Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Voices You Should Hear: Jessica Lee Anderson

New Year's 2009-2010 Edition of "Voices You Should Hear."

In 2010, I'm beginning a new series I'm calling "Voices You Should Hear," in which I will interview writers you may or may not know, writers who are not debut authors but whose books are memorable, engrossing, maybe troubling, but always worth your time. My first VYSH guest is Jessica Lee Anderson, whose recently released novel, BORDER CROSSING, is a novel featuring a compelling protagonist who is unexpectedly afflicted with schizophrenia.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, BORDER CROSSING. It's quite an emotionally intense story. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired it?

Thank you so much! While taking an eye-opening history class in college, I felt completely shocked when I learned about Operation Wetback. I also felt vulnerable and insecure, even though I’m Anglo. Based on the emotions I experienced, Manz’s voice and story began to develop three years later.

I know that you've also written an acclaimed novel, TRUDY. Would you fill us in on that story?

Trudy's parents are old. Really old. Like so old they get mistaken for her grandparents. Besides dealing with this, Trudy also struggles with math and changing friendships. When her father begins to repeat himself, forget things (including her), and is generally confused, Trudy knows her life will be forever changed. She must find the strength to accept things and be there for her family.

It sounds like you are not afraid of difficult subjects. Can you describe your path to publication? Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

When I started to pursue publication, I purchased CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, which was incredibly helpful and informative. I also became a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and began attending conferences. My first sales were craft articles to children's magazines, and my first novel was later pulled from the slush pile by an editor who believed in the story and also believed in me.

I’d encourage beginning writers to do plenty of market research, learn as much about craft as possible (read widely, attend conferences/get critiques, participate in critique groups, take writing classes, etc.), and to make their manuscripts gleam (revise, revise, revise). Over and over again, we hear how highly competitive the marketplace is—a well-targeted, polished manuscript stands a much better chance of finding a home.

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

My husband and I have a goal to visit as many national parks as we possibly can. Some of our favorite trips so far include snowshoeing the North Rim of Bryce Canyon by moonlight, grasping chains to climb to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion, and spotting bears and wolves in Yellowstone. We’re planning a trip to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary in 2010, and Glacier National Park looks like a top contender since the glaciers may soon vanish because of the temperature rise in the area.

I'm a big fan of the national parks, too! Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I recently sold a novel, CALLI, that will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2011, and I’m currently revising a middle grade novel, tentatively titled FINDING BIGFOOT.

Congratulations on CALLI, and I must say that FINDING BIGFOOT sounds like it will be fun! Do you have a website where readers can learn more about you and your work?

Photo of Jessica by Michael Anderson

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fabulous New Fiction: 2k10 Debut Author Alexandra Diaz

In the first of my interview posts with debut authors of the Class of 2k10, I'm delighted to introduce Alexandra Diaz, author of OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS. Alexandra has spent time in places that span the globe, most recently England (hence the reference to "tosser"; English slang for someone who's a jerk.) She's now back in the U.S. and we're happy she's here!

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
I started the book as part of my MA in Writing for Young People and the line "Brent Staple is such a banjo" just popped into my head. Then I had to think why he's such a banjo (which loosely means "tosser") and what are the results of his behavior; the story quickly unfolded and developed from there! The book still starts with a disturbing rumor about Brent, who is one of the protagonists' boyfriends, but the book is more about the friendship between three girls and what happens to the friendship when a new girl comes to town.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
LOL, I've had many efforts, but yes this is my first publication. I've been writing stories for as long as I can remember, mostly for my own entertainment. I still prefer reading children's books over "grown-up" books, maybe because I've never properly "grown up", so it's natural for me to write for the genre I like.

Can you describe your path to the publication of OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS?
I have a great literary agent, Sarah [Davies] from Greenhouse, who really helped me whip my novel into shape. It's thanks to her that there was interest in the novel as soon as she sent it out. But before I had an agent, it was a lot of impersonal "Dear Submitter" and "Sorry, but unfortunately..."

Ah, yes. Those painful rejection letters. In that vein, do you have any advice for beginning writers?
If it's what you enjoy doing, then keep at it. People will always try to convince you otherwise, but they're usually the ones who probably gave up what they love. You're a different person and you have to be true to your own goals.

