Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

My friend Liz wrote a post about her resolutions this week.  As a fellow writer and mom, Liz pretty much nails the resolutions (with the exception of the triathlon--Liz, it's all yours. LOL).  But I'm inspired to reflect on 2010 and think about the new year.

2010 has been a good year for my writing career.  My first work-for-hire book was published last spring.  I was assigned four new titles.  I started querying my first Young Adult novel to literary agents--and got some good feedback.  I can only hope that 2011 will build on that success.

1. First and foremost, I need to be better at trying to write every day.  I have a tendency to finish a project, and then "rest."  I've pretty much taken the last six weeks "off" from writing after I finished my last work-for-hire project.  #wastingtime.  I need to ramp up again and write, even if it's bad writing.

2. I still have three partials and one full manuscript out from querying last summer and fall.  I need to think about revisions on the novel and decide if I should keep querying or make significant changes.  Jury is still out.

3. I'd like to get some more work-for-hire contracts and continue to write non fiction.

So to sum it up...write every day...get an agent...publish more nonfiction.  And oh yeah, lose ten pounds.  Bring on 2011!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all my family and friends who celebrate.  To those who celebrate other holidays--enjoy the food, the fun, the festivities.

And Happy New Year to all.

2011 promises to be a wonderful year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Books. My books.

I've been working with Capstone Press for two years.  I'm in the final stages of my sixth project.  Last Winter, I had the joy of holding my very first published book in my hands (January 2010, TAURUS, VIRGO, & CAPRICORN: ALL ABOUT THE EARTH SIGNS).  Since then, I've worked on four more nonfiction titles.  It's been quite a ride, but it doesn't seem quite real until you hold the hard copy!  Thank you Capstone Press!  (For anyone thinking of getting into work-for-hire, I've had a great experience.)

In January 2011 (that's, like, two weeks away!), three of my titles will be released.  They've been viewable on Amazon for a couple of months.  But this week, the new titles were posted on the publisher's website.   

The very first assignment I received from Capstone (WHO REALLY DISCOVERED AMERICA?) is one of the three coming out in January.  I'm particularly excited about this one.  I think kids are really going to like it.  Cool cover, right?

The other two are: OUR SUN and STARS.  Suffice it to say, anything related to the sky is popular with my daughter and her class.  I'm going to be a hero in the 2nd grade this spring.  I can't wait to show them!

Yes, I'm still working on my fiction (albeit at a snail's pace right now), but I wanted to share the excitement.  Nonfiction is a blast to write, and seeing the progress and the end result is priceless to my writer's ego.

Happy Holidays to all!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

THE TIME TRAVELERS by Linda Buckley-Archer

This is my favorite middle grade time travel book.  I absolutely love it.  Originally called GIDEON THE CUTPURSE, the cover grabbed my attention in my local library about two years ago.  It was a die-cut outline of a stone wall, with a man's eye peering through--slightly creepy but wicked cool.

This is the description from the official webpage...

"A chance encounter with an anti-gravity machine catapults Peter Schock and Kate Dyer back to the 18th century and sets in motion a calamitous chain of events."

From School Library Journal

"Starred Review. Grade 5-8–Peter and Kate, 12, have literally stumbled from the 21st century back to 1763, and even though they are still in England, many things have changed. Their time travel must be connected to the antigravity machine Kate's father has been working on, but since it has been stolen by a vicious criminal called The Tar Man, they really have no choice but to trust Gideon, the stranger whose offer of help seems genuine enough, even if he is known as a cutpurse. Buckley-Archer may very well give J. K. Rowling a run for her money. This wonderfully rich and complex novel, written in lyrical and vivid language, is destined to be a classic. History interweaves with science, social issues in both centuries are thrown in; yet what readers will remember most is a fast-paced plot with a cliff-hanger ending and multidimensional characters who continue to inhabit their thoughts long after the book is closed. With appeal for reluctant and advanced readers, this novel is a rare gem."

I love the characters of Peter and Kate.  They're 12--and strangers when the book begins.  They wake up in 1763 after accidentally triggering a science experiment.  They have to rely on each other and end up being really good friends.   Gideon is a cutpurse (pick-pocket) who ends up being one of their only friends.  He witnesses their arrival, so he believes their story.  Linda does a great job of portraying two modern English kids in eighteenth century London.  For a real treat, get this book on audio and listen to Gerard Doyle's great interpretation.

The book is now known as THE TIME TRAVELERS and the cover looks like this:

The sequels THE TIME THIEF and TIME QUAKE aren't quite as good as the first one, but they round out the story of Kate and Peter, and of course Gideon.

If you like time travel and/or history, you'll love this book.  It's well worth the ride.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

James Blunt covers America


America is my all time favorite band.  No one sings this song like Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley.  But James Blunt comes close...enjoy.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Beth Revis' Epic Contest

I'm so excited for Beth Revis' book (Across the Universe).  I've been reading her blog for a year and it's finally almost time!

She's giving away mucho prizes in honor of her book release--check out her blog! (But I'm going to win the watch...)

Go check it out!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

I thought it would be fun to profile some of my favorite books on the blog.  I'm in a bit of a "break" from writing (holiday, head-cold, procrastination...ya know.), but I want to keep the blog going...

Today, I'm profiling one of my all-time favorite books: THE LAST UNICORN by Peter Beagle.

I normally read books before I see movies, but as fate would have it, in the mid-80's I discovered a wonderfully animated motion picture.  The movie's soundtrack was composed by Jimmy Webb and sung by my absolute favorite band of all time, America (can't be embedded, but click here to hear the title song.)  I loved it.  And when I found out it was based on a book of the same name, I immediately picked it up.  I think I might have been 14 or 15.

The movie's script was written by Peter Beagle, himself.  So the dialogue was very true to the book.  The book is simply a longer, more detailed version of the story.  The language is lovely and haunting.  The sarcasm is sometimes subtle, but not always.  I'm reading it out loud to my daughter at night now, and I'm falling in love with it all over again.  The funny thing is, I can hear the character's voices as I'm reading it (Mia Farrow and Jeff Bridges and Alan Arkin).

