Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wordy Wednesday: CAUGHT MY EYE...

Spent a long and lovely Tuesday in NYC doing research for a new ms I am writing, lunching with old friends, and visiting the delightful offices of InkWell Management.  By the reception desk at InkWell is a bookshelf stacked with publishing periodicals and, as I was a bit agressively prompt for my meeting, I had time to take a look at the July 1 Kirkus. Given that my YA novel, AUDITION, is about a young dancer, I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that the title of James Howe's new picturebook, forthcoming from Candlewick this August, caught my eye:
A brontosaurus ballerina?  How delicious.  The character's name says it all.  Without even getting past that word, that lovely cover, I know that pretty much everyone has had a Brontorina moment at some point--feeling out-of-place, too large or too small, incapable of making the grade.  Though my focus tends to be on YA, I can't wait to read this new picture book and I've put it on my August reading list, right next to MOCKINGJAY!

That's all for this Wednesday's post.  I've got a lot of writing to do.  You know, the manuscript kind (not the blog kind)?  Trying to hit my word count for today before I can't keep my eyes open any longer.  Otherwise, it might be a bit of a Brontorina night :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Back-to-Business Monday: TIPS FOR AUTHOR PHOTOS

My photo session proofs are in and I am struggling to choose a winner. It turns out I am pretty indecisive. So, I've given myself a deadline of Wednesday to pick a picture.  Meanwhile, here are a few tips from the folks who helped me prepare for my author photo:
  • Chat with the photographer (professional or otherwise) before the photo session. Discuss the setting for your photo (indoor or outdoor; studio or personal scene) and what type of image you are hoping to get. If possible, provide a couple of examples of author photos or other portraits you like. Most of all try to choose a style that reflects your personality and/or your writing.
  • Choose clothing that you'd wear when you want to look and feel extra good--maybe for a fun evening out. Consider trying a couple of outfits so you have some choice not only in poses but in looks.
  • Professional photo lighting can wash out up to 80% of make-up color, so be a bit bolder than usual. Avoiding shine is a big priority, so a great foundation is a good bet.
  • If you're having make-up or hair done for you, bring along a digital camera and take a few snaps to get a sense of what the pro will be snapping. Don't use too much hairspray as this can yield a stiff result as you move and pose during the photo shoot.
  • Aim for a picture in which you look like a well-rested version of yourself so that when folks meet you in person, they see the connection to the photo :)
  • Try to have fun. Or at least, take a few snaps where you're smiling.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fiction Friday (with a literary pairing): WHAT IS A SOUL?

I had a little hiccup in my summer reading plans. I was prowling a bookstore with my kids (a very routine occurrence) when I came upon Mary Pearson's THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX. It was not on my reading list but I just LOVED the cover and was so intrigued that I had to pick it up. You know a book is good when you take it to bed, read to the final page (including the author interview, reading guide and teaser chapter of her next book), look up at the clock and it's 3 a.m.

It is difficult to write a review of this novel without giving too much away and I'd hate to do this because the book is paced so artfully that I'd hate readers to miss that wonderful technical element or ruin any twisty surprises. Suffice to say that seventeen-year-old Jenna wakes up from a year-plus coma in a new home, on a new coast and things are not right. Her parents, desperate to regain the pre-accident Jenna, show her videos of every year of her life, wait for her to remember. But, though Jenna's memories return, she discovers strange disconnects between her past and present, recalls things she should not remember. The novel, a fascinating mystery set in a frighteningly plausible near-future, explores the essence of identity, the question of whether self is defined internally or by the experience of others, and much more.

Given my penchant for literary pairings, I must say that I immediately thought this book would read wonderfully along with Nancy Farmer's HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, another spectacular literary rumination on self, soul and humanity paired with an equally fascinating plot. These two books and a nice pitcher of iced tea would make just about a perfect weekend!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wordy Wednesday: MONUMENTS

On a recent swing through Washington, DC, I took my sons to two Smithsonian museums: Air & Space and American History. We stopped in at the Kennedy Center, my former place of employ, and walked the Mall, stopping at the Washington, Jefferson, Vietnam, and World War II memorials. The city of Washington, DC, in its entirety is a giant monument to America and its people.

