Saturday, May 30, 2009

About Albert Borris and His Debut Novel CRASH INTO ME

Before my debut novel launch was bumped, I was a member of the debut class of 2k9. Although I've since moved to 2k10, I remain in close contact with many of the excellent novelists who are members of the 2k9 class. One of those members is Albert Borris, author of CRASH INTO ME, a remarkable book for teens.

Albert - who signs his emails "namaste" - has the heart of a healer, and is the soul of compassion. It was devastating to all of us when Albert suffered a massive stroke last December. We've all missed his soft and encouraging voice and wry humor. He is coming back to us, but there is a way we can help.

A fundraising event to benefit Albert has been scheduled for the end of June. The following is from a flyer posted by Albert's family:

"On Sunday June 28th from 1PM to 5PM at the International Sports, Skating and Fun Centre, Mt Laurel, New Jersey, family and friends will gather to assist debut author Albert Borris. Tickets are $10 students/$25 adults. There will be Family Fun: Skating, arcade games, and more...50/50 raffle, Prize Raffle, Teen Book Sale, and an Opportunity to buy signed copies of Albert’s first novel CRASH INTO ME.

Albert Borris has been the Student Assistance Counselor at Moorestown High School for over 20 years. Last December Albert suffered a massive stoke leaving his speech severely damaged. This summer, Albert has the opportunity to attend an intense program in speech therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, ranked #1 in rehab facilities in US News and World Report. He has made a difference with countless kids in our community. June 28th we invite you to come and make a difference in his life. Please help us give Albert back his voice in the world."

Here's what Kirkus said about Albert's novel CRASH INTO ME: "This is no ordinary road trip. After four high-school students—reticent narrator Owen, perpetual liar Audrey, Korean-American lesbian Jin-Ae and socially inept, alcoholic Frank—meet online, they head west on a celebrity-suicide road trip. Their last planned stop is Death Valley, where they will carry out a suicide pact. During their intense two weeks together, the teens bond emotionally and physically, as they make self-discoveries, explore their own reasons for committing suicide and feel validated for the first time. Flashbacks to the students' online chats show how far they've traveled—in miles and in changed perceptions. As they approach their final destination, they must decide if their trip has come to a conclusion—or if their lives are just beginning. This gripping debut novel gives a spot-on portrayal of depressed and suicidal teens with realistic voices. Fans of Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why (2007) will find this page-turner a hopeful alternative."

This exciting debut, and Albert, need our collective voices. To sweeten the pot, if you comment on this post and promise to help spread the word I'll reserve a copy of my debut FAITHFUL when I have it in hand, or send you a copy of my first book GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (your choice) for the lucky winner of a random drawing.

If you are unable to attend the June 28th fundraiser but would still like to help, donations can be made to Friends of Albert Borris c/o TD Bank 22 W. Main St. Moorestown, NJ 08057

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bridget Zinn Auction - Visit And Bid!

A collection of writers including Jone MacCulloch and April Henry has created an on-line auction to support a young librarian and YA author from Portland, OR. Bridget Zinn was recently diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. This auction has attracted the attention of a host of writers, editors, agents and other folks who have generously donated items ranging from signed first editions to manuscript readings in order to benefit Bridget and help defray her costs.

You can learn more about Bridget at

More importantly, check out and bid on the amazing donations at

The auction closes on May 30th.

It's moving to witness the support of friends for a clearly loved individual, and humbling to see how many in our community are donating and bidding on auction items. I've often thought that children's writers are a generous group, and this fundraiser proves the point.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Launch: Also Known As Harper

Ann Haywood Leal's debut book, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER, is garnering major buzz! Here's an interview with Ann:

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
Harper Lee Morgan is an aspiring poet, which isn't surprising, seeing as how she's named after her mama's favorite writer, Harper Lee. And life is giving her a lot to write about. Daddy walked out, leaving the family with too many bills and too little money. When Harper's family gets evicted, Harper must stay away from school to take care of her little brother, Hemingway, while Mama scrambles to find more work. Their whole world has been turned upside down, which Harper could just about handle, if it wasn't for the poetry contest at school. More than anything, she wants to get up on that stage and read her poems out loud.