Excellent advice. Speaking of goals, can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
My personal life/future is a bit hazy at the moment with the potential of having to move back to the States after living in England for three years and not knowing what will happen next. On a broader scope, I will keep writing and keep traveling. One of my goals is to visit all seven continents by the time I'm 50. Should happen since I'm pretty determined!

And in your writing life, do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I always have something underway--sometimes too many somethings! I'm working on a fish out of water story about Bex Sloane who, only knowing how to communicate with fists, locks horns with the local community.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS?
Sure, it's

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Final Contest Week for 2k9 Books

Announcing the final week of the contest over at the Class of 2k10 blog - and our final tribute to the class of 2k9 and their fabulous books!

Head over here: and post a comment and you may win a book. And even if you don't win, these excellent reads.

In a couple of days I'll be posting my first interview with a 2k10 author, Alexandra Diaz.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

More Terrific Craft Books, Holiday Edition

For those of you wondering what to ask Santa to bring, a second round of favorite craft books…

Joan Aiken, The Way to Write for Children. This little book is no longer out of print, I'm delighted to report. After I read it on loan from a friend, one of my advisors at Vermont College of Fine Arts found it on EBAY and made a gift of it to me (thank you, Sarah!). But you can now find it here. Simple, easy to read, and still fresh in outlook, this text is a fabulous introduction to children’s book writing.

Eve Heidi Bine-Stock, How to Write a Children’s Picture Book. If you want to write picture books, you really must read this craft book. Bine-Stock analyzes the story-arc structure of a large number of well-known picture books (which you also must read) and she makes it look almost easy. Which it is not. Which Joan Aiken (above) will clearly spell out.

Darcy Pattison, Novel Metamorphosis. I’ve raved about this one before. If you are revising a novel, pick up this book, available on order or on line. Walk through her exercises. You’ll learn a lot. Better yet, find out where she’s holding a workshop and take this book along with your manuscript – you’ll have a far better novel in the end.

Thomas McCormack, The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist. Odd title, terrific book. This text takes a very different approach – McCormack comes from the editorial side and is speaking to editors. But as a writer, I learned what this talented man was searching for in a great literary work, and his idea of the “master-effect” (what you might call theme, although that’s a crass way of putting it) is nothing short of brilliant.

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer. If you want to be a writer, you must also be a reader. Prose tackles every aspect of writing but from the outside in. This is a dense and meaty book that took me a couple of weeks to read. I need to read it again. And I want to read each of her examples as I go.

Now you have a few things to put on your holiday wish list!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Debut Authors of the Class of 2k10

I am so proud to be among the debut authors of the Class of 2k10! And today we officially launch our website and blog, with a grad party for our sister class of 2k9.

Please visit our blog and our website . We have a 3-week contest running on the blog - you can win a copy of a 2k9 book - so do check in through the month of December and post a comment.

And visit both the website and the blog to check out the terrific selection of books we'll be debuting throughout 2010.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Favorite Craft Books, Part 1

Since it’s Thanksgiving, I thought I’d give thanks to some of those wonderful writers who generously share their knowledge of the craft of writing with the world. I clutch at craft books like they are lifeboats, running for them at the first sign that my manuscript is in danger of sinking. Here are a few of my picks of the best craft books available – the ones that you want on your bookshelf:

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Vogler is a screenwriter, but he understands Joseph Campbell and the structure of the hero’s journey and he delivers it in a clear and succinct style. Truly one of my all-time favorite books for understanding the holistic concept of story and story archetypes.

Robert McKee, Story. This is an expensive book, but a true classic. McKee also comes from the world of film, but structure is his business, and he dissects what works and provides excellent examples. I particularly like his analysis of scene and sequel – a principle I didn’t fully understand before I read this book.

Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Also an expensive book, but one that is used as a text by many writing programs. Burroway dissects it all, from character to voice to point of view, and includes exercises for both individuals and groups, and examples (short stories and excerpts) of every craft element. I go to this book first whenever I’m stuck.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. This book is dense. Meaty. Yet I have sticky notes on so many pages, my copy looks like it could fly. Gardner’s book is one that every serious writer must read. And re-read. He includes exercises that are among my favorites for understanding an aspect of craft.

Ursula Le Guin, Steering The Craft. A good basic book discussing foundation, with exercises, Le Guin writes with clear, often visual expression. This is a terrific book for beginners in particular, but even seasoned writers will learn something new.