Despite the splendor, my nine-year-old left the Air & Space in tears. He had been hoping for some insight, some revelation that never came to him. He wondered what he had missed or, perhaps, what he had failed to do that denied him the elation he sought. I remember having similar feelings after a much-anticipated experience left me cold. In trying to comfort him, I began to think that one thing that differentiates the grown-up-me from the child-me is that I expect less from "great" experiences and am comfortable finding joy in smaller moments, such as being around the dinner table with my husband and all of our kids. Yet sometimes, still, I am caught off guard and feel that strange sense of absence after some accomplishment or event.  Perhaps I'm not entirely grown up? defines monument (the noun) in eleven different ways, my favorite being #3: "any enduring evidence or notable example of something." has hundreds of monument books, best-selling topics being Washington, DC, monuments, war memorials, and New York City architectural landmarks, all testament to the human struggle for immortality and our interest in what we have done and made in the past. For me, every bookstore is filled with my favorite kind of monuments: Collections of words that represent the struggle to understand, preserve and share the human experience. In the end, I told my son that monuments can be found in many places, that it just matters how you define them and, maybe, what you are looking for in the first place.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


...the last week in June, DO NOT MISS the American Library Association's annual conference.

Go. Buy yourself an exhibit hall pass.  Pick up some arcs. Meet amazing publishing professionals, authors, and librarians. Learn, learn, learn...

Want more inspiration? Check out this post about my April trip to the Public Library Association Conference in Oregon to get a sense of the amazing events library folks put together.

Also must quickly mention that I'm not (completely) nuts.  I realize it's not Monday yet but I'm publishing this back-to-business post a bit early in anticipation of a hectic week ahead.  Promise I'll post more about author photos next Monday!

Friday, June 18, 2010


It's been gray here in my hometown--damp and depressing. Even walking my secretary (like his cute new haircut?) doesn't cheer me up because the sky is so sunless that each step makes me shiver. Plus, I have been reading so many pre-published manuscripts for work this week that I haven't had time to review any new fiction--bloggy failure!

After a brief wallow in self-pity, I decided to give up on the search for rays, let go of the blogger guilt, pour a nice cup of tea and start my hoping-for-sun summer reading list. Here are the first few title that will be making my beach bag super-heavy:

I'm feeling more cheery just thinking about these great titles and looking forward to writing about them soon. So, now for two brightening bits of news:

I did get hold of an arc of TELL ME A SECRET and the whole book was as great as the first two chapters--could not put it down. Check out Holly's blog tour here and grab your copy in bookstores next week.

I'll be giving a vlog presentation as part of WRITE ON CON (check out this past Wednesday's post). More details to come.

Hope there's some sun in your weekend forecast!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


The virtual world has helped many once-lonely writers find camaraderie and support while still sitting at their keyboards. We've become well-versed in blog following, Facebook friending, tweeting and retweeting. Sometimes we lament the amount of time it takes to travel and participate in the bloggerverse (time we could be writing our fiction). Should we turn off the internet connection? Add a word to the classic writing adage: butt-in-seat-OFFLINE?

While moderation is good in all things, the fact remains that I queried my agent because of good information I read about her online. I read many books because they are well-reviewed by bloggers I admire. Perhaps most important of all, when I feel myself sinking into despair, groaning with frustration or otherwise wanting to give up, there are a few bloggers who always lift my spirits or help me realize my troubles are shared with fellow writers -- I mean you, Tahereh and Elana! -- and enable me to get back to writing my fiction feeling a little less blue.

So, when I discovered that some of my bloggy favorites, including the dynamic duo of Lisa & Laura, were putting together an AMAZING, FREE, ONLINE writing conference so that ANY childrens/YA writer could look forward three great days in August learning about the craft and meeting kindred spirits, I just had to join them in helping to pay it forward by sharing the news with you.

Visit WRITE ON CON right now, read about the amazing conference faculty, and register for the fun!

Monday, June 14, 2010


As writers and illustrators, the self we want to share with the public is our words or artwork on the page and not necessarily our physical image. So, the author photo is something to which many of us pay limited heed. In my years working in education and library marketing, I have run into a surprising number of challenging situations resulting from this situation. Here are a few fun ones (names omitted of course):

  • Author with two head shots which barely seem to be of the same person (in one, he has long hair, in the other a bean shave) and no way to tell which is more current
  • Author of children's books who sent me a lovely snap of herself surrounded by books--only problem is the book right in front of her has the word "sex" in big letters on the cover (not so hot for the children's library crowd)
  • Author has obviously cropped a photo of herself with another person whose disembodied hand sits clearly on her shoulder
  • No author photo can be found anywhere and author is reluctant to provide one (!)
Not to mention the myriad tousled hair, rumpled shirt, and laundry/household stuff in the background shots.

Here's my personal photo tale (it really wouldn't be fair to tell you about those others if I didn't have an embarassing story of my own): When my agent recently asked me to send my author photo along, the best I could do was to have my thirteen-year-old snap a picture of my in front of a bookshelf. In her inimitable, polite way, she said "it's a nice picture but the light is a little strong." (Okay, I'm at an age where pretty much all light is a little strong!) But, her comment immediately made me think back to the stories above and I realized this amazing truth:

It's GREAT to have a decent author photo.