I have been a volunteer at my local soup kitchen for four years now. Before I actually walked through the doors on the first day, I'd had some pretty stereotypical expectations in my mind about who the clients would be. I expected dirty-bum-in-the-alley people; drug and alcohol-addicted adults without dreams or lives or career aspirations. But that's not what I see at all. We get a lot of families with children. And quite a few of the adults have jobs--they just can't quite make enough to make ends meet for their families. I started thinking about what their stories might actually be--how they got to that point--and the chances they had of getting out of their predicament. I thought about how the children still had hope on their faces. Those thoughts and concerns and expressions on the faces of the children turned into Harper and her story.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER is my first published book, but I think I started trying to write stories when I was about five. My mom saved a lot of them. I have always written on any available scrap of paper! I wrote my first 100 page novel when I was in the sixth grade. My best friend was also working on a novel. I can remember lugging all our supplies up a rope ladder to her tree house. I also wrote some chapters at school, mostly on colored notebook paper. When I finished it, I wrote to Judy Blume and told her all about it! She wrote back to me and the school librarian put the letter up in a special place in the library. I was considered a geek at school, but everyone thought I was cool when I got that letter--for about a week, anyway!

Can you describe your path to the publication of ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER?
I wrote ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER about two years ago and sent an early draft to a few editors. While I was waiting to hear from them, I decided I was going to really focus not on the selling of my manuscript so much, but on trying to make it as good as I possibly could. Around that time, I got a monthly newsletter in the mail called "Children's Writer". I read an article that had an interview with Dan Lazar, an agent from Writers House. I remember being impressed with how straightforward and honest he was--just the type of person I'd love to have represent me. So we had some e-mail correspondence and after a few weeks, he called me and signed me up. I can't remember a whole lot of what was said in that phone call--I was pretty excited! Dan is an amazing agent. We did another revision and he got some interest from a few people. I can remember when he told me he thought there might be an auction. I had no idea what that would be like, but it was very exciting and kind of scary at the same time. I was ecstatic when Holt bought it--they have been very good to me.

Do you have a mentor or critique group?
I have taken a writing classes, over the past few years, with Patricia Reilly Giff. I would consider her a mentor to a lot of people. I don't think I've ever seen someone who is more generous with their time and knowledge. She is such a gift to new writers. I have a wonderful critique group of three other people: Pam Farley, Mary Jo Scott, and Margaret Welch. We have met once a month for about the last three years. They are honest and encouraging and I don't know what I'd do without them!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Write every day. Make time for it and schedule it into your daily routine. I teach full-time and have a family, so I know that isn't always easy to do. And it may sound a bit cliche, but never give up!

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I just got my second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. It was extra meaningful for me, because I got to do it with my thirteen-year-old daughter, Holly!

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I am working on the revisions of my second book, also with Henry Holt. It will be out in 2010. Esther and her younger sister, Ruth, are dealing with a mother who I'm hoping will bring out a lot of conflicting emotions in the reader!

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER?
My website is You can read the first chapter and print out a discussion guide.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Craft Issue #5: "The Sticky-note Method of Plotting"

I’ve been thinking about plot a great deal lately – which has something to do with writing a first draft. In particular, I’ve been contemplating plot structure. But before I tell you of a trick that seems to be working for me, I’d like to look at the concept of story and conflict.

In her remarkable craft book Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway discusses conflict in terms of struggle. Here’s how she sums up the plot structures of Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Anna Karenina, and Gone With the Wind:

“In each of these plots, there is both intense desire and great danger to the achievement of that desire; generally speaking, this shape holds good for all plots. It can be called 3-D: Drama equals desire plus danger.” She goes on to talk about the need for the protagonist to act, to not be passive or reflective, but to “want, and want intensely.”

Fine. But how do we create a structure that reeks of “desire plus danger?”

I recently tried writing organically, which did not work well. I’ve devised a new strategy, that I’ll call the “sticky-note method of first-draft plotting.”

I found an old foam-core board (light-weight, yet rigid). And then bought a pack of sticky-notes – bright colors, about 3 inches square. I divided the colors into four sets: the first for Act 1, the second for Act 2 part 1, third for Act 2 part 2, fourth for Act 3. I stuck them on the foam core – roughly 12-14 per set.

Each sticky note is a scene. For each scene I wrote no more than 5 words. (That’s the important part – 5 words. It condenses the material to the bare essence.) There were initially lots of blank notes in Acts 2 and 3, but that was okay, because I found it easy to fill them in as I progressed through my first draft and grabbed hold of my ideas.

Now, how does the sticky-note method pertain to structure? Mainly because it became easier for me to see whether I’m fulfilling the desire line. Is my character wanting something so intensely that she has to put herself – or others – in danger? A quick glance at the board tells me whether I have enough drama. Whether I need to move a scene, or add, or subtract.

I promised I’d discuss plot points, and I will – next craft post!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gross National Happiness!