It has some of my favorite quotes ("it's you or me moth, hand to hand to hand..." and see my sidebar to the left.)

It's not a magical unicorn-y rainbow world.  Parts of the world are harsh and dark.  The last Unicorn discovers that she IS the last.  And she leaves the safety of her forest to search for the other unicorns.  Along the way she meets bumbling magician Schmendrick (who is immortal in his own way); Molly, a bitter middle-aged matron; and Lir, a handsome hero.  She also meets King Haggard and the Red Bull, who have conspired to trap all the unicorns of the world to keep for themselves.

Schmendrick manages to summon all the magic in his possession to transform the Unicorn into a young woman, thereby saving her from the Bull.  But he can't just change her back at will.  They have to enter King Haggard's castle and find their way out past the Bull.  Lir, the King's son, is desperate to help the Lady Amalthea, the mysterious and beautiful woman living in his home.  Little does he know that she is not really a human woman.

Don't expect a magical happy ending where the princess marries the prince in the end.  "There are no happy endings, because nothing ends..."  It's sad and hopeful and beautiful and haunting.

Peter Beagle first published THE LAST UNICORN in 1968.  In 2007, he published a short story sequel entitled TWO HEARTS.  Just so you know, it made me cry.

Let me know if you like it!  And watch the movie, too, if you have a chance.  Oh, and listen to the sountrack...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner

It's so cool when a great new book come out from an incredible author.  For me, it's even cooler to have made a connection with an author who I admire as much as Kate Messner.  I had the chance to review an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) of SUGAR AND ICE, which comes out next week, back in June.  My review of Sugar and Ice.

Kate wrote a guest post on my critique partner's (Laura) blog this week. Kate Messner's Guest post on Laura Pauling's Write to Ramble blog.

SUGAR AND ICE by Kate Messner
Walker Books for Young Readers (December 2010)
A Fall 2010 Junior Library Guild Selection!

For Claire Boucher, life is all about skating on the frozen cow pond and in the annual Maple Show right before the big pancake breakfast on her family's maple farm. But all that changes when Claire is offered a
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity-a scholarship to train with the elite skaters in Lake Placid. Tossed into a world of mean girls on ice, where competition is everything, Claire soon realizes that her sweet dream-come-true has sharper edges than she could have imagined. Can she find the strength to stand up to the people who want her to fail and the courage to decide which dream she wants to follow?

"Even those who won't know their double toe loops from their single salchows will enjoy reading about what it takes to make it on the ice."      ~Booklist

Congratulations to Kate on the new book!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Using Real Life to Inspire Fiction

I write a fair amount of non fiction--notice my sidebar.  All my published books are non fiction.  But my life's ambition is to publish a novel. My novel.

What's it about?  Well, um, me.  But it's fiction.  Huh?

If you know me "in real life" you probably know that my parents had a fairly unusual family business when I was growing up.  They managed and co-owned a golf course.  We kids had a blast.  We learned a lot about people, human nature, and ourselves.  We had good friends.  It's the basis for a great YA novel.  Except...

Nothing really exciting happened.  Unless you count my brother's hole-in-one.  Or the time I got poison ivy crawling into some shrubs after a ball.  Or when Mr. A. yelled at a friend of mine for practicing too long on the putting green.  Like I said, not so much.

How do you take a great setting from your own life and make it fiction?  Easy.

I ask myself a lot of questions.  What if I had done that?  What if I hadn't been afraid of that thing happening? What if he had said this?  What if they went there? 

Make yourself an alternate universe.  Up the stakes.  Invent people.  Change personalities.  It's your story--you can make anything happen.  Nothing in my book happened "for real"--well, maybe one or two things did--but no one really knows, do they?

You can do this with settings, but you can also take "real" situations and turn them on their ears.  Anyone else take a real place (or situation) and fictionalize it?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving in Plymouth

Well, not really. But close. I spent part of the weekend at Plimoth Plantation as part of a Girl Scout program. I was very interested--because I love history, and I'm working on freelance project about colonial America. I've been researching since June--and my weekend made it very clear to me that my extensive research has merely scratched the surface.

PP has a living museum--with live "pilgrims" in a reproduction of the 1627 settlement. They also have a Wampanoag village with native American historians describing daily life.  The craft center is amazing as craftspeople create reproductions of the time in the same manner they were originally created--hand sewn, hand carved, etc.

If you're in the area, I highly recommend the trip to Plymouth.  We also had a chance to tour the Mayflower II.  Incredible to think of a four month voyage with 100 of your closest friends on that boat. 

It's even harder to imagine the living conditions and the basic daily comforts that they lacked.  My daughter thought the Native Americans had it better because their wetus were warmer than the colonist's houses.

For the most part, the Pilgrims and the Native Americans at that time got along pretty well.  But I start to get emotional when I think of the violence and the grief that both groups suffered as time progressed.  And of course the Native Americans lost everything in the end.

We should celebrate the things we are thankful for this week.  But we should also remember the people who came before us and the things they suffered for us to be where we are.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Great Library Giveaway

I love this website--all about Middle Grade books. They are hosting a great contest for a wonderful selection of Middle Grade books for someone's local library. Check it Out!

My local library is a wonderful place--with an exemplary staff of generous and caring librarians. But then I'm biased. :)

The Great Library Giveaway

Friday, November 19, 2010

Suggestions for blog series or posts?

Yikes, my last post was a whole week ago! I hope everyone is enjoying the pre-holiday season. We just started listening to holiday music in the car. Planning and plotting the shopping strategy.

I've got a deadline next week. Scout stuff this weekend. Not much time to think up insightful blog posts.

I'm taking suggestions. Anyone have an interesting idea?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Harry Potter Nerdness or How are you anticipating HP 7?

Starting to get excited about the first Harry Potter Deathly Hallows movie? Me too. So are other folks in the literary world, notably Nathan Bransford has dedicated the whole week to HP.