The fact is, when I schedule an appearance for an author, the first thing I want to do is help the host publicize this event in the best possible way. I send along links to the author's page at the publisher website, the author's own website/blog/etc., high-resolution images of their book jackets and, if possible, an author photo. In sum, when you promote your work, despite our great literary aspirations, there are times when a picture can be worth a thousand words.

So, I set forth to learn more about getting a good author photo and I HAD ONE TAKEN.  In my next few Book Biz posts, I'll share some tips from folks I consulted, tell you about my photo shoot, and then... The BIG REVEAL (aka a picture of me not taken by one of my kids).

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Last night, in a frenzy of writing procrastination, I was traveling the blogosphere.  My first great discovery was that the delightful Presenting Lenore had joined the Bloggiesta at Maw Books.  Such a cool idea!

Given my myriad reading and writing deadlines this week, I resisted the INTENSE urge to join the Bloggiesta myself.  I continued my cyber journey, noticing that a few folks had changed up their layouts.  So, of course, despite my attempt to resist the Bloggiesta (which involves upgrading and enhancing your blog), I went back and tried Blogger's new design options.  An hour later (and now purple instead of pink and grey), I noted my compulsion for blog tweaking on my Facebook status and received these fun replies:

"Revision is an addiction."  This from Molly.

"Ours is not to reason why..."  This from Sylvie who doesn't have a blog but should. Her reviews on Goodreads are very smart.

Now, as mentioned earlier, I am swamped with reading and writing deadlines, so really I should be reprimanded for this post.  But, alas, it is cleansing to confess one's compulsions so perhaps it will free me up for some good work today. 

Hope your weekend is happy and productive!

Friday, June 11, 2010


Lauren Baratz-Logsted's Crazy Beautiful is a bold reinterpretation of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Like all stories of enchantment, this novel's two protagonists are extreme. Lucius (crazy) has blown off his own hands in an explosion, becoming a double-amputee and outsider both physically and emotionally. Aurora (beautiful), still grieving the death of her mother, has a nature so sweet, thoughtful and other-oriented that she has a chance to save a "beast." The narrative alternates between Lucius's and Aurora's point-of-view while being linked by certain images and ideas.  For example, at the start of the story, both main characters find themselves in new houses that reflect elements of the emotional losses they have suffered.  The clothing each character wears also reveals their senses of self and family relationships. Against a high school backdrop complete with the classic elements of a school play and a party, Baratz-Logsted embraces the intensity of the fairy tale form while heeding her characters--not forcing the story to follow the plot of the classic tale but staying true, instead, to its universal themes.  The result is a powerful and fascinating novel.

Of course, in my compulsion for book pairings, here are some worthy reworkings of Rumplestiltskin, Cinderella, and the Pied Piper for your consideration. Interesting to see the setting into which each author introduces a classic scenario, and the way in which they incorporated original plot elements and themes into their work.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

WORDY WEDNESDAY: How can you "win" at writing?

I am not much of a television watcher but I have become a total "Gleek" (along with my husband, which is a serious part of his charm, and my kids because we're raising them right--as musical theatre buffs). While every episode is not equally strong, I enjoy watching each effort. Glee is unabashedly theatrical, full of sudden coincidences (accompanists are "always around"), interested in the interplay between performer and material (form and content), and hey, nobody loves a good show tune more than me.

With their music program on the brink of extinction, last night's season finale brought the kids of "Vocal Adrenaline" to the regional show choir competition where they performed with great heart.  Watching, I felt I was celebrating not only awesome medleys of Journey and Queen and satisfying dramatic moments, but also the season's journey of the actors, writers and everyone else involved this unique and delightful series. You could see in the performers' faces, hear in every written line and artfully arranged song, that these people had been changed on so many levels. Success? Yes, but I felt that their joy also came from the knowledge that, to a medium laden with reality, celebrity and depressing "news," they have brought something fresh, special and creatively ambitious.

I turned off the tube with a satisfied sigh and this thought: Winning is only really satisfying when YOU feel it in the deepest part of your heart. I think it's the same place your stories come from.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Back-to-Business Monday: SUMMER SEND-OFF

Well, June is here and the kids are wriggling in their desk chairs waiting for vacation to begin. Teachers are frantically wrapping up units, completing testing, and writing up final report cards. Authors may be noticing a slow-down in appearance requests and school-library correspondence in general. Before you take your own break, consider one of the following promotional ideas:

1. Send a "Wishing You a Super Summer" newsletter/note to your "e-mailing list" or add a Summertime page to your website. Make your letter/page link sunny and fun. Include a book-themed summer recipe or craft, a vacation plan based on your book's setting, your own summer reading list, or some good book-biz gossip about friends and colleagues with new titles being published in the coming months. ASK FOR FEEDBACK on a question such as, "What is your #1 wish for your students this summer?" (Offer a signed book or other prize to be awarded to one or more feedback respondents.)

