Monday, June 27, 2011

Least Likely

I read in all genres. Because I never know where I am going to find genius. And, as a writer, if I don't explore all options, then I'm limiting myself. Like Alyssa says, in Chasing Amy:
Alyssa: You know, I didn't just heed what I was taught, men and women should be together, it's the natural way, that kind of thing. I'm not with you because of what family, society, life tried to instill in me from day one. The way the world is, how seldom it is that you meet that one person who just *gets* you - it's so rare. My parents didn't really have it. There were no examples set for me in the world of male-female relationships. And to cut oneself off from finding that person, to immediately halve your options by eliminating the possibility of finding that one person within your own gender, that just seemed stupid to me. So I didn't. But then you came along. You, the one least likely. I mean, you were a guy. 
Holden: Still am. 
Alyssa: And while I was falling for you I put a ceiling on that, because you *were* a guy. Until I remembered why I opened the door to women in the first place: to not limit the likelihood of finding that one person who'd complement me so completely. So here we are. I was thorough when I looked for you. And I feel justified lying in your arms, 'cause I got here on my own terms, and I have no question there was some place I didn't look. And for me that makes all the difference.
I don't normally go in for realistic fiction. You know, coming of age stories, without all the flash of aliens or doors to other lands. However, some of my favorite books are in the realistic genre. And I know they are good, because I didn't seek them out. I didn't hunger after their plots or ideas. And yet, when I picked them up, they spoke to me. They were the least likely stories for me to fall for, and yet, I did.

Recently, I've been glued to The Bachelorette. A type of show I don't normally enjoy. Which is not a dig toward the people who are die-hard fans of the show. There are no judgments here. But, that show had never held any appeal to me at all, until this season.

This season, there are plot twists, naivete, subterfuge, backstabbing, and all kinds of train-wreck ingredients. I'm hooked. I want to find out if this girl is going to make it through relatively unscathed. I'm not wondering if she is going to find "the one". I am wondering if she will ever trust guys again.

Maybe she'll veer off her path, toward the least likely.

While watching the show, I think about the power a writer has of controlling what the characters know, and what the audience knows. And manipulating what we think (as the audience) the Bachelorette, the main character, knows. And how her character traits (trust, and insecurity) informs how she deals with the information, and makes her decisions.

Who could have guessed? Least likely, indeed.

What least likely place are you garnering writing knowledge from? (Yup, ending on a preposition. Don't judge me.)

Do you write or read outside of your preferred genre?

What's got you hooked?

How sweet is it when the balloon rings Owl's doorbell?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

WINNERS and Summer Transition

Thanks again to Lynn and all the wonderful people who stopped by to share the love with Lynn at her interview on Friday. It's never too late to find out about the writers behind the blogs, so please check out the list of past interviewees on my blog roll and take a look. Maybe you'll find a new blog to follow or a new crit partner. Seriously. :)

The comments were wonderful on Friday and throughout the weekend. Lynn chose Tina Laurel Lee to receive CURSE AT ZALA MANOR*  and Rebecca Kiel to receive SECRET OF HAUNTED BOG* because of their rockin' comments and questions!

A big thanks to Lynn for the giveaway, and thanks to all of you who stopped by!

Didn't win, but want to buy a copy of Lynn's books? Click through here!

I have so much more to blog about--amazing book signings and kidlit get-togethers, but that will have to wait until I'm over the hump into summer. I hope everyone is having an awesome writing week!

*Blogger was in a mood today, and not letting me insert uploaded pictures. Imagine that the images are there!!

Friday, June 17, 2011

BOOK GIVEAWAY Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Lynn Kelley

Welcome, all! Today, we have an awesome opportunity to not only hear from an excellent author, Lynn Kelley, but also to party down with her as she and her co-writers celebrate the release of the second book of the Monster Moon series, SECRET OF HAUNTED BOG. So strap on a party hat, grab a noise maker, and yell.

Loudest two people at the party WIN a copy of CURSE OF ZALA MANOR or SECRET OF HAUNTED BOG. (You can be loudest by leaving the most rockin' comment or question for Lynn, of course.)

