Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Launch: My Invented Life

I'm delighted to introduce debut author Lauren Bjorkman and her novel MY INVENTED LIFE.

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

The story is humorous look at sisters, secrets, and Shakespeare.

My older sister and I are close, but there was a time in high school when were not. I felt lonely and shut out then. So I wanted to write about sisters—ones that were very different than us, of course! Circumstances around my high school reunion inspired me to include sexual orientation in the novel. And a Shakespearean comedy with a convoluted plot of secret identities and confusing romance made for the perfect backdrop.

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

Almost ten years, actually. I started writing four hours a week when my oldest son entered pre-school. The first thing I completed was a middle grade novel, Vanessa the Contessa. After finishing MY INVENTED LIFE, I wrote another YA novel set in Hawaii and aboard sailboat. And now I’ve written a fourth novel, which will be my second published novel. I’m batting a 0.5!

Can you describe your path to the publication of MY INVENTED LIFE?

In the beginning, I submitted directly to editors, ones I met at conferences or read about in the SCBWI Bulletin. After some research, I discovered that most writers get their first contract through an agent. While preparing to query agents on a grand scale, I got a lucky break. A well-established author for adults referred me to his agent based on a piece of writing I brought to his novel writing workshop. A few months later, Henry Holt made an offer, which I gladly accepted.

Note: Check out my blog for agent websites and how to query. http://laurenbjorkman.livejournal.com.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Don’t make the same mistakes I did! If I could do it over again, I would spend more time focusing on craft, especially in the beginning. I did join a critique group right away, but I should’ve attended more workshops and read more books in my genre. I did a few things right, though—like writing about what excited me most. As Shakespeare would say, “To thine ownself be true.”

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

I want to write more and more books. That’s my true passion. At some point, I imagine myself branching out into plays or screenplays. I hope to connect with my teen readers in a meaningful way.
On the home front, time with my husband, children, and friends is my highest priority. I would like to improve at aikido, and earn those blue pants at last. Acoustic guitar and the I Ching feature in my hazy, distant future.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

My agent calls my latest novel, MISS FORTUNE COOKIE, a Chinese-American Juno. Look for it in spring of 2011. As I revise it over the next months, I will also be thinking about the other stories bubbling away on the back burner of my brain.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about MY INVENTED LIFE?


Saturday, September 26, 2009


Nothing makes me sadder than the notion of a good book getting trampled by the business of book selling. SHRINKING VIOLET, an acclaimed debut 2009 novel by Danielle Joseph, is in danger of slipping out of bookstores. Here's a message from Danielle that I'm anxious to share:

Help Tere keep her voice!

SHRINKING VIOLET is about an extremely shy high school senior trying to find her voice and reach her dream of becoming a DJ, despite the obstacles that stand in her way.

The book is about to go on back order and in order for more copies to be printed, more people have to place orders for the book.

Read more about SHRINKING VIOLET:
High school senior Teresa Adams is so painfully shy that she dreads speaking to anyone in the hallways or getting called on in class. But in the privacy of her bedroom with her iPod in hand, she rocks out doing mock broadcasts for Miami's hottest FM radio station, which happens to be owned by her stepfather. When a slot opens up at The SLAM, Tere surprises herself by blossoming behind the mike into confident, sexy Sweet T to everyone's shock, she's a hit! Even Gavin, the only guy in school who she dares to talk to, raves about the mysterious DJ's awesome taste in music. But when The SLAM announces a songwriting contest, and a prom date with Sweet T is the grand prize, Sweet T's dream could turn into Tere's worst nightmare. . . .

"Bella, eat your heart out. Tere is the girl every young woman truly wants to be. . . . Brilliant work, Danielle Joseph." -Ellen Hopkins, New York Times bestselling author of IDENTICAL

"Danielle Joseph takes readers into the glamorous world of Top 40 radio, with a character who is both funny and relatable. Readers will cheer when Tere finds her voice!" -Alex Flinn, author of BREATHING UNDERWATER and A KISS IN TIME

"A funny, romantic, and truly inspirational Cinderella tale for any teen who's ever been shy, loved music, or dreamed of going to the ball. Wait, that's pretty much everybody." -Gaby Triana, author of THE TEMPTRESS FOUR

So here's how you can help:
Please tell anyone that you think might be interested to place an order now before it's too late. Guys, girls, grandmas. grandpas, you're never too old to read humorous teen fiction!



