Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Book Week + Giveaway

I'd enjoyed the challenge of reading The Grapes of Wrath in 8th grade Honors English, and I did finish the book (my mom owned a copy). But most of my class didn't get that chance. A parent demand that the book be withdrawn due to strong language.

Had she heard the language her own son used? Before we started reading Steinbeck?

And guess what? Junior high kids still relish tossing around strong language. And books are still withdrawn from classrooms and libraries because parents object to content. Content that kids deal with on a daily basis. You could pick any junior high student at random and ask--who's struggling with an eating disorder? Who's cutting? Who takes drugs? Who's most likely to get pregnant? Who's already been pregnant?

Books aren't the problem.

Stories about tough subjects show kids that they aren't alone in their experiences. Stories show a way out, a solution, new possibilities, and sometimes they simply provide an escape. As Chris Crutcher says, "Censorship works against kids who don't have much anyway."

Let's try banning poverty, abuse, and racism instead!

To win a signed copy of Chris Crutcher's banned book Deadline, please leave a comment. Drawing will be held on Wednesday, October 6, 2010.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Clowning Around

Yesterday I checked my favorite fifth grader out of school for an "appointment". . .

with The Elephant Parade. I realize that 5th grade is important & I really do value education (as well as my own writing time), but sometimes you just have to. . .

clown around. Starting with my daughter's fifth birthday, we've gone to watch the elephants ramble in downtown Salt Lake City the day before the circus starts. Tomorrow she'll be eleven. We've delighted in watching elephants eat watermelons, clowns turn cartwheels, and yesterday we saw

Circus Llamas! After the ten minute parade we have Thai food for lunch--since, you know, they're Asian elephants. And then it's back to writing and school.

Recently, I met someone who never missed a moment of school from Kindergarten through High School--and they do give awards for that kind of thing. But I believe in taking time for yourself, nurturing your body when you're sick, and sneaking off for bits of adventure here and there. Unique experiences

stretch creativity!

No I'm not going to write a paranormal YA novel about circus llamas. But I did figure out how to revise chapter twenty-five while discussing the merits of various Katy Perry songs on the way home from the parade. I wouldn't have had that conversation sitting alone with my laptop. Breaks are good--they allow your subconscious to figure things out without the noise of your internal editor stressing about stuff.

Oh, and for the record, yesterday was not the most crucial day of 5th grade (phew!). I'm guessing my daughter won't remember much about the stuff she learns in school this week, but I'm betting she'll remember clowning around at the elephant parade with her silly mother long after she's celebrated her 90th birthday.

Happy Birthday, Smoph!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

This Week In Revision: Tapping Into Emotion

Last week I snuck off to a matinee with my husband, enjoyed a laughter-filled dinner with favorite writing pals, and two fun people joined our writing group. Our family went to ice cream day at the State Fair, I got the laundry done (even folded!), and for some miraculous reason my house stayed clean. And I still had long, uninterrupted writing time.

I'm happy.

So how was I going to deepen all the rejection, pain, and sorrow my character experiences in Chapter Sixteen? I sat in my sunny living room trying to channel despair. Yeah--not happening.

To the diaries! I've written in my journal almost every day since my early teen years. Sure, I've recorded a lot of boring, ordinary days, but when the tough stuff happens, the words flow and flow and flow.

So which volume to read? My sixteen-year-old self's angst (my character is almost sixteen)? No, I went for recent rejection. Mostly because I knew I could find some deep pain in the pretty yellow journal with flowers and butterflies embossed on the front.

I sat on my front porch in the sunshine, my cat winding around my legs, sipping tea, and jotting down descriptions from a recent painful emotional episode in my life. Chapter Sixteen, here I come!

Writing always makes me feel better (I filled an entire two-hundred page journal during my daughter's spine surgery). But it's also a record, not just of events in my life, but of the emotional ups and downs. Reading about the fear I felt before college--will my life finally begin for real?--reads almost the same as the years I spent nurturing young children--will I ever feel like myself again?

Human emotion is fairly consistent. Rejection pretty much feels the same at sixteen as it does decades later (kind of a bummer, but true).

So that's my revision tip this week--keep a journal. It's never too late to start! Record your thoughts and emotions so you can tap into that deep stuff later--because sometimes life is as wonderful as eating four scoops of ice cream before dinner at the State Fair.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Relationship Advice from Lucienne Diver

Today I'm excited to welcome Lucienne Diver, author of Vamped and the newly released ReVamped. Leave a comment to win a copy! Now here's Lucienne's relationship advice:

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

Not many people know this, but I was engaged once before my husband (way back in college). In fact, my husband says that it was years before he knew that the guy had a name other than Slimeball, so you can guess just how well the break-up went. The smartest thing I ever did was have a little funeral for the relationship with my friends. It was very nice closure. We dressed all in black and walked down to the Racquette River chanting “Pie Jesus Domine” (from
Monty Python and the Holy Grail).  We carried candles with which we would shortly set on fire a miniature funeral boat made out of paper and glue holding photographs of Slimeball.  I’m sure anyone who saw our little procession thought we were off to hold a black mass.  Anyway, we very solemnly set the boat alight and watched it go down in flames before heading back to campus doing the Mepos Dance of Joy. It was all very silly and very much what I needed at the time to start the healing process.