2. Offer a discount or other incentive (e.g., extra 30-minute writing workshop for up to 20 students) for 2010-2011 school year appearances booked before, say, August 15, 2010. Post the special on your website, blog and note in your newsletter, above, if you're sending one.

3. Support summer reading programs. Offer to stop by libraries, bookstores, museums, or other appropriate venues near your hometown (or perhaps locales where you'll be vacationing) to do a free book talk, signing or other special event in support of their summer programs. If you set these up, make sure once again to note the dates on your blog, website, Facebook page, etc.

Summer is also a great time to create some of those value-added elements for your website or author appearance programs, such as reading and activity guides and tips for preparing for an author visit.  And, spend a couple of beach blanket hours thinking about fall promotions, such as contests. Speaking of which, next month I'll be posting information on my own first BLOG CONTEST. Get ready...!

Friday, June 4, 2010


Last night, at my critique group, the amazing Conrad Wesselhoeft whose first novel, ADIOS NIRVANAcomes out this fall  passed along his arc of Holly Cupala's TELL ME A SECRET.  Having loved the first few chapters, I can't wait to read the rest.  It's my "present to me" this weekend.  This will be especially fun because I've been spending a lot of time reading about superheroes to my four-year-old, "Batman."  No easy reader is too dull or simple for my son as long as it's got a guy wearing cape and little black bat ears (or a dude in Spandex with a big red "S" on his chest, or a buxom brunette with a golden lasso for that matter) on the cover. 

After we re-read these beloved books, we move directly to pretend mode. He is Batman. I am Bat Girl. His brothers become the Commissioner (his boss), Robin (his assistant) and the Joker (being cast as the Joker on a given day is kind of an insult). As Bat Girl, I am always on call to help him protect Gotham City. And there are frequent stops to read another book.

While I read (practically recite) these epic stories of beating back villains with superpowers and great gadgets, I recall with some nostalgia favorite books chosens by my other sons.  My eldest (runner, jazz saxaphonist, future engineer) loved the LITTLE BEAR books and would sit on my lap to have novels read to him from the time he was eighteen months old.  My second boy (lacrosse and football player and definitely future stand-up comedian) could not get enough of BIG JOE'S TRAILER TRUCK by Joseph Mathieu.  The third one down (actor, poet, skier and all-around gentle spirit) favored Donald Hall's elegant OX CART MAN (got him a signed copy for Christmas one year-was his favorite gift).

While it's not scientific or absolute, I see a sort of connection between these early reading favorites and the personalities of my kids.  The heroes they chose, the sense of order they appreciated, even the language and colors that appealed to them all foreshadowed, in some small way, the kind of readers and people into which they are evolving.  And so, as I sometimes rather unenthusiastically reread I AM BATMAN to my youngest, I watch his eyes take in the words and images and wonder what dream he is dreaming inside--what this story is inspiring him to become.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


After a couple of good writing weeks, I've begun to wriggle in the chair upon which I dutifully sit to write each day. I have been THINKING (yeah, I know) about how my new story relates to AUDITION and wondering, do I dare stick with verse or should I tell it in prose? What is the best form for this particular character and her unique narrative? Should I take a quick break and go thaw some chicken so my kids can eat tonight? So many questions were tangled in my head this morning that even the prospect of watching my DVR recording of GLEE later on did not cheer me (and yes, I like the picture because I kind of do feel like Coach Sue is pounding on my skull).

Luckily, midmorning on Wednesdays, I have to leave my computer to teach "Literary Magazine" to a third-grade class. Admittedly, I was dragging my feet today, feeling like I have nothing to teach anyone about writing today. But they were waiting for me.

We've been writing all year. The last few weeks, the kids selected and revised their best stories and poems. Today, they became editors, choosing a title, organizational structure and look for their magazine. I let them take charge and the kids leapt into gear. Leaders emerged. Brainstorm sessions took place, followed by lots of voting! They were working so hard they literally ignored the ringing lunch bell. 

I couldn't stop grinning. The kids were so empowered, so excited to be close to seeing their words in print, that their joy was contagious. And I realized something. I have been so anxious about sticking to my writing schedule, about getting my work done and not letting myself be distracted, that I'm not sure I've allowed myself enough time to just relax and enjoy the prospect of seeing AUDITION between covers. To be happy. To feel and not THINK.

The kids named their magazine, "Stories Off the Page." And, right now, I'm just going to feel proud of them for a little while!