I'm also running a contest for those that want to have some fun! There will be four winners, each receiving a $25 gift certificate to iTunes or the bookstore of their choice.

So how can you win?
1. Post a review of SHRINKING VIOLET on Amazon.com or B & N.com 2 points
2 Blog, Tweet or Facebook about the Save Shrinking Violet Campaign 1 point for each mention
3. Take a picture of yourself wearing a sweater and mimicking the book's cover (you must have the book in the photo too). 2 points

Contest begins at 11pm on Thursday, September 24, 2009 and ends at 11pm on Thurday, October 15, 2009.
After you enter, you can either email me at danielle@daniellejoseph.com or leave me a comment on my blog at
http://daniellejoseph.livejournal.com/ under the entry, Save SHRINKING VIOLET!

Much love,
Danielle Joseph

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Interview With Joni Sensel

I hope you enjoy this discussion with author Joni Sensel, about her latest book, the fascinating THE FARWALKER'S QUEST.

Here's what School Library Journal had to say about THE FARWALKER'S QUEST: "The theme of finding and accepting one's true calling resonates." Kirkus called it "an absorbing fantasy."

Congratulations on the publication of your acclaimed new novel, THE FARWALKER'S QUEST. It’s such an intriguing title, and an interesting premise. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

It’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy about a young girl who discovers a relic from a higher-tech past. When the find gets her kidnapped, she’s swept on a perilous journey with little more than a ghost and her instincts to guide her. Only by solving a puzzle from the past can she escape her pursuers to reveal a legendary treasure — and her own true calling.

I’m not really sure where this story came from. It was inspired by a cocktail of influences: travel in New Zealand and Ireland, my own affection for long-distance walking, and a kernel of story I wanted to write about a society that had lost the ability to read. I started wondering what could cause such a disaster, what would happen afterward, what other skills might rise in its place, and how such a loss could be repaired. And one of the things I saw in New Zealand was the botanical gardens in Christchurch, which is filled with amazing old trees with such presence and character that it seemed they would speak, if you listened carefully enough. That’s where Tree-Singing (another unusual talent in Ariel’s world) comes from.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Please tell us what else about your other books.

About a decade now. I spent more than 10 years writing screenplays. When I realized I didn’t have what it took to make it in Hollywood, I turned to children’s books instead, in part because I was married, at the time, to a professional illustrator and we thought it’d be fun to collaborate. We won a grant to start a small press that resulted in my two picture books. Then I turned one of my wackier screenplays into what became my first novel for young readers, REALITY LEAK. THE FARWALKER'S QUEST was actually written before what was my second published novel, THE HUMMING OF NUMBERS, a historical fantasy set in tenth century Ireland.

I write mostly for young people not because my motives are so noble but because I’m cynical and I don’t think adults change much, so I suspect I’d have trouble writing arcs I could believe for adult characters. The great thing about young protagonists is that they’re still being formed and shaped by events and their own actions.

Can you describe your path to the publication?

Oops, I just did. I’ll add that REALITY LEAK was plucked from the slush pile, and I also sold HUMMING myself before I managed to sign with an agent. Screenwriting was terrific training, and I’d also taken a stab at an adult novel before tackling REALITY LEAK. I learned a lot about the business in producing and marketing my picture books, but one of the important things I learned is that I wanted to spend more time writing and less time sending out F&Gs and promoting and handling administrative stuff, which was amazingly time-consuming.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

More than they’d want to hear, probably. Write the story you have to tell and worry about marketing later. Join SCBWI and learn about the business; there are so many tidbits I learned the hard way that are available for the asking instead. If you’re not compelled to write, consider some other avocation, because this one is hard. But if you are compelled, the process can be immensely rewarding. I believe we tell ourselves stories first, and our prime obligations are to the stories themselves and to their roles in our personal journeys. Of course, publication is terrific, too! But it’s not something we have much control over.