Lynn hasn't been blogging long, but she has already filled her blog with kindness, support, and knowledge. Make sure to check out her blog! She's just wonderful. 

Without further ado, let's get this party started! *throwing confetti*

Here's a little about Lynn:

Lynn Kelley worked as a court reporter for 25 years while she and her husband, George, raised their four little monsters. She’s co-author of CURSE AT ZALA MANOR and SECRET OF HAUNTED BOG, the first two books in the Monster Moon mystery series. Her story, “The Jobo Tree” won her Highlights For Children’s Author of the Month award. She also authored a picture book, Merry as a Cricket (WhipperSnapper Books).

She tries to keep her overactive imagination in check and is a big scaredy cat who’s afraid to watch horror movies.

Woo-hoo, Lynn--Thanks for being here! And thanks for coming to hang out with us during your celebration for the release of SECRET OF HAUNTED BOG. Party hats and noisemakers for all. *passing out popcorn* Tell us a little about this book.

Thanks so much, Heather. This is a wonderful opportunity, and I’m thrilled you invited me to be your guest.

Bog is the second book in the Monster Moon Mystery series for kids ages 8 to 12, written by myself and two co-authors under the pseudonym BBH McChiller.

The main character, AJ Zantony, is a monster magnet. Emily Peralta, the brainiac new girl, returns in this book, and so does our readers’ favorite varmint, Vlad the snarky pirate rat. AJ’s best friend, Freddy ‘Hangman’ Gallows, made a cameo in Zala Manor, but in this book he plays a major role, smelly pranks and all.

The trouble starts in Old Chinatown when Vlad is attacked by a raven and flees to the salt water bog. AJ never dared to venture into the creepy marshlands, but he can’t let Vlad die. It’s pretty much nonstop action from that point on. The zombuddies are pitted against one nightmarish creature after another.

In CURSE AT ZALA MANOR, readers get acquainted with the characters. SECRET OF HAUNTED BOG reintroduces them, but it’s faster paced and has even more gross kid stuff. Both books are suitable for reluctant readers.

Sounds creepy, gross and mysterious. Awesome! I've been reading the book, and I'm already hooked and loving your quirky characters! Lynn, what kind of writing schedule do you keep? What does a balanced life look like for you?

I have no clue what a balanced life looks like. I gave up on “things getting back to normal” when the kids were younger. Plans seldom turn out the way I plan, and those dang monkeys are always tossing wrenches my way.

My writing schedule has been pathetic the past nine months, ever since I decided to catch up on technology. That includes:

· Designing a website, ( a major feat for a near computer illiterate soul. Can’t blame my age. I’m technologically challenged, even with the remote control.
· Switching to a Mac. Still learning it.

· Tackled making a book trailer, and by trial and error ended up with two:
· Started a blog.
· Still learning Twitter (@LynNerdKelley). 

I seriously need to get back to revising the first draft of my edgy YA novel, THE PINK BUS, set in Huntington Beach, CA in the summer of 1971.

And I need to send out queries for my humorous chapter book, CURSE OF THE DOUBLE DIGITS, where the young MC turns ten and deals with one embarrassing mishap after another.

Wow! Lots of balls in the air--so awesome! Tell us, what has your writing journey been like so far? What made you start writing seriously? And, what kind of supports keep you going?

When my kids were young, I considered writing when they grew up, but then my daughter, Amy, needed help getting her reading points. She was in third grade. I started reading to her each night. In the middle of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, I was so impressed by his storytelling that it inspired me to become a children’s writer, so I signed up for Creative Writing classes at the community college.

My writing journey has been a wild, erratic ride and resulted in some of the highest and lowest points in my life.
Writer friends offer invaluable support and camaraderie. Other supports that keep me going are little things like seeing kids’ excited expressions during author visits, receiving fan letters, or hearing how one of my stories touched someone’s life. Throw me a bone and it keeps me going.