Nathan Bransford

I've been watching fanmade YouTube music videos (c'mon, please don't tell me I'm the only one), listening to ORDER OF THE PHOENIX on audio tape, watching HALF BLOOD PRINCE. I listened to DEATHLY HALLOWS this summer. I haven't started reading fanfic yet, but I've done it before and I'll do it again. I need my HP fix. I can't wait to see how they portray this book--it has so many of my favorite scenes in the series. My all time favorite scene is The Silver Doe-Chapter 19. It has everything--Ron kicks butt, Snape's true colors show, Harry realizes how important his friends are, and Ron realizes [finally] his feelings for Hermione. I've got it bookmarked and sometimes I just read that chapter. Here's a good discussion of The Silver Doe.

I've got a date with my sister and cousins to see HP...but not until the 23rd. I can't wait!

So, now that I've shown my true HP nerd-ness...How are you celebrating the release of HP Deathly Hallows?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Let Kids Read What They Want

I'll admit I got the idea for this post from this blog entry on Capstone Connect -- and not just because the article links to a book set I was involved with for them. ;) It happened to coincide with a conversation I recently had with my local children's librarian about books for kids.

A friend of hers runs a bookstore--and recently related a story about a young woman with a toddler bypassing a beautiful picture book (it might have been an Eric Carle, but I don't remember that detail) because she didn't want to "talk down" to the child.

As a lover of all things books, and in particular really cool picture books, this horrifies me. For a child to miss the wonders of picture books--Jan Brett, Eric Carle, Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss. Oh My!

My daughter still reads picture books because she loves the pictures. And, excuse me, the words in most picture books are geared to a parent's vocabulary NOT the toddler's. They are designed to be enjoyed together. Like art. Or poetry. Or music.

That's actually beside the point, though. If your middle grade boy will only read graphic novels, let him. If your teenage girl only reads paranormal romance, so be it. THEY ARE READING. Hey, if your toddler WANTS to read a chapter book--go for it! It's okay to suggest the books that you loved as a child, or books you've read good reviews for on Goodreads. Don't skimp on the good stuff. But if they'd rather read something you consider beneath them--it's okay. Studies show that if they read what they want, test scores will follow (see link above for source).

My daughter also enjoys reading riddles out of Highlights. In the car. Where we can't get away. But she loves them.

What do your kids like to read?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Life and Death. Literally.

Nothing like the cycle of life to make you sit up and take notice of your daily existence.  Between work, and writing projects, and driving kids, and doing laundry, I feel like sometimes I barely have time to think. But life happens when you're not watching sometimes.

It's been an interesting week for my family. An elderly relative passed away early Wednesday morning--she was only sick for a short time and thankfully didn't suffer long.  And my new niece was born late Thursday night--she is healthy and beautiful as her mother, my sister. 

I'm struck with thinking about things I'm thankful for.  My supportive spouse; my beautifully intense and brilliant child; my health; my wonderful friends (literal and virtual) and family; my co-workers.  I'm thankful for the ability to write down my thoughts and feelings, to vote for elected officials, and to eat ice cream whenever I want.

My wish for my beautiful niece is this, eloquently sung by Le Ann Womack:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thick Skin. Or getting feedback without wanting to give up.

If you write you know you have to develop a thick skin.  (and if you don't know that yet, well, if you're a writer, you will).

What does that mean?  To me, it means being open to feedback.  Being willing to consider that someone has a valid opinion about my words, my story, my direction.  It doesn't always mean I have to agree.  But it does mean I have to consider.

Some opinions are weighted more heavily.  There are crit partners, beta readers, family members, and of course industry professionals.  To get feedback from an industry professional is considered something of a coup--even if it ultimately ends as a rejection.  Because honestly, who has time to write a full page of feedback to someone to whom you're not going to offer representation?

My YA novel has been in full agent query mode since the end of June.  I've had a number of partial and full requests.  Getting requests from queries tells me that my story is relevant and interesting--or at least the premise is.  For the first time, I received a FULL page letter citing what worked and what didn't work in my full manuscript--and why the agent wasn't able to offer representation.

Here's where the thick skin becomes helpful.  It was a rejection letter explaining what didn't work about my novel.  I could scream and rant and get really sad about it.  BUT, it was a FULL page.  And it also included some compliments about my writing, my protagonist, and my concept.  I know for a fact that this agent has neither time nor energy to waste--so I'm thoroughly grateful that I was given such a gift.  I've got a lot to consider--to rewrite or revise.  Or to wait and see what the other agents holding fulls and partials have to say.

This agent also complimented my writing to boot.  OMG!  I must be getting close.

On a related note, I'm also working on some work-for-hire projects for an educational publisher.  The set I'm working on is incredibly challenging, but interesting and gratifying.  Without a thick skin I could start to feel over my head as I enter a new round of revisions.  But my editors are generous with their time, and acknowledge the difficulty of the projects.  I'm forging ahead with confidence and determination!  I am so proud to be getting to my final round of edits--and I can't wait to see the completed books.

Sometimes you have to remind yourself to have a thick skin.  You might have to talk to a crit partner.

Or write a blog post.  ;)

But remember it's the writing, not the person, being critiqued.  Agents and editors want you to produce your best work possible.  You want to produce the best work possible.  There's a process to getting there.  And the ability to consider feedback without feeling like quitting is priceless.

What does having a thick skin mean to you?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Read Every Day.

Just a reminder to read every day and a suggestion to sign up for the "You are what you read" campaign from Scholastic.

My most recent book finished?  FIRST LIGHT by Rebecca Stead (Author of WHEN YOU REACH ME) finished at 10:15 p.m. last night.  Very good read.

Have a Happy November 1.

Monday, October 25, 2010

School Visits

I'm so excited to have been invited to my local elementary school to talk to the third grade this spring.  As some of you know, I have two books on the solar system and one about the discovery of America coming out in January (click here for more info).

As excited as I am, my main goal is to make sure my presentations are interesting for the kids.  So in preparation for working on my presentation, I googled (what else?) "Tips on School Visits."  And I found a great resource!

