Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bookanistas: Summer Haze

Do I have a good excuse for not posting a review today? Not really. Just taking a week off from reading to drill down and write stuff and maybe bask in a bit of sunshine.  But, don't worry. You can hop on over to Elana Johnson's blog to read all about PERCEPTION or check out Tracy Banghart's take on TWELVE LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES. Or just click on over to the Bookanistas on Facebook to learn more about our book lovin' ways.

And I'll be back next Thursday with (what else?) some ideas for Beach Reads!

Monday, June 25, 2012

In which I moan about synopses

I've been trying for an embarassing number of weeks to do a seemingly simple thing: Write a synopsis for my next novel.  Honestly? I'd rather just write the whole book.  Why?  I think it has to do with the way I write.  I definitely start from character.  I find a main character.  I give her talents, interests and (you know) a PROBLEM that will ultimately drive the plot.  What I don't do is outline.  I've tried it and often I feel like pushing the plot tends to make me do inauthentic things with the character.  You know, forcing her down some rabbit hole so she can wind up in the Australia I've mapped in my outline.  A synopsis feels too much like an outline--a promise of a plotline that might be untrue to my character's wants and needs.

I was moaning about this (over wine) to a few writer friends who basically told me to just go ahead and write the damn thing and then put it in a drawer and forget about it, then keep writing in my usual way.  Sounds easy, huh?  Just, you know, write a 2 or 3 page pitch that can change later.  Know what, I think this whole synopsis thing has pushed me closer to writer's block than I've ever been.  Or maybe I'm just mentally ill. Or maybe those are two sides of the same coin.

Anyway, last week, I got it done.  It wasn't pretty but I muscled through.  I'm still reeling but there you go. 

Here are a few resources I found helpful (in case you're in the same boat):

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bookanistas: SURRENDER by Elana Johnson

Every once in a while I write a review that doesn’t follow my standard Thursday format. I’m breaking the mold today for SURRENDER. First, because POSSESSION, Elana Johnson’s debut novel exploring the dystopian world and characters inhabiting Freedom, simply amazed me. Here’s my review.

Second, because SURRENDER isn’t an ordinary sequel. While characters from the first novel play key roles, new characters are introduced and this is their story. It is the story of Raine, who despite being the daughter of the powerful Director Hightower, finds herself resisting the world of control in which she has been raised. It is the story of Gunner, who is falling for Raine despite who she is—and despite the sudden discovery that the woman he has always believed was his mother may not be that at all. This is what drives Gunner (perhaps even more than Raine’s persuasiveness) to join the Insiders on the night before he is recruited by Director Hightower.

On the run, Gunn says: “Every muscle in my body tensed. I was really doing this. Whatever this was. But I’d finally made my own choice. And it felt wild, dangerous. Perfect.”

The quote could be describing Elana’s unique and powerful writing style. Wild. Dangerous. Perfect. From the novel’s very first line (“Someone is always watching”), readers experience the novel almost viscerally. The reader feels the urge to hide along with the story narrators, feels lost in their nightmares, their traumas. Perhaps this is why the ending is such a gut-grabber (I never write spoilers so you’ll just have to read it yourself before you nod (vigorously) in agreement with me)!

SURRENDER is my favorite kind of novel because it works on multiple levels: plot, character, theme. It is an exciting and satisfying dystopian thriller, but most extraordinarily it is a deep musing on the complexities of identity and its relationship to love, friendship, family, mind and memory. It is a book that challenges the intellect and inspires the writer in you. As Raine comments at one point in the novel, it will leave your feelings “spiraled up, down, and around.” As any great read should.

Want more Bookanista book love?
Elana Johnson can't get enough of See You At Harry's
Shannon Messenger shares some YA cover lust
Shelli Johannes-Wells talks about the cover for The 13th Sign--with a contest!
Nikki Katz gushes about Surrender
Jessica Love has feelings for The List
Katy Upperman lays it on the line for The Book Thief

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My "Never Surrender" Moment

This week, I've been highlighting Elana Johnson's new novel, SURRENDER, which inevitably lead me to reflect on my own weaknesses and strengths.  Here's what I've come to...

