Sunday, February 28, 2010

Making Connections

Last month a group of my writer friends declared that February would be Write Your Butt Off Month (WYBOM). Each of us set personal goals and touched based several times a week, offering support when someone hit a rough patch or celebration when someone had a great day.

I worked hard on a revision for my agent, even squeezing in a couple of post-skiing hours on the weekends. After one last read-through on Friday, I sent the manuscript off (wahoo!!!). And then I noticed my desk--scary--and decided I'd better find out what lurked in those teetering piles. Mid-sort I found the copy of Standing at Water's Edge I'd bought after chatting with a fine artist who stopped by one of my book signings.

I left the rest of my desk messy, brewed a cup of tea, and settled in to read. I love finding a book that fits a particular moment in my life. The book is written by Anne Paris, PhD, a therapist who studies creativity and works with artists of all kinds. She emphasizes the importance of having meaningful connections with other people while doing creative work.

While art is created alone, we need to find supporters, mentors, and others sharing a similar experience. Like WYBOM! Not only did we cheer and nudge each other along in February, we meet for dinner throughout the year to talk writing, set goals, and simply connect with others who hear characters talking in their heads.

I truly appreciate the supportive writing and reading community in Utah. Last night was a good example. The book bloggers--and it turns out there are a lot of them here--host biannual dinner gatherings and invite authors to come too. I went for the first time last night.

About fifty people showed up--veteran authors, popular bloggers, newer bloggers, debut authors, award-winning authors, bestsellers, agented writers waiting to score that first contract, even a bookseller opening a new Indie store. We all ate too many desserts, talked books, writing, silly stuff--and I realized that Anne Paris is SO right. Human connection is essential, and while it's nice to get to know someone online, there's nothing like hearing someone's laughter in person.
Much thanks to Natasha at Maw Books Blog at for organizing the event!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Winter Olympics

I love the Winter Olympics. I enjoy seeing the variety of activities that comprise winter sports. No one ever goes bobsledding in PE. Most parents discourage their kids from leaping into the air and twirling around and around like arial ski jumpers. And then there's two-man luge...well, it just looks so silly that it makes me laugh.I love how different body types suit different sports. Women with thick-muscled thighs win gold medals speed racing, but itty bitty teenagers excel at figure skating.

And I'm completely fascinated by the psychological drive these athletes possess. Skier Lindsey Vonn raced--and won--despite a painful injury. Figure skater Joannie Rochette won a bronze medal, performing even though her mother died just days ago. That kind of inner strength amazes me. And Shaun White, knowing he'd already won the gold medal, exceeded his previous score by whipping out an even more gravity-defying trick in his second run. Wow!

All of the athletes competing have worked so incredibly hard to reach the Olympics, and all their hopes and dreams depend upon one race or one performance. So many dreams are dashed when a skier hooks a tip, a skater catches an edge, a bobsled takes a turn too wide.

I'm so incredibly grateful that writing a novel doesn't come down to one single submission--writers have so many chances, and we can revise. Imagine a figure skater saying to the judges, um, excuse me, but I'd like to revise that triple lutz...

Just for fun, here's a picture of me skiing the run that was used for women's downhill during the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics. I can't ski anywhere near as fast as Lindsey Vonn, and she never stops mid-run to rest her thighs, but I love going fast!

Here's to following your dreams--I hope they don't come down to one defining moment, but if they do, good luck!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Contest Winner!


Kate at Read This Book is the winner.

Watch for more giveaways in the coming weeks.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Relationship Advice from Erin Dionne

Since I don't have tons of breaking up experience, I've asked some of my favorite authors to help me celebrate the release of Swoon At Your Own Risk by sharing their relationship advice. Today Erin Dionne, author of The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, shares her wisdom. To thank her, I'm giving you a chance to win her new book. Just leave a comment!

1. What is the dumbest or smartest thing you've done after a breakup?

Smartest thing I've done...never call the guy again. Dumbest thing? Find any excuse to call (mind you, this is the days before caller ID!), just to hear his voice. Blargghhh!!