School Visit Experts

This website has some great outlines, tips, and suggestions from people who have spent years presenting to kids.  I'm so grateful for the site!

I'm working on visual aids as well as an auditory presentation.  I'm planning on talking about the writing process.  I might put together a power point presentation, but I'm not sure.

The following notes I took from the website

Presentation Length: 30 minutes
The Focus: How a nonfiction book gets published (for me, from assignment to finished product). 
The Sub-focus: How to research and put facts together to make an interesting book for readers.
Big-Picture Audience Take-Away: To learn about how a book gets published from beginning to end.
Table props to make the presentation 3-D: 
  • Stack of books used for research; binders with materials (1st drafts, writer’s guidelines, etc.
  • Music -- Maybe, maybe not—not sure yet
  • Possible Images for visual (power point) presentation
    • Writer’s guidelines
    • Screen shots of the final .pdf
    • Websites used for research
    • My office/workspace
    • The cubicle in the library where I write sometimes
 Classroom Connection
  • Before my visit
    • Ask the teachers and/or librarian to make the books available for the kids to preview prior to the event.
    • Encourage the teachers to have kids share stories, draw pictures or share photos of their favorite nonfiction topic (animals, space, nature).
  • After my visit
    • Invite kids to write letters, telling about their favorite part of the presentation, what tips they learned, or share a story they want to write. 
    • Leave behind a bibliography of picture books – both nonfiction and fiction. 
Other ideas: 
  • Create question cards that kids can choose out of a hat—brainstorm possible questions just in case they get stumped.
  • Think of the presentation in the same way you approach a book:  including plot, character, conflict, dialogue.  You do not have to be a standup comedian or even a polished public speaker.  It does help tremendously if you have a “story” to tell your audience that includes information about your latest work, your total body of work, your “themes”, the struggles you encountered on your way to becoming a published author.  The audience likes to know an appropriate amount about you as a person – past as well as present. (**I feel like this is the most important takeaway from the site.) 
  • ·         avoid plagiarism
  • ·         do research
  • ·         take notes
  • ·         construct a bibliography
  • ·         paraphrase
  • ·         distinguish a reliable source of information from an unreliable one
Thanks to the great bloggers at for the above tips.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Critiquing and friendship

Tina Laurel Lee asked me to write a post about my crit group and the critiquing process.  I've got a great crit group--we meet weekly, but we've only been in the same room a couple of times.  You see, we meet online.

We connected for the first time at the 2009 NESCBWI conference--and even then we didn't all meet each other in person.  Ansha and I knew each other and we met Jen in a session.  Jen knew Laura from her hometown.  We were in the right (write?) place at the right time and all admitted we needed a crit group.  A dynamic and energetic group of friends was born.

We all had partially completed novels at the time and immediately set up a schedule of bi-weekly submissions.  Laura and I subbed one week, Jen and Ansha subbed the next.  We met in a chat room weekly to share anecdotes, family stories, and encouragement.

Now, a year and a half later, we've all completed the works we had started.  Some of us are in revision mode, some are working on new things.  We've all queried and received positive feedback from agents and/or editors.  We're all still on the path toward being agented, but Jen's book TO FIND A WONDER was released last fall.  Her book launch was one of the most exciting moments our group has shared so far!

The critique process itself can be difficult.  It's not always easy to put your words out there.  We all have different writing styles and strengths--but that's the best part of our group.  I know Laura's going ask me questions about my protag's character and whether her behavior is realistic.  Ansha looks at the big picture.  Jen is stellar on detail and world building.  Without each of them, my novel would not be what it is today--getting good feedback and nibbles from agents.

We're now in our sophomore year--we still meet weekly in a chat room.  We've come together to see Jen's book turned into a successful musical.  Laura has become a successful and prolific blogger.  Ansha spearheaded a successful blog series this summer.  And I've had a few more nonfiction projects assigned by my publisher.

It's not always easy to be a writer.  Not everyone understands the trials and tribulations.  But my crit group understands.  They're often the first ones who hear about my recent rejections--because they get it.  Sometimes cheerleaders, sometimes task masters, sometimes psychologists.  My crit group!  Love you guys!

Ansha Kotyk
Jennifer Carson
Laura Pauling

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pre writing and picking up where I left off

I'm sort of between projects right now...

Waiting for editor comments on a couple of nonfiction work-for-hire projects.  Still querying (and waiting on a couple fulls and partials) my YA contemporary realistic.  I find myself not having a writing project this morning for the first time in months.  Huh?

So I pulled out the beginning of a snowflake for the new wip I started last spring.  I honestly don't remember getting so far on it!  And you know what?  It's not bad.  I might even have something to work with.

But here's the thing: having worked on nonfic so much this summer, I've got a different perspective.  I really liked having an outline.  It gave me something to work with.  I knew the general direction I was going.  One of my crit partners swears by "pre-writing" -- something I've never really done before in my fiction.  I've started a snowflake, but haven't really used it to the fullest potential.

I think I might give myself permission NOT to write on this glorious perfect-for-writing day.  I might try thinking about the story.  The characters.  Their motivation.  Their back story.  I know I have some charts around here somewhere...

How much pre-writing do you do?


Friday, October 8, 2010

Tour Buses and Signed Books

The lovely Jan Brett appeared tonight at our local bookseller, Willow Books.  She was sweet, engaging, and sincere.  My little one and a friend sat in the front row riveted to every word.  Jan's new picture book, The Three Little Dassies, was inspired by a trip to Namibia.

She demonstrated how to draw one of her new characters: a little Dassy from Namibia. 

She signed books, answered questions, and encouraged budding artists.

And then drove away in her super cool book tour bus.  How many authors have tour buses?  Is that not the coolest thing ever?  I want one of those.  Do you think there's a hot tub on board?

There were Dassies being drawn in my house tonight.  My little artist was inspired, and so was I.  Thank you, Jan, for being wonderful.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My new books, hooray!

I just googled myself (c'mon, admit it, you do it too) and found out that the three books coming out in January are available to preorder from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  And I'm certain that you could preorder with your favorite local bookseller as well (or if not, then soon).