Most weekdays at around 9:30 am, I feel like I might surrender.  Might turn on "House Hunters" or make myself an unneccesary piece of cinammon toast.  Might curl up on the patio with a book I've been wanting to read.  Heck, might just call up my sister and gab for an hour.

But that would be a defeat.

Because, somewhere along life's slippery path, I decided I wanted to be a writer.  And, honestly, deciding was the easy part. Because here's the thing I'm gonna tell you that you may just hate me for: Being an unpublished writer with a dream, getting an agent, and even selling and publishing a first novel were kind of easy parts, too.  Not easy as in quick or non-labor-intensive.  But, compared to the aftermath of that first pub date, all of those accomplishments were pieces of cake.  Complex, multi-step layer cake with chocolate ganache and raspberry filling, but cake all the same.

See, the thing is that after that first book comes out, you never have the chance to be a debut novelist again.  You become an equation involving your advance, your reviews, your Bookscan numbers, and so on.  You have been tested and, statistically speaking, most debut novelists do not wind up in their editors' "win" columns.  You become a risk that your publisher will weigh against the option to pick a NEW debut novelist and take a gamble on someone without that pesky equation pinned to her back.

After that first book comes out, you have also (in all likelihood) made a big fancy checkmark next to the "publish a novel" entry on your bucket list.  You've done it and you've got that box of hardcover copies gathering dust in the corner of your dining room to prove it. Now what? You think back to how hard the whole process was, how little time you've spent with your family of late, and how pale you are from having barely seen the outdoors for the year of writing, revising and promotion. Despite the encouraging and positive press you've probably gotten, the occasional critical jab or blogger dis makes you wonder if you're really the kind of person who should be writing novels anyway.

Now, writer-you is in the life-and-death battle that kind of didn't exist before your debut pubbed. ARE YOU REALLY A WRITER? Because, writers don't spend mornings in front of the tube or eating double breakfasts.  Writers write.  A lot.  They write pitches, proposals, outlines, and even entire manuscripts WHETHER OR NOT the next deal is in place. They write because it's the only way to get better at this difficult craft. They write because they haven't stopped dreaming the dream.

Writers Don't Surrender.   Writers Write.

So, I guess I should mention that right after this, I'm back to my new manuscript. And that, right now, taped to my computer monitor is a little sign:

Get more encouragement for your writing journey from SURRENDER author ELANA JOHNSON on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Elana's Never SURRENDER Vlog- oh yeah!

Now, of course, you've gotta want some more details on Elana's sophomore novel with its FANTASTIC title...

Raine has always been a good girl. She lives by the rules in Freedom. After all, they are her father’s rules: He’s the Director. It’s because of him that Raine is willing to use her talent—a power so dangerous, no one else is allowed to know about it. Not even her roommate, Vi.

All of that changes when Raine falls for Gunner. Raine’s got every reason in the world to stay away from Gunn, but she just can’t. Especially when she discovers his connection to Vi’s boyfriend, Zenn.

Raine has never known anyone as heavily brainwashed as Vi. Raine’s father expects her to spy on Vi and report back to him. But Raine is beginning to wonder what Vi knows that her father is so anxious to keep hidden, and what might happen if she helps Vi remember it. She’s even starting to suspect Vi’s secrets might involve Freedom’s newest prisoner, the rebel Jag Barque….

Can't wait to get your hands on a copy of SURRENDER? You can find it HERE!

Monday, June 18, 2012


I am thrilled to share with you an interview with the unstoppable Elana Johnson whose sophomore novel, SURRENDER, hit shelves this month. Elana is an incredible writer and blogger but she is also much more: She is a FRIEND TO WRITERS at all stages of the "dream," providing help, support, encouragement and inspiration for so many of us struggling alone at our keyboards. Elana is the author of From the Query to the Call, an ebook that every writer needs to read before they query, which can be downloaded for free on her website. She runs a personal blog on publishing and is a founding author of the QueryTracker blog. She blogs regularly at The League of Extraordinary Writers, co-organizes WriteOnCon, and is a member of SCBWI, ANWA and LDStorymakers. Today, Elana has stopped by to share some thoughts about the experience of the second novel.