SECRET OF HAUNTED BOG, and the first book, CURSE AT ZALA MANOR are collaborative efforts. Tell us how the three of you write these books. Do you each write a chapter? Do you have some other method? What are the pitfalls of collaboration? What are the benefits? How did the collaboration come about?

I had just joined the critique group, Books Born Here (BBH), right around Halloween. The topic of childhood fears came up. Snakes, witches, spiders, clowns, monsters under the bed. Someone thought it would be fun to collaborate on a spooky mystery. In the end, it turned out that Kathy Sant, Maria Toth, and I followed through with it.

We usually meet at restaurants and coffee shops like Starbucks a couple times a week and plot out the entire storyline, then plot one chapter at a time.

We each write one or two assigned chapters with the guidelines to keep it around 5 pages and add a cliff hanger at the end. We’re free to embellish as we see fit, and it’s a hoot when we meet again and read them aloud because there are always cool surprises. Once the skeleton of the whole manuscript is done, together we comb through it line by line and weave it into one storytelling voice.

The pitfalls are that we don’t always agree on everything, so we take a vote. We decided at the beginning that the majority would rule and compromises would be made for the betterment of the books. Another pitfall for me is that I live in the High Desert and drive 40 miles one way through the Cajon Pass to meet with them.

The benefits are that we each have different strengths and learn from each other. We also share the work, and when one is in the middle of a crisis or tragedy, the others pick up the slack. For me, all the interesting topics we discuss and the laughing attacks are like a party.

I love it--that writing a novel becomes a party. I think that is one of my goals with some of my projects. Make it a party! Lynn--how did you get the series from drafts to published books?

We finished the first draft of CURSE AT ZALA MANOR in nine months. How appropriate since it was our baby, and Kathy is a retired obstetrician!

We locked ourselves in a suite at the historic Mission Inn in Riverside, CA and revised 12 hours a day the whole weekend, choosing better verbs, slashing entire chapters, and fixing plot holes. We were treated to a private late night tour of the catacombs beneath the inn. The spooky atmosphere helped us add sensory details and tweak the scenes that are set in underground tunnels.

We sent our baby off to agents and editors. Some of the comments we received were real gems, so we revised those scenes again, especially the first and last chapters.

We lost track of how many revisions we’d made when CURSE AT ZALA MANOR was acquired by Stargazer Publishing. It’s a small press in Corona, California that targets educational and library markets.

It's so great that you all had each other during the querying process--that can be such a difficult time. In general, Lynn, what has surprised you on your writing journey?

My whole attitude toward life changed. I found science and history more interesting and am willing to try new things. One year my nephew had a reptile birthday party. I wouldn’t touch a snake or lizard before that, but I wanted to see how they felt in case I had to describe it in a story.

I’m still surprised at how much there is to learn about the craft of writing. One lifetime isn’t enough.

Wow--that strikes a chord with me. That life changes fundamentally, and that one lifetime isn't enough. What has been your most important writing resource?

Reading how-to books and taking classes help. Joining a writers group led by author Marilyn Donahue got me on the right track when I was a newbie wandering aimlessly. The whole group offered the support and guidance I needed. I also joined SCBWI and attended conferences and workshops.

Years later, I joined the Books Born Here critique group, and that’s where Maria, Kathy, and I began working on the Monster Moon series.

When I first started writing 15 years ago, the internet wasn’t part of our lives. I wish it had been. Now that I’m blogging, I’m amazed at the wealth of info that’s out there.

How do you do social media? What has been your purpose, and how have you driven toward that purpose?

I’m on Facebook and started my blog in May. Just over a week ago I joined Twitter (@LynNerdKelley) and I’m still trying to work out the kinks. 

One of my goals since I started writing has been to reach reluctant readers. That included some of my own kids. Reading well is a key to success. And with all the incredible, inspiring books out there, those kids are missing out big time.

Awesome goal. What kind of marketing do you and your co-writers do for the Monster Moon series? What do you think has worked best?