It looks like they're also going to be available in paperback!

So, go ahead, preorder!  I've seen the layout and they're awesome--I can't wait for everyone to see them!  And of course, I'll sign them if you buy them!


This link will take you to the books page of my website (page down to the bottom)--I linked the books to Amazon for convenience, but please do remember your local independent bookseller when you purchase.  Mine is Willow Books and is located here.

Update: the cover images are visible on my profile page on GoodReads. Whoot!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Em dash Anonymous

I admit it, I overuse the em dash. There, I said it.

According to Wikipedia, "The em dash (—), or m dash, m-rule, etc., often demarcates a parenthetical thought or some similar interpolation."

I recently submitted a draft of a nonfiction piece to my editor.  And much to my chagrin, one of her comments was about my beloved em dash.  I was chagrined mostly because I had removed a half-dozen of the dashes before submitting because a friend of mine noted that I had used so many.

When I confessed this to my editor, she replied how much SHE likes the em dash in her own writing--how's that for karma!

It's important to know your own weaknesses!  I'm also guilty of overusing commas, but that's another post...

Any one else willing to stand up and admit your em dash love?  (See, I only used it once in this post!)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grammar and Word Choice

There are countless articles about grammar on writing websites and blogs.  This is not going to be "one of those."

Writers have an endless path in front of us as we sit down at a blank page.  Will the path take you to the dark and stormy coast? Or maybe to through a tangle of dense trees.  We spin a tale of mystery, or romance, or misery just through our words.  Sometimes we just need to get words on a page. 

One of the tools I use is the grammar check option in Word 2007.  Sometimes it picks on words that I've used and a popup asks me if I'm sure (although it has not started saying "recalculating" like the lady on my GPS. LOL.)  Over the weekend it thought my use of the word "fishermen" was too gender specific and it wondered if I didn't want to use the word "angler" instead.  Not that my use of the word was passive (which Word tells me sometimes) or used incorrectly.

At first I was surprised (and lightly annoyed, if I'm honest).  "Angler" is a completely different word and has a different tone.  And I really did mean "fishermen" in my sentence.  But then I thought how cool that my software program was reminding me to be inclusive--just in case I had forgotten.

Do any of your writing tools talk to you?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Musical inspiration

I know I'm not the only one who gets inspired by music.  There are so many songs that whisper to me.  I've always been that way--in junior high, my sister and I spent hours transcribing the lyrics to songs we loved.  I kept a journal of favorite lines.  I tried to write lyrics myself.

I've got a list of songs that inspire my current WIP (see my sidebar).  This is the one that hits me hardest lately.  It reminds me of old summer days--how the heck did Chris Daughtry get in my head??

What songs cut right to your heart and inspire your writing?

Friday, September 10, 2010

In Real Life

So many of the connections we make as writers are online.  Virtual.  Sometimes at conferences, or workshops, we have a chance to connect with other writers in person.  But most of those bloggers, tweeters, and chat room relationships will forever be virtual. No less Real, but not In Real Life.

The fabulous Heather Kelly--of Edited to Within an Inch of My Life--and I realized that we live about half an hour away from each other some time last spring.  We connected through one of our blogs, I can't remember which, but one of us commented on the other and ::Shazam:: (anyone else remember that show?  But I digress...)

Heather and I met at a Borders about half way between our hometowns.  If you know Heather from online, you won't be surprised to know she's just as sweet, supportive, and enthusiastic in person as she is on her blog.  We'd met at our SCBWI conference back in the spring, but we didn't get a chance to talk together about our writing, our process, and querying.  It was so nice to be able to sit with someone who knows what its like.  If you haven't been to Heather's blog, I highly recommend it!  Go now!

Thanks Heather!  If only we'd taken a picture...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New Beginnings

Most people think of the new year as starting in January as the calendar slips a digit.  Not me.  Every fall, I get excited about the new school year.  Maybe because even after I graduated, I've always worked in academia.

Countdown?  Forget it, I'll take those crisp clean notebooks--so many things to be written in them.  Fireworks?  Nah, I'll take the multi-pack of colored pencils--so much to draw, underline, little time. 
Funny hats? Are you kidding?  Give me those post-it notes, sharpened pencils, crayons and glue sticks any day.

Can you tell I love school supplies?  They are the embodiment of starting over.  I'm spending the last day before school starts with my daughter and some good friends.  We might go and see if we can peer into her classroom so I can imagine her day tomorrow.  I won't cry (I don't think)--we're past that.  But I will envy her as she heads off in her new outfit, with her new backpack filled with those awesome supplies. 

I might steal one of her notebooks and see what new things I can come up with...

How do you celebrate the start of the new year?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Honesty v. Victory

Jay Busbee writes a Yahoo online column about golf--he sometimes features unusual or heartwarming stories.  He once said in an article--and I have this quote on my desktop--"in golf, honesty is more important than victory."

The gist of the story he profiled today is about a kid who won a junior tournament in Wisconsin.  The kid signs the scorecard to make it official, collects the trophy, and goes home.  While celebrating later, he notices an extra club in his bag.  Golf has some wacky rules.  Carrying an extra club costs two penalty strokes every hole.  He calls the tournament director and sends the trophy back.  Honest kid.

Some of you know my novel is a YA contemporary about a girl who plays golf.  So I read Jay's story about an honest fourteen-year-old boy with interest. If there's ever a sequel to my first novel, it might have a character like this kid.  Read the full story here.

 These are my clubs.  If there are more than 14, I'd be penalized. :)

What would you do?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lovely Blog Awards and a Thank you

Marieke of Marieke's Musings just presented me with this lovely award.  Thank you so much! 

She said my blog is "Pretty, funny, insightful!"  Aw. Totally unsolicited (I'll pay you later, Marieke! LOL)

I'd like to pay it forward and present to those bloggers that I've been stalking , really enjoying lately.