2. It's your turn to play Miss Swoon--give us your best relationship advice.

Best relationship advice: if you feel that you have to change to get the other person to notice you, it's not a good fit. There's someone out there who will appreciate who you are RIGHT NOW. Find them.

3. If you could go on a date with any fictional character, who would it be?

Oooohhh!! Love this question... hmmm....I'd love to go out with Joseph Fiennes' Shakespeare, from "Shakespeare in Love." Mmmmm...

More About The Total Tragedy Of A Girl Named Hamlet

Hamlet Kennedy just wants to be your average, happy, vanilla eighth grader. But with Shakespearean scholar parents who dress in Elizabethan regalia and generally go about in public as if it were the sixteenth century, that's not terribly easy. It gets worse when they decide that Hamlet's genius seven-year-old sister will attend middle school with her--and even worse when the Shakespeare project is announced and her sister is named the new math tutor. By the time an in-class recitation reveals that our heroine is an extraordinary Shakespearean actress, Hamlet can no longer hide from the fact that she--like her family--is anything but average. To buy the book at Indiebound.

Author Bio:

Erin Dionne’s debut novel, Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies, was inspired by events that occurred in seventh grade, when she wore a scary peach bridesmaid dress in her cousin’s wedding and threw up on her gym teacher’s shoes (not at the same event). Although humiliating at the time, these experiences are working for her now. Erin lives outside of Boston with her husband and daughter, and a very insistent dog named Grafton. She roots for the Red Sox, teaches English at an art college, and sometimes eats chocolate cookies.

Just leave a comment and your contact info for a chance to win the book!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pop Singers Need Editors. Right, Kesha?

I love a catchy pop song (Owl City's "Fireflies" just makes me feel happy, you know?). But lately I've been thinking that pop singers really need editors. Take Kesha's "Tick Tock" song. Okay, aside from the fact that Jack Daniels will likely never make the American Dental Association's list of approved toothpastes, it's this lyric that drives me crazy:

"Now, the dudes are lining up cause they hear we got
But we kick 'em to the curb unless they look like Mick


These clubbing cuties are looking for old, craggy guys? If I tried to put this line in a novel, my editor would be, like, um, have you SEEN Mick Jaggar? She'd never let me get away with something just because it sounds good.

Maybe Kesha thinks her listeners are too young to know Mick Jagger. The other day "Tick Tock" came on as I drove my 10 year old to art lessons. Having already discussed the use of Jack Daniels in dental hygiene, I said:

"The thing is--Mick Jagger's not very good-looking."
"Oh, I know," she said.
"You know who Mick Jaggar is?"
"I googled him."

I quickly asked her to never, never, never google things she hears in Lady GaGa songs. Later I found out my teenager daughter had become a Facebook fan of the group: I Don't Think Kesha Knows What Mick Jagger Looks Like! (She's also the one who explains Lady GaGa songs to me.)

So why aren't pop songs edited? My friends who write picture books sure aren't allowed to get away with convenient rhymes. I'm not allowed to put things that don't make sense in my novels.

Or could it be that the teen vampire obsession has taken a new twist and really old guys are the new hotties...

Here's the song if you haven't heard it:

Catchy, huh?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Guest Nose Kristen Walker

Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Kristen Walker, author of the funny debut novel Match Made In High School. You won't forget your sunscreen after reading her story. Oh, and I'm giving away a copy of her book too!

Kristin writes:
I was unfortunate enough to grow up just before scientists linked sunburns to skin cancer. It was also a time devoid of anything resembling good fashion. It was the 80s, and that meant tan skin, a pastel Polo shirt, and a pair of Hawaiian-print Jams. Plus, a bad perm, blue eyeshadow, and pale pink iridescent lipstick. I, being a Euro-Scandinavian mongrel, have always been as pale as paper.

But the summer I was 15, I decided that I was going to get a tan. So one day, I laid out in the sun from 10AM to 4PM. On the beach. In a bikini. With a glistening coat of baby oil smeared over my entire body.
That evening, I didn't feel too bad. But somewhere in the middle of the night, the pain kicked in.