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

I love to travel, all of my recent books have settings or events inspired by distant places, and my ideal universe consists of walking somewhere rural, preferably in a foreign country, for six hours a day and writing for six hours in the evening. I took time from my day job to do that last fall in England and France for two months, my personal farwalking trip, and drafted two novels along the way, including one I hope will be the third Farwalker book. (We won’t talk about the revisions, which take me years longer.) Because of an experience when I was a small girl, I’ve always felt I needed to wring the most I could out of life, so I tend to try many things, take adventure where I can find it, make my passions a much higher priority than things like housework or yard maintenance or decent shoes, and try to really appreciate all that comes. (Including the dust bunnies and raised eyebrows from neighbors that are a result of those choices.)

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I’m in some stage of revising three novels and hope I survive to someday write a new first draft. (And sell at least one or two of the WIPs, if I possibly can.) First drafts are my favorite rush.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about THE FARWALKER'S QUEST?

www.jonisensel.com. I hope to soon post the cover for the sequel, THE TIMEKEEPER’S MOON, which comes out in March. Yay!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book Launch: Give Up The Ghost

I'd like to introduce Megan Crewe, and her fun debut novel GIVE UP THE GHOST.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, GIVE UP THE GHOST. It’s an intriguing reality-based fantasy! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

GIVE UP THE GHOST is about a girl named Cass who became an outcast when her former best friend turned on her in junior high, and since then has made friends with a number of ghosts. The ghosts are honest and loyal, and they dig up the dirty secrets of Cass's classmates, so that she can expose their true colors. But when the popular student council vice president comes to Cass for help, she starts to question all her assumptions.

The main inspiration for the story was an image that just popped into my head, of a girl hanging out with her ghostly sister. I wanted to figure out why this girl would be so comfortable with the dead, and what might become of her friendship with them.

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

It's hard to say--I started writing seriously in my teens, and then I wrote about teenagers because I didn't know what it was like to be an adult. But when I got into my twenties, I found that I still enjoyed writing about and for teens. So I guess I've always been writing for them!

I wrote a number of "practice novels" before GHOST, most of which are firmly shelved.

Can you describe your path to the publication of GIVE UP THE GHOST?

It was pretty straight-forward, actually. Once the manuscript was revised and polished, I started querying agents, and got an offer of representation. The book went out to editors, we had a few close calls (editors who loved the book but got a "no" from someone higher up), I did a revision, and then we got two offers!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Keep at it. Perseverance is so important in this business. Getting your writing to a publishable level, and then finding someone who loves it enough to publish it, can take a long time. Focus on writing stories that excite you, not what the market looks like--it'll have changed by the time you could get a book out there anyway. And don't be afraid to learn. Take advice, read up on strategies, get critiques--consider all of it, and then find what works for you. Your stories can always get stronger.

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

Well, my main goal is to keep writing, and hopefully getting to share those stories with readers. I'd also like to do more traveling--we're planning to go to Japan next year, and there are many other parts of the world I'd like to see.
And then there's the domestic stuff, of course, like buying a house, which my husband and I hope to do in the next few years.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

Always! I've got a few different YA projects at different stages in the process, all paranormal or fantasy.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about GIVE UP THE GHOST?

http://www.megancrewe.com You're all welcome to stop by!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Review: Lifting The Sky

Lifting The Sky Lifting The Sky by Mackie D'Arge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This debut middle grade novel is wonderful. D’Arge has a quiet voice, but true, and has crafted a setting that is rich with detail and a plot that drives the narrative – in the final pages I couldn’t put the book down. Her protagonist, Blue, is a spunky girl who has a special gift. Blue would appeal to all middle grade kids - this is not just a girl book, as Blue tackles numerous real-life hurdles on her Wyoming ranch. The subplots involving animals are honest (I knew that western ranchers called orphaned calves "bums" but D'Arge uses this kind of idiomatic language with the ease of one who lives the life.) Blue doesn't get everything she thought she wanted, but she does get exactly what she needs - and isn't that the way it is? I think LIFTING THE SKY is flying far too far below the radar and deserves more attention from the MG audience.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, September 7, 2009