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

If you’re working too hard to fit together, chances are you don’t. Or at least, not right now. The right timing is as important as the right person. I knew my husband for six years before we ever started dating. I don’t think I’d have truly appreciated him before surviving all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (thank you, Shakespeare).  You’d have to meet my husband to know how crazy it is that it took me so long to truly see him. To give you an idea, here’s the great
guest blog he did for me on the top ten reasons you should buy my book.

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

Ack, tough question – all the fictional characters I love are taken, and I’m such a hopeless romantic, I can’t even conceive of getting between my fictional fav and his love!  But…growing up, I was absolutely in love with Nathaniel from The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I was even going to name my first child after him, only my husband put the kibosh on that, since we didn’t really like any of the nicknames.

Congratulations on your new release!

Thank you so, so much!

About the book:

In Vamped, Gina and her minions defeated a vampire vixen, a psycho-psychic and the vampire council of Mozulla, Ohio.  Gina was all ready to expose vampires to the world in all their fanged fabulosity…until the Feds arrived to sweep everything under the rug and make them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

In ReVamped, Gina and her boyfriend Bobby are sent undercover to infiltrate a New York high school where some seriously weird stuff is going down.  Worse than that, Gina’s new super-secret identity is as goth-girl Geneva Belfry.  No color palette to speak of.  More chains than a bike rack.  And don't even get her started on the shoes.  At least she won’t be too worried about blood spatter when kicking the butt of her newest nemesis, who’s decided that the high school makes a perfect playground. Want to know more? Read Gina's blog

“This is a witty vampire romance/adventure with plenty of heart and action.  Diver has written a supernatural sequel to Vamped (Flux, 2009/VOYA August 2009) that will attract even reluctant readers.  It is filled with wry twists, such as the difficulties of trying to apply mascara when, as  vampire, you don’t have any reflection in the mirror, as well as the typical agonies of being young and trying to fit in.”   —VOYA

“Gina, the 17-year-old fashionista of the undead, is back and as sassy as ever (
Vamped, 2009). Thoroughly enjoyable, this sequel is a light, fizzy read… listening in on Gina’s thoughts and quick-witted dialogue is what makes this such a treat.” Kirkus Reviews

About the Author:

Lucienne Diver is a writer by night and a literary agent by day. Read more about Gina on her blog and website.

To win a copy of ReVamped, please leave a comment by midnight, Tuesday, September 21, 2010. 
Open to anyone, anywhere.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Weekend With The Pros

I spent last weekend visiting one of my favorite cities, Boise, Idaho, for our regional SCBWI conference.

Our speakers included Scholastic Books editor, Cheryl Klein, Jill Corcoran from The Herman Agency, as well as authors Chris Crutcher, Kelly Milner Halls, Amy Cook, Sarah Tregay, Laura Bingham, and me.

Cheryl Klein talked about seventeen revision techniques. One that I'm going to use: List the first ten significant things each character says or does in your novel. This gives you a quick snapshot of that character. You may discover that your character needs to be softened a bit, or maybe you could use a bit of humor, etc. I would've seen that a certain character in my WIP didn't do much of anything at all!

I also liked how Cheryl emphasized that editors value quality over speed. I think so many writers rush home from conferences and submit their work that week. Take the time to think about what you've learned and apply those lessons to your novel. You can find out more about Cheryl at

Jill Corcoran spoke about writing query letters. Over and over again she emphasized that query letters are business letters. Be professional, not cute! But do make a good first impression with clear, concise, yet interesting writing. If agents aren't requesting your manuscript, something might be wrong with your query letter. Workshop your query letter just like you'd workshop a manuscript. To find out more about Jill check out her blog. She's absolutely passionate about the authors she represents!

I loved Kelly Milner Halls talk about school visits--lots of great information. I also learned a lot from Kelly by sitting next to her at our pre-conference book signing at Rediscovered Bookshop (one of my very favorite bookstores!). She relates so well to kids, drawing them into her stories, talking to them with such respect--and she shows potential readers her passion for her subjects.

If you ever have a chance to hear Chris Crutcher speak--do it! I loved his talk about censorship (many of his titles show up on banned book lists). "There isn't something that we shouldn't write about," he said. He told stories about the kids he's known through his therapy work. "Censorship works against kids who don't have much anyway," he said. And those kids need books that show them that they're not alone.

Sitting next to Chris Crutcher at the book signing was inspirational. Avid fans brought beat up copies of his books--warped and worn with years of reading. Teachers, librarians, parents, and students all came to meet him. What an amazing accomplishment to write books like that!

So today I'm back at my desk, completely inspired, and ready to make my writing the best it can be!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Breaking Up With Denise Jaden

Today I'm excited to welcome Denise Jaden, author of the debut novel Losing Faith. Here's her breakup story:
Break-ups are never fun, but I do have one story that still makes me laugh. (And I'll be SO embarrassed if my ex ever reads this, so the names have been changed for MY protection!)

