Wednesday, December 4, 2013

IWSG: How did you do in NaNoWriMo?

It's IWSG Day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities. 

I did not do NaNoWriMo this year.  But I participated last year. I still remember those frantic nights back in November 2012 when I was madly pounding my keyboard to arrive at an "acceptable" word count so I can make 50,000 words before December 1st. I met the word count goal, but I still had and have a lot of work to do for that WIP.

For anyone who cares, here's how my NaNoWriMo project from last year has progressed:

-I revised the the first part of my story a number of times and added more to the original 50,000 words.  Now my WIP is a little over 60,000 words. But I still consider this all first-draft status. While the quantity might make you think that I'd written a novel, the truth is, I'd really just written 60,000 words that still require A LOT of revision.

-I brought the the first two chapters to the SCBWI conference in August.  Two editors gave me some feedback about what I can do to improve my story, as did a critique group I worked with at a day-long intensive workshop. 

-After the conference, I revised the beginning part of my story even more.

-I'm currently taking an online class with Mediabistro taught by an editor where I'm getting almost the first half of my WIP critiqued by her and my classmates. I'm learning so much from this class about writing and revision, plot and character development. 

So this is where I am now with my WIP. Just moving along, slowly but surely. 

How many of you did NaNoWriMO this year? How did it go for you?

For those of you who've done NaNoWriMO in a previous year, what is the status of your project? 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Auctions for ABFFE and KidLit for the Philippines

I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving. Although I stayed local this year, I still had a pleasant and event-packed long weekend with my family. Hoping to avoid the company of stampeding shoppers, I steered clear of malls and mass market retailer stores on Black Friday. But on Friday evening, we headed to our local Barnes & Noble where I did some holiday shopping while my dear husband watched our kids as they played with the building toys in the kids section...

...Some news:

Last month, I was troubled to hear about the horrible typhoon in the Philippines and the thousands who have died, and the many more people living in this Pacific island country who are still affected by the damages from the disaster. Author Michelle Cusolito stepped up and organized KidLit for the Philippines, an online auction intended to assist typhoon survivors. If you head over, you can bid on a number of items donated by members of the kidlit community, including books, critiques, art work, and school visits. The event ends on December 8, and auctions are closing daily this week.  

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) advocates on the bookseller's behalf to battle censorship. The organization is hosting the Holiday Children's Book Art Auction, where you can bid on art work by a number of artists, such as Eric Carle. The auction will end tomorrow morning. 

How was your Thanksgiving weekend?

Do you know of other kidlit (or lit) themed fundraisers going on right now?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Author Interview with Chris Tebbetts

For this month’s interview, I bring to you Chris Tebbetts, author of a number of books, including the popular MIDDLE SCHOOL series that he co-authors with James Patterson.  In MIDDLE SCHOOL, THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE (Little, Brown and Company), readers meet Rafe, a lonely student who amuses himself by breaking school rules. MIDDLE SCHOOL, GET ME OUT OF HERE features Rafe struggling to fit in at a new school. In the most recent book of the series, MIDDLE SCHOOL, HOW I SURVIVED BULLIES, BROCCOLI, AND SNAKE HILL, Rafe toughs it out through summer camp.

Bullying is demonstrated with blunt honesty in the MIDDLE SCHOOL series. In these books, I see bullies who get away with their behavior. I see frenemies. I see oblivious adults, and I even see adults who bully children. While these stories acknowledge that the world does not always play fair, they also show how one can persevere through rough times.

It’s my pleasure to bring to you Chris Tebbetts.

How did you get set up to co-write the MIDDLE SCHOOL series with James Patterson? What kind of a system do you and James have for collaboration?
Jim found me through Alloy Entertainment. I’d written a middle grade series for them several years ago, and when he approached Alloy looking for potential co-authors, mine was one of the names they gave him.  After seeing some sample work from me, and an interview in New York, he invited me to work with him on MIDDLE SCHOOL, THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE.  

As for our process, Jim will come up with a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline of the story first.  From there, I'll work on a draft, about ten to fifteen chapters at a time. Once a month, I send him those pages and we'll talk about how the story is coming along, as well as any adjustments or changes he wants to make.  Once we get to a finished first draft, I might do some rewriting, but Jim eventually takes on the whole thing and rewrites it to completion.  