I have many, many more books to recommend, and I’ll continue this discussion later.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Craft Issue #9: Desire

Desire. I can’t hear that word now without hearing the way Louise Hawes, author of BLACK PEARLS and THE VANISHING POINT said it during my first residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Drag the word out, now, breathy and low: d-e-s-i-r-e. There you go.

Louise was talking about protagonist’s desire – what motivates, energizes, and drives both the main character and the story. Lately I’ve been thinking about desire; specifically, how to express my character’s desire on the first page of a text. And how to express it throughout the work. This sounds like an obvious thing to aim for and achieve, but for me at least is not as easy as it sounds.

Donald Mass, in WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, has an exercise in which he suggests that the writer find the main character’s two yearnings, desires, or goals that are “in direct opposition to each other.”

Why? Because humans are conflicted by nature. We want freedom, yet security (THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX.) We want love, yet we fall in love with someone dangerous (NEED.)
We want to live fully, but our lives are held in a trap – maybe we are dead (THE LOVELY BONES) or maybe we’re vampires (ETERNAL.)

I have a tendency to protect my protagonist. I place convenient characters and situations between her and her problems, I erect huge road signs and arrows – This Way Out! – when in fact I should be discovering ways to let her suffer the slings and arrows because not only will that intensify her desire but it will also bring her into internal conflict. Finding my protagonist’s desire and threading that desire line through the work really means finding both her true inner desire, and its opposite.

Because isn’t fiction all about conflict – about longing and dreams unfulfilled? We march through life trying to protect ourselves, so what we want in our fictional counterparts is daring. We want our protagonists to live as we cannot. To take risks, even to risk it all. It is the tug away from the brink, the wish for something safe, that keeps most of us from tipping into danger. Our fictional characters must make the leap from the cliff. As a writer, I want to thrust out my hand at the last second, but I have to learn to pull back because as a reader I want to experience catharsis.

So I’ve been on a desire hunt. I’m trying not only to find out what my characters want, even when that desire is not safe (in fact, I’d like it to be at least as impossible and unsafe as Katniss’s desire is in THE HUNGER GAMES), but also trying to make my protagonist take risks to fulfill that desire.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Author Interview: Anna Levine

After an intense week of work on the copyedits for FAITHFUL, I'm thrilled to be back posting a new author interview, and especially delighted to feature author Anna Levine. Her most recent two books, FREEFALL and JODIE'S HANUKKAH DIG, both published in 2008, are receiving much acclaim.

Congratulations on the publication of your award-winning books FREEFALL and JODIE'S HANUKKAH DIG! Can you tell us a bit about each of these books?

All my books are set in Israel. I like writing stories with strong female characters. JODIE'S HANUKKAH DIG (Karben Publishers) is about a young girl who dreams of being an archaeologist. Everyone tells her she’s too little—of course she proves them wrong. Being the smallest person on the dig, she is put into a bucket and lowered into a cave where she discovers an ancient treasure.

FREEFALL (Greenwillow/HarperCollins) is about an eighteen-year-old girl before her draft into the Israeli army. It’s a novel about being eighteen and living in Israel with everything that entails from conflicts with family, changing friendships, the challenges of the military and falling in love for the very first time.

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

I started writing about twelve years ago. My first book, RUNNING ON EGGS (Front Street/Cricket Books) is about the friendship that develops between two girls on a track team. One of the girls is Israeli, the other Palestinian. I’ve written a number of award winning short stories and poems for Cicada, Cricket, Spider and Highlights magazines. Many of my poems and short stories are available on my website.

Can you describe your path to publication?

SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) was very helpful in getting my writing career started. My path began with a lot of rejections. I think most writers experience this. But I can be very determined, and like Jodie and Aggie (from FREEFALL) when I’m told I can’t do something—I’ll prove them wrong. I work and rework my manuscripts until I get them right.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Persistence! And determination. I think for a lot of us writers who have family responsibilities and/or day jobs it’s also a matter of giving ourselves the time it takes to dream, think and create.

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

I live in Israel. My books are set here because I find this country, the mix of cultures and the people fascinating. I am always learning something new. I’m working on a new Jodie book that explores an ancient water tunnel underneath the City of David in Jerusalem. Just a few weeks ago, I slogged through the tunnel with the water up to my knees. It was dark, wet, terrifying and so much fun!