1. Tell the story of selling your second novel. Was it part of your first book deal or a separate project? Do you have the same publisher and/or editor for this book?

EJ: I sold my second novel about two months before POSSESSION came out. I’d always envisioned POSSESSION to be a stand-alone novel, and in the fall of 2010, my agent, editor and I started talking about a second novel. I wrote it and had a full ready to send in by February. It sold soon after that, also in a one-book deal. I do have the same publisher and editor for SURRENDER (book #2) as I do for POSSESSION.

2. As you prepared to write your second (published) novel, did you worry about making the book similar to (or different from) your first book? Did you think about reviews, book #1’s fans’ expectations, or other factors? Did you have any issues with writers’ block?

I am still constantly worried that all my writing will sound like POSSESSION. I did not consider reviews (I wrote SURRENDER before reviews were available) or fan expectations (I had no fans—though I envisioned the future fans of the novel, and I did consider who they’d like to see in the second book). I did consider how SURRENDER, which is a companion more than a sequel, would be able to continue the story of the key players in POSSESSION while still maintaining it’s own story and character arcs.
I don’t really get writer’s block because I draft so fast. I wrote POSSESSION in 17 days and SURRENDER in 25. Once I start, I just can’t stop. It’s the editing that blocks me sometimes, because I see the problems but I have no freaking clue how to fix them. Sometimes those can take me days of mindless activities to unravel. Those are the times when my house is really clean and all the laundry is folded. I use any mindless activity (video games, folding laundry, showering, driving) to help my mind unravel the mysteries of my novels.

3. What would be your #1 WRITING TIP FOR BOOK 2?

Just do it. It’s not going to be easier tomorrow or next week. So just open the document and DO IT already. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, but you can’t edit what’s not on the page. So just do it.
4. Are you doing the same type of marketing for the second book as you did for the first? Do you feel you’ve found a “comfort zone” for self-marketing? How have you done so?

I don’t think I am. With the release of POSSESSION, I did everything everyone asked of me. And more. This time around, I’m relaxing more and doing high-quality things over the sheer quantity of promotional items. 

I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable self-marketing. It’s a hard gig. I just want to tweet for fun and share my excitement for books and writing (and bacon and reality TV) and interact with other authors and readers online. Anything beyond that, I have to force myself to do.  So I do. Because publishing is a business, and authors probably should be doing something to help their books sell. I really like blog tours and making fun videos for exclusive content and stuff like that.

5. What would be your #1 MARKETING TIP FOR BOOK 2?

Write a better story than book 1. Oh, wait, that’s not really a marketing tip, is it? How about: Do only what you like doing. I say it all the time with social media, but it’s a good slogan for marketing too. Just because Author A does amazing giveaways doesn’t mean you have to do giveaways too. Authors should market in a way that they like, and not feel guilty about it.

6. What’s next for you as a writer? As a, well, human?

I’m hoping to be a career writer, so I’m hoping that there will be more novels and more characters to love and more stories to be told. I love writing, and I have ideas that I think could become good novels.
As far as a real human, well! Who knew we were those too? I’m a mom, a teacher, a taxi driver, a wife, a sister, and a friend. I try to do my best at all of those (okay, maybe not the taxiing) on a daily basis.

 Tomorrow, Elana will be sharing some SURRENDER CINEMA here at the blog.  Curious? You know it.  Thanks, Elana.  See you in the AM!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bookanistas: DINOSOARING by Deb Lund

Behold this wonderful new book by the fabulous poet-writer-educator Deb Lund.

I first met Deb almost a decade ago at (of course) an SCBWI workshop.  During a break, we got to talking about books and writing and kids and there was a sort of instant karma.  You know, that feeling you get when you know you've found one of your "people"?  I also remember hearing Deb at another writing conference, reading aloud a poem about creativity and the inner critic. Her words were poignant, elegant, sweetly funny--and exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. Deb's insights into storytelling and wordsmithing shine through every one of her fabulous books, each a terrific read and a lesson for aspiring picture book poets. So, I am thrilled to celebrate the arrival on bookshelves of her third delightful DINO book! I got a sneak peek a few weeks ago and can tell you that it this is one you'll want to read aloud to your kids again and again because you'll love it as much as they do!