And then on top of that, we have a third collaborator in Laura Park, our illustrator.  She works from the final manuscript and illustration notes to add all of the art you see in the finished books. The conceit of drawings is that they’re created by our main character, Rafe Khatchadorian, an aspiring artist. That means Laura needs to inhabit the character with her drawings much like we do with the writing, and I think she does it amazingly well.  It’s been a blast to see our ideas come to life that way, and to see the humor, details, and spin that Laura brings to the process.

Did Lisa Papademetriou consult with you when she was working on MIDDLE SCHOOL: MY BROTHER IS A BIG FAT LIAR?
Lisa Papademetriou and I didn’t consult with each other on MY BROTHER IS A BIG FAT LIAR.  All of that direct collaboration happened between her and Jim.  However—funnily enough—Lisa and I did co-author a YA novel several years ago (M OR F?, Razorbill, 2005).  The fact that we’re now both working on the MIDDLE SCHOOL series is just a really fun coincidence—and maybe also a statement about the small world-ness of the publishing industry.

What tips do you have for authors who want to plan and write a successful kidlit series like MIDDLE SCHOOL?
I’m a big fan of humor—not just as entertainment, but as a way of carrying a story (and its meaning) to the reader.  Humor is something I use for communication in my life as much as in my writing.  Everyone loves to laugh, so you can’t go wrong there.

A more elemental aspect of successful middle grade fiction (and fiction in general) is great characters.  That’s the core everything else is built around. I think it’s well worth taking the time to figure out who your characters are, and then being extremely picky in the writing process about what feels true for each one of them.  This is as applicable for fantasy as it is for realistic drama, and everything in between.  You have to be willing to grit your teeth, discard the not-quite-right ideas, and take the time to come up with something that works better.

Other tips: Don’t write to the market!  By the time you finish a novel based on today’s trend, it will be yesterday’s trend.  Write a story that appeals to you, one that you feel, and one that you can be excited about going back to over and over and over again.  This is especially true for series work, where you might be spending years with the same characters. Also, don’t save your ideas!  There will always be more.  It can be tempting to stash away great lines, scenes, or plot twists for later, especially when you have a whole series to write (and even more especially an open-ended series).  But I’ve never found that kind of scrimping to be worth it.  

The middle grade voice and character can be tough to nail, and you and James captured the candid voice and misunderstood character of Rafe Khatchadorian very well. How did you develop this character?
Rafe came to me from Jim, who conceived of him and wrote the first, very detailed outline of the first book (and each subsequent book).  A lot of the sense of humor was in that outline, and I think I lucked out in terms of responding immediately to what I found there. 

For my own part, I did a good amount of visiting middle schools, interviewing teachers, and most of all, talking to middle schoolers.  One thing that came clear to me through that process is the way in which the middle school experience has—and more importantly, hasn’t—changed since I was in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.  In terms of social and developmental issues, I really heard back my own experience in those conversations, over and over.  That gave me a sense of permission to draw unreservedly on my own memories, which I think helped me write more freely than I might have otherwise.

How do you think reading about Rafe and Georgia’s experiences with bullying can empower young readers who are bullied?
I like the quote, “We read to know we’re not alone,” usually attributed to C.S. Lewis. 
It feels applicable here. Everyone who reads these MIDDLE SCHOOL stories is going to relate to the bullying aspect in one capacity or another—either as someone who has been bullied, witnessed bullying, perpetrated it, or all of the above.  That kind of mirror can be a powerful thing.  It shows readers a reflection of their own experience without directly implicating them.  That, in turn, can make it all easier to digest and process.  From perspective comes understanding, and from understanding comes positive change.

Let me also say, I don’t want to over-simplify the issue.  For the kids who suffer most from bullying, it can be overwhelming.  It can also feel convincingly futile—as though there’s nothing to be done for it, and that things will never change.

But a story that shows a character coping with his or her own version of those same problems and then coming out the other side with a sense of hope, accomplishment, or optimism—that’s a great thing to be able to offer a kid.  It’s not a full solution to a problem as pervasive as this one, but I think it’s an essential part of the solution.

When you look back on your own middle school years, what comes to mind? Have you ever been to a summer camp like Camp Wannamorra?
Okay, here’s where I part ways with Rafe Khatchadorian.  I was a happy kid who mostly played by the rules, had a lot of friends, and actually liked middle school.  I really lucked out in that regard.