I’m also working on another young adult novel set in Jerusalem. This novel, CURTAIN CALL, is about a religious girl and the conflicts she faces as she steps out of her religious home and community to mix with secular society.

What are your other writing inspirations?

I guess for me writing is a reflection of my personal life. I have two boys in the army. My husband is a professor at the Hebrew University. My experiences, my life and my family all find their way into my books.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about your work? I know you have a book trailer, too - please share!

My website about my other works
The website for FREEFALL
My book trailer:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My FAITHFUL Cover and Video Trailer!

I'm so excited - I can introduce the cover for FAITHFUL, my debut novel! It will be out in mid-May; right now it's in copy-edits. My fabulous editor, Jen Bonnell, is amazing. I can't thank her enough.

And my son: I'm so proud of the trailer he's produced for FAITHFUL, which I can now premiere, thanks to his friend Gabriel Carrasco, who wrote the background music.

Here's the link to the trailer:
Faithful Trailer

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book Launch: Nothing Like You

I'm happy to be able to introduce Lauren Strasnick and her debut novel NOTHING LIKE YOU.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, NOTHING LIKE YOU. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Thanks, Janet! NOTHING LIKE YOU is about high school senior, Holly Hirsh. Holly’s mom dies and Holly gets involved with the wrong guy. He’s got a girlfriend. She and Holly develop a friendship. Badness ensues!
A few things inspired the story. I wanted to write about a girl who is flawed, yet still really relatable and sympathetic. I was interested in exploring teen infidelity. When I started the book, I was obsessed with the Billy Joel song “Vienna.” Its lyrics helped shape the character of Holly.

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

I wrote one other book before this one. It was my MFA thesis project. But prior to that I’d written a ton of short fiction, all with teen protags.

Can you describe your path to the publication of NOTHING LIKE YOU?

I spent the year after grad school sending that first book out to agents. After a ton of rejection (some upbeat and encouraging, but still), I set that book aside and started NOTHING LIKE YOU. I had a draft in six weeks, spent three months revising, then started the querying process all over again. After about a month I signed with Michelle Andelman, then of ABLA, and together we started the revision process. Two months of rewrites, and she was subbing the book. Two weeks after that, it sold to Anica Rissi at Simon Pulse.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

The best bit of writing advice I ever got? Be fearless.

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

This, writing books, is my absolute dream – so I hope to continue doing it.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

Yes! Right now I’m working on a second book for Simon Pulse. Twins! Thwarted love! Rural Connecticut!

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about NOTHING LIKE YOU?

I do, yes! Readers can reach me at

Monday, October 19, 2009

Book Launch: Haven

I'm so pleased to introduce Beverly Patt and her debut novel HAVEN.

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

Thank you :) Sure, here's the basic plot:
Rural Illinois teen Rudy Morris meets Chicagoan Latonya Dennison on Christmas day, when Latonya ends up being the annual "orphan' at the Morris household. But Latonya doesn't disappear the day after Christmas like the other visiting orphans have. She pulls Rudy and his best friend, Stark, into a scheme to fix up and use a rusty ATV to help her run away from her group home, The Haven. Rudy reluctantly agrees but as the day draws near, his own feelings for her get in the way. What’s a getaway driver to do?

The inspiration came from a time when my husband and I wanted to take in a foster child but were continually denied because we were white and the child was not. Like Latonya, the child ended up going from group home to group home instead of getting a stable family. Fortunately, the laws have changed. But in the 80's and 90's, foster children in Illinois could only to a foster family of their same race, which ended up with a LOT of children in group homes.

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

I started writing for children in the 90's. I wrote mostly magazine articles and stories for several years. HAVEN was actually my second effort at a novel. Before that, I wrote what I thought was a picture book but it slowly grew until it became my upcoming April release, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER: A WWII SCRAPBOOK (Marshall Cavendish) -
not a novel but not a picture book either!

Can you describe your path to the publication of HAVEN?

It's all very long and boring, I'm afraid! I wrote the whole story probably in 8 months but then went through years of revisions, thanks to my trusty writer's group. It was sold to Blooming Tree Press in August 2006. They asked for a total rewrite which I turned in Nov 2007. In November of 2008, the publisher decided she liked the original version better! I'm not really sure what to attribute that to - there had been some changes in personnel, it's still a new company getting it's sea legs, I guess. So now, in a few days, it will finally be out. Phew!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Be patient. Be persistent. Be forgiving. Don't compare yourself to others. Never stop learning. Never give up.