I'd like to present this lovely award to the following lovelies:

1. Ansha Kotyk - my wonderful crit partner who coordinated the How We Write Blog Series this summer.
2. Julie Musil -  Writing and Blogging Between Carpools - because I love the title of her blog.
3. Laura Pauling - Exercising the Write to Ramble - another wonderful crit partner - because she always makes my laugh AND think. 
4. Heather Kelly - of Edited to Within an Inch of my Life - because she works really hard, is always cheerful and I'm meeting her for coffee in real life next week. 
5. Tina Laurel Lee - of Watch Me Practice - for continuing to blog while on vacation, jumping into our blog series in week two and never missing a week, and for supporting and cheering on writers at all stages. 
6. Marisa Hopkins - of Elegant Bloggery - because her blog is truly beautiful.

I reserve the right to present this award 9 more times!  And please visit these lovely ladies' blogs.  Here are the rules:

One Lovely Blog Award Rules:
  1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.
  2. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.
  3. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How I Write series withdrawal

I wanted to thank Ansha Kotyk my wonderful critique partner for organizing the How I Write Series--A group of writers posted about how we write on Wednesdays from mid-June through August.  It was a great experience, and I learned a lot from my fellow participants.  If you're interested in participating next year, email Ansha. And click here for the list of all the writers who participated and links to their blogs.

I admit I'm suffering from a bit of withdrawal as I realized I have no set schedule for posting this week.   What to do? This week I've posted about Bobby Sherman and wordle.  Not particularly helpful to the world of writers out there.  

I'm open to a series if anyone's interested...let me know.

That said, I'm working on revising a nonfiction piece this week.  I've got an outline due next week on another piece. I'm really excited about both of them--but my fiction is sort of languishing.   I haven't really read the novel that I'm querying, in like, months.

Writing both fiction and nonfiction is sort of a right brain/left brain thing for me.  Not sure if that's typical or not.  I sort of have to turn off the fiction side--but then my nonfiction tends to get dry and boring (which is not what I'm going for, by the way. LOL). But you can't make up characters or invent dialogue in nonfiction (no, really, you can't. Crazy, right?)

Anyone else write both fiction and nonfiction?  How do you manage both?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fun with Word(le)

Someone on twitter (sorry I can't remember who!) pointed me to this cool word puts text into beautiful puzzles of your most common words.   I used the first 8 pages of my current MS.  I have to say, I find it pretty appropriate and it doesn't look like I'm using a ton of passive words. 

I love it!  The only challenge was figuring out how to get it to reappear here--no convenient "share" button.  But, hey, I learned how to make a screen shot and convert it into a .jpg.  :)

Go try it and report back!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bobby Sherman and saddleshoes

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words--cliche, I know.  But it's true.  Take an old picture of yourself and look at it.  Really look at it.  What is that little person thinking?  What about the old Bobby Sherman lunchbox does she particularly love?  What is that first day of school going to be like?

In honor of second graders everywhere, I give you: me.  On the first day of second grade.  Complete with Bobby Sherman lunchbox and saddle shoes.  I honestly don't remember having an undying love for Bobby--but there it is.  Just look at that lunchbox. That's love.  No second grader carries a lunchbox like that without love.  There must be a story there somewhere.

I think I need to look up Bobby Sherman's greatest hits on iTunes. In the meantime, enjoy this video performance of "Easy Come, Easy Go." 

Positively swoon worthy...those moves are made of awesome.  That hair.  The leather pants.  I'm having a flashback of why I must have loved Bobby Sherman.  I dare the Jonas Brothers or Justin Bieber to pull off that look. :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Making history come alive in nonfiction

I visited Boston with my family this week--we took a ferry out to George's Island (if you're not familiar with the area, there are 30 small islands in Boston Harbor) and Fort Warren, a defense position for Boston from 1850-1950.  On the way out, the USS Constitution happened to be taking a short sail into the harbor--and while she's seaworthy and still a commissioned ship in the US Navy--not a regular occurrence.  It took our breath away to see this 200+ year old ship--both beautiful and fierce.

Earlier in the week, I visited the Old North Bridge and the Minuteman National Park.  The Park Rangers there are wonderful in their vivid descriptions of what happened at the Old North Bridge between the Minute Men and the Redcoats--"the shot heard round the world."  

I'm working on a nonfiction work-for-hire piece right now about the colonial period--and it's been challenging to make the text fun and interesting for the target grade-level.  Witnessing history so vividly helps make it come alive and will hopefully help me make it come alive for my readers! 

The research is important, but sometimes getting out of the house and out from behind the computer can help break through the writer's block.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My first review--School Library Journal

Ok, so this may  not be a huge deal, but I just found out that my book was reviewed by School Library Journal as part of the ZODIAC FUN set.  Well, maybe it is sort of a big deal...

The things you discover when you Google yourself...:)

from April 2010

ASSELIN, Kristine Carlson. Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn: All About the Earth Signs
ISBN 978-1-4296-4013-8. LC 2009029192.

Gr 3–9—Trendy design and casual, almost slangy word choice ("stylin'," "crush-worthy") fit the lighter-than-air subject. Each sign is outlined in terms of style, career ideas, personality pluses and minuses, and examples of famous people born under that sign, including a profile of one particular celebrity. Compatibility with other astrological signs and specific relationship advice are also given. Celebrities chosen are all entertainers (e.g., Beyonce, Robert Pattinson) with the exception of Barack (Leo) and Michelle (Capricorn) Obama. Photographs tend to show people (mostly girls) in action. A low word count and large pictures in a magazine format are aimed at hi/lo readers. A different quiz in the back of each book gives these titles pass-around appeal.—Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, MD

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How I Write: Interview with Children's Author John Lance

Anyone feel like this summer has flown by? I'm still trying to figure out what to do for fun this summer, and school starts next week. This week brings us to our last installment of the How I Write series, brainchild of Ansha Kotyk.  A group of writers posted about how we write on Wednesdays from mid-June through August.  If you're interested in participating next year, email Ansha. And click here for the list of all the writers participating and links to their blogs.

This last week we have a free post so I thought I'd interview my friend, John Lance, author of CHARLOTTE CAULDRON AND THE PRINCE OF NEVERMORE and PRISCILLA HOLMES, ACE DETECTIVE.