Summer camp, on the other hand, was another question.  I had plenty of bad experiences there, both as a camper and as a counselor.  I just don’t think summer camp and I were a good match.  It always gave me that alienated feeling, the kind I know is so common for kids in middle school, where it seemed as though everyone was having a good time but me.

One exception: The summer after sixth grade, I went to something called night camp, which was great.  We slept during the day and went out at night, scouting nocturnal critters, working with the raptor center, feeding wounded and recuperating owls, and learning all about life in the night woods.  I loved it.  One of these days, I’m going to write a night camp story.

Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share about? Will there be any more MIDDLE SCHOOL books? (Please say yes!)
Yes, and yes!  Jim and I are finishing up work on the next MIDDLE SCHOOL book right now.  It’s called SAVE RAFE! and it will be out June 23, 2014.

I also have another middle grade series out this year, called STRANDED (Puffin), which I co-authored with Jeff Probst, the host of Survivor.  It’s a trilogy about four siblings who find themselves as castaways on a deserted island in the middle of the South Pacific.  It has lots of adventure, and lots of nonstop action, which I like to write just as much as humor. 

That series was inspired by the fact that so many young Survivor fans have asked Jeff the same question over the years: “When are you going to do Survivor for kids?”  And because that’s not a practical idea from a t.v. production standpoint, Jeff figured this story would be a great way to respond to all that interest.  The first two STRANDED books are already out, and Book 3 comes out this week on November 19th.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

IWSG: Comment Responses and NaNoWriMo

It's IWSG Day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities. 

Some of you might've noticed that I haven't been responding to reader comments on my blog the way I used to. I've been juggling a number of responsibilities in and outside of my writing life, and I've decided that for the time being, I won't be regularly responding to reader comments on my blog. But I want to reassure my wonderful and awesome readers that I read ALL my comments, and I truly appreciate everyone's support of my blog. So please, keep the comments coming!

....It's National Novel Writing Month. Who's doing it this year? I did NaNo last year. It was so intense, and at the same time, my attempt at speed writing a 50,000 word novel in a month paid off. I met the word count goal, even though most of the writing was absolutely dreadful. But hey, now I have a skeleton draft to work with. For anyone who's doing NaNoWriMo and wants some general tips on how to survive this crazy month, you can check out a blog post I wrote last December on How I Got Through NaNoWriMo.

....As I'm writing this, I'm getting over a bug. Bleh! So it might take me a few more days to get through my IWSG visits, but I'll get there! 

Have a great November, and stay well! Feel free to share how November's shaping out for you so far.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Audience Expectations of Leading Ladies

I wonder if THE CATCHER IN THE RYE would be as famous for its iconic main protagonist if Holden Caulfield had actually been Helen Caulfield, a moody teenage girl who measures everyone by her self-appointed phoniness meter. Or if the genders were reversed between the male and female protagonists in classics like JANE EYRE and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE....Let's have Rochester be the hired butler or live-in tutor who falls in love with Jane Eyre, the lady of the manor. Would readers be as sympathetic to Jane when they find out she was preparing to tie the knot with Rochester, all the while having a secret husband with a mental illness locked up in the red room? Let's have Darcy be female. After we watch her rudely diss a man named Bennett by berating him within his earshot that he wasn't good looking or rich enough, would most readers continue to root for such a woman to find love?

I feel that mainstream readers can more easily forgive male protagonists who err, judge others, or are not so charming than leading ladies with these same issues. For example, a male who is aloof can be excused as being the brooding type while there is another b-word reserved for females who behave this way.

I can read about a female protagonist with an unlikable characteristic or two. Ideally, she would have some redeeming qualities to complement her unlikable ones. But you know what, I've actually finished books featuring unlikable female protagonists without any strong redeeming qualities (though rather infrequently). Such a book might feature a leading lady who exists mainly to shock readers by her outrageous behavior, and if there's a really captivating setting or plot to compensate, I can sometimes stick it out.

Just because a character has unlikable characteristics, it doesn't mean they should automatically be labeled an unlikable character. Sometimes one whom critics refer to as an unlikable female character, by my interpretation, is just a real person with flaws. An example of that would be the character of Lee Fiora in Curtis Sittenfeld's PREP. A number of online reviewers find Lee unlikable, and I disagree with that assessment. Curtis Sittenfeld addresses her "unlikable" characters in an interview with The Guardian. Here, Curtis acknowledges the faulty notion about an unlikable quality given to a female character being perceived as a mistake.