When I woke up, I was glowing a nuclear red. For the next week, I was in agony. I had to go to cheerleading camp with shreds of skin falling off my arms and face like birch bark. By the end of it, a full layer of skin had peeled off my entire body. It was disgusting and embarrassing. And sure didn't make me tan.
Needless to say, I'm a sunblock fanatic now. I pride myself on my translucently-pale skin. I know the damage was done, though. But at least I don't have to wear blue eyeshadow and Jams anymore.

About A Match Made In High School

When a mandatory marriage education course forces Fiona to “try the knot” with super-jock Todd Harding, she’s convinced life could not possibly get any worse. Until moments later, when her long-time crush is paired with her arch-enemy (otherwise known as Todd’s obscenely hot, slightly sadistic girlfriend). But that's nothing compared to her best friend's fate--a year with the very shy, very goofy, very big Johnny Mercer.

A series of hilarious pranks and misunderstandings leave Fiona wondering: is there somethign her supposed "best friend" hasn't told her? Could there be more to Johnny Mercer than a deep voice and an awesome music collection? And perhaps most intriguing of all, is it possible that Todd Harding could actually have a heart--and a brain--beneath his pretty-boy exterior? Buy the book at Amazon or Indiebound.

About Kristin Walker

Kristin Walker grew up roaming the Pennsylvania countryside. She finally landed at Penn State, where she earned a BA in Theatre Arts. In addition to being actor, Kristin was many things on her way to becoming an author, such as a lifeguard, a nanny, a beginning ballroom dance instructor, a library circulation clerk, and very nearly a nurse. A Match Made in High SchoolLadybug, Wee Ones, and two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Kristin lives in a Chicago suburb with her husband and three sons. Find out more at:

To win a copy of Match Made In High School, please leave a comment by Tuesday, February 23rd.

Monday, February 15, 2010

So Vampires Don't Leave the Seat Up?

Yesterday while leaving the supermarket with four jumbo packs of Cottonelle, I confessed to my teen that I always feel kind of embarrassed when I buy tons of toilet paper, even though everyone uses it, goes to the bathroom...

"Everyone except vampires," she said.

"Really? Vampires NEVER go to the bathroom?"

"It's never mentioned," she said. "Besides what do they have to digest? They use the blood to make up for not having any blood of their own."

"Okay. I guess it makes sense that those perfect vampire guys wouldn't ever leave the seat up."

She laughed, after rolling her eyes. "If you became a vampire, you'd never have to buy toilet paper again."

"I'm going to seriously consider it."

A few hours later, I realized that if I did in fact became a vampire, I wouldn't have to sleep either. Think of all the books I could read! And write... I might do it, but only if I don't have to go to high school for the next 200 years.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Writing Books, Reading Books

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion at the Salt Lake City Library with YA authors Bobbie Pyron (The Ring), Paul Genesse (The Iron Dragon series), and Sara Zarr (Story Of A Girl, Sweethearts, Once Was Lost).

Sara Zarr talked about how her first published novel, Story Of A Girl, was her fourth manuscript (that's what happened to me too). She said she kept going despite "failing, failing, and failing because I wanted it so much." Every year she'd think that this would be the year and that kept her going through the hard times.

Paul Genesse, who works as a cardiac intensive care nurse, spent eight years working on his writing before he got published. He attended conferences and networked with editors, which he believes helped him get published (I've made great connections at conferences too).

Bobbie Pyron works as a librarian so having her own book on the shelves is particularly thrilling. Yet having a book published hasn't eliminated moments of doubt, frustration, or low self-esteem (I know how she feels).

Sara Zarr agreed that even having a debut novel that received a National Book Award nomination hasn't made writing the subsequent novels any easier.

Paul Genesse and Bobbie Pyron said that connecting with readers and fans is the best part of publishing (I agree!).

Next the panelists talked about some of their favorite books. I always enjoying hearing what my favorite authors like to read, plus I'm always looking for good books to add to my own reading list. Here are a few books they mentioned:

Bobbie Pyron loves Lizzie Bright and The Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt, The Absolutely Ture Dairy Of A Par-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, and Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli.