Book Launch: Road To Tater Hill

I have the pleasure of announcing another exciting debut novel, Edie Hemingway's ROAD TO TATER HILL.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, ROAD TO TATER HILL! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Thank you, Janet! I’m very excited to be talking to you and your readers about my book! ROAD TO TATER HILL (Delacorte Press) is a middle grade novel, set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina during the summer of 1963. Eleven-year-old Annie Winters struggles with grief after the death of her newborn sister and is isolated by her mother’s deepening depression. Left much on her own, Annie finds comfort in holding an oblong stone she calls her “rock baby” and secretly befriends the mysterious Miss Eliza McGee, a reclusive mountain woman living in an abandoned house that folks say once belonged to a murderer. As their friendship grows, Miss Eliza helps Annie come to terms with her loss, while Annie draws Miss Eliza back into the mountain community, but only after a crisis reveals their unlikely alliance.

I don’t want to emphasize the grieving. More than anything, ROAD TO TATER HILL is the story of a strong, resourceful girl, friendship, family, and finding solace in surprising places. It was inspired by an autobiographical experience.

Like Annie, I spent all my childhood summers at my grandparents’ home in the mountains of North Carolina and enjoyed many of the same pastimes —picking blackberries on Tater Hill, building dams in the creek, swinging on the rope in the barn, reading many of the same books. It’s also where my own baby sister was born prematurely and died. Beyond that, the story moves into fiction completely with Miss Eliza and her background. One of the things I enjoyed most about the writing process was researching the craft of weaving and the music of the mountain dulcimer. I even learned how to play the dulcimer (or the “hog fiddle” as Annie calls it) and plan to take it with me when I visit schools.

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

I’ve been writing on and off ever since I won a writing contest in fourth grade. As an adult, I have juggled writing with several different fulltime jobs, including teaching, owning and operating a frozen yogurt store, and working in college admissions. In the early 90s, a friend and I decided to collaborate on a Civil War novel based on an actual 12-year-old Pennsylvania 49th drummer boy (Charles King), whose photograph we saw in the Antietam Battlefield museum. After our success with BROKEN DRUM (White Mane Publishing Co., 1996), we wrote a second Civil War novel, REBEL HART (White Mane Publishing Co., 2000), based on another true-life figure—this time a girl, Nancy Hart, who was a Confederate spy and rebel raider living in what is now West Virginia. Her life was quite an amazing adventure, which my co-author, Jackie Shields, and I had so much fun researching and recreating in historical fiction. Nancy Hart’s great great grandson looked us up after finding our book at the Harpers Ferry bookstore and learning more about his relative than he had ever known before. In 2006, BROKEN DRUM was licensed by Scholastic Book Fairs, and under a new title (DRUMS OF WAR) and cover art has enjoyed a “second” life in schools across the country. REBEL HART, too, was licensed by Scholastic Book Fairs in the spring of 2008. It’s been wonderful receiving letters from our readers, including teachers, who have used the books in conjunction with their Civil War curricula.

Can you describe your path to the publication of ROAD TO TATER HILL?

ROAD TO TATER HILL is my first “solo” novel. My manuscript began as my creative thesis during my MFA Program in Writing for Children at Spalding University in Louisville, KY. Years ago in an exercise to write about an emotional childhood experience, I wrote a 10-page memoir-style essay about the death of a longed-for baby sister shortly after she was born. I used that piece in one of my workshops, and, because of the emotional core of my essay, the workshop leader and other students encouraged me to take it further by turning it into a novel. So, I set aside the novel I was already working on and dove into TATER HILL. Since then it has gone through a number of major changes and revisions.