Female characters audiences disapprove of aren't only found in books. Anna Gunn, the actress who played Skyler White in Breaking Bad, wrote an editorial piece in The New York Times where she shares that her character is despised among some fans of the show.  Anna hypothesizes that those who hate on Skyler might be threatened by seeing a woman who won't "suffer silently." (I'm in Season 2 of Breaking Bad, so please NO SPOILERS in the comments section!)

Girls and women, real or fictional, shouldn't have to be adorable and agreeable 24/7, especially when they're encountering something or someone difficult. And yet, I don't find it easy to write a female protagonist with distinct unlikable qualities, and still have readers root for her. But I'd like to nail this someday. 

Do you think audiences set higher standards for leading ladies than leading men?

Can you think of any unlikable female protagonists in books, TV, or movies who you rooted for or let grow on you?

Image source:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

IWSG: Why I Am Particular About Backing Up Work

It's IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for hosting this monthly event where writers can share insecurities. I'm processing more than one writerly insecurity right now.  To keep things simple, I'll share just one of them.  

Shortly after I came back from the SCBWI conference in LA, my computer's hard drive crashed. My husband couldn't fix it. So we dropped off my hard drive with a computer doctor who has a hard-core reputation for reviving comatose laptops. A few days after he received our hard drive, this IT doctor called my husband and said he couldn't fix it. And neither could the other IT expert he'd later passed along my hard drive to. 

I mentioned this dilemma, in private, to one writer friend. But I didn't blog about it here because I try to avoid turning to the Internet when I'm freaking out about something. And boy, was I freaking out. The idea of a big chunk of my NaNoWriMo novel, lost. The idea of other valuable files, lost. 

Fortunately, as I carefully went through my stuff, I began to appreciate the worrier and "what if" planner that is Past Me. After running several searches on my email account, I found that I had emailed one copy of my most recent WIP draft to myself earlier in the summer. I also found some other significant files on a USB stick that I rarely use. And Past Me is often sentimental and reluctant about deleting certain images from my cameras' memory cards. So after digging through my house for this old point-and-shoot camera that I have, I recovered some of my children's pictures, which to me, are priceless.  

But I didn't recover everything. Some stuff from my expired hard drive, gone forever. *Long and wistful sigh*

Still, I'm grateful that I didn't lose everything. 

Since my hard drive crashed, I have a new laptop. I've also been using Dropbox and Google+ to save my stuff.  I'm still getting used to the idea of saving something I'd written onto the Internet. But, at the risk of sounding cliche, I'd rather be safe than sorry. If I was somewhat particular about saving things before, I would say I'm very particular now. Sometimes I still feel insecure about whether I'm backing up my work as often as I should be. 

How often do you back up your work?  Have you ever lost an important file on your hard drive?

Has Past You ever helped Future You?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Recent Picture Book Reads

Back in July, I promised I'd post a list of books I'd been reading to my children this summer. Here is a partial list of some of those books. 

1. LEONARDO THE TERRIBLE MONSTER by Mo Willems (Hyperion- Picture Book) A monster aspires to be frightening enough "to scare the tuna salad out of someone," but learns that being a friend is better than being scary.

2. CHOPSTICKS by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Illust. by Scott Magoon (Hyperion-Picture Book) A pair of joined-at-the-hip chopsticks learn they they can be okay when they separate. 

3. BEDTIME FOR MOMMY by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Illust. by LeUyen Pham (Bloomsbury-Picture Book)  Roles are reversed when a little girl puts her mom to bed. 

4. THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen (Candlewick- Picture Book) A little fish brags about stealing a big fish's hat.

5. I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen (Candlewick- Picture Book) A bear looks for his stolen hat. 

6. I MUST HAVE BOBO! by Eileen Rosenthal, Illlust. by Marc Rosenthal  (Atheneum- Picture Book) A boy becomes distraught when his monkey doll is missing. 

7. DOWN AT THE DINO WASH DELUXE by Tim Myers, Illust. by Macky Pamintuan (Sterling- Picture Book) A boy dreads the arrival of the T-Rex at the dino wash where dinosaurs are cleaned. 

8. THE THREE NINJA PIGS by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Illust. by Dan Santat (Putnam- Picture Book) This rhyming book spins the tale of the three little pigs into one about standing up to bullying, perseverance, and martial arts. 