We've tried to think outside the bog for unique places to do signings. CURSE AT ZALA MANOR takes place around Halloween, so one of the big pumpkin patches let us sell books, and Ghost Walk in Riverside, which draws about 4,000 people each year, let us set up a booth. Maria and Kathy dressed as Batsy and Frizzelda, the quirky Literary Witches of Craggy Cove, and I dressed as Funny Bones, a silly skeleton with a Bag’O’Bones (jokes).

We also got to do two episodes of “Homework Hotline” on KLCS, PBS-Los Angeles. Kathy and Maria wore their witches’ getup and taught kids how to cook up suspense in their writing and how to brainstorm story ideas (in a graveyard with Brain, a pet brain on a leash).

Chicken that I am, I was happy as the cue card girl. Good thing I made cue cards because the teleprompter messed up!

A literacy event at the Feldheym Library in San Bernardino led to a television interview on the Inland Empire Alive show hosted by Dennis Baxter (KCSB – IMEG).

At a City of Readers community meeting, also in San Bernardino, the keynote speaker was an assistant to First Lady Michelle Obama. After his talk, we were surprised when he took a seat next to Maria. We signed a copy of CURSE AT ZALA MANOR for the Obama girls and asked him if he could give it to them. He couldn’t promise, but said he’d try. A few weeks later he sent an email that he personally delivered it to the First Lady!

Book signings are iffy as far as sales, but we’ve done well at some of the school visits and community events.

We’re just getting into social media, so I’m not sure how that will work out, but I’m enjoying the “social” part of it!

I love how varied your marketing methods are. And, it's thrilling to think of your book inside the White House! What advice do you have for other writers out there?

Joining a “good” critique group is one of the best things a writer can do. They can give you invaluable feedback and support you when rejections abound, plus you get to witness the progress they’re making in their writing journeys.

Be gentle on yourself during rough times, give yourself rewards for even small accomplishments, and don’t give up on your dreams.
Study the craft of writing – forever.

I love the idea of rewards for small accomplishments. Lynn, what are your biggest distractions?

I have a big family. That means constant drama and traumas.

My main distraction, like I said, is catching up on technology. I bumble my way through all of it. I don’t know how many meltdowns I had making those book trailers. Basically, hours of tears and prayers got me through it.

I have never had to make a book trailer. That might be something I would delegate! Just because I'm curious, do you prefer coffee or tea? Or something else…?

Coffee, please, with cream. No sugar. Occasionally, a shot of Bailey’s is yummy.

Coffee with Bailey's, coming right up! Thanks, Lynn, for the great interview. And thanks for your generosity of giving away TWO BOOKS at our party. Everyone who leaves a comment or question here in the comments (Lynn will be stopping by) will have a chance to win! In the meantime, check out Lynn's blog, friend her on Facebook, and follow her on twitter (@LynNerdKelley)! 

Oh, and have some popcorn and cake. I have the best popcorn ever for our party today--cocoa popcorn, and bacon ranch popcorn. Enjoy! (But maybe don't mix the two.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Writing is Like... A Cat Triggered Rube Goldberg Machine

So, I have been tagged by the lovely Lynn Kelley, with the fill-in-the-blank-statement, 'writing is like...'

Writing is like a Rube Goldberg Machine. You know, where you draw out a rough draft, which ends up looking nothing like your final product. You painstakingly put together all the parts, only to find out that the thing doesn't work. 18 drafts, *cough*, tries later, tweaking all the while, the thing still doesn't work.

Maybe because you relied on a kitten to start the whole thing off, and she's pretty fickle. The only time that she actually started the chain effect was when the camera wasn't ready, and nobody was watching. And then there was the time that the other cat destroyed the whole thing, by sauntering through.

Finally, after getting so frustrated that it is only by sheer will that you are setting up those ridiculously sensitive dominoes the 52nd time, the whole thing works.

Like magic.

And then you start to think of the next machine.

Can you tell what I have been doing with all my time? End of year science projects rock. Sort of. I would have included the video if I knew how to upload that kind of thing to the web. Maybe someone will tell me how.

Anyway, please stop by Lynn's blog and check her out. She's new to blogging, and she's sweet and kind and welcoming.