Paul Genesse loves The Lord Of The Rings Triology by JRR Tolkien, A Game of Thrones by George Martin, and Dune by Frank Herbert.

Sara Zarr loves The Geography Of Girlhood by Kirsten Smith, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, and Sorta Like A Rockstar by Matthew Quick (it will be released in May, 2010).

For aspiring writers, they all recommended Stephen King's book On Writing. Listening to these funny, intelligent, and generous authors was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

SCBWI New York Part Three: A Taping of ABCs The View

Since the main character in my work-in-progress ends up on a couple of TV shows, I couldn't resist a fellow SCBWI Regional Advisor's invitation to join her for a taping of The View. Research, right? Okay, so I do watch Hot Topics during my lunch break--how else would I keep up on celebrity divorces?

We had to arrive two hours before the taping where we waited in line with about two hundred others. I've never seen so many people with great hair and makeup crammed into one place. Plus, we were all wearing our bright colors and uncomfortable shoes (no one ever saw my feet, but oh, well...)

See how shiny and clean everyone looks? I was a little surprised that ABC couldn't spring for a bigger TV in their waiting area.
Around 10:30 a.m. the perky staff began taking us in small groups to the elevator. When we arrived in the studio they handed us each a package of cookies and a cold bottle of apple juice as if we were about to have preschool circle time or something. But then I realized that they wanted to give us a quick sugar rush. And then we met this guy:

His job was to whip us into a happy, clappy frenzy. He relied heavily on butt jokes. I half expected him to start in on some my mom's Uranus jokes, but we were spared stooping quite that low. And then there was dancing! Bring on the Beyonce!

The striking woman in green is a stage actress (we struck up a conversation in line and later sat near each other). And could she dance! Her friend did a totally Glee-worthy Single Ladies routine. Very fun to watch. Barbara Walters also came out to tell us how special we were as an audience. Aw! (I'm sure she says that to all the audiences, but it was still kinda cool).

Here I am just before the show started. My pink sweater made me easy to spot when I later watched the show. My daughters enjoyed pausing me with funny expressions--and then laughing hysterically.
And here are the Hot Topics--a whole day of 'em! I have to admit I was a little surprised at how shabby the set looked in person. But I guess since ABC hasn't bought a new waiting area TV since the early 90s...
I loved watching what happened during the commercial breaks. Hair people came out to fluff Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Whoopie joked about her butt, Joy joked about her butt, Sherri joked about her butt... Elisabeth talked about her butt. The jokey-clapping guy joked about his butt. Again.

We all agreed that we received The Worst Giveaway Ever! (A book no one in the audience particularly wanted). But I did get some nice tidbits for my work-in-progress--and a package of cookies from Barbara Walters to take home to my daughters (they're not fans--they think she wears too much leather. I brought the cookies as a peace offering of sorts).

Now I'm home and back to real life--revising that novel!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

SCBWI New York: Conference Wisdom

Libba Bray opened the New York conference & she's just as funny in person as she is on the page (Going Bovine has many funny scenes). She told us to "strive for small, unexpected moments that surprise you."

She also told us to find the gritty bits that allow readers to connect with characters. I loved that because I hate reading about perfect characters, being so far from perfect myself.

Libba warned us that trying to please other people with your story is "madness." I also think that you can't worry about what others (like family members) will think about your story either.

Writers should take risks. "If it's not scary to you, there are no stakes," Libba says. "Aim high, trust in the work, and wait for the wind to let you soar." Yes!

Next I heard Ben Schrank, the publisher of Razorbill. The thing that he said that will stick with me the most is about treating people well. He talked about authors who yell at their editors, sometimes making them cry which upsets him, as the publisher. When opportunities arise to give books a little extra something, he often will ignore books by authors who act like divas or treat publishing professionals poorly. It was comforting to hear that being a nice person still matters.