9. JAMBERRY by Bruce Degen, Illust. by Macky Pamintuan (HarperFestival- Picture Book) This is a rhyming book about the adventures between animals, berries, and jams. FUN FACT: While I attended the SCBWI conference this summer, Laurie Halse Anderson gave a fantastic keynote speech in which she credited this book for helping her child develop a love for reading. 

10. DRAGONS LOVE TACOS by Adam Rubin, Illust. by Daniel Salmieri (Dial- Picture Book) Dragons love tacos but they can't have salsa, so things really heat up when they ingest the forbidden ingredient. 

11. MAMA LOVES YOU by Caroline Stutson, Illust. by John Segal (Cartwheel- Picture Book) This rhyming book shows the affection between mothers and children in the animal kingdom. 

12. OH NO, LITTLE DRAGON! by Jim Averbeck (Atheneum- Picture Book) In a book about the impact of a parent's love, a little dragon who loses his spark tries to get it back.

...And that's it for now. Read any good picture books lately?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

IWSG: How Do I Whip Up Some More Time?

Today is IWSG day. Thanks to the thoughtful Alex Cavanaugh for hosting! September is going to be a busy month. I have some juicy freelance writing assignments to work on. On top of that, both my kids will be starting at new preschools. My daughter will be transferring from her current preschool to a new school in the middle of the month. I will be accompanying my son to a parent-participation preschool one morning each week. My husband and I have been busy going through paperwork, running errands, and taking our kids to the pediatrician to have forms filled out. 

Once school begins, we'd have to adapt to a new routine and take on some added duties. Required parent volunteer hours, for example. 

After attending the SCBWI conference in LA, I created an action plan for myself. The plan involves me finishing one hearty revision of my WIP before the end of the year. I'm still hoping to get there. But I wish I could conjure up more hours in a day. More time, unlike more cupcakes, isn't something I have a recipe for. 

How do I whip up an extra two hours in a day? How does September look for you?

Friday, August 30, 2013

WriteOnCon 2013

WriteOnCon 2013 came and went earlier this month. As always, the organizers of this FREE annual online writing conference did an EXCELLENT job organizing the two-day event.  It'd be hard to name all my favorite sessions. So I will just mention some of them here:

-Author Jean Reidy offered a useful checklist of questions for PB writers to consider before diving into a picture book writing project in Does Your Picture Book Premise Have Power? Jean generously offered a free PB critique to a winner who commented on her post. 150+ people, including myself, left a comment. I was over the moon when I learned that I WON THE CRITIQUE! I sooo look forward to polishing up a PB manuscript in the future for Jean to critique. 

-Author Ellen Oh addressed concerns writers may have about incorporating diversity into their work and offered some tips in Diversity in Writing.

-Author Dianne Salerni gave a witty commentary on the stages a writer can go through when they get challenging feedback in How to Handle Editorial Feedback. 

-Author Deborah Diesen gave a lesson on Rhythm and Rhyme.

-Author Lenore Appelhans talked about how writers can bring the reader closer to the character and plot by Adding Emotion to Your Writing. 

I didn't post in the forums or pitch in any of the live sessions this year. But I'm learning A LOT by visiting the live sessions where publishing professionals assessed writers' story ideas. Right now, I can't recommend any one session or forum because I haven't finished going through them all yet.  But so far, everything I've seen has been very enriching. If you want to know what agents and editors are looking for and how they process your story ideas, you should really check out the live sessions and forum comments posted on WriteOnCon. Because again, it's all FREE!

Did any of you participate in WriteOnCon? 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Author Interview with Stephanie Kuehn

Recently, I read CHARM & STRANGE (St. Martin's Griffin), Stephanie Kuehn’s debut YA novel. From the beginning, I was sucked into the world of Win, a troubled student at a boarding school, and Drew, his alternate identity who exists in fragmented memories of his childhood. The complexity of the main protagonist, both as a child and as a teen, kept me very intrigued. The question of why Win doesn’t go by his birth name contributed to the suspense. The conclusion made me gasp, and it answered all my questions.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie. She has her own author page here, and she also blogs at YA Highway.

It says on your web site that you grew up in Berkeley. Were you born there too? Where did you go to school?
I was not born in Berkeley. However, I was adopted when I was very young and my parents still live in the same Berkeley house I grew up in. My father was a journalist and editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, so I was around writers and books and passionate people who love words my entire childhood. That was very special and inspiring. For my undergrad degree, I went to UC Santa Cruz, where I studied linguistics.