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

Well, I have a wonderful husband and four wonderful kids who inspire me and make me laugh every day. I could not do what I do without them. Plans for the future include more of the same! More writing, more books (published, hopefully!) and more laughter.

I struggle with guilt sometimes when I'm not writing. I have to remind myself that non-writing is good too. Not only does it pull you out of your hole and make you more sociable, it gives you new experiences to include in your writing. Traveling, even if it's just to a museum in your own town, can light new fires within. Plays, movies, walks, tours, your kid's soccer games - all can provide little nuggets of inspiration. Then repetitive activities like (dare I say it?) housework or gardening or knitting can help those ideas to percolate.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?


I've got a finished novel I'm tweaking, 3 chapters of a new novel and a handful of humorous picture books.
When I get time, I'm going to query some agents as well.

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

And we'll be doing a giveaway on our class website,
There will be a teacher's guide to HAVEN on the Class of 2k9 website very shortly as well.
I hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Series: HAUNTED by Chris Eboch

I'm pleased to introduce Chris Eboch, author of a new novel series for middle grade readers, HAUNTED.

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

HAUNTED follows a brother and sister who travel with their parents’ ghost hunter TV show. In each book, the TV show researches a new ghost at a new location. The kids try to help the ghosts, while keeping their activities secret from meddling grownups. The series, for ages 8-12, will feature three books per year. I started the first book over 10 years ago -- I can't even remember how I got the idea. But paranormal is popular right now, so the market finally caught up with my idea!

What are the two books and how are they alike and different?

The first two books are THE GHOST ON THE STAIRS and THE RIVERBOAT PHANTOM. In THE GHOST ON THE STAIRS, we meet 13-year-old Jon, our narrator, and his 11-year-old sister, Tania. Their mother has married a man who hosts a ghost hunter TV show, and they travel with the show to a Colorado hotel. Jon is a skeptic, so he doesn't believe in the ghost bride who supposedly haunts the hotel, mourning for her lost husband. When Tania claims that she can see the ghost, Jon has to decide if he believes her -- and what to do about it.

In THE RIVERBOAT PHANTOM, the show is traveling on a Mississippi steamboat. The ghost is a steamboat pilot who caused a crash a century ago, and is still trying to make things right. Tania has decided her mission in life is helping ghosts, and she drags Jon into all sorts of trouble in the process. As an added complication, a fake psychic figures out Tania's gift and tries to exploit it.

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

My first book, a middle grade historical adventure, came out in 1999. THE WELL OF SACRIFICE is used in many schools when they teach about the Maya. I've also done work for hire, including two books in Simon & Schuster's Childhood of Famous Americans series. JESSE OWENS: YOUNG RECORD BREAKER and MILTON HERSHEY: YOUNG CHOCOLATIER are inspirational, fictionalized biographies, with lots of action and dialogue. I wrote them under the name M.M. Eboch to separate my work for hire from my original novels. I've also written a bunch of unpublished novels, but we don't need to go into detail about those.

Can you describe your path to the publication of HAUNTED?

It took me a long time to get the concept right, with enough backstory to sustain an entire series. I also needed to develop my writing skills -- the work for hire jobs helped a lot with that. When I was confident in the story, I sent it to an editor I knew at Aladdin. He said he loved the manuscript, but it needed to be twice as long to fit their series standards. I made sure I added plot twists and complications, to keep the fast pace. Aladdin offered me a three book contract, based on a series proposal, the manuscript for book 1, and outlines for the next two books.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Take your time and work on your education. Plan to spend 1,000 hours learning about writing and children's book publishing, and developing your craft, before you even try to submit your work. That way you won't be disappointed by early rejections, and bog down the system by sending work that isn't ready. It takes time and hard work to start any new career -- writing for children is no exception.

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

I love what I do, so I want to keep doing it! I hope the Haunted series has a long life, but I also have a couple of other series ideas, plus a mystery novel I want to write. I'm giving a lot of writing workshops in the next year, something I enjoy -- which I never would have expected when I was younger. I think it's important to keep pushing yourself and trying new things, as a writer and as a person. I got scuba certified this year, which was horribly hard and scary, but I'm glad I stuck with it until it got to the point where it can be fun. Learning to skateboard is also on my "to do" list, though not until I get all the proper protective padding.