For some YA Bookanista fun this week, check these out:
Jessica Love celebrates SECOND CHANCE SUMMER
Nikki Katz is crazy about Holly Black’s Curse Workers series
Shelli Johannes-Wells shares a guest post by SURRENDER author Elana Johnson

Shannon Messenger champions ALL THESE LIVES--with a GIVEAWAY!
Gennifer Albin swoons for A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTMARE.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Twitter and my ego (TWEGO?)

Like this little Twitter "follow me" icon I made today?  I love Twitter.  I enjoy following favorite writer and theater people. The Twitter experience feels more fun and less stressful than other, more complex social media outlets. Somehow it seems less score-keeper-y, less like-or-follow-or-real-person-or-author-page intense.  Some folks follow just a few friends and have many followers, others auto-follow and thus have an almost equal number of followees and followers.  Knowing that everyone uses Twitter a bit differently makes it  feel somehow less competitive.  Yet, I'll admit, I do still get a little thrill when new people follow me.  Sigh. Blush. Well, it's true. And I just thought I'd get it out there. Thus the inspiration for my new icon.  Heehee!

How do you feel about Twitter and the "follow/friend" game?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Back from California!

New England-born gal that I am, I am surprised to find myself writing these words: I have fallen in love with Northern California. It happend during the most recent leg of the Stages on Pages book tour -- and in the marvelous company of Elise Allen, Gretchen McNeil, Kim Culbertson and Katherine Longshore.

Our first event was at the Belmont Library hosted by Dolly, librarian extraordinaire.  She and her staff were awesome and the kids who attended were bright, interested and a ton of fun. Oh, and did I mention there were strawberries?

trading books with Katherine Longshore
The next day involved a nearly three-hour drive from San Francisco to Grass Valley, CA (thanks for doing all that driving, Gretchen). It was so much more than worthe the trip! We had a magical day exploring Nevada City's wine and chocolate shops, meeting (for the first time in-person) the remarkable writer-teacher Kim Culbertson, and finishing with a SoP event in a delightful black box theater at Grass Valley's Center for the Arts where the staff, along with folks from local indie The Book Seller made us feel so welcome. I must mentioned that I ate my first In-and-Out burger on the way home--so yummy!

Wine tasting in Nevada City
with Elise Allen & Gretchen McNeil
The fun continued in Pleasanton, where dinner with some fantastic writer-bloggers preceded our program at Towne Center Books.  Owner Judy, who has created a very special home for writer people, put out a great spread of treats (and wine!) and the event attendees made the Q&A just fantastic.

with Elise, Katherine, Gretchen & Kim
at Book Passage
As if things couldn't get any better, our final tour stop was Book Passage in Corte Madera.  If you haven't been there, go now!  The place is an absolute hive of book activity including author events and a dynamic teen book club, and a delicious cafe.  Again, the warmth and generosity of the staff, and the enthusiasm of the audience made it a day I'll long remember.  Here's a little write-up from Shelf Awareness.

THANK YOU, Northern California! I cannot wait to return!

Monday, June 4, 2012

It's Book Expo America Week

Sigh.  Last year, I was hopping around BEA with author and blogger friends.  This year, I've just returned from a Stages on Pages tour loop through Northern California and am gearing up for my kids to start summer vacation.  But next year I hope to be back in NYC for BEA. Meanwhile, if you're curious, here's this year's schedule.

And here are the books they'll be chatting up on the famed BUZZ PANEL for YA:

 Crewel by Gennifer Albin, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

 Skinny by Donna Cooner, Scholastic

 Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz, Penguin Young Readers Group

 What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang, HarperCollins Children’s Book

 Skylark by Meagan Spooner, Lerner Publishing Group

Some very cool titles. Definitely expanding my tbr list!