Sunday, November 30, 2008

Extreme Makeover - Website Edition

Check out my redesigned website! Isn't it pretty?

A round of applause for web-designer extraordinaire, Maddee at She is the best!

In the spirit of creative renewal, I've decided to give this blog a new name... it shall hereby be called Fresh Baked Bits.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Author Visits

Sunday night I spoke about Julia's Kitchen at a mother-daughter book club. I loved meeting these smart, cute sixth graders and their moms. It was such an intimate setting, especially compared to the 450 kids I spoke to in a gymnasium on Friday! To be honest, I enjoyed both speaking engagements. I guess I don't care how many people are in the audience. It is truly such an honor to be able to do these kinds of appearances. I'd love to do more of them, but I wonder what the perfect balance is.

When I talk to my author friends, they all confess that they spend at least a day worrying about the visit beforehand, even if they're doing a presentation they've already done dozens of times before. I confess that's true for me, too. I am always tinkering with my presentations because a) I'm trying to make them better, and b) I don't want to bore myself by saying the same things over and over!

So if you lose a day of writing by preparing, and you lose another day of writing with the actual presentation, how many presentations should you plan to do in a year? Maybe 2-3 per month is just right.

I recently hired a booking agent to try to drum up more school visits for me (Hi Mick!), because I would really lose writing days if I spent them calling schools! It will be interesting to see if she's able to make a difference. Whatever the case, I'm glad to have her try. That frees me up to do the important work of writing my next book.

What do you all think? If you could design your perfect calendar, how many school visits would you do in a year?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Free To Be 35 Years Later

This just in...
According to Publishers Weekly, there is an anniversary edition of Free to Be You and Me coming out. I know just what I'll be getting my cute nieces for Hannukah this year!

And to think... I just posted about Free to Be last week! I must be psychic.

Busy Days Ahead...

Sometimes I go days and days living my regular life... squeezing in writing between the laundry, grocery shopping, karate, carpooling, dog walking, and errand running. But every once in a while, my writing life takes over. 

I actually love when I have a deadline looming... when my husband calls on his way home from work and doesn't ask, "What's for dinner?" but rather, "What should we order for dinner?" When the kids watch too much TV and play too many computer games because I don't tell them to turn it off. When I say no thanks to lunch dates, let my hair go curly, only do the laundry when everyone is totally out of underwear, and basically live inside of my head. 

I feel like a real author then. Like it's my full-time job. Like I'm on my way to writing a bestseller, a Newbery award winner, a break-out novel that will propel our family to a life of luxury and leisure.

Of course, those little spurts of creative mania only last a short time. Then it's back to the balance of my real life. And I'm not complaining. I have a pretty amazing real life. But it's invigorating and validating to focus 100% on being an author.  

These next few days I get to do just that. Even though I won't be writing much, I will be doing authorly things. Tomorrow I'm doing a school visit at Ludwig Elementary School in Lockport, Illinois. Saturday I'm going to Prairie Writer's Day, where I'll get to connect with my fellow SCBWI-Illinois authors and illustrators and learn from industry professionals Cheryl Klein, Harold Underdown, Caroline Meckler, Martha Mihalick, Sharon Darrow, and Jennifer Rofe. Then on Sunday I'm presenting at a mother-daughter book club in Northbrook. 

I'll just leave the take-out menus on the kitchen counter.

Friday, November 07, 2008

When Is a Book Better than Cookies?

Eight years ago, I was living in Austin, Texas, when there was a house fire in my neighborhood. I didn't know the family in the fire, but I heard the story... that a father and son had died, and that the mother had died two years earlier in a car accident. There were two brothers who survived all this tragedy, and they came to live with relatives down the street from me.

Everyday, I drove past the burned out house. I took in the yellow caution tape, the boarded-up windows, the smoke stains along the walls. I couldn't help but cry. I cried for the mother, father, and young boy who died. But mostly, I cried for the two surviving brothers. How would they ever get through this? Who would they go to for comfort and strength? What would their lives be like from here on out? I wondered what these boys thought about God. What kind of God would let this happen, anyway?

I wanted to do something for these boys, but I didn't know what. I didn't even know their names. I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies and brought it to the home of the relatives. I don't remember what I said when the woman, apparently their aunt, answered the door. But I left feeling like I had done something ridiculously small and inconsequential. Cookies? Their parents and home were gone! What in the world could cookies do for them?

I kept thinking about these boys. I wished for them resiliency. I wished for them faith. And eventually, I wrote JULIA'S KITCHEN, a story about a young girl dealing with grief after her mother and sister die in a fire. My main character finds all the resiliency and faith that I wished for these boys. That was the best I could do.

When the book got published, I tried to find the names of the boys, but I had no luck. I no longer lived in Texas, and I was probably not the best researcher. It was a lost cause. Or so I thought.

Turns out, when you publish a book, magical things can happen.

Imagine a young girl in Austin, reading JULIA'S KITCHEN for school. She tells her mom about the book, and her mom looks it up online. Now her mom comes across an interview Cynthia Leitich Smith conducted with me. About halfway down, the mom reads about my inspiration for the book, and the story of the fire is very familiar to her. In fact, she's almost certain I'm talking about her friend's nephew. She sends her friend the link to the interview, and the friend sends it to her nephew.

And her nephew contacts me.

This young man in now a freshman at Boston University. He wants to someday be a writer or perhaps a psychologist. He is charming and sweet and clearly a man who possesses the resiliency I wrote about in JULIA'S KITCHEN.

He's looking forward to reading the book that he unknowingly inspired. And I'm looking forward to getting to know him.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Free to Be...

For me, the true joy and all the tears came when I saw the Biden and Obama families standing together on that stage in Grant Park. As much as I hoped this would happen, I was scared that, like before, I had the minority opinion, and that The White House would represent a voice that had nothing to do with me.

But seeing their two families together... I was just blown away. This never would have been possible even a few short years ago. I was raised on Free to Be You and Me. I always believed skin color and gender didn't matter. I believed I could grow up to be anything I wanted as long as I worked hard enough. That belief gave me the courage to go after my dreams. But many people, especially many minorities, didn't have reason to believe that. Now they do. What a wonderful time to be alive. To be an American.

I am so hopeful and optimistic. We have a lot of work to do in this country and in this world. I have faith that all the people who have been so inspired by Obama are ready to help make it happen. I know I am.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day is Here!

I can't believe it's actually here. I mean, we've been talking about this election for forever! And now it's here. And maybe, just maybe, we will know who our new president will be by the end of the night. And maybe it will even be Obama.

(Please, please, please, let it be Obama!!!)

Please vote! If you need a reason (other than the fate of our country and perhaps the world), Starbucks is giving away FREE COFFEE to anyone who votes.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

You're Invited! (Or... what to do after the election)

Do you live near Vernon Hills, Illinois?

Are you free Thursday evening?

If so, please join me at the Hawthorn Mall Barnes & Noble. I'll be presenting "Top Tips and Secrets to Getting Published," signing copies of JULIA'S KITCHEN, and giving away some of my famous chocolate chip cookies.

Thursday, November 6th, 5:30 p.m.

Hope to see you there!