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

Yes, readers can learn more, and read the first chapter online, at

They can also see the YouTube video, which I produced locally with the help of friends, at

Friday, October 9, 2009

So, What Happens During the Editorial Process?

I’m in the middle of my first experience with book editing, and I thought I’d share the process. My excellent editor at Puffin, Jen Bonnell, gave me a detailed plan so that I could follow along as the book made its way from manuscript printout to actual print.

The entire thing is a great deal more complicated than I’d thought. I knew there would be revisions – I love revisions! I’d already made a bunch of revisions with my agent. But this was something else. So here’s what happens:

1. Initial editorial stage. This is where the editor asks for this big change or that big change – “structural changes” was the way Jen put it. We moved big blocks of text, we deleted scenes, we added scenes. I say “we” because she made suggestions (great ones) and I did the work. And then I sent it back to her. We went through this a couple of times. Then I had the manuscript for about 3 weeks of intense editing until I felt it met her ideas and my own standards.
2. Line edits. Jen took the manuscript and gave it her own close line editing.
3. Copy edits. The manuscript goes to your high school English teacher. Or my high school English teacher (this is where my manuscript is right now. And I’m kidding – copy editors are really important to the process.) All the little punctuation problems, sentence structure errors, confusing internal inconsistencies – these are rectified by the copy editor.
4. Review of copy edits. Copy edits are fabulous for catching grammar errors but sometimes you want a sentence fragment or a dropped clause. You and your editor have the chance to add them back.
5. Design stage. The pages are set in semi-final format.
6. First pass pages. The copy editor looks over the design pages again, then passes them to the editor, and then a bound galley is sent to the author. This is where you break out the champagne or other celebratory beverage and feel both excited and nervous. Changes can be made, but not many.
7. Second and third passes. Editors in house pass over the manuscript to make sure it’s clean. One of my teachers recently mentioned the technique of using a ruler and reading the manuscript from back to front to catch minor errors – I used it and I recommend it.
8. ARCs (“advance reader copies”.) These paper-covered editions allow the publisher to circulate your work for advance publicity to librarians, bloggers, etc. They are not guaranteed error-free, having been made during the design stage.
9. But at last everyone has had a chance to pass on the text and you have…
10. A book. A real book. Now you can share your celebratory beverage – and your book – with the world.

All this time the designers are creating the perfect cover; the library and school market people are looking at the novel; the publicity and marketing people are framing a campaign; and you, the author, are having your picture taken on a good hair day and writing dedications and acknowledgements and getting permissions for any cited notes.

It's fun and exciting and a great deal of work!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Jungle Crossing - Debut Middle Grade

Sydney Salter published her debut young adult novel, MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS, last spring. Now she's the proud debut author of a middle grade, JUNGLE CROSSING. Wow! How did she do that? Read my interview to find out.

Congratulations on the publication of JUNGLE CROSSING. Please tell us a bit about the novel.

Thank you! JUNGLE CROSSING is a contemporary/historical adventure story for readers age 10 and up.

Thirteen-year-old Kat can think of dozens of good reasons not to go on a boring family vacation to hot, grungy Mexico. Number one: missing her friend Fiona’s mini-camp. If she’s not there, she’ll begin eighth grade as a social reject.

And it looks like she’s the odd girl out on vacation, too. When Kat’s parents arrange for her and her younger sister, Barb, to go on a teen adventure tour, Barb makes more friends than she does. The only person who will talk to Kat is Nando, a young Mayan guide (who happens to be quite a cutie). Each day as they travel to different Mayan ruins, Nando tells Kat and Barb another installment in the original legend of Muluc, a girl who lived in the time of the Ancient Maya. The dangerous, dramatic world in which Muluc lives is as full of rivalry, betrayal, jealousy, and sacrifice as Kat’s world at school. And as she makes new friends and discovers new treasures in Mexico, Kat begins to wonder: Is she willing to keep sacrificing her self in exchange for popularity?

This is your second novel this year! How did that come about?