John Lance lives in New England with his beautiful wife and daughters. His picture book PRISCILLA HOLMES, ACE DETECTIVE and his middle reader novel CHARLOTTE CAULDRON AND THE PRINCE OF NEVERMORE were both published in 2009. He has also authored a collection of short stories, BOBBY'S TROLL AND OTHER STORIES, and has appeared in a number of anthologies, most recently ALL ABOUT EVE in 2010.

CHARLOTTE CAULDRON (see my review here), published by Sam's Dot Publishing in 2009, is available here.  PRISCILLA HOLMES, published by 4RV Publishing in 2009, is available here.  Join me in welcoming John to my blog for the first time.

KA:     Thanks for being here, John.  The first book of yours that I read was CHARLOTTE CAULDRON AND THE PRINCE OF NEVERMORE. Was that the first book you wrote?  Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?

JL:       I suppose we should distinguish between "wrote" and "successfully published." Prior to CHARLOTTE CAULDRON AND THE PRINCE OF NEVERMORE I wrote two full blown fantasy novels. Neither found a home, but I did get just enough positive feedback to keep me going.  I then dabbled in short stories, having some success with some small magazines and anthologies before my next book HOME IS WHERE THE DRAGON IS was published. After that I was fortunate enough to have a collection of short stories BOBBY'S TROLL AND OTHER STORIES published by a small publisher Yard Dog Press. Then CHARLOTTE CAULDRON AND THE PRINCE OF NEVERMORE was published. Since Charlotte has come out I have had some additional success, appearing in several anthologies and, more significantly, having my picture book PRISCILLA HOLMES, ACE DETECTIVE published in late 2009 by 4RV Publishing. A sequel, PRISCILLA HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE GLASS SLIPPER, is slated to come out in late 2010.

KA: Getting that positive feedback is such an incentive! What made you start to write seriously?
JL: I always loved to write. A bit cliche, I know, but there it is. All through grade school I wrote stories, even attempting an "epic poem" in 7th grade. In college, I took all the creative writing courses I could and started the first of my unpublished fantasy novels, even taking a lighter class load the last semester of my senior year to focus on it. That manuscript was the first thing I really tried to get published, so I suppose that is my first "serious" work.

KA: I love hearing about that first “a-ha” moment.  Can you tell us anything about your current work-in-progress?

JL: Currently I'm working on another Priscilla Holmes book. I'm trying something a little different with this installment. The other books have been written from Priscilla's point of view. This one has a different narrator, and I'm still trying to figure out if its going to work or not. I think I'm on the 58th draft.

KA: Ha! I think we can all relate to the endless revision process. You chose to go with a small press for CHARLOTTE – was that a conscious choice? Can you tell us about it?

JL: Charlotte is an interesting case of "right time/right place." I had just placed a short story in a magazine that Sam's Dot publishes called Beyond Centauri and was corresponding with the editor. I mentioned that I had Charlotte and asked if he was interested in giving it a look over. He said yes, and the rest is history. Interestingly enough I had a similar experience with Bobby's Troll and Other Stories. In that case I had contributed to several of Yard Dog Press's anthologies before approaching the editor. So I think that is an advantage of working with small presses, the editors/publishers are more accessible.

KA: So much of what we do is “right time, right place”—great that it worked out for you. A lot of the readers of my blog are looking for agents. Do you have an agent?

JL: Not yet.

KA: Where do you find your inspiration?

JL: Whenever someone asks me this question I always feel like I should respond with "in the beat of a butterfly's wing" or something else that sounds suitably deep. Sadly the truth is more mundane. My story ideas come from my family, or quirky things on the news, or while listening to music, or while I'm mowing the lawn, or driving to the mall, or, well, you get the idea. The one thing I have found is that I can't force ideas to come. The other thing I've found is that sometimes ideas are initially incomplete and you've got to leave them on the shelf to mature.

KA: I think your inspiration is fabulous! Are you a full-time writer? What is your non-writing life like?

JL: I have not yet achieved enough success to write full time. So my non-writing life is like that vast majority of folks out there as I struggle with "work/life balance" only with the added twist of trying to shoe-horn in a little writing on the side. 

KA: I think most writers out there can relate to that. What is your biggest challenge with your writing?
JL: Finding time and keeping motivated. After a long day at the office it's hard to sit down at the computer and write. I have found that when I can get into a regular rhythm that will help, but a lot of time "real-life" intrudes.

KA: It’s always interesting to me to know what writer’s like to read. What are your favorite books?
JL: I have always enjoyed reading fantasy the most, though I also enjoy science fiction and history. Early on I fell in love with THE HOBBIT. I think my favorite author of all time is Terry Pratchett, whose humorous Discworld novels are fantastic. Most recently I have started reading Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, which is one of the most exciting series I've read in a long time.

KA: And lastly, just for fun, do you have a favorite “guilty pleasure” you can share?

JL: I thoroughly enjoy zombie and monster movies, the cheesier the monster the better. I'm holding out hopes that someday there will be a mutant-flying-zombie-anaconda movie.

I hear zombies are the new vampires in the publishing world, so you may get your wish!  Thanks, John, for joining me today.  I hope everyone will check out CHARLOTTE CAULDRON and PRISCILLA HOLMES.  I can’t wait to see the new Priscilla book this winter!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Summer Reading List

If I stop to think about it, I've read more than I thought this summer.  I thought I'd share!

ETERNAL ON THE WATER by Joe Monninger - this was a book I read for my book club, but Joe also happens to be related to a friend of mine and I've read several of his YA novels.  It's a wonderful and sweet love story.

PROPHECY OF DAYS by Christy Raedeke - I earned this book with my WIBIJ win back in June.  It's a fun, action-filled novel about a contemporary girl who finds herself chasing a ancient Mayan mystery. She emails, texts, had a hot guy friend and a pet monkey.  I'm looking forward to the sequel!

NATHANIEL FLOOD: BEASTOLOGIST by RL LaFevers- my daughter and I read the first two in the fun MG series and are waiting happily for the third to be out this fall. 