When I was sixteen, I dated a guy named...Steve, for a short time. We met at a campground where a whole group of us teenagers met up regularly. We'd been dating for a couple of weeks, and I was excited for the coming week, because I would be staying with my aunt in Vancouver, where Steve happened to live, and I would get to see him regularly.

Steve met me on Monday after my summer acting school practice on Granville
Island. I could tell something was wrong when I first saw him by the way he wouldn't meet my eye. But when challenged, he just said we'd talk about it later. Well, have you ever successfully put something like that off with a sixteen-year-old girl? Yeah, I didn't think so.

So I kept pushing him and begging him to tell me now, and finally, as we walked across the Granville Street Bridge, he did. Apparently, this girl he'd liked FOREVER had just broken up with her boyfriend. He wasn't about to cheat on me, but he also wasn't about to let this Sonja girl get away either. So he knew he had to tell me.

Now, to be honest, I was sad. I did like the guy quite a bit. But it HADonly been two weeks, so I wasn't heartbroken or anything. I decided to give Steve a hard time anyway. I told him I was so upset I was going to jump off the bridge.

Yes, I did say that.

But I eventually let him off the hook...just in time to reach downtown Vancouver where Red Sonja happened to be the movie playing in Every Single Theatre. So yeah, I gave Steve a hard time about that too.

To round off our day, a photographer from one of Vancouver's biggest newspapers, The Province, approached us on the street. Would you believe he was photographing Vancouver's Happiest Couples that day and wanted to take our picture?

No lie. Happiest couple, we were not, but we did have  a great laugh over the whole thing - and I eventually promised Steve I wouldn't jump off any bridges.

About Losing Faith: 

When Brie's sister, Faith, dies in a fall from a cliff, Brie's world falls apart. As she goes through the bizarre and devastating process of mourning the sister she never understood, Brie must also contend with increasingly distant parents, her boyfriend's betrayal, and her sudden outcast status at school. And once she's over the initial shock of Faith's death, Brie is encountering more questions than closure. Certain facts about the way Faith died just don't line up. She soon uncovers Faith's role in a dark and twisted religious cult...a cult that now wants Brie as a member. On sale - September 7, 2010 from Simon Pulse.

Find out more at  (Seriously, check it out--she's giving away lots & lots of fun prizes!!!!)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

This Week In Revision: Characters With Baggage

Quick--what first comes to mind when you see:

Popular? Pretty? Mean? Dumb? 

Moody? Morose? Serious? Misunderstood? Deep? Poetic?

Popular? Hot body? Lucky with girls? Dumb? Jerk?

Smart? Unpopular? Ugly? Scrawny? Absolutely unlucky with girls?

Some characters come with a lot of baggage! 

I'm writing a story about a high school girl, so naturally some of these character types people my story. And some of them, unfortunately, read as stereotypes: flat, predictable, boring. This week, I've worked on unpacking their luggage and fluffing them up, so to speak.

So how do you transform a stereotype into a realistic character?

1. Avoid using labels. The instant you write short-hand descriptions of your characters--geek, jock, brain--your readers will fixate on the stereotype, not the unique details that (may) follow.

I made the mistake of labeling an Asian character as "good at math." Right away the stereotype alarm buzzed in my agent's head. The thing is: that character never does math in the novel; we never see her in math class. I'd written that as a lazy way to describe her ethnicity. So--

2. Choose unique details that give your character complexity. Give them contradictory qualities. I'm really organized--I make lists, file important papers, work efficiently, meet deadlines. But I have a super cluttered, super messy house. And my desk--yikes! 

Think about the kinds of things that are important to your characters. How does he/she see the world? Is your character a musical person? Maybe he notices sounds. Observe things from your character's eyes (I often use this as an excuse to take a writing field trip). 

Use details that show the effect your characters have on the other characters in your story. Do people think your attractive, yet shy, character is stuck up? 

3. Create backstory for all of your characters. I'm good at thinking about my main character's past experiences, but I often allow secondary characters to slip into my stories unprepared. That's when I resort to labels and stereotypes. 

Stop and think about each character's backstory. How do your characters know each other? What past experiences did they share? What expectations do they bring to their current relationships with each other? 

4. Think about each character's motivation in each scene you write. Realistic characters have personal agendas--that usually conflict with another character's plans. Stereotypes just want to hang out, win the big game, fluff their hair... While rewriting, give each character--even the dude moping in the background--a goal. Now let things get messy. And interesting!

If you'd like to read more writing tips from me (as well as other writers), check out Suzanne Morgan Williams' blog:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reading Local Challenge

These days there's lots of talk about buying local, eating local, well, I thought, eyeing my to-read stack, I'm going to spend September reading local.

I'm going to catch up on books by Utah authors: Kristen Chandler, Carol Lynch Williams, AE Cannon, Kristen Landon, Bree Despain, and James Dashner.

Watch for updates on my progress--and some great giveaways of signed books by Utah authors. I challenge you to read a "local" book and support an author who lives in your part of the world.

Join me! (And I'd love to hear about what you're reading.)