JUNGLE CROSSING is actually the first novel I ever wrote, but like most first manuscripts it needed a lot of revision. But I didn’t know that back then. So I submitted the story, received rejections, and kept writing new novels. One lovely editor scrawled a comment on the bottom of her form letter rejection: Promising. Kat’s voice could be stronger. It took me two years of writing to figure out how to fix that!

In the meantime, I’d written MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS, a humorous teen novel (and my fourth manuscript). I submitted this one only to agents—and snagged one! Once MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS sold to Harcourt, my agent read through my other work and really liked JUNGLE CROSSING. Together, we worked hard on another revision before he submitted the story to my editor at Harcourt. And she bought it!

So the real secret is to keep writing! Don’t just write that first novel and wait for it to sell. Write the second one, the third—you get the idea.

What's up next for you?

My next teen novel, called SWOON AT YOUR OWN RISK, comes out in April 2010. It’s about a girl with five ex-boyfriends who is afraid to fall in love again, but, of course, there is this one guy… Oh, and her grandmother, a famous man-crazy syndicated advice columnist, has moved in for the summer.

What's the best place to learn more about you and your books?

You can read more about me at, follow my blog at (I give out prizes!) or find me on Facebook (I love making new friends).

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.

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 or B & 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 or leave me a comment on my blog at 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? 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? 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 I also am a member of the One Potato…Ten blog of writers and illustrators for children. You can follow our blog at, and I am proud to be a member of the Class of 2K9,

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!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Book Launch: Dreaming Anastasia

I'm excited to introduce you to Joy Preble and her debut novel, DREAMING ANASTASIA.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, DREAMING ANASTASIA. It's a wonderful mix of historical fiction and fantasy. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it? What was it like working in this mixed genre?

That’s a great question! Actually, it was a lot of fun. I got to work with magic and folklore, but I also got to blend my bits of alternate history with the some of the real historical facts about the Romanovs, and I got to work some with romance, too. Honestly, it was sort of freeing. And I think YA gives authors even more freedom than writing for adults. Teen readers know what they like, but they don’t always have totally set notions about what a story should contain. So they’re the perfect audience for a certain amount of experimentation. Beyond that, one of the most interesting aspects of genre melding for me was making my alternate history feel seamless. There was this great moment when I was re-reading Anastasia’s journal entries and thinking, huh? Did this event she’s talking about really happen? Actually it didn’t! It was something I’d made up. But I loved that it had begun to feel so utterly real.

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

This is actually my very first full length novel for teens. I tried my hand at some picture books a few years back, but I could never really feel that passion I was looking for. Eventually, I realized that I was meant to write YA. I love tapping into that piece of me that’s forever eighteen. All that amazing intensity of experience, all that newness, all that emotion. When I write, I’m back there again and it helps me create my stories. And yes, this novel is not only my first YA, it’s my first novel ever. So I am definitely a debut author in every sense of the word.

Can you describe your path to the publication of DREAMING ANASTASIA?

Obviously I get asked that a lot. When you’re a debut author, everyone wants to know about that journey. I know I always want to know how other authors arrived at where they are now. For me, the main part of the journey began about five years ago when I was, let us say, enormously unhappy about many parts of my life and having a really horrible year at work. I think now that it was simply the universe smashing an anvil on my head and giving me one more opportunity to get busy and do what I’d always dreamed of doing since I was a little girl – which was to write a novel. And so I finally gave in and wrote. Anne’s voice had come to me first – this smart, snarky, inquisitive and very brave girl who thinks she knows it all. For whatever reason, I’d given her my love of the Romanov family saga – that horribly fascinating tragedy of a family that had everything and lost it all – including their lives. And of course the fascination with Anastasia herself – did she die? Did she somehow survive the assassination? I’d been obsessed with her fate since I’d first read about her when I was in junior high. After that, the story just began to unfold, mostly from my question of what if Anne found out that she had the power to change history? What if she encountered this crazily handsome guy with a mysterious past who told her that it was up to her to save Anastasia? And what if that turned out to be true? It took me about a year to write that first draft. I did some early querying of editors and agents, took ten pages to a local SCBWI conference for a critique. But in February of 2006, I finally began querying in earnest. And that’s when my life changed for good. Because this time I heard back something I’d only hoped for. Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary wasn’t interested herself, but she was passing my manuscript on to Michelle Andelman, then a new junior agent.