Tell me about your road to publication.
I think my path to publication was fairly standard and unremarkable. CHARM & STRANGE wasn't the first novel I'd written or queried, and I came up with the concept for it over a snowy spring break in Tahoe. I wrote a very short first draft, then revised it before querying agents. I connected with my agent (the awesome Michael Bourret) through a regular query letter/sample pages and it has been wonderful working with him. One thing to mention about the querying process: if you've read CHARM & STRANGE, you probably know that it's a book that seems to be about one thing, when it's really about something else. When I wrote the query letter for the book, I absolutely spoiled the whole thing in a very upfront way. I was not coy at all about the plot.

CHARM & STRANGE came with a twist, and the story effectively built me up to that twist with the right amount of pacing and suspense to keep me hooked.  What advice do you have for writers working on a story with a twist?
It's interesting, I watch a lot of psychological thriller films, and in some ways I think there is no such thing as a twist ending. For people to buy what's going on, the truth has to have been there all along and it's a matter of when/how that individual reader/viewer puts the pieces together. I also believe there has to be meaning to the twist that goes beyond the element of surprise, which is why The Sixth Sense worked for me, but The Village less so. In order to tell a compelling twisty sort of story, I guess my advice is not to hide things. Instead, just keep telling the truth, page by page, bit by bit. All that being said, however, I never set out to write CHARM & STRANGE as a mystery. I simply wanted readers to go on Win's journey with him, and to experience the world the way that he does, because that is how I believe empathy is created. 

I found the main protagonist’s first person perspective, as both the troubled young Drew and the hard-to-reach adolescent Win, very honest and raw. What tips do you have for nailing a distinctive first person voice?  
In my mind, a distinctive voice is a confident voice. In real life people don't qualify their points of view and I don't think they need to in literature either. If a character doesn't like eggs, there doesn't need to be a long internal monologue about why they don't like eggs or what the backstory behind their distaste is (unless it's plot relevant). They would just think: "Eggs are gross." 

I also think, especially in the first-person present-tense point of view, that self awareness can sometimes detract from authenticity. While insight and observation can define a voice, characters who are able to consistently and astutely reflect on their own in-the-moment experiences don't always ring true to me.

As writers, we can often get sucked into our own stories. Because of the dark subject matter of CHARM & STRANGE, did you ever feel overwhelmed while you were working on this? If so, how did you overcome this?
I was very often overwhelmed by it. It still overwhelms me every time I read it and I don't think you can overcome being upset by something like that. However, I definitely found personal meaning in sharing Win's story because I think it's one that is easy to overlook or dismiss. The topic of the book is not something people want to talk or think about, but it's real and it's painful, and I believe that without compassion or conversation or awareness, people will continue to suffer in silence and people will continue to feel alone.

What books/authors did you enjoy reading from as a child?
I read a lot of animal stories as a child. As a teenager, I loved Robert Cormier, Joyce Sweeney, Gordon Korman, and Peter Straub.
Would you like to discuss any upcoming projects?
My second young adult novel will be out next year. It's called COMPLICIT and it's about a teenage boy whose life gets turned upside down when his estranged older sister comes back to town.

Thank you so much!

You're welcome, Stephanie!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

SCBWI's Summer Conference 2013/IWSG

Today is Insecure Writers Support Group day, a monthly blogging event hosted by the wonderful Alex Cavanaugh. On the first Wednesday of the month, participating writers are supposed to share about an insecurity they have on their blogs. 

I'd just attended the 42nd Annual SCBWI Summer Conference. This was my first big SCBWI conference; 1,000+ people came. I actually didn't have any writerly insecurities about coming to the conference.  But I did feel some uncertainty about how I would pull off a nursing/pumping regimen during the intensive, event-packed long weekend.

So before stepping into LA's Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, I established some DOs and DON'Ts for myself, which I'm happy to say that I stuck to:

1. Don't neglect my milk supply. I prefer nursing to pumping. But being away from my baby, I had to pump through most of the conference. To make this work, I skipped an event or two and occasionally showed up a little late to stuff.  In spite of the hassle that came with all that pumping, I want to tell nursing mothers who want to come to this conference that they can do it!
2. Do observe agents and editors. I wanted a better feel for who the gate keepers of the kidlit world are. So I attended keynotes and breakout sessions featuring such industry folk.
3. Do make the effort to initiate conversations. I didn't order all those business cards just to keep them sitting inside my name tag pouch the whole time. I had as much fun giving away my cards as I did receiving the cards of colleagues.
4. Don't pitch. Nothing against the idea, but I decided I didn't need to put that kind of pressure on myself.