Jen Bailey, a social networking guru, talked about viral marketing. Since I'm not Neil Gaiman or John Green, and I don't have Cynthia Liu's energy, some of her examples felt intimidating. But then she said, "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken." And I thought, okay. I'm doing that. Even if that means not being able to find any love for Twitter.

One of my favorite talks was by Little, Brown & Co. editor Alvina Ling. She talked about literary writing and her comments dovetailed nicely with the conversation I'd had with my agent about revising my work-in-progress. She said that commercial fiction is like French fries while literary fiction is like a chocolate truffle. I can always relate to food similes!

Alvina Ling also read examples of literary authors turning a paragraph of commercial fiction into something literary. I plan to try this one myself! Very fun!

Agent Sheldon Fogelman, founder of the Sheldon Fogelman Agency spoke on Sunday morning. I loved this advice: "If you're going to be a writer, keep writing. Don't stop with book one, book two, or book three. You never know when you're going to write something that can be published." As someone who sold book four, this comment really resonated.

Later he advised us to keep learning, be open to criticism, don't get distracted ("It's a business for serious people," he said). Let your work speak for itself. Sheldon Fogelman finished by saying he's always impressed when someone has written many stories.

Illustrator Jim Benton, creator of Happy Bunny told us not to be afraid of our stupid ideas. That bunny sure worked out well for him (several snark around my house, I know). He also advised to draw or write for fun every single day. I love that advice too--especially since my first magazine sales came from quick writing exercises that turned into short stories.

Jane Yolen ended the conference with twenty bits of advice. I'll just list my three favorites:
#4 Have fun writing!
#5 B.I.C. Butt In Chair. H.O.P. Heart On The Page.
#14 Love the process of revision.

She ended her talk by saying that "the working writer, writes."

So after filling my head with all kinds of advice and inspiration, I headed off for a matinee of the Tony Award winning play God Of Carnage with my husband (very funny). We ended the day with possibly the best hamburger I've ever eaten at Five Napkins Burgers in Hell's Kitchen (just so you know, I only got one napkin, but probably could've used two).

Next I'll tell you about attending a taping of The View.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New York Part One: Non-Conference Fun

I never think about how quiet my neighborhood sounds until I'm in New York, twenty-three stories in the sky and still hearing honking taxis and rumbling garbage trucks (I love watching all the people and zippy yellow cabs). This year my room overlooked Grand Central Station.

Before the conference started, I put on my most comfortable shoes and headed off to The Metropolitan Museum to say hello to some of my favorite Renoir, Monet, Gauguin, and Van Goghs, etc.--plus the mummies and all those medieval knights in armor. I pretty much love it all (except I can't get into the displays of dishes and furniture). Here I am acting all Gossip Girly on the front steps. XOXO.
The next day I visited the Guggenheim, my absolute favorite place to see art. The show was a really interesting performance art piece that allowed the visitor to participate in a series of deep conversations with actors. So cool! I'm still thinking about it. I also visited some of my favorite Picasso, Miro, and Klee paintings (but most of the museum was left empty--which was absolutely intriguing).

I also had my first New York book signing at Books Of Wonder, a fabulous indie store that even has a cupcake cafe inside. Yes! Here's a photo of Lisa Greenwald, JT Dutton, me, Ann Haywood Leal, Ellen Hopkins, Albert Borris, and Fran Cannon Slayton reading from our books and answering audience questions.

My other favorite activity is riding the subway (fantastic people watching). On our last afternoon, my husband and I just got off at random stops and walked all over the city. I finally got blisters on my toes, but it was totally worth it. Here's a picture of my favorite subway musician. He played electronic music while his dolls danced. I couldn't look away!

We also love eating our way through New York. On our random subway adventure, we found an amazing little cheesecake shop. But we made a special trip to eat Lombardi's Pizza. Yum!!!

I also went to a couple of nice restaurants (something I rarely do at home). My editor took me out to a lovely three course lunch with my publicist. We had tons of fun chatting about all kinds of things from books to travel to TV. I also met my agent for coffee to talk about my Work-In-Progress novel (I'm super excited to start revising now). And then the conference began...

I'll share bits of wisdom in my next post.