SEPTIMUS HEAP by Angie Sage - we've had this series on audio book in the house for the better part of August.  It's slower paced than Harry Potter and it's a more distant third person--omniscient narrator.  I don't feel like I know the characters really well--but it's a good story, with characters who are likable.  My precocious seven-year-old likes it--and the narrator Gerard Doyle is wonderful.

THE SISTERS GRIMM: FAIRY TALE DETECTIVES by Michael Buckley - we listened to this whole series (except #8) on audio CD as well.  The aforementioned 7 yo loved it--and listened to each book several times, but it was probably my least favorite book(s) of the summer.  I didn't love the narrator (he read with an almost sarcastic quality to his voice), and the subject matter sometimes delved darker than I was expecting fairy tale characters to go (addiction, pregnancy loss, death of Sleeping Beauty). 

WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan - this book seemed to be everywhere I turned for a while--I finally picked it up at the library.  It was sweet, poignant, and funny.  I loved it.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by JK Rowling - I've had the audio book in my car all summer and have listened to it again in preparation for the movie coming out in December.  I find that I cry at different points every time I listen--this time the biggest cry fest came when Lupin announces the birth of Teddy in Shell Cottage, and when Percy comes out of the hallway in the Room of Requirement--and I cried for Snape for the first time.  Oh, and I always sob when Ron comes back--but then I'm a Ron fangirl. I just love Jim Dale's narration--and the story is so deeply satisfying and rich. 

So for someone who didn't have a lot of time to read this summer, I did pretty well.  There were bunches of books I didn't get to that are still on my table--I just cracked SETH BAUMGARTNER'S LOVE MANIFESTO by Eric Luper because parts of it take place on a golf course.  And LINGER by Maggie Stiefvater is waiting for me, as is HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins (I know, I'm the only one who hasn't read it yet.)

What have you read this summer?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How I Write: Classes and other Resources

It's been a great and productive summer. We've been to, I'm waist deep in a work-for-hire project, and I'm querying my first novel!  I can't believe we're at our tenth installment of the How I Write series, brainchild of Ansha Kotyk.  A group of writers are writing about how we write – scheduled for Wednesdays through August.  Please check back weekly. And click here for the list of all the writers participating and links to their blogs.

This week we're talking about classes we've taken, and resources we've used.  Where do I start?

I haven't taken a ton of writing classes, but what I have taken has been great. Keep in mind, you don't have to spend a ton of money, enroll in an MFA program, or travel out of your living room to take a great class.

1. Rose's Colored Glass -- I took a plotting class with these ladies and it was great.  Great excel charts to use (best dig them out for the WIP, me thinks).  Very affordable.
2. WriterU -- a wonderful resource of great online classes--very affordable.  The class I took was on rhetorical devices w/ Margie Lawson.  Fab-U-Lous.
3. Kinship Writers In-session. Boston area writer's resource. Critique session with nine attendees and a local industry pro (in our case, in February, 2010, Lauren MacLeod of Strothman Agency spent the day with us).  Less than $100 for the day. Fab-U-Lous times Awesome.
4. SCBWI--workshops and conferences.  Well worth the money.  Do it.  And pay for a critique.  I go to my regional annually.  The workshops are high quality, networking is stellar.
5.'ve got to mention it, even though it's over for this year.  Bookmark the site, and go next year if you didn't this year.  FREE. And made of Awesome. :)
5. Don't sneeze at a regular 'ole critique group--can be as good as a class.

Reading books on craft can also be helpful--thought I have to say I work better in the classroom, even if it's virtual.  I mentioned books last week--I think I was a week early.  Here they are again, my favorite craft books, er, I mean books on craft (doesn't 'craft books' sound like I'm going to whip out the origami or knitting needles?  But I digress...)

1. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
2.The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
3. Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
4. Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison

Writing is a craft. It is something that can be learned, improved, perfected, enhanced.  But you have to practice your craft.  Take a class. Read a book. Google "how to write a novel" if you have to.  Join a critique group. Go to a conference. I promise you will learn something. :)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Writeoncon Aftermath

Whew.  I can't believe how drained I am after Writeoncon.  It makes me even more amazed at the energy and dedication of the organizers.

I made some great connections with new friends, read a ton of fabulous YA queries and first pages, watched a couple wicked cool live chats by agents Natalie Fischer and Jennifer Laughran.  And read a bunch of great advice from industry professionals. 

I'm still surfing over to the forums page to read! 

Things I  learned:
1. I'm not the only one writing a sporty-girl book (yeah for sporty girls!)
2. After participating in a query critique offered by Natalie, I'm rewriting my query to focus more on my protagonists journey rather than "getting the boy ". (Thanks Natalie--it's going to be much better!) 
3. I really like the writerly community--and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Thanks to the organizers, the participants, the agents and editors, and the behind the scenes crew who made it all happen.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How I Write: Knowing When to Query

Welcome to the ninth installment of the How I Write series, brainchild of Ansha Kotyk.  A group of writers are writing about how we write – scheduled for Wednesdays through August.  Please check back weekly. And click here for the list of all the writers participating and links to their blogs.

Does anyone ever know when to query? The standard advice is DON'T. Query that is.  Until...

1. you have a finished manuscript
2. your ms has been read by your crit group and revised accordingly
3. you've shelved it for six weeks and then read it out loud to yourself
4. you literally can't make it better

But really, when is it ready?  I think my ms is ready--it's been in Queryland since June.  I've taken a wee break from querying for  But it's full speed ahead next week.

I think it's also about knowing when you're ready yourself.  My dh pointed out last night (as I was on my way to my book club) that the querying is taking a toll on me.  "You're supposed to be the calm one. Have a glass of wine.  Or two."  Now I hadn't realized my stress was leaking out of me.

Does that mean I'm not ready? No.  It just means I need to give myself permission (thank you Molly O'Neill) to step away from the computer and relax. And work on other things.

How do you know when your  ms is ready? How do you know when YOU are ready?