And, instead of tagging someone, I thought I would ask you all, what is writing like for you? What have you been doing in your real life which reminds you of writing?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Matthew MacNish

Welcome to another round of Friday interviews! I've been off my game for a while--life got busy, and it was all I could manage to keep writing. But these interviews are my favorite type of blogging.

So, I'm back, and here with a fantastic writer. I can't remember when I first came across Matthew, but I do remember my first impression. I was encouraged by how honest he was, and how willing he was to share his past mistakes to help other writers. And I find that still to be the case. 

He has an amazing community over at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment, and if you haven't been over yet, then GO. :) Join in. Follow. It's fun! Among other things, Matthew helps dissect query letters on his blog. For example--here's the post where he and Elana (queen of queries) focus on Elana's POSSESSION query.

Matthew--Thanks so much for being here today! I appreciate you kicking off another round of interviews. Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself.   

Thanks for having me, Heather. I'm the father of two beautiful young ladies, three lazy cats and one adorable German Shepard. Together we live in the mountains of north Georgia amidst my endless collection of vinyl records, Star Wars memorabilia, and special edition Lord of the Rings maps, DVDs, and books.

Cats and dogs. I hope they all get along. What has your writing journey been like? What made you start writing seriously? What kind of supports keep you going?

Well in many ways it has been hard. I used to write a lot when I was young, but I stopped for over a decade in my twenties when … life got in the way. Then I started up again a few years ago when I decided to write a novel. I had no idea what I was doing and didn’t know a single person in my life who was a writer. That’s what made it hard. I wrote a first draft that was about 4 times to long (word count) then barely revised it and started trying to query. I obviously had very little luck, though did get few words of encouragement, and eventually nearly gave up.

Then I discovered Nathan Bransford’s blog, and forums, saw the movie Julie and Julia, and decided to start a blog. The rest is history.
I love Nathan's community. And that you are willing to share your early mistakes with others. In your writing life, what has surprised you so far?

The biggest surprise for me has been how helpful other writers are. I am especially amazed by all the support I get from published authors. I can’t imagine how they find the time.

I agree--I have found the kidlit world to be amazing. Matthew--what has been your most important writing resource?

Well as I already mentioned, Nathan’s blog and the people I met in the forums were the catalyst, especially my mentor Bryan Russell, but I think the biggest thing that has made a difference in my own writing has been critiquing other people’s work. Mostly I do queries, but I have helped with some novels and short fiction too, and nothing improves your writing more than giving a critical eye to someone else’s. 

Honestly, I feel the same way. I've learned the most from being a critter. So, how do you do social media? Blog? Twitter? Facebook? Tumblr? Something else? What has been your purpose, and how have you driven toward that purpose?

Well my blog is obviously the biggest outlet I have for connecting with people, especially writers. I do use Facebook a lot, Twitter somewhat less, and I don’t do Tumblr. I’m still figuring out how to rock Twitter, so I don’t have time for another time-suck yet.

What kind of writing schedule do you keep? What does a balanced life look like for you?

None. I know this is bad but I don’t have the time to write every single day. I usually manage to write every weekday, or at least revise/re-write, but I don’t often write on weekends unless the inspiration really strikes. I’m a dad of two daughters, and mom works nights and weekends, so my S days are often rather filled.

I hope writing every day is overrated. LOL. What advice do you have for other writers out there?

Just write, and read everything you can get your hands on.

Awesome. What are your biggest distractions?

Besides my family? And blogging? And reading? And my day job? After those I guess it would be video games and movies.

Do you prefer coffee or tea? Or something else…?

I only drink one cup of coffee a day, first thing when I get to work. I only drink tea if I’m sick, and then with lemon and locally produced honey. My preference for writing (when I do it at home) or just relaxing is a medium beer like Yuengling Lager, or Hot Sake.

Hot Sake, hmm. I'd like to see the writing that produces! Thank you so much, for the awesome interview.

Everyone, please leave a question or comment for Matthew, and he'll be by to answer. 

And don't forget to head over to his blog, join in his community, and follow him on twitter (@MatthewMacNish). 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What's In Your Book Stack?