The conference was well-organized and the keynote speeches and breakout sessions were very informative. My consultation also went well. Right now, my brain is a heavy and wet sponge dripping with tidbits of industry wisdom. Here's some of that wisdom:

From author Laurie Halse Anderson's keynote speech: "We are the antidote to the disappointing grown-ups of the world."  (I tweeted this, and my specific tweet was mentioned in a recent SCBWI blog post!)

From author Jon Scieszka's keynote speech: "I don't write books to put kids to sleep. I write to wake them up."

From editor Donna Bray's breakout session: "This is the most subjective business in the world."

One more thing. I got to meet my blog buddy and fellow kidlit writer Gina Carey in person! We sat next to each other at a couple of events and hung out at the Black & White Ball on Saturday night. It was loads of fun to connect with Gina.

For anyone who is on the fence about attending a big SCBWI conference, I just want to say that this was a very worthwhile experience for me.

Have you attended an SCBWI conference?  Which writing conferences have you attended? If you haven't attended any writing conferences, which one(s) would you like to attend?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Recent Reads

Here's a list of some books I've read recently. I haven't always included books for adult audiences in my lists, but I'm going to start doing that now. 

1. ANYA'S WAR by Andrea Alban (Feiwel and Friends- Young Adult) Based on a true story, a Jewish family finds refuge in China during World War 2.

2. DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen- Young Adult) A young girl trains to be fearless to prepare for initiation in a faction she has chosen to be part of.

3. INSURGENT by Veronia Roth (Katherine-Tegen- Young Adult) A sequel to DIVERGENT, a young girl  must consider making big sacrifices for the greater good.

4. JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE by Nathan Bransford (Dial-Middle Grade) A boy runs for president of the universe against a power-hungry opponent. Check out my author interview here.

5. ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card (Starscape/Tom Doherty Associates- Young Adult) An intellectually gifted child trains to be a military commander to help Earth destroy a species known as the "buggers.

6. EVERNEATH by Brodi Ashton (Balzer + Bray-Young Adult) A young girl returns from a hundred-year incarceration in the underworld to say good-bye to her boyfriend.

7. THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak (Alfred A. Knopf- Young Adult) A German family hides a Jew in their home during the Holocaust.

8. SWITCHED by Amanda Hocking (St. Martin's Griffin- Young Adult) A girl finds out she is both a changeling and the princess of the Trylle, and she must leave her everyday human life as she has known it.

9. MIDDLE SCHOOL, THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE by James Patterson (Little, Brown and Company- Middle Grade) A sixth grade boy tries to survive middle school while dealing with a bully at school and problems at home.

10. MIDDLE SCHOOL, MY BROTHER IS A BIG FAT LIAR by James Patterson (Little, Brown and Company- Middle Grade) A girl attends middle school under the dark cloud of the reputation her brother left behind.

11. MIDDLE SCHOOL, GET ME OUT OF HERE by James Patterson (Little, Brown and Company- Middle Grade) A boy starts over at a new school in his mom's hometown and he tries to find out about his MIA father.

12. LIKE MANDARIN by Kirsten Hubbard (Ember- Young Adult) A 14 year-old girl yearning to know what life is like beyond her small Wyoming town befriends a worldly but troubled older girl named Mandarin.

13. CHARM & STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn (St. Martin's Griffin- Young Adult) A troubled boy must confront his past and inner demons. Update: Check out my author interview here.

14. PROPHECY by Ellen Oh (Harper Teen- Young Adult) A young Korean girl strives to fulfill her duties as a demon slayer and protector of a young prince.

15. BLOOD, BONES, & BUTTER: THE INADVERTENT EDUCATION OF A RELUCTANT CHEF (Random House- Adult Non-Fiction) In this food memoir, Gabrielle Hamilton, owner of New York's Prune restaurant, dishes about her on-the-go life and the role food has played in it.

Have you read any of the books from this list? Read any good books lately?

I'm also doing my library's summer reading program this year, so stay tuned for a list of some picture books I've been reading to my kids...