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom in search of happiness. Landlocked within a frame of some of the highest mountains on the planet, guided by a religion that espouses peace and serenity, this kingdom decided that to ascertain the happiness of all citizens was more important than to provide them material wealth.
This kingdom instituted a system to measure happiness as the basis of prosperity, and programs in this enchanted land are now assessed according to the principle of Gross National Happiness.
This would be a fairy tale if it were not true. The constitutional monarchy of Bhutan has adopted the G.N.H. as an economic indicator. In Bhutan, prayer flags flap in the winds, the capital city has no stoplights, and cigarettes are banned. And the happiness of people is the highest priority of the government.
Why do I love this story? Everything about it is mythic, from the physical beauty of the Himalayas, to the traditional clothing and architecture, to the idea of (and the name) Gross National Happiness.
Sometimes, truth is stranger (and in this case, lovelier) than fiction.
I wish for you all to be grossly happy!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review: Eternal

Eternal (Companion to Tantalize) Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
What fun! If you are of a squeamish disposition, this novel might be over the top, but Leitch Smith’s blend of fantasy, current cultural references, literary and Biblical analogies, and a ripping (pardon the pun) good story make this novel a winner. Told in alternating points of view, Leitch Smith has truly a masterful hand at characterization and voice. She also has a sly wit, and some of the scenes are hilarious, while others are truly eeuww-gross. But I had tears in my eyes at the end.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Book Launch: Shrinking Violet

I'm so happy to introduce yet another terrific debut novel, SHRINKING VIOLET from Danielle Joseph.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, SHRINKING VIOLET. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
It’s about a painfully shy high school senior, Tere, who dreams of being a DJ. When a slot opens up at her stepfather’s radio station, The SLAM, Tere snags the job and slowly opens up behind the mike. To everyone's shock, she's a hit as confident, sexy Sweet T, her radio persona! But Sweet T’s dream could turn into Tere’s worst nightmare when The Slam runs a contest to win a date with her for the prom!
I wanted to write about something I love, music and the story really took off from there. I also thought it would be cool to write a story about a girl who had to overcome personal obstacles to reach her dream.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I became interested in writing for teens during college but did not really become serious until after I had my first son and joined a critique group. SHRINKING VIOLET is my first published book but I have a few manuscripts in the drawer, some of which I plan to resurrect in the future.

Can you describe your path to the publication of SHRINKING VIOLET? Do you have a mentor or critique partner who guided you along the way?
I belong to a couple of wonderful critique groups that really helped me grow as a writer. One of the critique groups is lead by local author Joyce Sweeney and she has been a wonderful mentor to me and many other writers.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
I think it is really important to know your audience and to get to know them you need to read a lot and listen a lot. Also, you really need to write from your heart, not what you think you should write.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I plan to be a lifelong author. I love to write but I also love to share my stories and journey with other people so I plan to do school visits and talk at conferences. I have learned a lot from networking and have met some truly wonderful people along the way.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I have another young adult book, INDIGO BLUES, coming out in Fall 2010 with FLUX. It’s told in two points of view and is about a songwriter who’s song about his breakup with his girlfriend hits number one and how both their lives change. I’m also working on something new that involves love, intrigue and things beyond the grave.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about SHRINKING VIOLET?
Absolutely, it’s and people can join my street team for up-to-date book info and contests.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Book Review: Chains

Chains Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Anderson is one of my favorite writers and for good reason. Once again she renders a beautifully told story that kept me on the edge of my seat. Isabel is a compelling voice - and not only because she struggles so mightily, but also because she has such clear flaws, and these are a result of both her circumstance and her character. And Anderson knows how to write historical fiction, with all the necessary details and language nuances. Brilliant.

View all my reviews.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Book Launch: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Today I'm delighted to introduce you to a marvelous debut, and its author Jacqueline Kelly. This is sure to become a much talked-about middle grade novel!

Congratulations, Jacqueline, on the publication of your terrific debut novel, THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
Hi Janet, thanks so much for your wonderful review of the book. You yourself know, as a writer, how gratifying it is to see your work enthusiastically received. I am just so pleased to have my first book in print.

The work was mainly inspired by the old house I own in Fentress. The house is about 140 years old, and I bought it from the grand-daughter of the man who built it, a Mr. Harwood. The Harwood name is well-known in central Texas. The house was built for an expanding Victorian family, and has many bedrooms and bathrooms. It was originally situated on 600 acres of cotton. I bought it in the mid-1980's, and then promptly ran out of money to fix it up. Old houses are an addicting habit, and shockingly expensive to fix. The house remains to this day a fine example of moldering splendor and faded glory.

One very hot summer, I was lying on the day bed under one of the wheezing window units, and I wondered how people stood the summer heat before air conditioning, especially the poor women, who had to wear corsets and many layers of clothing. The first line of the book sprang into my head, and the whole family, including Calpurnia, came alive at that moment to answer my question for me.