Today is the last day that I'm working at my son's middle school book fair. The book fair has been really wonderful--it's put on by our local indie bookstore, and supports the school's PTO. You know, two birds. Monday, I recommended a book on the blog. So, now I ask you--what should I buy? And why? (Don't be bound by the realm of reality. I'm looking for book recommendations here!) And, what's in your book stack? What are you looking forward to reading?

I'm getting to be known as book recommendation lady at the fair. What can I say? None of the other moms have read the books that are on the tables. 

I'm launching another segment of my Friday Feature interviews this week, so make sure to stop by on Friday!!

Thanks for coming by and commenting--I know this time of year is exceedingly busy for most of us.


Monday, June 6, 2011


Once in a great while, I read a book which feels achingly, beautifully, pitch perfect.

And I know that book will live on for a long time within me. Forever. Or as long as my forever lasts.

When I was a child, many, many books lived inside me. Their characters became friends who lived past the covers of the book, and into adventures within me. But now, it takes a special book. Maybe I have finite space, or maybe I'm more discerning.

I just turned the last page of THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. I shed my tears, I smiled my laughs. And now the book lives within me.

That is, it lives within the reader side of me. It made the writer side of me give up writing. How could I possibly add my substandard words to the book world after reading a book in which no word was misused or extraneous? Pitch perfect I am not.

I gave up. For a moment. And then I came back around. And picked up the pen.

When I was a teen*, I made many messes with relationships and people. Life was messy, and because it was messy, it hurt. I felt like I wanted to escape, but that would mean escaping me.

I was the mess.

I couldn't move beyond my mistakes. THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, reminded me, with startling clarity, that when you start living as yourself--when you start choosing for yourself--life gets messy. You make life messy. But there is hope for coming out the other side--into grace, and into YOU.

So, when I write a big old mess, there is hope that it will come out to the other side (of revision and hard work), and become something achingly beautiful. Jandy Nelson, you've raised the bar high. Thank you.


*Okay, to be perfectly honest, there are days when I still feel like a mess. There just aren't quite as many of them as there used to be. :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jackie Davies, LEMONADE WAR Author, Exudes Awesomeness

Please visit Jackie's LEMONADE WAR website. And her author one.
I had the pleasure to see Jackie Davies at our indie book store a few weeks ago. And I have to say that she is a book reading pro. It's hard to captivate young wiggly readers. And yet she did.

Here are some pointers that I took away from her awesomeness:

1. Practice. It was clear to me that Jackie had done this more than a few times. She fielded kid's funny questions without missing a beat. She kept the momentum going. So, if you have to do a book reading, and you've never done one before, I would suggest that you borrow someone's antsy kids, and practice.

2. Show a movie. Kids love the visual. And if you can make books seem like TV, well...

Check out Jackie's book trailers, which I just love. Jackie showed both during her book reading. Fun!

3. Less is more. Instead of reading a chapter straight through, Jackie set the stage, and read passages throughout a few books. It kept the reading to a minimum, and kept the kids wanting more. I've seen kids eyes glaze over when trying to sit still and listen for too long. But not at Jackie's reading.

4. Backstory. Jackie explained why she wrote her books, and the situations that sparked her ideas. This made the kids emotionally involved with books that they hadn't even read yet.

5. Contest. Jackie asked the kids to come up with the name of her next book. This made the kids feel important, and gave them something fun to do.

6. Props. Jackie showed slides of fan mail (so cute!), presented her book trailers, and gave out pamphlets on how to have a lemonade stand, and how justice works. This gave kids something hands on to work with during the presentation.

7. Connect. Not only did Jackie have things of all medium types to interest the kids (who might be auditory, visual or tactile learners), but she stopped to connect by answering questions and fielding comments. Her presentation was short and sweet (15-20 minutes), and totally engaging.

What a pro! There is nothing that my kids like more than meeting an author, and feeling personally involved with the person behind the books. My kids become loyal to that author to the end!

Have you done any book readings? Would you add any tips to the ones I took away from Jackie's book reading and signing? How's everyone doing after this long weekend?