And that was just the beginning. Michelle and I revised the manuscript until we couldn’t look at it any more. In 2007, Lyron Bennett of Sourcebooks acquired it as their first YA. And in the two years between then and September 1, 2009 when the book releases, both Michelle and Lyron have moved on to other jobs. I am now repped by the amazing Jen Rofe, also of ABLA, and have a new editor, Dan Ehrenhaft. (let me interject here that losing both your agent and your editor in the middle of a project has the potential to turn out badly, so that fact that it did not is a major miracle and something for which I’m very grateful.) Michelle still supports me behind the scenes, and in fact DREAMING ANASTASIA is dedicated to two women – one being my mother, who passed away far too soon to enjoy this all with me, and the other being Michelle to whom I will always be profoundly grateful for giving me the chance to chance to follow my dream.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Write! You won’t get better without practice. And mostly, read. Not all readers are good writers, but all writers are readers. I’ve had students argue that point with me, but it’s just true. Even if you have a natural talent, you can’t write well in a vacuum. You need to learn from others and you do that by reading voraciously, especially in the genre in which you’d like to write. Beyond that, I would say that you need to believe in yourself, but that you also need to develop a thick skin, be able to accept criticism, and understand early on that writing for publication is by and large a collaborative experience. If you are unable to work with others and take suggestion, then you’d be better off choosing another line of endeavor.

I understand that you're a teacher. Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

Yes, I am a teacher, and I’ve taught all grades from seventh through twelfth, although lately I’ve been teaching tenth grade English and Creative Writing. Currently, my goals are to continue writing YA novels and continue growing in my writing career. Short –term, I’d also like to be able to get through this next school year balancing teaching 150 students and being a debut author. Right now, I’m a little unclear about how that’s all going to work out! My biggest inspirations have been the many strong women in my life. I’m blessed to have grown up with some amazing female role models and I think that they really gave me the strength to keep striving even when I was unsure of what it was I was supposed to be doing. My mom had a tough life – she grew up fairly poor; her dad left the family when she was young; her mother – my maternal grandmother – was a prickly sort of person. But my mom was a lady who just never gave up. She had let her driver’s license lapse because we lived in Chicago and pretty much took public transportation everywhere. But when my dad died, she bought a new car and took driver’s ed again at the age of 70!

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

Because there’s been two years between the sale of DREAMING ANASTASIA and its release, I’ve finished a novel that’s set here in Texas and is about football, faith, love, and the redemptive power of a plate of pecan waffles and hash browns. And I’m working on completing a third novel about a girl whose parents run a bakery. That one’s about love, life, dreams, and pastries! Beyond that, I’d love to continue the DREAMING ANASTASIA series if I get the opportunity. The novel concludes with some definite loose ends, and I’d enjoy exploring them, especially the Anne/Ethan romance. Plus there are so many other Russian folklore figures I’d like to use besides Baba Yaga, including rusalkas, which are these wonderfully bad Slavic mythology mermaids.

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

I invite everyone to visit If that’s not enough, you can also look at my pages on and at Authors Now. I also blog at And if you’re still in need of more, you can follow me on Twitter as @joypreble.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Coming soon!

Here's the skinny on Book Blogger Appreciation Week - which I know about from my friends at Class of 2k9, who are nominees!

This is a great roster of book bloggers, so check out the URL, and their announcement below:

Announcing the Second Annual Book Blogger Appreciation Week September 14-18, 2009

Last year over 400 blogs came together to celebrate the art of book blogging during the first ever Book Blogger Appreciation Week! I am so pleased to announce that the second annual Book Blogger Appreciation Week will be taking place September 14-18.
WHO Anyone who blogs about books is invited to participate. In fact, we want everyone who blogs about books and reading to be a part of this week!
WHAT A week where we come together, celebrate the contribution and hard work of book bloggers in promoting a culture of literacy, connecting readers to books and authors, and recogonizing the best among us with the Second Annual BBAW Awards. There will be special guest posts, daily blogging themes, and giveaways.

WHEN September 14-18, 2009

WHERE Here at the new Book Blogger Appreciation Week Blog! (Please note that this year there are three separate blogs and feeds—one for the main event, one for giveaways, and one for awards.)

WHY Because books matter. In a world full of options, the people talking about books pour hard work, time, energy, and money into creating a community around the written word. I, Amy, the founder of Book Blogger Appreciation Week love this community of bloggers and want to shower my appreciation on you!