there were times when I was ready to abandon the novel because of the whiny voices of both protagonists. Often the issues that cause greatest heartbreak seem so trivial. I acknowledge that that may be the point, and that teens often exaggerate their miseries, yet as I listened I couldn’t help feeling annoyed. And the other teens – the bullies, mean girls, and users – are so awful they border on cartoons. Teen suicide is such an important topic and so rarely addressed that any reasonable attempt to present teens with a perspective on the issue is welcomed, which is why I feel this novel should be on YA lists, despite its flaws.

View all my reviews.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Craft Issue # 4: Creating the Plot Summary

I'm starting a new thread on this blog - Craft Issues. I've posted on a few in recent weeks, and want to make it a habit. Please chime in with thoughts, suggestions, and issues you'd like to see discussed.

I've been coping with plot lately, since I'm in the early stages of a novel that really hasn't been hanging together. What to do? For one thing, turn to others for advice. In this case, I turned to Syd Field and his DVD Screenwriting Workshop.

Field's suggestions are clear and precise, and although they're meant for screenwriters, I've applied his techniques to many of my issues. Today, in dealing with my plotting problem, I watched the segment from the early portion of the DVD in which he describes how to kick-start your plot thinking. You have to write a synopsis of your book comprising four terrible pages. Yes, terrible - this helps you shut down that nasty little internal editor that is telling you you can't write this book.

And what to write: First, 1/2 page of the opening scene or sequence in dramatic narrative. Second, in 1/2 page summarize the action of Act 1. Third, in 1/2 page, write down the plot point that occurs at the end of Act 1. Fourth, take an entire page and summarize in a paragraph each the four obstacles the character confronts during Act 2. Fifth, in 1/2 page write down the plot point that occurs at the end of Act 2. Sixth, summarize in 1/2 page the action of Act 3. And finally, in 1/2 page write the closing scene or sequence that occurs at the end of Act 3.

Now if this is a little fuzzy, I encourage you to find Field's DVD or book and check out his full discussion. The important points here are that you can visualize your story in discrete chunks; you can get rid of the ugly editor by letting these summary pages be terrible; you know the beginning and ending of your story; and that you know the plot points - which will be the subject of my next Craft Issue.

For me, knowing the ending of my story (Act 3 and the closing scene) seems to have been the linch-pin. And seeing the story structured in such a fashion makes sense. It's not a strict outline - more like a guide. Which I like because I like to write organically, at least when I'm beginning a new project.

Questions? Fire away!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Launch: Watersmeet

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, WATERSMEET. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
First of all, I should say that it is a fantasy, complete with dwarves, centaurs, fauns, and shape-shifters. It's about a girl, Abisina, who has been rejected all of her life because of the way she looks. Her mother, the village healer, has been able to protect her because her skill is needed by the village. But a new leader arrives in the village and turns the people against the outcasts. Abisina is forced to flee, alone, and search for her father—someone she has never met—in a legendary place called Watersmeet. Accompanied by a dwarf, Haret, she journeys north and faces mythic creatures, benevolent spirits, her own prejudices, and dreams that look like nightmares.

I have always been a fantasy reader so when Abisina came to me, she existed in a fantasy setting. The setting was a big part of the inspiration. The land Abisina lives in is called Seldara, and I started writing about Seldara at a point several hundred years after Abisina's story takes place. At that time, it was a land divided. I got to wondering what had caused this division and as I explored Seldara's legends and history, I found the true beginning of my story: Abisina's discovery that she knows only half of her land, the southern—and that the other half, where Watersmeet is, offers something very different.

It's such an interesting title. Where does it come from?
My husband's great aunt lived near where we live now in Pennsylvania. She died before I joined the family, but my husband always talked about visiting her as a boy. She was a doctor, way before many women were doctors, and had a country practice in her house. Her house was called Watersmeet; I assume there were streams that met there or something, though I realize now that I never asked. The name was part of our family lore and as I was creating this legendary community that Abisina seeks, I realized that it existed at the meeting of three rivers. The name popped into my mind. It first was the name only of the place Abisina is seeking, but my editor, Robin Benjamin, suggested it as the title for the novel, replacing a pretty lame working title I had been using.

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 about ten years. I am not one of these writers who "always knew" I wanted to be a writer. I did enjoy academic writing and I remember someone asking me once if I wanted to be a writer. I answered: "I don't have anything to say!" I had to grow up and gain confidence in order to feel like the stories I wanted to tell were worthwhile to share with the world.

WATERSMEET is my second book. The first was called A Child of Seldara and it is actually a sequel to WATERSMEET! I don't know why, but the book that came to me first is now slated to be the concluding book in a four book series. When I submitted it for publication, Margery Cuyler, the publisher at Marshall Cavendish, thought there were good things going on in it, but that it felt like a sequel. She was right! So I wrote the first book and that sold.

Can you describe your path to the publication of WATERSMEET?
Like lots of authors, once I admitted to myself that I wanted to write, I started attending conferences to learn about the industry. The conference that played the biggest role for me was the One on One conference, hosted by the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature. At the One on One, each new writer is paired up with an experienced writer, editor or agent. I was accepted to the conference three times and was blessed with excellent mentors who worked with me beyond the day of the conference: Gail Carson Levine, Clara Gillow Clark and Sue Campbell Bartoletti. At this same conference I also met Margery Cuyler, who, as I mentioned above, bought my book, and my agent Ginger Knowlton! The connections I made here and at SCBWI conferences were invaluable.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Just do it. It's the "butt in the chair" approach to writing. If you don't show up, it's not going to happen. I have trained myself to write in short bursts because that is all I have. (I teach full time and have two kids.) I can't wait for inspiration. It is almost always hard getting started and it almost always pays off if you push through and get some words out. Aside from that, read all the time. There are amazing books out there—read them and learn from them. Finally, educate yourself about this business: read "how to" books, join on-line communities, and participate in the conference circuit. But hold on to yourself. The first "how to" book I read said: Don't start with a novel, don't write fantasy. At that point, I was 50+ pages into my fantasy novel!

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
Personal goals: ski the Rockies! Now I ski in Pennsylvania. I can't even imagine the Rockies!

Plans for the future: I want to cut back a bit on teaching and spend more time on writing. I can't imagine giving up teaching all together. I love being in the classroom and working with students. I have so much fun! But this year has been hard with a book coming out, another book that I am supposed to be writing, and a family that I love spending time with. Like so many of us, I'm in search of that elusive balance.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I am working on the sequel to WATERSMEET. It's been neat to hang out with some of my characters again, and also to invent some new ones. WATERSMEET ends with the creation of a new land: Seldara. The two halves of the country are poised to find a way to become unified. But the hurdles are enormous and Abisina is going to need to be part of the resolution.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about WATERSMEET?
Yes. My blog is at www.ellenjensenabbott.com . I blog there about the writing process, what I'm writing, what I'm reading, and other topics.