By the way, I did make a promise to the house that if the book made money, I would restore it to its former beauty.

Your research enhances the story. How difficult was it to find this level of detail?
Not as difficult as you might think. For some reason, this period of time has always interested me, and over the years I have soaked up many of the details of daily life found in the book. My mother’s description of her mother’s childhood was helpful. Then, of course, there’s the internet. Most of my online research consisted of seeking out old family photographs from that period. There’s something about them that I find so appealing. Having your photograph made in those days was a very important event. I looked at those faces and wonder about the stories behind them. About half-way through my writing, I stumbled across a photograph of a young girl that reminded me so much of my mental picture of Calpurnia. This girl has a very open, appealing face. You can just see her curiosity about the world written in her expression. I will post her photograph on my website which should be up and running any day now. I also found a picture of an old man with a long white beard, who reminds me a bit of Granddaddy. There’s also a famous portrait of Darwin in late-life, and I realized towards the end of the writing process that much of Granddaddy’s appearance is based on this portrait.

Do you have a vision of Calpurnia’s future (without giving too much away)?
I originally wrote an epilogue for the story, but removed it at the suggestion of my editor, Laura Godwin at Holt. It explains what eventually happened to every member of the family. Now that there is some talk of a sequel, I can see the wisdom of Laura’s suggestion. I can see Calpurnia in her 20's, all clad in white, marching arm-in-arm with other suffragettes for the right to vote. Other than that, I can only say that we don’t need to worry too much about our girl. She will be all right.

I loved the characters, especially Granddaddy. Can you tell us more about your character development?
My parents and I left New Zealand when I was very young. I never met my maternal grandfather, and my paternal grandfather was on the other side of the world. Since I essentially grew up without a grandfather, I had to create my own. Granddaddy is a combination of my own father and a couple of my friends. One of the things I love about Granddaddy is that he does not treat Calpurnia as a child. He cannot even see that she is just a young girl. If she is going to study Science with him, then he expects her to approach the subject rigorously, as a true, single-minded Scientist. Standards must be maintained!

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
This is my first book for readers of any age. It started out as a short story that I submitted to my writing group some years ago, and they pronounced the fateful words: “We think this should be a novel.” My reaction to that was no, no, it can’t possibly be. You’re wrong.

Can you describe your path to the publication of THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE?
I turned the short story into the first chapter, and added a couple more chapters. I entered my paltry thirty pages or so in the Writers’ League of Texas annual Agents & Editors Conference. To my huge surprise, I won the contest. The judge was an agent Marcy Posner, who wanted to see the rest of the manuscript. I mumbled something about how it “needed a lot more re-writing” before I could show it to her. Lies, all lies. It took me a couple more years before I got the finished book to her, but she stuck with me and eventually sold it Laura Godwin at Henry Holt. Laura had a non-fiction book about Darwin for young readers coming out in 2009, and my manuscript caught her eye. This year is the celebration of Darwin’s 200th birthday, and the 50th anniversary of the publication of his great work, ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, so Darwin is everywhere you look.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Boy, do I. The best piece of advice I can give is that if you don’t have a writing group, you must either find one or form one. Right now. This instant. Many beginners are self-conscious about showing their work, but you have to get over this, and you have to be able to learn to take criticism of your work, as well as learn to critique others’ work. In a kind and helpful fashion, of course. I can’t stand writing groups that rip each other into little bitty shreds. What’s helpful about that? Not a thing. I belong to a fabulous writing group that’s been meeting for almost eight years. We call ourselves the Fabs. We all get along terrifically, and we have so much fun it’s ridiculous.

I understand that you have a medical background as well as a legal background. Can you tell us more about your personal life and its influence on your novel?
Actually, neither of these had that much to do with CALPURNIA. What really influenced the book is my undergraduate degree in biology. We did field studies that still influence the way I look at the world when I go outside for something as simple as taking a walk. I often just sit on the front porch of the old house, as Calpurnia does, and wait for something to move and catch my eye.

What are your plans for the future, goals, etc? Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I’m presently working on a sequel to THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. This was my favorite book as a child, and I can’t believe I’m trying to write a sequel. Such audacity! Kenneth Grahame’s language is so gorgeous that it’s intimidating. I re-read his book every few years and I am swept away by it every single time. It is that rarest of books, one that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. My book is entitled THE WILLOWS REDUX, and I will be thrilled if it’s half as good as the original.

Where can readers learn more about you and THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE?
I am building a website that should be up shortly, I can’t answer all mail, but I love getting letters if you’re of a mind to send one. The address is 300 E. 8th Street, Suite G-159, Austin, TX 78701.