During the summer of 2006 (before the novel was finished), I attended the SCBWI Conference in Maryland and had the first 10 pages critiqued by Michelle Poploff, V.P. and Executive Editor of Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. She liked those pages enough to invite me to submit the entire manuscript to her once it was finished. She also suggested I read three different middle grade books set in roughly the same time periods and also dealing with death and the grieving process: MY LOUISIANA SKY by Kimberly Willis Holt, BELLE PRATER’S BOY by Ruth White, and EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS by Deborah Wiles. (The books, btw, were great reads and helpful examples of similar themes done well.)

Nearly a year later I mailed the completed manuscript to Michelle Poploff and was worried she wouldn’t remember her invitation to submit. She did remember me, however, and liked the story enough to set up a telephone conversation, which led to a very detailed revision plan and an eventual contract. So, I guess you could say I’m one of those SCBWI Conference success stories that every aspiring author is hoping for when signing up for a manuscript critique! I did not, and still don’t, have an agent, but definitely hope to sign with one before submitting my next manuscript.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Yes, I do!
1. You are never too young or too old to write, so write whenever you get a chance and try to stick to a regular schedule.
2. Grow a thicker skin! Realize that you’ll never please everyone, so start by pleasing yourself.
3. Read widely and keep up with current trends in your chosen genre.
4. Never be satisfied with a first, or even a second, draft. The true meat of writing is in the revision process.
5. Realize that very few people get rich by writing, but there is always that hope and possibility!

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

My husband and I live in a secluded 1930s-era log cabin, Misty Hill Lodge, nestled against the rocks of Chigger Hill along Braddock Mountain in Frederick County, Maryland. I often hike up to the rock cliffs across the top of our property to write in my journal. The first time we saw the cabin and property, we recognized it as our dream house. Its setting is just about as similar to the mountain setting of ROAD TO TATER HILL as we can get without actually being in North Carolina.

For about three years now, I’ve been teaching creative writing workshops at Misty Hill Lodge and have a loyal following of students. When I’m not writing or teaching workshops, my husband and I love spending time with our two grown children and five grandchildren.

I plan to continue my writing for many years, as I have no shortage of ideas for future stories. I am also kept very busy by my brand new role as Regional Advisor for the MD/DE/WV SCBWI chapter.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

Yes, I’m working on another middle grade novel, set on Vinalhaven Island off the coast of Maine. This one was inspired my husband’s and my favorite vacation spot, where we love to kayak.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about ROAD TO TATER HILL?

My author website is http://www.ediehemingway.com. I also am a member of the One Potato…Ten blog of writers and illustrators for children. You can follow our blog at www.onepotatoten.blogspot.com, and I am proud to be a member of the Class of 2K9, http://www.classof2k9.com.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Craft Issue #8: Revision

I am in the thick of revising my debut novel, FAITHFUL (out next spring from Puffin), and I want to share some discoveries I'm making about the whole revision thing.

First, my editor, Jen Bonnell, is brilliant. She has pinpointed issues both large and small, and I think the novel is growing better with every pass. I like to look at revision as a chance to make the work perfect, a time to put my own ego aside, and "re - envision" the work.

Here's discovery #1: I had to restructure a large section of backstory. Jen helped me break the section down into discrete scenes, and then to think about layering only the most critical of these scenes back into the work as flashbacks. This both enriches the work and gets rid of that bogged down initial stuff.

Discovery #2: Ooo - this one kind of hurts but is most rewarding. I'm retyping the entire manuscript. That's right. First I print out a chapter and proofread it on the paper (I don't know why, but proofing on paper works better than proofing on the computer screen). Then I retype it, bit by bit. If I start typing too fast, I take a break (craft a blog post, get some coffee...). I have rediscovered my love for my character, and been able to go deeper into her head with this technique, which is slow but powerful.

Discovery #3: After finishing a chapter, I read it out loud. Slowly. To my dog, or the empty room when he gets tired of it. I try to hear the cadences and the rhythms. I find a lot of mistakes and slow spots.

I really recommend this wonderful book, NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS, by Darcy Pattison, too. She has tons of revision tips.

Back to work!